A Bittersweet Birthday Gift

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

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

An Unexpected Trip Back Home

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

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

joann-ny-2

My mother, JoAnn, circa 1956.

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

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

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

A Change of Heart Towards Mom

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

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

My heart ached for her.

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

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

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

A family reunion with mom.

A family reunion with mom.

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

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

A Bittersweet Birthday

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

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

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

My 50th birthday with my mother.

My 50th birthday with my mother.

A Legacy of Healing

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

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

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

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

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

Coming Up for Air

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

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

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

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

An Unexpected Loss

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

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

coffin-rose

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

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

Left-Brain Thinking

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

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

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

left-right

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

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

God’s Thinking

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

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

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

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

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

Coming Up for Air

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

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

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

swim-air

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

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

‘Tis Better to have Loved and Lost…

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

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

Better to have loved 2

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

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

A Sentimental Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Friday Grief

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

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

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

Don’t worry.  Famous last words.

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

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

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

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

‘Tis Better to have Loved & Lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Messages of love

Words of affirmation and love

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Grateful Lesson in Letting go of our Children

If you have grown kids, I’m sure you can relate to this feeling of gratitude. Another timeless parenting lesson in love, sacrifice, and letting go.

Journeys To Mother Love

Letting go of our children reaps a harvest in unexpected ways.

As much as I want it too, time doesn’t stand still. In fact as we age I’ve found that it actually seems to move at a faster pace. Kids grow up, graduate from college, leave the nest, and settle into a new life as they seek independence and start a career or family.

Whether our children choose to live nearby, across the state, or across the country, we will be faced with challenges to our parenting and our ability to let go.

It’s a timeless lesson in love and sacrifice.

My older son graduated from college a few years ago and, because of a lucrative job offer, immediately moved out of state. There was no time for transition between the two major milestones.

It was a crazy time for my husband and me as parents. We experienced the pride of his graduation and excitement for his new life. We packed…

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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.

Trusting the Writing Process (Year 4)

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

4th annivMy 4-Year Blogging Experience

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

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

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

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

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

Blogging

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

The Ups and Downs of Traditional Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trusting the Writing Process

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

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

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

Maya Angelou quote

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

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

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

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

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

I know I’m worth it.

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

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

thank-you

A Taste of Honey: Sweetness for the Soul

Earlier this year, my husband and I had dinner plans with another couple in Seattle. Since we live in the suburbs, an evening in the city is a big treat for us. On the way to dinner with our friends, we all decided to stop at a wine bar for appetizers.

This spur of the moment change of plans was a big hit! We canceled our dinner reservations elsewhere and embarked on a youthful adventure of bar hopping around the city. I was eager to explore the Seattle nightlife because it reminded me of my late night tapas experiences in Spain a couple years ago.

Bastille Café & Bar, one of the hip stops on our bar hopping tour in Seattle.

Bastille Café & Bar, one of the hip stops on our bar hopping tour in Seattle.

Getting Started on our Food Adventure

At the wine bar, we started the evening with a dish of olives and a charcuterie tray (assorted cheeses and meats). To drink, I naturally ordered a glass of Spanish wine.

Before I ever stepped foot on Spanish soil in the summer of 2013, I was not a fan of olives. I would only eat them if they were buried in my food—like in nachos. And it wasn’t unusual for me to pick olives off my pizza.

My family on the other hand, were big olive eaters. I have many fond memories of my sons poking their fingers into olive holes—redefining the meaning of finger foods—and eating them like candy at the dinner table. It was a habit handed down from their father when he was young.

My sons loved their olives, January 2001.

Real finger food, my sons, January 2001.

While living in Spain for 6 weeks, I fell in love with olives. Olives in Spain are like chips and salsa are at a Mexican restaurant in America. They often come as a free dish to start the meal. In the peak of the Spanish summer heat, the salty flavor of local olives somehow quenched my thirst.

Now olives taste so wonderful to me—the strong and almost bitter explosion in my mouth is so inviting.  My new favorite—green Spanish olives stuffed with a clove of garlic.  Just talking about olives makes me hungry for one now!

A Surprising Taste Sensation

Even as much as I love olives, on this particular night with our friends in Seattle, it was the charcuterie tray that really got my attention. It wasn’t the customary cheese and meats that blew me away. It was the little dish of honey that accompanied the tray.

