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

The Last Time I Saw my Mother Alive

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

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

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

Prompted to Visit one Last Time

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

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

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

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

Not Quite What I Expected

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

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

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

My aunt praying for my mother.

My aunt praying for my mother.

Joy and Sorrow

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

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

A teary goodbye, May 2010.

A teary goodbye, May 2010.

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

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

Beauty from Ashes

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

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

IMG_2436

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

Coming Down From the Mountaintops, Part 2

In Part 1 of this post series, I wrote about how I am adapting to the changes in my life since returning from my mission to Spain.  In this post, I’m turning more to the biblical undergirding that I’ve been processing after coming down from the mountaintops of serving God across the world.

For Such a Time as This 2Esther’s Moment in History

The book of Esther is the story of how Esther was taken out of her Jewish heritage and community to live as a queen in the palace at Susa (present day Iran).  Esther 4:14 is often quoted when studying this book of the Bible: For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

Esther’s presence as queen put her in a unique position to boldly speak to the king on behalf of her people.  She could’ve been killed for her reproach to him.  Yet she did it; for she knew that she was called by God ‘for such a time as this.’

I’m no Esther, but I have at times felt like my boldness for Christ has put me in ‘for such a time as this’ situations where I have to make a decision on how much I share and in what venues.  (Case in point, all my recent speaking for Celebrate Recovery and while on mission in Europe.)

Have you ever wondered what happened to Esther after saving the Jews from annihilation?  I have.

I’ve wondered how she lived her life after being such a catalyst for the survival of her people.  How did she keep it from going to her head?  How did she humble herself in the aftermath of such a major event in the history of her people?

I wonder because I want(ed) to learn how to live in the aftermath of living on the mountaintops for God (now and at other times in my life).  I know it’s possible.  Moses did it.  David did it.  They were not perfect people.

Social MediaWhat if They Lived Today?

If Esther lived today, she would have media breathing down her back.  Her image and story would be all over the news and fodder for social media.  Hmmm, would she have her own Facebook page or be posting what she had for dinner or who she was with?

Thankfully, they didn’t live in the social media frenzy that we live in today.  (What would they think about it?  I won’t go down that rabbit trail!)  Since the heroes and saints of the Bible didn’t have to face these types of pressures or intense social media saturation, does that mean the Bible is not relevant?  Of course not!  We are to live grounded on the Word of God.  We are to live humbly and morally, giving praise to God in times of success and in times of defeat.

I think that how we live in the valley, after a mountaintop experience is a much bigger testimonial for God’s work in our lives.  How do we carry on?  How do we face the trials and tribulations that follow?  Do we cling to Him or do we grow angry and bitter?

trust-godFor me, I persevere knowing that as Paul says in Romans 8:28, “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.”  I’ve seen it time and time again in my walk of faith.  I know God’s character and I trust Him.

My Humble Perspective

My perspective from being on the mountaintop for what seems like an eternity (on and off since my mother’s passing almost four years ago), is to not let my past dictate my future.  And my present circumstances, grappling with a new routine and change of focus post-mission, is not where I will be forever.

So I am re-thinking my priorities and once again adapting to a new normal in my life.  I’m backing off from the social media frenzy.  I’m trying to silence all of the ‘shoulds’ in my mind related to writing and publishing.  That even meant not writing about Thanksgiving and letting other November milestones like my birthday go without comment.

I’m living in the aftermath of ‘such a time as this’ and it’s humbling. 

God used me in Spain. He met me on the spiritual and physical mountaintops of France and Spain in very deep and significant ways.

On the mountaintops for God and with God, September 2014.

On the mountaintops for God and with God, September 2014.

He was there with me and for me. 

I’m not physically there anymore.  I’m coming to grips with the reality that He may not use me there physically again.  I can’t dwell on that, future trip, or let that dictate my value.  I did what God called me to do there.  I have peace about that.

I continue to pray for a spiritual revival in the country.  I ask the Lord to reveal the fruit to me in my lifetime.  In the meantime, I’m learning to be grateful for the peaks and the valleys of serving Him.

Finally, I know that I didn’t leave Him in France or Spain.  I came down from the mountaintops with God, in me and beside me.  That’s what He wanted to remind me of today as I re-engaged my blog for His purpose.

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.  Matthew 28:20, NIV

On a mountain high or a valley low, God uses it all.  Giving him the glory in the French Alps, September 2014.

