‘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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A Love Letter to God

I’m a big proponent of letter writing—for healing, for building relationship, for encouragement, for love, and for getting in touch with one’s heart.  I’ve shared several sample letters to family here or on my publisher’s blog like A Letter to My MomA Letter on Leaving the Nest, or most recently Keeping Our Loved Ones’ Memories Alive.

This post involves a different slant to the letter writing therapeutic tool that I recommend.  It is for our spiritual growth.

letter to godA Delicate Balancing Act in Recovery

In a women’s recovery group that I co-lead, an assignment was recently given to write a thank you letter to God.  The Step Study group was at the mid-point in the 4th Step, where we “make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

As you can imagine Step 4 is a painful process.  We are unearthing and writing down the ugly things we’ve done or what’s been done to us in the past.  Scary, yet freeing stuff—and not for the faint of heart—which is why we do it in the structured community of a Step Study group.

The thank you letter to God was assigned to help participant’s look beyond the pain of the past and to see the good side—to assist in balancing the good with the bad.  I was so touched by one woman’s letter that I asked for her permission to share it with my readers.

It is really poetic.  So please read it slowly, like a poem, and let the words gently stir your heart.

A Love Letter to God

“Dear Beyond-belief loving and merciful Lover of my soul,

Words cannot express the magnitude of the blessings you have heaped upon me—and that doesn’t even account for the blessings for which I am oblivious about.  I am left in awe!

Me, a worm, with my ugly sin and unworthiness—yet You purchased me with the blood of Your only begotten Son—so that I may be a daughter of the King of the Universe, to live where the streets are made of gold, the gates are pearly, and precious stones abound.  And I even have a crown, a special name, which is engraved in the palm of Your hand and You rejoice over me with singing…

How can it be that lowly me would be accepted as an heir in Your kingdom?

Truly, eternity is not long enough to thank you for the perfect plan of salvation, the undeserving grace, mercy, love and forgiveness.

Forever in the care of Your loving and gentle arms,
Me”

Lovely, isn’t it?  Where do words like this—words of deep gratitude and awe—come from?  Truly they were Holy Spirit inspired.

Thankful in all Circumstances

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we are commanded to “give thanks in all circumstances.”  It is not an easy thing to do.  We have to choose to do it despite how we feel.  It is taking our act of faith to a higher level, and thereby allowing God to work more freely in our lives.

1-thessalonians-5-18

When was the last time you thanked God for the blessings in your life?

When was the last time you thanked Him for the simple pleasures?

For the miracles?

Or for the hardships? (Especially the hardships?)

You don’t have to be in a recovery program (like Celebrate Recovery) or working through the 12 Steps to exercise your will to be thankful in all circumstances.

Take some quiet time today or one day this week to let the Holy Spirit move you to write a love letter to God.  You’ll be amazed by the gifted writer that is hiding inside your soul.

Thank you Ruth for letting me share your letter.  May it inspire others to see the love of our Heavenly Father in their lives.

A Love Letter to Mom & Annual Tribute

I’ve come to annually mark the passing of my mother by writing her a letter.  This year I was at my annual winter scrapbooking retreat amongst friends—just like I was the day before I got word of my mother’s passing in 2011.  Again I was working on my mother’s tribute album.

Tribute AlbumSetting the Stage to Write

Three years later this scrapbook remains part of my healing process as it retraces my steps before and after she died—the visits back home, meeting with her health care providers, making end-of-life decisions, giving her eulogy, and burying her remains.  It is the visual story that was eventually published in Journeys to Mother Love.  It is a beautiful tribute album—not necessarily for others’ eyes, but something between my mother and me.

This year the anniversary letter was harder to write than last year.  After my arrival at the retreat, I was told that Wanda, the woman who has organized and run these retreats over the years, wasn’t going to be joining us.  Her husband who suffered with Parkinson’s had taken a turn for the worse and was put on hospice.  His end of life was very near.  It hit us all by surprise, and gave us an opportunity to privately lift her in prayer and share our own feelings about this sad turn of events.

