Saying Goodbye to my Mother

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

An Unexpected Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then Reality Strikes

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

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

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

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

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

Saying Goodbye to My Mother

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

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

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

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

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

Finishing Well

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

I was numb.

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

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

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

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

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

Those few days were some of the most painful days in my life, but they were also the most beautiful. I was carried through it by the prayers of friends and family and the love of our heavenly Father.As I wrote in “Walking My Mother Home,” my story in Journeys to Mother Love, the events of that week led to some radical identity revelations. I accepted the uniqueness that God gifted me with and started seeing the world through the new lens of healing and with hope for the future.

Gone was the fear that I was mentally ill like my mother.  It was replaced with the most amazing love for myself, for others and for God. I was filled with gratitude, joy, and peace.

Making Peace with Our Parents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Returning to Spain, Again

Spain has been on my mind a lot these days (mucho todos los días). With the passing of another day, my internal clock tells me it’s time to officially write about it. I’m returning to Spain! This time I will be in the company of my husband.

The last time I was in Spain was on the Celebrate Recovery mission in the fall of 2014. When I said my goodbyes to my Spanish family, I set a goal to return in five years. At the time that seemed like forever and that it would take a miracle. So I began praying and believing in faith.

Taking the Metro (subway) to Barajas Airport with Rosa, October 2014.

A Missed Opportunity

A few years later in April 2016, there was a wonderful opportunity to return to Spain for an international Christian women’s conference. It was held at the same church, Comunidad Cristiana Luz y Vida, where I spoke on the CR mission, in Rivas, a suburb of Madrid . The women’s conference was followed by a guided prayer journey to Southern Spain, the same trip that I was to attend as part of the 2014 CR mission. The prayer journey in 2014 was cancelled, but funds remained from that mission for a future trip.

I prayed and prayed to return to Spain for the conference and prayer journey in 2016. It was at the same time that I returned to full-time work at my husband’s clinic. What was initially a temporary assignment to convert to a new computer system unexpectedly turned into a permanent position. (And still is.) How I grieved not being able to go. My heart and prayers were with the other attendees every day of their trip.

Sightseeing during the CR mission, Segovia, Spain, October 2014.

A Difficult Decision

Around the same time, I learned of an American couple, the Hernandez’s, who were called to a missionary assignment in Spain. Much to my amazement, they had attended a similar prayer journey led by Pastor Fajardo, my mission partner in Rivas, a few years before the CR mission to Spain. Hearing of the Hernandez’s missionary call to Spain felt like answered prayer to me for all of the miles and footsteps I prayer-walked through Spain in the summer of 2013. I immediately felt a connection and spiritually aligned with their mission.

The financial need was great for these new missionaries. I felt prompted to release the remaining mission funds to the Hernandez’s mission. Being prompted by the Spirit doesn’t naturally mean that it was an easy decision though. It was accompanied by an internal struggle–a human and spiritual struggle. On the one hand, I knew that the funds would be used for God’s Kingdom in Spain. On the other hand, it seemed like I was giving up my dreams to return myself–especially in a ministry capacity. The funds were released and sent to the Hernandez’s mission in October 2016. It gives me much pleasure and peace to continue financially and prayerfully supporting them and their work in Spain. (And you can too!)

The Hernandez’s with Pastor Fajardo, Toledo, Spain.

Still Waiting

Then, miraculously (to me), on Christmas Eve 2016, my prayers were answered. I was surprised with the gift of a trip to Spain. The last present we opened was a card from my husband with a note to attend Pedro’s university graduation in June 2017. Not knowing what the card said, my sons were alarmed by my tearful reaction. They were tears of joy and gratitude–not just for my husband, but to God for answering my heartfelt prayers. Months later we made the difficult decision to delay our trip and not attend Pedro’s graduation. As much as it broke my heart to not be there for this milestone in Pedro’s life (more letting go), it was all for the best.

Pedro, right, and his friends at the university graduation, June 2017.

When I was invited to another Spanish prayer journey in April of this year, I was naturally excited to consider attending that. More internal struggle prevailed, accompanied by more prayer. I let go of my personal wants so that my husband can experience Spain on his terms. After all, he has never been to Europe.  As we approach our 35th wedding anniversary, it seems fitting that we experience Spain together from a different perspective.