On a mountain high or a valley low, God uses it all. Giving him the glory in the French Alps, September 2014.

Have you found God’s purpose for your life?  How are you using your gifts and talents for His Kingdom?  You never know when or where your ‘for such a time as this’ moment will be.  He is waiting to meet you there.   Just listen and follow His voice.

On Mission for God, Part 5 ~ Getting Nervous

There it is—that old familiar feeling of fear. This time it is accompanied by the old mantra that I’ve struggled to banish from my mind for the last few years…  “I don’t know what I’m doing.”  It’s been months since it’s surfaced.  Yes, there have been doubts along the way.  But now…I leave in less than two weeks!  I think Satan is up to his little tricks again.

god-is-in-control1

The Need to Control

One of the reasons this is so hard for me is because it triggers many of the issues that brought me to my knees and to my first Celebrate Recovery meeting ten years ago—my workaholism, perfectionism and need to control.  I’m stumbling over them again as I try to fit in all that needs to be done before I leave (what I want done).

It is a struggle to let go and let God. This is the biggest layer of letting go and trusting God that I’ve ever had to do.  It is one of the biggest sacrifices that I’ve ever had to do in a ministry setting as well.

But isn’t that the way God works?  He is always stretching us and chiseling us to be more like Jesus.

 

Check out God’s Chisel (above video), by the Skit Guys, based on this very message.  They perform regularly at the annual CR Summit at Saddleback Church, where I saw them last month.

The Loneliness

Although I am partnered with two male missionary colleagues across the world, it feels like a very lonely call to me. Our connections are limited by a 9-hour time difference and other work and ministry commitments.  We each have our own roles in the mission.

My partner in France is working on the training materials.  My partner in Spain is organizing and hosting the seminar at his church.  I’m up to my eyeballs in fund raising, speaking, writing, and preparing to leave the country for three weeks.

My French missionary partner preparing Spanish training materials.

My French missionary partner preparing Spanish training materials.

My loneliness partly stems from working in isolation at home. But it also is highly triggered every time I send out an appeal for donations or prayer support.  I hate asking.  I hate facing the silence (and perceived rejection).

It triggers the abandonment issues of my past and brings my little Ardis screaming to the surface.  Last week my angst over this sent me to my counselor for a short session to look at more unresolved hurts.  The tears naturally came like I hadn’t felt in a long time.

Little Ardis is scared about taking these steps into the unknown.  She remembers what happened last year—the culture shock and not having a voice.  Adult Ardis is soothing her.  SHE is trusting God and taking steps of faith.

Normalizing the Growth Process

The stress I am under right now is normal for this type of situation. I am facing a lot of ambiguity.  I have since I started down this road four years ago when I reached out to Rosa and stepped into the healing of my mother wounds.  I have had to normalize so many things in my life since then—a family connection in Spain, my writing ministry, Pedro’s film composing pursuits, and now out of the blue, being called into missions.

growing-pains

And with growth comes pain.

That is a big part of the message I want to convey in France and Spain. In order to change our patterns of behavior and face the hurts that are keeping us from living the life that God intends, we have to embrace the pain.  It is not easy.  It takes time.  It takes courage—lots of it.

When you use the biblical 12-steps of Celebrate Recovery as your guide, Jesus is with you every step of the way. Once you start to notice the change, you don’t want to go back.

It brings Freedom!  It brings Hope!

So, yes, I am getting nervous. It is normal.  I’m not going to let it stop me or slow me down.  I know that God has called me to do this—regardless of the outcome.  It’s in His hands.

He told me to “GO.”  I need His permission not to go.

mission

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19, NIV)

Please join me in prayer for this mission (September 24 – October 16, 2014) for the Word to take root and start a renewal of spiritual growth in France and Spain.

Qualified or Called, Part 2 ~ Learning to Lead

It was two years ago that the Celebrate Recovery (CR) ministry launched at my church. I had dreamed and prayed for this ministry to launch there for years, but was never given the go-ahead. Now a team was in place, thanks to the arrival of Marvin and Lisa, missionaries from France who were planning a launch of this same ministry there.

On a spiritual high, at the CR 1-day conference in Portland, OR, February 2012.

On a spiritual high, at the CR 1-day conference in Portland, OR, February 2012.