Final goodbyesFor me the timing hit too close to home as our discussion turned to end-of-life decisions and the role women often provide in caring for our loved ones.  On the outside I was listening to the conversation, but in my mind I was back at my mother’s side caring for her at the nursing home on one of my visits back home.  It was as if my bittersweet memories from before were now being lived out by Wanda and her family.  Sadly, her husband passed away a few days later.

Embracing the Grief

It was in that context of grief, that my letter to my mother freely flowed through my fingers to the keyboard, and with it a few well-earned tears.  I know my mom can’t physically answer my letter, but something tells me she’ll find a way to let me know she received it.

Below is an excerpt of that letter.  I hope it inspires you to do the same for someone you love—past or present—and let your healing turn to hope.

Mom and kidsA Love Letter to Mom

“Dear Mom,

I admire your perseverance. You lived a long life. Fate hit you a terrible blow when you suffered your nervous breakdown at the age of 35, and me as well, when I was six. Our journeys to emotional healing both started that day.

Now 48 years later I am approaching mine in a new way, with a different battle plan in place. No more white-knuckling it. I am choosing to take medication (for my ADHD).

…Anyway, Mom, the point of all this is that your passing put all of the pieces together for me to even consider this route for me, and for my son (who also has ADHD).  I am now an advocate for him.  I am an advocate for myself.  I am learning more about ADHD and how to help both of us.

I don’t know what lies ahead for us as we journey down this road on medication.  I don’t know what it was like for you.  I’m saddened that I never got to talk to you about any of this.  I’m saddened that I didn’t get to know you as an adult.  I’m saddened I didn’t really get to know you.

But I wanted you to know that as horrible as your life was for so many years after the nervous breakdown, the divorce, in and out of mental hospitals, etc. that it has served to help me to fight for myself and my son now. I am more open to trying and exploring how I can lead a more normal life with the support of medication.  I am taking back control of my life and my emotional health.

So I thank you Mom for not leaving me a legacy of mental illness.  You left me a gift that I get to integrate into my life.  That gift is the gift of perseverance and hope in the Lord through all things. 

I know what I am going through is important and life changing.  I know there are many others like me who have also suffered in silence as they lived in the shadow of mental illness.

I love you Mom.  Thank you for persevering to the end and giving life back to me in the process.

Love,
Ardis”

Peace to you and your family Wanda, from your scrapbooking sisters.

Peace to you and your family Wanda, from your scrapbooking sisters.

Updated 6/1/2014: Wanda’s husband passed away a few days after the scrapbooking weekend. Through a sad turn of events, Wanda also passed away a few months later. Remembering Wanda is the tribute I wrote to our dear friend and scrapbooking mentor.

This post is listed on Christian Mommy Blogger/Fellowship Fridays and Missional Women/Faith Filled Friday.

Leading With Love

Weddings are a time of great celebration, excitement, and hope for a beautiful future—a fairy tale ending.  Brides often enter into marriage dreaming of living happily ever after.  However, the national divorce statistics tell us a different story.  If you are part of that statistic, or currently not romantically involved, I imagine you dread Valentine’s Day.

Broken marriage heartThe Reality of Marriage

Serving as a leader in a local Celebrate Recovery (CR) ministry, I get a chance to hear a lot of testimonies and people’s life stories—male and female.  Many of the women who come to CR are either divorced or have had a history of marital struggles.  But hey, don’t go thinking that I am getting a distorted view of society.  Marital heartache and misery are much more common than you think.

The people who show up at CR are choosing to take off their masks and come out of denial about it.  They are generally the fortunate ones.  Not because of their painful past, but because they are seeking help and healing.  In time, they generally become grateful for those struggles because it made them stronger.  Romans 8:28 becomes real to them, often for the first time:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (NIV)

These women (and men) are taking steps to get emotionally healthy, deal with their past baggage, learn to set healthy boundaries, take care of their needs, and live life more fully—regardless of their past.  They are on a journey of self-discovery, with or without a spouse or partner.