Not Just a Tourist Destination

To me, Spain is not just a tourist destination. It is a second home and a place of great spiritual and emotional significance. I know there will be many God encounters on our trip. I can’t step on Spanish soil without praying into the nation, the Church, and the people. I will visit churches and cathedrals once again. I hope to personally meet the Hernandez’s and reconnect with other ministry colleagues.

I’ve often considered myself a self-appointed ambassador to Spain–sharing about Spain on social media, on my blog and whenever the opportunity arises in face to face conversations. (Did you hear that Spain surpassed the United States as the second most popular tourist destination in the world? I think I did my part!)

In downtown Madrid, National Day parade, October 12, 2014

Last fall when the turmoil in Catalonia was at its peak, a patient from Spain sought treatment at our office. We naturally connected about the political situation and her homeland in general. I delighted in helping her to understand how insurance coverage works in America. (Not that I agree with how it works, but it was necessary to explain it. Just imagine how that seems to someone from a country with socialized medicine.) The patient has offered help with our Spanish and brought us souvenirs from Spain after visiting family over the holidays.

I also routinely chat with Pedro and various members of his family. I look forward to seeing them again soon. (Hopefully I’ll be more prepared to personally communicate with them as I ramp up my Spanish to the next level.)

With my Spanish family on my final night in Spain, summer 2013.

Let the Countdown Begin

The countdown officially started the day we bought our tickets in November 2017. But I’ve been preparing for the day I would step on Spanish soil again in my heart and in prayer ever since my goodbye to my Spanish family in October 2014.

So today I am officially publishing the countdown (on right sidebar) to the day we both embark on a journey to Spain (April 28th). There will be tears upon our arrival at Barajas Airport in Madrid–seeing my Spanish family again after nearly five years–and when my husband meets Pedro’s parents face to face for the first time since he arrived in our home in July 2010.

The waiting is almost over. There is a mountain of work to do in the meantime–secular work. I’ll keep praying for Spain and preparing my heart for the next leg of this journey.

Toasting my return to Madrid with Rosa, October 2014.

I know this is God’s timing for us to go and for me to return. Because when the dates finally started to materialize in our calendars, I realized that I would be spending Mother’s Day with Rosa. That was confirmation to me–no prayer journey–this trip is about family. Rosa and I have been uniquely linked in spiritual and emotional ways through the passing of our mothers (as I wrote in “Walking My Mother Home,” my story in Journeys to Mother Love).

So isn’t it fitting that the Lord would return me to Spain for Mother’s Day (el día de las madres) with Rosa? It will be a reunion of heavenly proportions.

A Reformation Day Call for Unity in the Church

Ecumenism…have you heard of that word before? If you serve in Christian ministry, you are probably aware of this philosophy.  Ecumenism is the aim or principle of promoting unity in the world’s Christian churches. I’ve become very familiar with it in recent years, not so much by conscious choice, but by the promptings of the Holy Spirit in my life.

Gratefully, my journey into ecumenism has radically changed my faith and broken through years of religious bias.  Unfortunately though, bitterness is still frequently harbored between denominations throughout the world.

Photo credit: lutheranreformation.org

The Split in the Church

How did this disharmony and division start in the Church?  What caused the divide between Catholic and Protestant denominations?

It started 500 years ago on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, nailed his ’95 Theses’ to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  His controversial proposals disagreed with the practice of selling indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church.  This practice took advantage of the poor, promising them the absolution of sin and hope of eternal salvation.

Martin Luther also contradicted the Church by claiming:

  • the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God and
  • salvation is based on grace, not by deeds.

Luther’s writings were declared heretical in 1520, and he was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church the following year. Luther went on to translate the New Testament into German while in exile in 1522. In 1534, Luther and his colleagues translated the entire Bible into German, making scripture accessible to common people and not just the highly educated and leaders of the church.