The Highs & Lows of Ministry Leadership

Marvin was the ministry head, and I served as the trainer on the team. I’ll never forget the sheer joy I felt when the team all went to a CR conference together a few weeks before the launch. I had been to several CR conferences in the past, but never one representing my own church. It was such a spiritual high.

However, launching a recovery ministry like CR isn’t (wasn’t) all fun and games. There were a lot of spiritual attacks to me personally and to much of the team. We were on the battlefront in the war to take back people’s lives from the throes of addiction, abuse, rejection, depression, and hopelessness. As distressing as those experiences were, they helped to build my faith and trust God in bigger ways.

It was a difficult decision to leave that ministry later that year. However, with the release of my first book, God made it pretty clear He was stretching me in new ways and wanted to use my voice in the publishing arena.

Giving my CR testimony, March 2014.

Giving my CR testimony, March 2014.

A New Testimony to Share

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this 2-part series, I recently re-wrote my testimony. I never publically shared my testimony at my church, where I served on the CR launch team. It was something I had dreamed and hoped would happen when that ministry was forming. When the circumstances and timing didn’t align for that to happen, I trusted God’s purposes.

Then a few weeks ago, I gave my testimony for the first time since the launch of that ministry—not at my church, but at another where I serve on a CR leader team made up of individuals from multiple churches. As I re-wrote my testimony to share that night, I more fully understood the reasons behind this timing and venue to publically share my testimony.

I am now being called into a new territory to share the Good News of the Gospel. It is through Celebrate Recovery. It is not in Washington State. It is not even in the United States. It is in Spain.

Josh Fajardo, pastor from Spain visits a local CR meeting, March 2014.

Josh Fajardo, pastor from Spain visits a local CR meeting, March 2014.

Alignment of God’s Timing

The chain of events that led to this opportunity had seeds in several connections and God orchestrated meetings over the past few years. It started with Pedro, an exchange student from Spain who lived with my family in the summer of 2010. Then I met Marvin, the French missionary, who asked me to be on the CR team at my church. Marvin in turn introduced me to Josh Fajardo, a Spanish pastor and missionary, whose church I attended while I was in Madrid last summer.

Josh was in Seattle recently visiting local CR meetings and talking to pastors about this program. I was honored by his attendance the night I gave my testimony at the ministry where I now serve. We are jointly pursuing opportunities to partner with bringing this ministry to Madrid. I have high hopes of a mission trip to Spain—maybe in the fall, but most assuredly when the timing is right and God’s provision is in place.

All of these things seem so unlikely to me—the ups and downs I’ve persevered to get to this point. They don’t make any sense unless I keep the lens of His eternal purpose in my mind. I believe I am called for a time such as this. God has been putting these pieces in place since before time began.

Attending to last minute details for the CR ministry kick-off meeting, with Marvin, March 2012.

Attending to last minute details for the CR ministry kick-off meeting, with Marvin, March 2012.

Qualified or Called?

After ten years of recovery and going all in for the Lord, my ministry resume is full of training and conferences I’ve attended. It’s full of groups I led, and times I shared my testimony. The one thing missing is an official degree or letters behind my name that qualifies me in the work world to do this.

Ultimately what qualifies me for this Call is my testimony of faith and the ever increasing challenges that the Lord has walked me through. I have a B.A. in Business Administration; I have a master’s degree in Brokenness. It is based on His biblical principles to be a Light unto others.

So Marvin and I are joining forces again, along with Josh, to build a team, and embark on a new area of ministry, into more uncharted territory. With God as our guide, who can stand against us? (Romans 8:31)

Prayer is definitely appreciated as we seek God’s will and ways to train and launch this ministry of Hope in Spain.

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

Qualified or Called, Part 1 ~ Learning to Serve

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV)

This verse first caught my attention early on in my recovery journey. It was the catalyst that I embraced when I started leading women’s support groups. God revealed to me in the short time that I was in recovery that he wanted to use my pain and my healing to come alongside others to encourage and support them on their journeys to wholeness.

Unqualified to qualifiedStepping up to Serve

The first group I facilitated was a Boundaries group. (It wasn’t the popular book by Drs. Cloud and Townsend. That came later in my teaching ministry.) My church was starting a recovery program with multiple groups being led with different curriculum. I was hungry for recovery and eager to share how God had redeemed my pain. However, I felt sorely unqualified to lead in this kind of setting. The ministry leader shared something with the leaders that has stuck with me ever since. He said, “You just have to be well enough.”