If they’ve been in recovery for a while, they can even laugh about the process—making light that their people picker is broken.  I’ve seen it over and over again as people attract the exact kind of romantic partner that will lead to the same negative relationship patterns.  They may decide they want a relationship, thinking they are ready again, or they may be willing to settle.

WARNING—more heartache ahead!

Children of divorceA Legacy of Divorce

Let’s face it relationships are hard work, and marriage is the hardest because we spend most of our time with our spouse.  If we come from a family background where divorce was part of our heritage, we may quickly look to that as an escape clause—thinking it is normal. In my case, my parents had a combined ten marriages between them.  They were on marriages #2 and #4 when my siblings and I were born.  I swore I wouldn’t do that to my kids.  Thankfully I didn’t.  It doesn’t have to be part of our legacy.

I understand the heartache of divorce.  I understand the devastation and painful wake that it leaves behind for the families.  I’ve felt the blame and shame of it.  I brought a lot of that same baggage into my marriage.  It has only been since I entered recovery a decade ago that I’ve seen how much it affected me—my behaviors and my underlying fear of rejection and abandonment.

Heart in handLeading with Love

I’ve had lots of restoration and healing in my marriage over the years.  I don’t lead from a place of having it all together.  I lead from a place of brokenness, knowing how hard it is, and continuing to struggle in the process.  I know God has given me kisses of love from Above, and in my marriage, so that I can impart hope to others who are seeking a Godly marriage.*  I lead with Love, because He first loved me. (1 John 4:19)

As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, I encourage you to look for ways that you can appreciate your spouse, even in the midst of your struggles.  If you are not married, don’t let the Valentine blues get to you.  Have some fun with a friend or show someone else you care in a non-romantic way.

Who says Valentine’s Day is for lovers?  Make it for love!  You can lead the way!

*This post is dedicated to and inspired by my friends who are in the throes of a strained marital relationship.

This post is listed on Christian Mommy Blogger/Fellowship Fridays and Missional Women/Faith Filled Friday.

The Little Girl Inside

When I was a little girl, I was captivated by the movie, “The Sound of Music” with Julie Andrews.  Although I was only six years old at the time, I loved the music and knew all of the songs by heart.  It was one of the few movies I actually got to see in the theater.  Soon after its release, my mother had her nervous breakdown and we stopped going to the theater.

1965 movie soundtrack for "The Sound of Music"

1965 movie soundtrack for “The Sound of Music”

Our Home was Alive…with “The Sound of Music”

Pedro, our Spanish host son, played “The Sound of Music” on the piano in our home the first summer we met.  His interest in that music along with my love for the movie landed my family at an outdoor theater in the mountainous setting near Leavenworth, WA—a Bavarian themed village.  It was a gift for his 17th birthday and it was a bucket list item for me.

When Pedro played that music in our home, it awakened in me deep feelings from my childhood.  My father was a strict disciplinarian.  I grew up in fear of his anger and his belt.  He didn’t show his love or give us words of encouragement.

Watching “The Sound of Music” as an adult I can almost relate to how the Von Trapp family children were treated—standing at attention at the sound of a whistle, etc.  Captain Von Trapp, their father, treated them like they were soldiers in the military, not like his children.  When Maria, played by Julie Andrews, entered their lives, play became a normal part of their day.

Ever since my mother died almost three years ago, I have gotten in touch with the part of me that wants to come out and play—the part of me that says it’s ok to laugh, it’s ok to dance, and it’s ok to sing.  It’s a part of who I am, but for years thought it meant I was doomed to end up crazy like my mother.

The hills really were alive with the sound of music, Leavenworth, WA

The hills really were alive with the sound of music, Leavenworth, WA

Playtime in Spain

That playful and unabashed side of me turned up in Spain this past summer.  I lived it up, maybe more than I should’ve at times, but I didn’t want to have any regrets about this trip of a lifetime.

One of my most precious memories in Spain involved “The Sound of Music”.  I lived with my Spanish family in their vacation home on Mallorca, an island off the coast of Spain, for ten days at the end of my trip.  I had already broken the ice and felt more comfortable with Pedro’s younger cousins by this time.  (See Mothering Inadequacies.)