The ’95 Theses’ is commonly referred to as the spark that ignited the Protestant Reformation.  Although his assertions and those of other reformers made important changes to the universal church, it did not come without a significant cost. The split of the church into Catholicism and Protestantism led to religious wars and persecution in countries across Europe for hundreds of years, saturating the soil with the blood of the martyrs. Pope John Paul II even made an unprecedented apology for the sins of the Church in March 2000.

Drawn to Catholicism

It’s not surprising to me that growing up in a Catholic family, I never heard about the Protestant Reformation.  At 17, I converted to Protestantism, but still didn’t know anything about the Reformation. It wasn’t until I met Protestant missionaries from France in 2011, that I was enlightened about the Reformation and its impact in Europe.  I learned that the Protestant Reformation never took root in Spain and that Protestants were considered a cult compared to the over 90% Catholic population.

That came as a total shock to me. In my conversations with Pedro and Rosa, practicing Catholics from Spain, our religious differences never surfaced.  In fact, our shared belief in Jesus gave us a strong family and spiritual bond.  With the passing of my mother, a practicing Catholic, in 2011, I was drawn back to the mysteries of the Catholic Church.  I started attending weekday mass and devoted hours there in prayer.

My first encounters with the Catholic women were very warm and inviting. Some in their zeal for Catholicism tried to convert me. It led to some interesting conversations.

My Protestant friends were mostly encouraging me–to listen to the Spirit and not be boxed in by religious rules or what ‘church’ is supposed to look like.  They’ve called me a bridge-builder and a catalyst for change.

Others were biased against Catholics, mostly claiming they didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus–a commonly misconstrued belief by Protestants.

By the time I was making travel plans to visit Spain in 2013, the Lord was already working on me and preparing me to pray for the Church in Spain and for unity in the Body of Christ.  That trip, my personal pilgrimage to Spain, and my prayers, led to another prayer assignment the following year–the Celebrate Recovery mission to France and Spain.

San Jerónimo de Real Church, Madrid, Spain

A Holy Shift

Since the completion of that prayer assignment in 2014, the Lord revealed to me my unique wiring: Catholic by birth, Protestant by choice, and then opening my eyes to the genesis of Catholicism again as an adult. My spiritual heritage, and affinity and openness to both denominations gave me a great desire and calling to pray for healing of the wounds of the past, and for renewal and unity in the Church.

I never stopped believing that the Lord was leading me and that He was calling me to be a voice for unity and healing in the Church, to be ecumenical.

My faith journey across denominational lines has given me insights into how both Catholic and Protestants show up on Sundays and how they do community during the week.  I’ve witnessed major shifts in the Catholic Church that are creating a more engaged environment, and not one where parishioners just come on Sunday to fulfill their weekly obligation and warm the pews.

Catholics are being encouraged to read and study the Bible, to attend Alpha groups, to serve from their strengths (Gallup StrengthsFinder) and to grow spiritually.  I’ve seen the hunger and openness that is being fostered from the leadership of the church.  I’ve heard salvation through grace being preached in homilies. I’ve witnessed the charismatic renewal that the Holy Spirit is pouring on the Church.

In fact, some might even say that reformation is occurring in the Catholic Church.

Cathedral of the Incarnation, Granada, Spain

A Call for Unity

When God orchestrated my journey down this unusual ecumenical path, I was ignorant about the Reformation and uneducated about the spiritual climate in Europe. Having experienced the darkness and witnessed the divide there, I believe the Church needs to undergo a holy shift toward healing and unity.  We are joint heirs to the Kingdom and called to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:16-18, NIV)

500 years after the Protestant Reformation, on this Reformation Day 2017, let’s join together across denominations, in prayer, calling heaven to earth and uniting His people as we prepare for a Holy Shift in the Body of Christ.

Holy Week, Holy Life

What does it mean to live a holy life?  How do you define it?

Is the holy life reserved for those called or ordained into the priesthood or carry an official license or ministerial degree?

An ‘Unholy’ Life?

It’s been over a year since I returned to full-time work in a secular capacity.  What was initially intended to be a temporary assignment has turned into a more permanent position.  I didn’t realize the affect this would have on my writing or my ministry connections.

At times it feels very unholy.  Is it really unholy or is it just an attitude in my mind?

What makes a life holy?