That was a relief to me. I didn’t have to have it all figured out. I didn’t need to perform. I needed to lead from my brokenness and my vulnerability.* That didn’t make it easy, but it helped me to let go of my pride and let God work in me in this new role with my church. You see I was, and am, a fairly capable person when it comes to project management, running large meetings, and such in the business world. However, putting myself on the front line of emotional and spiritual endeavors was totally foreign to me. And that was what God wanted. 

2 Cor. 12:9Believing you are Well Enough

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV) That is not what Satan wants—for you to serve in ministry. He is an expert at trying to get us to believe we are not good enough, smart enough, or worthy enough to serve the Lord. Don’t believe him! God wants to use you!

In time I stepped into bigger ministry roles at my church, not because I felt qualified, but because I felt called by God, or in some cases was asked. I often jumped in quickly, not realizing what I was getting myself into. Each time God was stretching me outside of my comfort zone—to coordinate a women’s retreat, speak at a women’s event, and to train the leaders that launched my church’s Celebrate Recovery ministry. Through it all, I was often reminded of a phrase I’d heard in ministry circles: “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.”

Answering my Next Call

Over the last few months, I’ve been preparing for God’s next call on my life. In preparation for that, I worked on a re-write of my recovery testimony. If you don’t know what that is, check out this post, What is a CR Testimony?, on the Celebrate Recovery website where I serve. Suffice it to say, it is not a small matter; and it is not a salvation testimony.

Answering the call

As I wrote it, God revealed to me the weavings and points of intersection where He was putting the people, circumstances and events in place to lead to this very time in my life. It’s been pretty profound, and has grown my faith in even bigger ways. There is so much I could write about this, but one chain of events stands out with such clarity to illustrate the way God works, and how perfect His timing is. I’ll save that for Part 2 of this series.

I’d love to hear from others who have stepped up into ministry leadership. Did you feel called? Do you presently feel qualified? How was God preparing you to serve Him?

*A great book I recommend about this leadership posture is Leading with a Limp, by Dan Allender.

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

What if His People Prayed, Part 1 ~ One by One

I’ve had people tell me how they admire my walk of faith or how I diligently spend so much time in prayer.  In truth, it feels like it is not nearly enough.  I do spend hours during that weekly appointment time with God I referenced in my last post.  But on a daily basis, my prayers are much less fervent or disciplined.  It’s not for lack of trying.

I admire those who get up early, spend time with God on a daily basis, or just live minute by minute trusting the Lord and feeling His Presence.  That is my greatest desire—to feel His Presence with me all of the time—and to turn to Him for every little thing.  I know people like that, but it’s not me—not yet.

Child PrayingBeing Taught to Pray

But outside of the “Lord’s Prayer” (which is rarely prayed in Protestant group settings), where are we taught to pray?  How do we pray?

From an early age, we may have been taught this short classic bedtime prayer from the 18th century, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.  If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”  I know I heard it as a child.  It gave me a sense of comfort to know that God was listening and taking care of me.

Growing up Catholic, all I knew was the “Lord’s Prayer” and the “Hail Mary.”  I don’t remember being taught to pray on my own and never prayed my personal prayers out loud.  When I joined my first Bible study over a decade ago, I started to stretch outside of my comfort zone and got used to speaking what was in my heart.  In time it became more natural and was easier to get in touch with the Holy Spirit’s leading.

What if His People Prayed?

It was around that time that I started to listen to contemporary Christian music.  A popular new group caught my attention, Casting Crowns.  It was one of the first Christian CDs that I bought.  Their song, “What if His People Prayed?” speaks volumes to the power of our prayers and the urgency of why I pray so strongly today.

That was over ten years ago.  I wasn’t a prayer warrior then, but I am now.  Those words ring so true to me.  So when I am praying in my weekly time at the church, I pull out my written list of people’s names and pray what the Lord brings to mind to pray for them.  It connects me to them in the here and now and in the spiritual realm.

IMG_6345bIf you’ve never heard the song, “What if His People Prayed?”, here’s a few of the words and the music video:

“What if the armies of the Lord
Picked up and dusted off their swords
Vowed to set the captives free
And not let Satan have one more

What if the church, for heaven’s sake
Finally stepped up to the plate
Took a stand upon God’s promise
And stormed hell’s rusty gates”

What if No One Prayed?