Sitting on the edge of the pool one afternoon, I watched some of the children swimming and diving.  All of a sudden, a few of the girls started to sing “Do Re Mi” in English.  I couldn’t believe my ears.  These children barely knew any English yet they were singing this wonderful song from the musical.

I took that as my cue to join with the sing-a-long.  They did a double take on my cue and delighted in my participation.  Unfortunately it was the only song that we both knew in English.  Nonetheless, it turned into a fun-filled adventure with them creating a theater (teatro) production with me as their poolside audience.

The stage is set for the children's poolside theater performance.

The stage is set for the children’s poolside theater performance.

Getting in Touch with my Inner Child

In years past, I might not have even noticed the urge to sing with the children.  If I did, I would’ve definitely fought it.  I felt free in a lot of ways while I was in Spain.  Was it because of the love and generosity of this family?  Or maybe it was just out of gratitude to my heavenly Father for giving me something so special in this moment of time.

My little girl is slowly being integrated into this adult body that I have.  She is learning that it is ok to take risks, to use her voice, to love more fully, and to sing without abandon (in worship or in the privacy of my home or car).

My inner child, circa 1966

My inner child, circa 1966

I’m giving her lots of room to experience the emotions of a turbulent childhood and to grieve the loss of a mother that she never really knew.  My tears and my laughter are a beautiful gift that I am giving myself as I embrace this new season of self-discovery.

What about you?  Have you gotten in touch with your inner child lately?  Are you experiencing all that God intends for your life?  Healing is just around the corner when you invite God into the process.

Though good advice lies deep within the heart, a person with understanding will draw it out. (Proverbs 20:5, NLT)

This post was shared on Create with Joy/Friendship Fridays.

The Road to Spain, Update 1 ~ Project Scope

Welcome to my inaugural update on my road to Spain.  The days are quickly passing by as the date of my arrival in Spain (June 24th) approaches, yet I haven’t made any fanfare on my blog or posted any updates since I bought my tickets in January.

Ninety Days

A few weeks ago when I hit the 90-day mark (during Holy Week), I felt like a huge burden had been placed on my shoulders and there would be no way I’d be ready in time.  As strange as it may seem, I had the sense that the 90 days remaining for me would be like Jesus road to Jerusalem.  Seriously!

90 day challengeI started to think about how so much psychology and health research touts the benefits of a 90-day program for things like diet or exercise changes, lifestyle changes, changing your thinking patterns, recovery and addiction rehabilitation, etc.  This led me to think about all the things I hadn’t done to prepare for my trip yet—the big things, preparing to speak while there, learning Spanish, researching Spain (culture, sights, food, etc.), losing weight and exercising.  It was way too much for me to think about.

So I frantically started to work simultaneously on these things.  There just didn’t seem to be much progress and the stress continued to mount.  Finally this week while in a time of dedicated prayer, I got a clear revelation from God.  It led to a huge shift in my attitude and felt like the weight of the world was taken off my shoulders.

Scope CreepScope Creep

The easiest way I can explain it is to put it in terms like I would as a project manager.  It’s called ‘scope creep’.  That is when the scope of a project starts to go beyond its original intention.  (I guess God wanted to put it in terms I would understand.)  He brought me back to the original purpose or scope of my trip—to invest in people.  I am going to meet Rosa, to build relationship with my Spanish family and to write about it.

This isn’t a surprise to me, but what I realized in the process was that my speaking in Spain was sidetracking me from the goal.  Sure it would be amazing to share my story with others in Spain.  Sure it would be amazing to sell books, grow my platform or promote Pedro’s music while there.  (All the ‘shoulds’ a writer repeatedly hears about how to be successful.)  But that is not the purpose of this trip.  Those are incidental benefits.  As disappointing as it is, I am letting go of my desire to speak while in Spain.  Instead I am open to what God has in store for me there.

I don’t want any regrets about this trip of a lifetime.  I wouldn’t be going to Spain if it wasn’t for the miraculous events that happened between Rosa and me the year our mothers died.  I know God is using this story to touch others who have lost their parents or are seeking a second chance to restore relationship with a parent.  I trust that He will use this story in Spain as well—how and when the time is right—even if it’s just one person at a time.