I am not a honey type of person. I don’t use it in my tea or use it to sweeten dishes. I don’t generally even like syrup. It is just too sweet for me—and not good for my low sugar diet.

I watched as our foodie friends dipped cheeses and almonds into the honey. I followed suit. Oh my word!! What an amazing taste sensation. I was hooked!

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Our charcuterie tray and side of olives.

It only took a dab of honey to fill my mouth with an explosion of sweetness that seemed to carry me away. It was truly satisfying.

We hopped to two other bars for small plates and drinks over the course of the evening. It was fun to be out in the crowd with good friends.

Feeding Your Sweet Spot

When we find something that is so gratifying and filling to our senses, we naturally want more of it. To some it is chocolate, or maybe coffee. They just can’t get enough and feel the need to indulge daily. (I apologize if I happen to trigger those with food issues.)

My daily dose of honey comes in the form of the Word of God. I’ve had a major renewing of my spirit this year whereby His Word speaks to me in greater ways. He speaks to me in deeper ways. Whether it’s the Word, in times of prayer, or in quiet meditation, I have been energized by this honey that nourishes my soul. It has a sweetness that makes me want to savor it.

A single Word from the Lord is enough to turn our day or our life around. Just think how much a dedicated time of prayer and Bible reading can sweeten our attitude and dissolve our bitterness.

bible-food

Along with my weekly prayer appointment with God, these are some of my daily selections for a taste of spiritual honey:

  • Experiencing God by Blackaby & Blackaby (A gift from a friend over ten years ago, I still read this on a regular basis. It is filled with color highlighting and written notes of spiritual milestones and applications of scripture in my life.)
  • Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (A great resource for learning to trust Jesus and find peace.)
  • Daily Hope by Rick Warren (Email devotionals or online site that challenges your thinking with thought provoking questions and application steps.)
  • The Daily Walk Bible (Daily reading that takes you through the Bible in a year, includes weekly commentary and reflection.)

I recommend any of the above resources to get a dose of sweetness for your soul.

What about you? What are you doing to satisfy your sweet spot and hunger for the Word?

How sweet your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey. Psalm 119:103 (NIV)

Finding & Balancing Relationships that Last

How many friends do you have? 20, 50, 100, 200, 300 or more? Well, maybe if you are counting friends on Facebook you can say you have hundreds of friends. But I’m not talking about Facebook friends! Social media is not an indication of real friendship.

Won't you be my friend?

Won’t you be my friend?

I mean true friends—people with whom you can share your fears, your struggles, your hopes, and your dreams.  People who will pray for you and encourage you through the ups and downs of life.

Unlike many of my posts, this is not a reflective piece.  It is educational.  I hope it challenges you, as it has me, in the way you think about your relationships and who you invite into your circle of friendship.

One of my Favorite Speakers

Last summer, I attended the Celebrate Recovery (CR) Summit at Saddleback Church, California, in preparation for my mission to Europe. One of the speakers at the conference was Dr. John Townsend, a New York Times bestselling author, business consultant, leadership coach, and Christian psychologist. (John and Dr. Henry Cloud have been annual speakers at the CR Summit since it started over 20 years ago.)

Dr. Townsend wove his testimony into a talk about the six categories of relationship—the six ‘Cs’. Some of these principles are in his book How to be a Best Friend Forever and will also be in his forthcoming book The Entitlement Cure.

A few years ago, Dr. Townsend was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, a temporary condition that affected the muscle control on the left side of his face. It was a wake-up call for him to reevaluate his workaholic lifestyle and who he was spending his time with. While his talk was geared to an audience of 3,000 Celebrate Recovery leaders, it was pertinent to anyone who wants to live well and succeed in their relationships.

Six Categories of Relationships

As you read this list of relationship categories, think about the people around you and where they may fall on the list. Our relationships should be focused heavily on the first 2-3 categories.