What is heavy on my heart today are the few people on my prayer list who refuse to acknowledge the God of the universe, and most assuredly do not accept Jesus as their Savior.  Some would say it is a lost cause to pray for them.

However this week as I looked at how long my list of names has become, I wondered, what would happen if I cut back on this list?  More specifically what would happen if I don’t pray for those two people?  Because of their family background, I came to realize that I am probably the only person who is praying for them.  They are lost, but they are not a lost cause.

WP_20140305_009[1]What if my mother never prayed for me all those years ago when I turned my back on her?  Would I be who I am today or be so bold with my faith?  I don’t pretend to understand the what-ifs, the theology of predestination, and how God works beyond our reality of time and space.  Yet He is sovereign.

I know my prayers are important.  I know God hears them and He is responding to them.  It may not be in the way I think He will, but I trust that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will.

A Closing Prayer

And so I will continue to send my prayers heavenward for those God places on my heart and in my path.  Right now I am praying for you, my friends, family, and readers who I don’t know.  May the Lord give you a glimmer of His Presence in your life today and point you to Him in the days to come.

Who needs your prayers today?

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

A Tribute to Mom, Part 2 – Her Final Gift

This week marks the 3-year anniversary of my mother’s passing. Last year I shared her eulogy on my blog. It continues to be the post with the most hits (interest). I am sharing it again to commemorate the sacrifice my mother’s life became for me. May it inspire you to turn your healing into hope.

Making Me Bold

When I started writing for a public audience, I knew that many of my initial writings and journal would potentially become published.  They were the basis for much of what I wrote in my story “Walking My Mother Home”, published in “Journeys to Mother Love”.  One year after the acceptance of that story by Cladach Publishing, and to mark the anniversary of my mother’s passing,

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Stop, Look & Listen to God

On New Year’s Day 2014, I attended mass at a local Catholic Church.  I suppose it may seem like a strange thing for a Protestant to do, but it has become commonplace for me on special occasions.  It was the perfect time for God to show up and remind me of what brought me here in the first place, and to give me direction for the New Year.

The Fruit of Spiritual Growth

It was three years ago this month that He put the wheels in motion for my first step into this church.  Within weeks God brought about the amazing revelations and healing that led to my writing “Walking My Mother Home” published in Journeys to Mother Love.  So I sat in church reflecting, and taking in the significance of how God has aligned so many events and brought so many people in my life these past several years that led to my unique walk of faith.

One place of my reflection and prayer in Spain on the island of Mallorca, July 2013.

One place of my reflection and prayer in Spain on the island of Mallorca, July 2013.

There are too many to thank here, but they know who they are:  pastors, support group leaders, and men and women of faith, here and abroad.  They encouraged me to follow where God was leading me, to reclaim my identity, and to live missionally.  They planted seeds of righteousness in me.  They fertilized my dreams of bringing Glory to God through my writing and my voice.

After 13 years of actively seeking spiritual growth and ten years of recovery, they have supported me in my journey to turn my weakness into victory, and my brokenness into a personal ministry of compassion for the poor in spirit.

Stop-Look-and-Listen-to-God-Large-Poster-9780764707513A Word from the Lord

“What’s next, Lord?” I asked during a moment of silent prayer in church.  The word He immediately gave me was ‘STOP’.  It wasn’t to stop serving or reaching out to others.  It was more like ‘stop, look, and listen’.

In all of my excitement about going to Spain last year, it wasn’t unusual for me to get ahead of God or to start acting on something that really wasn’t the right time.  Case in point, I thought I was supposed to speak in Spain and eagerly jumped into setting up talks and honing my speaking skills.

“Not now,” He lovingly told me.  “But, but, but…”  I knew I had to let go and trust Him.

The other word that God gave me for 2014 was ‘reflect’.  That doesn’t sound like a hard thing for a contemplative to do.  I spend hours in prayer every week; so what’s the difference this year?  God reminded me recently of a scripture that He gave me when all of these amazing things started to happen.  It was Luke 2:19, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

I have gotten away from that posture in the past two years.  I was so excited about traveling to Spain, being a first time author, and Pedro’s music success, that I haven’t slowed down much to just take it all in.  It is a normal part of my life now, but there are times that I forget to do as Mary did.  Don’t act on it, just treasure it.

treasure heart verseTreasures of the Heart

God made some pretty big deposits in my heart these last few years.  He has given me new dreams for the coming year and beyond.  This year I want to be more deliberate in noticing when to stop, look, and listen for His guidance.  I want to abide more and react less.  Maybe that even means not being so bold on my blog, sharing so much, or so often.