The 10-Week Countdown Begins

The 10-Week Countdown Begins

Refocused

I know this story inside and out because I lived it.  It transformed me.  I am ready to go—even now.  My attention is turned back to getting my mind and body ready to take it all in—like any other normal tourist would do—including learning Spanish.  It is still a lot to do, but I feel refocused and realigned with my purpose.

And, yes, there is a crucifixion going on here.  It is the part of me that wants to do it all and have it under control.  But I promise, there won’t be any physical blood loss—just occasional moans or groans as I swallow my pride once again and learn to trust Him more fully.

So sit back, and enjoy the view as I travel on the road to Spain over the next ten weeks!

Acts of Service, Part 2 ~ Take Care of my Sheep

It’s Spring Break—a time when many families head off to sunny climates and fun-filled adventures.  With less than three months before I travel to Spain, I am staying put and working toward that goal.  But I have very vivid memories of my Spring Break trip last year.

It wasn’t exactly a fun-filled adventure. Yet it was an important next step on my journey to healing in my family relationships. I was away from home caring for my ailing father.  Considering what I went through with my mother, as mentioned in “Walking My Mother Home”, it felt like déjà vu.

CaregivingServing My Stepmother

My stepmother had been my father’s only caregiver the last few years and needed a break.  In recent months my father had significantly deteriorated, but they opted to keep him at home as long as possible.  Weeks shy of his 94th birthday, he spent most of his day in bed, used a walker to get around, his eyesight was waning, and his hearing was limited too.  Thankfully he was still pretty lucid though.

My father was a very proud man.  He didn’t want any help and fought desperately to keep his sanity and his dignity.  He was also mean-spirited at times, inconsiderate of others and had a strong need to be in control.  On top of that I was never very close to my father.  So one week of caregiving for him sounded like a recipe for disaster.

However, I had grown closer to my stepmother over the last few years and wanted her to get some time away.  She deserved it—not only because of his deterioration, but because I knew how hard my father was to live with in general.  This was my gift to her.  (My sister-in-law also made the decision easier for me by graciously offering her home to my son for the week.)

Helping HandsServing My Father

When my father woke up the morning after I arrived, my stepmother was already gone.  He knew I was coming, but nonetheless he acted surprised to hear that I was going to be his caregiver for the week—and he wasn’t happy about it.  That day was the worst.

My father’s anger surfaced right away and he said things I’m sure he later forgot he said.  (I guess that is one benefit of old age.)  It shook me up a bit—triggering the little girl in me and reminding me of how he used to scold and criticize me growing up.  Thankfully I was able to recognize what was going on inside of me and stood my ground with him.  He didn’t much like it.

It was in sharp contrast to caring for my mother.  She had suffered a major stroke and couldn’t talk.  I think that was part of the gift God gave me while caring for her.  With her schizophrenia, my previous visits were so emotional for me—never knowing what would come out of her mouth.  God had taken her voice and replaced it with eyes that spoke volumes in love and gratitude.

After the first day of butting heads and testing the water, my father started to accept my caregiver role for the week.  I knew his time was short so I embraced his storytelling a little bit more (the same ones I’d heard numerous times before).  This time though they didn’t feel the same.  My conversations were more deliberate and felt more significant.

My father and stepmother reunited at the end of the week.

My father and stepmother reunited at the end of the week.

A Change of Heart

Over the week, my father’s attitude towards me changed.  He expressed his gratitude for my taking care of him.  He told me how proud he was of the manuscript for “Walking My Mother Home” and his stories even helped me with the final edits for the publisher.

My father passed away three months later.  I know this time with him helped me to let go and get more closure in our relationship.  Although he never mentioned it, I think the letter I sent him about forgiveness on Father’s Day the year before (excerpts recently posted in “It’s Not Too Late to Forgive”), made a difference.  He was softening.  He was preparing to say goodbye.