Is it the exterior dos and don’ts—following the commandments and acting righteous?  Or is it derived from the inner life?  Jesus called out the Pharisee’s on this attitude in Matthew 23:25-26 when he said:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”

Stinging words for sure!  And they were said to the religious leaders of that time.

Defining a Holy Life

Jesus calls us into various forms of ministry in and out of the church.  For this season in my life, I’m called to take my servant attitude and love for others into a rapidly changing office environment, putting aside my desires to write and serve in organized ministry.  While it’s been a difficult pill to swallow, it doesn’t make me or my work unholy or less important than it was before.

So what does a holy life look like?  Here are some things to ponder in seeking to lead a holy life:

Redefining Holiness

Holy Week and Easter gives us a chance to redefine what holiness means to us.  It’s a time to invite Jesus into our inner lives and clean out the cup.

Jesus’ death and resurrection are the most holy and loving moments in the history of the world.  Will we give it the time and attention that it deserves?  Will we let Jesus deep inside to let us see our holiness from His perspective—what we truly mean to Him?  Will we spend time with Jesus and show Him what He means to us?

Our holiness is not defined by what we do (in or outside of ministry work).  Our holiness is defined by what Jesus did for us on the cross.  He sees us as holy.  And that is what makes us holy—despite our sin, our shame, our brokenness, our imperfections, and our pride.  Our job is to live a life worthy of His love and sacrifice.

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:9-10, NIV)

Let us join together in celebrating our holiness this Resurrection Sunday! Happy Easter!

A Christmas Offering

Today is the eve of Christmas Day!  Whether you celebrate on December 24th or 25th, this is the time in the spiritual calendar set aside to honor and commemorate Jesus!  A day to be thankful and bring worship to our King.

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  (Matthew 2:10-11 NIV)

wise-men-searching

Wise Men From the East

The Bible tells us that over 2,000 years ago wise men from the East sought Jesus to bring him gifts.  Who were these wise men?  They were not Jewish priests or prophets.  Some Bible translations refer to them as kings or astrologers, while other sources speculate that they were sorcerers.

Whoever they were, these things are certainly true: they were in search of the King of the Jews and they brought lavish gifts to worship Him.

Doesn’t that paint a beautiful picture of sacrifice, obedience, and humility?  Does that resonate with you?

Humbling Ourselves

I sometimes wonder why people don’t fully understand the true meaning of Christmas or why people claiming to be Followers of Christ can be so hardhearted when it comes to things of the spirit.  Yes, I know it’s hard—especially with the constant bombardment of activities, pings on our phones, and ‘shoulds’ in our lives.  I stumble and falter at times, and have to confess that I struggle to keep Christ first and foremost in my life.

What I do know to be true from my own walk of faith is that we have to be willing to humble ourselves before God and surrender the burdens that we carry.  Not just once, but day by day, hour by hour, and even minute by minute.

humblequote

Jesus left His heavenly home to save us from our brokenness, self-sufficiency, and selfish ways (sin).  His birth was an offering to mankind.  Jesus offered Himself to us as a baby so that we would offer ourselves to Him.

It’s that simple.

And if we refuse to ever grasp that profound truth and let Jesus fully reside in our hearts (not just our heads), we will never experience the kind of inner peace and joy that He brings into our lives.

Be the Offering

We are to be the offering.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Hebrews 11:1, NIV)

No one else is worthy of this offering or our praises.  So come let us adore Him, Christ the King.

You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. (Revelation 4:11, NIV)

When you read these words, do they bring a smile to your face and gladness in your heart?  Or do they just seem like words on a page?

Do you want a fresh start this Christmas?  To see Jesus in a new way?  To celebrate Christmas as an offering to our King?

Listen and meditate on the words of this song, Christmas Offering.

 

Now, take a moment to bow on bended knee (like the wise men) and pray:

Heavenly Father, I thank you for the gift of your son Jesus—the ultimate offering and gift you bestowed on mankind.  I confess my need for Him in my life.  I surrender my self-sufficiency and selfish ways to you and ask for a clean heart this Christmas Day and in the year ahead.  I offer my life to you and ask that you would fill me with the peace that surpasses all understanding.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

What are you putting at the feet of Jesus this Christmas?