Whatever it takes, I want to be in alignment with God’s will for my life and to wait for His perfect timing.  Hopefully by the end of 2014, I can attest to His building the fruit of patience in me like never before.  And I’ll have more things to treasure in my heart for the coming year.

What is your focus for 2014?

You Can’t go Home Again, or Can You?

Have you ever longed to go back to your childhood home—one that your family left many, many years ago?  Did you dare drive around in the neighborhood or maybe even knock on the door in hopes of connecting with the new residents and maybe getting a chance to go inside?   Or maybe your childhood memories were too painful to even think of doing such a thing.

This kind of chance of a lifetime recently presented itself to me—and like so many of these life coincidences; I took it as a sign from God to follow where He was leading me.

Home Sweet HomeIn the Neighborhood

It was on my 54th birthday—also the day that my driver’s license was expiring.  So a trip to the Department of Licensing became a high priority on this day—not something I really had time for or wanted to do.  I made the best of it though, even deciding to wear a special outfit so my ‘mug’ shot might have a chance of being pleasantly memorable.

When I pulled into the parking lot, I took more than a mental note of where I was.  My childhood home was around the corner.  A few weeks earlier, I had pulled out my memoir, still unworked on since last year’s NaNoWriMo.  I began the painful process of re-reading it, but stopped after the first chapter, the chapter about my mother’s nervous breakdown and living in this neighborhood.  After that reading, I felt God nudge me to contact the one last neighbor who I knew still lived in the neighborhood.  But I didn’t act on it.

Or can you?

Or can you?

Although this wasn’t the home or neighborhood I was born in, I knew God was giving me another nudge, on my birthday, to pursue this last link to my childhood.  I’d been to this neighborhood before several times as an adult.  It was one of the first places I visited when my husband and I moved to the state of Washington about 25 years ago.  At that time I went so far as to meet the residents, the people who bought the home from my parents in 1966.

This day’s visit was to the neighbor’s house though.  The name on the mailbox was still the surname of a childhood friend.  Maybe, just maybe, I would get some more insight into the day my mother had her nervous breakdown and our life on that street.

I knocked on the door.  There was no answer.  I was torn.  Should I leave a note under the door?  I just couldn’t believe that God brought me to this doorstep without as much as an answer.

My Childhood Home

So I took the bold step of going next door to my former home.  An elderly woman answered the door.  I told her a bit about who I was, a writer, etc., and asked about the neighbor.  I was surprised when she invited me into the home and even offered me a seat in the living room.

Hiding behind the 50-year old landscaping lies my childhood home.

It was surreal.  I had just written a post about the events of JFK’s assassination on that day—my birthday—50 years ago.  And here I was sitting in the same room where I watched the unfolding of those horrific events in our nation’s history.  I shed a tear or two in the retelling of the significance of that home.

The couple was quite kind to me.  They gave me free reign of the house, asked me things about the property, and what it was like back in those days.  The house seemed much smaller to me than I remembered, but that isn’t unusual in light of the fact I was a mere 3-6 years old when we lived there.

Regarding the neighbor, I found out that he had sold the house and moved out a month ago.  Too bad I didn’t follow that nudge back then, I thought to myself.  But his dementia would’ve precluded his ability to help me anyway.

The street sign may have read 'dead end', but the events of the day proved otherwise.

The street sign may have read ‘DEAD END’, but the events of the day proved otherwise.

What Lies Around the Corner?

It was all so unanticipated—to stop by the neighborhood, to knock on their door, and most assuredly to be invited inside.  Their invitation and interest was a precious gift to me, one that I’m not sure they were really able to fully comprehend. Out of my gratitude for their kindness to me, I gave them a signed copy of my book.

Plan as we may, we never really know for sure what lies ahead in our lives from day to day.  What if God is calling us to something just around the corner?  Would you heed to His nudge?  Would you blindly do something that to outsiders may look foolish or presumptuous?

Some may say I have a habit of doing those things.  Others see it as obedience and trusting God when I embrace these chance encounters.  I’m just grateful that He cares enough to give me these little kisses from above, and that others may be inspired to do the same—turning their healing into hope.

In the end, I really was able to go home again.  And that really was the proverbial icing on the cake for my 54th birthday.

  • 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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