  1. Coaches—We need people with an expertise we don’t have. Examples of a coach would be a spiritual mentor, pastor, or a life coach. A coach is there for you, not for themselves. They can help you to see your blind spots, where your priorities aren’t properly aligned, and where you are not thinking right. (In CR lingo, this would be a sponsor.)
  2. Comrades—These are people who are in the growth process with you. They want to get better. They support you, and you support them. You challenge each other. It is not necessarily 50/50. There will be times when you rely on them more, or vice versa. It is organic and results in a give and take relationship. (In CR lingo, this would be an accountability partner.)
  3. Casuals—These are nice people that you pass the time with, maybe like your neighbors, or people from church. They are generally not into growth, but may be hungry for it. You can risk small amounts of vulnerability with them, and see if they are hungry for it. Often times they don’t know they need it because they’ve not witnessed it before. Casuals are a drafting pool for finding comrades.
  4. Care—These are people you have compassion for. They may be in a domestic violence shelter or be mentally ill. They have nothing to offer you, but you have a lot to offer them. It feels good to be in this kind of relationship; it is caring, but is not reciprocal.
  5. Chronics—These are victims—people who are whiny, full of blame, and clueless. They don’t want to change. They are attracted to people of Light because of their safety, truth and grace.
  6. Contaminants—These people are dark, toxic, judging, controlling, and destructive. They know what they are doing. We need to protect ourselves from these people.

Are you ‘top heavy’ or ‘bottom heavy’ on your relationship scale?

If your relationships are draining you, then you are spending too much time with people who are not pouring anything back into you. That is not healthy and leads to burnout.

friend-encouragement

Do you have a balance of supportive relationships in your life?

Guarding Your Heart

What John found out about himself is that as much as he liked to have his freedom, he realized that he needed to have some coaches around him. So he took a friend’s advice and hired an advisory board of people he trusted to help him with his priorities and to work more efficiently.

As hard as this was for him, he also realized it was biblical. Proverbs 4:23 (NIV) says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” He shifted his attention to the top three categories.  The fruit of those decisions led to John opening the Townsend Institute for Leadership and Counseling at Huntington University, Indiana, a few days ago.

Dr. Townsend went on to say that Christians often confuse the ‘Care’ for the ‘Comrades.’ Because it feels good to care for others, we can mistake those we care for as our friends. These are hard lessons to learn. I know because I’ve been there before myself, and have gone through some painful pruning in my relationships as well.

Being Selfish?

John encourages people to push past the feelings of guilt.  To keep from getting emotionally drained, he recommends having a 30-minute conversation with three people once a week—at a minimum.  These are not conversations about what you did (like the feeding frenzy on social media).

The conversation needs to be about you, your life, your soul, and your feelings.  It’s about how you are experiencing life.  If you are a high performing leader, like those in CR, this is especially important as they have high performing needs.

This may sound selfish, but it is really a matter of investing in yourself so that you can minister to others—in your family, your community, or your church. The intent is to live well and end well in life.

It’s not a competition with a sprint to the finish line collecting as many friends on social media as we can along the way. It’s a marathon; and the prize is an eternal reward for the healthy care we have given to ourselves and others throughout our lives.

Comrades pressing on together.

Comrades pressing on together.

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:14, NIV)

The Graduation Road Less Traveled

Today is a bittersweet day for me and my family.  My youngest child will be walking across the stage and receiving his high school diploma.  What is so significant to me about this is how he got to this place and time—all of the obstacles he overcame, and how he did it his way.

My son forged his own path to graduation.  It wasn’t the same journey as his brother four years earlier, or the way that I had envisioned it over the years.

Like the ending line in the famous poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, my son took the road less traveled.  And in so doing, he was a pioneer of the spirit.

Senior portrait

My son, a pioneer of the spirit.

Following in his Brother’s Footsteps

In parenting our only other child, his older brother, we got caught up in the competitive race for the coveted prize of his attendance at one of the best engineering schools in the country.  Thankfully God had other plans.

Being our first born child, we didn’t know what to expect.  When we noticed his giftedness at a very early age, we sought and were granted a waiver to put him in Kindergarten a year earlier than his peers.  He ended up settling into the gifted program and taking a rigorous AP and honors course load throughout school.  Those choices led him to a few different schools in the district, not our neighborhood school.

When our youngest child entered the school system, we made the tough decision to place him in the elementary school where his brother attended.  He also followed his brother into the same extracurricular activities: baseball, piano, and chess.  He eventually dropped out of those and developed his love for music by playing the flute, saxophone, and drums.