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.

Kairos, the Ultimate Time for Change

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

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

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

kairos-vs-chronos

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

Living in Kairos Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kairos as God’s Timing

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

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

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

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

Kairos eternity

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

A Time for Change

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

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

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

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

Kairos time

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

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

 

Fertilizing the Soil in Spain & France through Prayer

A year ago at this time I was traveling through France and Spain on a church mission. It was a fantastic trip, and not your typical sort of international mission. The purpose was to spread the gospel by speaking and teaching about Celebrate Recovery (CR), a Christian 12-step program launched at Saddleback Church over 20 years ago.

CR is in 69 countries with the materials translated into 28 languages.  So why did I go to Spain and France? The Lord has given me a heart for His people in Spain and continues to prompt me to pray for their spiritual needs; France because of an invitation from an American missionary and colleague who invited me to share my testimony.

Sharing my testimony at the CR meeting in Grenoble, France (October 2014)

Sharing my testimony at the CR meeting in Grenoble, France (October 2014)

As I mark the one-year anniversary of my mission, it’s time to pass on an update from my missionary partners and to share more about the spiritual climate in these countries.

Preparing for a Harvest in Spain

I’ve always believed that the mission was only made possible because of my personal pilgrimage to Spain in the summer of 2013. I prayed throughout the country in numerous churches and cathedrals. In preparing for that trip, the Lord laid it upon my heart to pray for a spiritual awakening in Spain. Within six months, I was invited to return and lead a Celebrate Recovery seminar in the suburbs of Madrid.

While in Spain that first summer, my prayers weren’t related to Celebrate Recovery or for the Lord to use me in Spain. I liken my prayers to how Jesus spoke in parables about the harvest (Luke 8). My prayers were tilling the spiritual soil in the country. They were focused on preparing the spiritual and physical atmosphere to be open to the Lord’s work. When I returned to Spain on mission last fall, I continued to pray in the same vein, fertilizing the message that was taught in the CR seminar.

The Fruit of our Labor in Spain

If you were to look at the fruit one year later in Spain specifically, it may not look like much. You can’t point to the launch of a CR program at any local churches. You can’t point to continued training of the participants. What you can point to is that the message was received and is being welcomed by the seminar attendees.

We left the attendees with Spanish copies of Life’s Healing Choices (Ocho Decisiones Sandoras), written by John Baker, co-founder of Celebrate Recovery. This book breaks down the 12-steps into recovery choices or principles that are more easily understood in individual and small group settings. Some of the seminar attendees have worked through that book and are eager to share the information they learned.

The CR content is also being integrated into the curriculum being taught at the John Wesley Bible Institute (launched after our seminar). Another exciting development shared by my missionary partner in Madrid, Pastor Josh Fajardo, is that he has been meeting with an evangelical priest interested in the program.

The First CR Harvest in France

While in Spain CR has barely been introduced, in France there is one known CR group that is up and running. That group is led by my missionary partner in Grenoble, Marvin Klein, at E.P.E.G.E. where I shared my testimony. That CR ministry has been active for two years.

Regular attendance at the weekly meeting is 16 people—10 men and 6 women. These participants are wrapping up the ministry’s inaugural step study groups and preparing for leadership. Consistency and momentum grew in the women’s group following my visit.

Marvin also shared with me that they are working on making the ministry more visible to the outside and plan to create a video about the program. He has continued contact with a friend who attended the Spain CR seminar who is interested in applying the CR material to teens and young adults. Marvin is also in communication with a French priest and a missionary in Barcelona who are both interested in the program.

The European Soil – Religious History & Cultural Context

Why is this significant? It’s because of the European religious history and cultural context. From my perspective, the European church is still years behind the shift that the church has experienced in America.

I’ve been in recovery for over a decade. Early on in my journey, I attended one of the oldest CR ministries in our state. It was at a time when the talk about vulnerability, codependency, and boundaries was starting to catch on in the church. Christians attending secular recovery groups like AA and Al-Anon started to drift toward CR.