The Unexpected Gift

It’s funny how I never really considered myself much of a caregiver—even with my immediate family—yet I ended up giving some respite to both of my parents at the end of their lives.  In return I received the gift of healing and restoration in our relationships.

On your road to your final destination, take time to care for others.

On your road to your final destination, take time to care for others.

Serving both of my parents in this way reminds me of the scripture where Jesus tells Peter (shortly after Jesus’ resurrection) to “take care of my sheep” (John 21:15-17).

You never know where God is going to lead you—in what kind of serving capacity.  I encourage you to be prepared to serve your parents while you still can—even if, like me, you don’t think you can do it.  It may be the gift you both need to let go and make peace with the past.

Holy Week, Holy Movies

One of the things I remember about the Easter season growing up were the religious movies we watched.  My first recollection of a spiritual movie was “The Robe”.  Even as a child I was moved by it and the message of ultimate sacrifice and unconditional love the lead characters (Richard Burton and Jean Simmons) displayed in the final scene of the movie.  (I won’t give away the ending if you’ve never seen it.)  It is still one of my favorite Easter movies.  “The Ten Commandments” with Charlton Heston was also a family favorite.The Robe

In 2004, Mel Gibson produced “The Passion of the Christ” taking spiritual movies to a new level.  It was violent and highly controversial.  It was incredibly gripping and painful to watch.  I left the theater emotionally raw after watching the realistic depiction of Jesus crucifixion.  At the same time I remember thinking it would be something I should see every year as a reminder of what Jesus endured for the sake my soul.  Nine years later and I still haven’t been able to watch it.  The visual images are that powerful in my mind.

Passion of the ChristThis year I have a new favorite spiritual movie that has given me much pause about my Christianity.  It is “Les Misérables”.  Like “The Passion”, it is dark and violent at times, but the music, lyrics, and redemption message, carry you through the movie to its tear-jerking and powerful conclusion.

The movie opens with the song “Look Down” and the release of Jean Valjean from prison after 19 years.  After word of his release, Valjean, played by Hugh Jackman, sings about his freedom, while the prison guard, Javert, played by Russell Crowe, reminds him his name is “24601” and that he’ll always be a slave.  Although technically free, Valjean is a marked man and must carry his papers with him wherever he goes.  He is bitter and sings “I’ll never forgive them for what they’ve done”.

Les MiserablesAfter an encounter with a Catholic bishop, there is another moving scene in which we get to witness Valjean’s inner struggle as he decides to reclaim his identity and put the mentality of a slave behind him.  (Click the song link to hear Pedro perform the first three songs of “Les Mis” – Look Down, Valjean’s Soliloquy and The Bishop © 2012 Claude Michel Schonberg.)

These first few scenes set the stage for conflict throughout the movie.  On the one hand you have Valjean, who is stepping into his redeemed identity and living a life of grace and forgiveness (like Jesus).  On the other hand you have Javert, who represents ‘the law’ (like the Pharisees).  Javert is obsessed with tracking down Valjean to return him to prison for breaking parole—much like the Apostle Paul persecuted Christians prior to his conversion.

Throughout the movie, there are encounters between these two characters as their worlds collide in unpredictable ways.  Javert continues to believe (and sings) “a man such as you can never change”.  But even in the face of death, Valjean chooses to do what is right and won’t return to his ways of rebellion and slavery.  Valjean is a changed man.  He is walking out his identity in Christ. In the end (spoiler alert), Javert can’t live with himself and the inner turmoil caused by Valjean’s transformation, and chooses to take his own life—like Judas did.Les Miserables 2

I’ve seen “Les Mis” twice in the theater, bought the video this week and have listened to the soundtrack countless times in the last two months.  Needless to say, I love it!  I’m sure not everyone will agree with my enthusiasm for this movie.  However, with its powerful story, amazing music and compelling lyrics, I think “Les Mis” is a must-see for every Christian—and perfect for Holy Week reflection.  Coincidentally, it ends with the hope of tomorrow—just like we have in Christ.

What’s your favorite spiritual or Holy Week movie and why?

  • 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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