Once his brother went on to junior high, my youngest son switched schools and attended the school in our neighborhood.  It wasn’t long after that we noticed his school difficulties surface.  I was not overly concerned, but couldn’t help but wonder, is there something else going on here?  It was unfair to compare him to his older brother, and I thought his occasional struggles were more ‘normal.’  Things got worse for him in junior high.

When it came time to go to high school, we decided to check out several of the high schools in the district.  He wasn’t interested in the high school his brother attended.  The large high school that most students in the neighborhood attended didn’t excite him either.

We attributed some of his school problems with lack of motivation.  So we felt it would be better for him to be in a school with smaller classes and a learning environment that more closely matched his interests.  A new school had opened up in the district and was accepting students on a lottery basis.  This school was specifically geared to a STEM based education (Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics).  Living in the high tech corridor of the Seattle Eastside, this was a magnet for local kids, as was proven by the standing room only audience at the information night for this new school.

School Pioneers

Our son was accepted into the STEM school and started in the fall.  It was also at this time that the school district was converting middle schools to junior high schools and all high schools to a 4-year format.  The STEM school was launched with incoming freshmen and sophomore classes.  My son would be in the first graduating class of the school—the class of 2015!

An educational pioneer and future graduate in the class of 2015 at his 2002 pre-school graduation.

An educational pioneer and future graduate in the class of 2015 at his 2002 pre-school graduation.

These new students were educational pioneers in the district and had to endure some growing pains in the process.  For example, while the school building was still under construction the first semester, the school was co-located on the campus of the big neighborhood high school.

It was hard for the students and the school community to define its own culture and identity.  With the school half completed, after the Christmas holiday break, the students and faculty moved into their brand new campus and started to create their own academic community.

The course load was rigorous, much like the academic classes that his brother took in high school.  From our earliest meetings with the school administration, we and other parents were assured there would be other less rigorous class options for students.  Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.  My son struggled to make it through the first quarter of his sophomore year.  We heard stories of kids dropping out of the school and returning to their neighborhood high schools.

Despite my son’s recent diagnosis with ADHD, he wanted to be at this school, and was determined to make it work.  There were times along the journey that we had conversations about transferring to another school.

It was a painful decision for all of us.  When does the parent have the final say?  How do you know what is best for your child?  Each time he came back to his desire to stay, accepting that it would be a challenge.

During a recent conversation with my son about his tenure at this school, I asked him if he had to do it all over again what he would do.  He acknowledged that going to his neighborhood high school would’ve been a lot easier for him.  But he didn’t miss a beat in saying that the STEM school was good for his character development.  He wasn’t wrapped up in his GPA or the college competition.  He was content that he graduated, made good friends, and was learning more about his abilities.

A Graduation Homecoming

I’m not going to apologize for using my blog to publish a bit about the story of my son’s journey to graduation.  I see it as a major milestone in his life.  My husband and I are both proud of him, like any parent is of their graduating senior.  It is particularly poignant to me because it feels like a joint effort.  I know many of my friends and family have prayed for him and us during his high school years.  Those prayers made a difference in getting us to this point.  (Thank you!  You know who you are!)

What I haven’t lost sight of in the process is where his graduation ceremony will take place tonight.  It’s not at the school.  They don’t have the space for this type of event.  The graduation will be held at our church.  It was in this same church that my son learned about Jesus, accepted Christ as His Savior, was baptized, and has attended all his life.

It adds to the bittersweet nature of the event for me.  And it serves as a reminder that the Lord has been at my son’s side the entire time.

My son is a Pioneer.

He is a STEM Scholar.

He is unique, gifted, and talented in many ways.

He found his own way.  He took the road less traveled to do it.  To quote Robert Frost again:

…and that has made all the difference.

I’m grateful he did.  Congratulations Son!

My son, the flutist, taking the road less traveled.

My son, the flutist, taking the road less traveled.

The Last Time I Saw my Mother Alive

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

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

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

Prompted to Visit one Last Time

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

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

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

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

Not Quite What I Expected

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

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

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

My aunt praying for my mother.

My aunt praying for my mother.

Joy and Sorrow

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

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

A teary goodbye, May 2010.

A teary goodbye, May 2010.

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

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

Beauty from Ashes

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

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

IMG_2436

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

  • 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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