Slowly the church has embraced the concept of spiritual poverty. Other ministries have been birthed, books and Bible studies have been written, and sermons preached—all pointing to some of the key concepts taught and practiced at CR. This results in Good News for Christians in America. However, I still believe that if people truly embraced their brokenness, CR meetings would be standing room only every week.

France and Spain also both have deep spiritual and emotional wounds related to the Church. It’s similar to the deep divide that occurred in the United States when the Civil War separated our nation between the North and the South over slavery.

St. Bartholomew's Massacre

St. Bartholomew’s Massacre, 1572, Paris (Painted by Francois Dubois)

With the birth of the Protestant Reformation Movement by Martin Luther in 1517, France became divided in its religious beliefs. This led to bloody massacres, a series of religious wars, and forced conversions to Catholicism.  Intense animosity still exists, handed down from generation to generation.   Unfortunately, Europeans in general have turned against the organized church.

The spiritual history in Spain is no less traumatic with the blood of Christian martyrs buried in the soil. The Protestant Reformation Movement never made a stronghold in Spain. However, the Spanish Inquisition was very effective for over 300 years (1478-1834) at keeping heretics to a minimum. The goal of the Inquisition was a pure and unified Spanish-Christian race.

In 1492, over 150,000 Jews were expelled from Spain. Another 750,000 remained and forced to convert to Catholicism. It wasn’t until earlier this year that Spain finally passed a law to grant their descendants the right to dual Spanish citizenship.

Although Spain is considered a Catholic country, most Spaniards don’t attend Mass or practice their faith. The country’s Catholic roots and traditions are prevalent in the government, the monarchy, the culture, and the celebration of holidays and religious feasts and festivals. Sadly, towering Gothic cathedrals serve more as museums and tourist attractions than working churches.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, a popular tourist attraction, but few realize that heretics were burned at the stake here during the Spanish Inquisition.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, a popular tourist attraction, but few realize that heretics were burned at the stake here during the Spanish Inquisition.

Prayer is the Work

Thankfully I got to attend Mass at a few of these cathedrals and toured several of them as well. It was where I did my best Kingdom work, praying in these sacred structures that weathered the spiritual and physical battles of centuries gone by. It was like being on Holy Ground. I did the same while in France last year, most notably by attending Mass at Notre Dame while on a short layover in Paris.

I still have a vested interest in the fruit being produced in these countries as I continue to pray for their spiritual renewal and healing. It’s one way I can be used by the Lord and have an impact in the Kingdom in spiritual ways unknown to me.

A spiritual mentor once told me that we can change the world if we are willing to be invisible.  I’ve been blessed to be visibly used as the hands and feet of Jesus in France and Spain on my mission last fall. But it started with being invisible in the summer of 2013.

What I think we tend to forget in our busy American lifestyle is that prayer is the work. Thankfully that message has been resonating in theaters across America over the last month with the release of War Room, and its message to fight your battles in prayer first.

Wherever we are, as Followers of Christ, we have access to our Heavenly Father, to Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Let’s prepare the way for all we do in His Name by preparing the atmosphere of our hearts and the physical and spiritual lay of the land in prayer.

  • To support the CR work in Spain, click here.
  • To support the CR work in France, click here, and select ‘Klein’ on the drop down menu.

And please help fertilize the soil by lifting their efforts in prayer to bring spiritual renewal and healing into their countries.

Not your Typical Exchange Student Experience

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

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

Welcome poster

Pedro’s welcome poster, July 2010.

Five Years of Celebrations

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

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

Pedro at the Nelson family piano, July 2010

Pedro at the Nelson family piano, July 2010

Rekindling an Old Friendship

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

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

Pedro in the recording studio, July 2011.

Pedro in the recording studio, July 2011.

Looking for Host Families

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

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

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

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

Our EF leaders, Kris & Jan.

Our EF leaders, Kris & Jan.

Matching Host Families and Students

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

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

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

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

Pedro in his studio in Madrid, July 2013.

Pedro in his studio in Madrid, July 2013.

First Contact

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

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

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

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

And the rest, as they say, is history.

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

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

A Match Made in Heaven

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

It was truly a match made in heaven.

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

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

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

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

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

Be the Blessing

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

Pedro EF

  • 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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