In Loving Memory of my Aunt Mary

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

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

Déjà Vu

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

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

I waited and prayed for two days.

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

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

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

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

Another Eulogy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My aunt praying for my mother.

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Mary and for God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest in peace, Aunt Mary.

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 Grateful Lesson in Letting go of our Children

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

Journeys To Mother Love

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

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

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

It’s a timeless lesson in love and sacrifice.

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

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

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A Lenten Journey Surprise

As I’ve done the last few years, I prepared for Easter with a Lenten fast from alcohol and sweets.  What was different this year was that much to my surprise my 16-year-old son decided to observe a fast as well.

lenten-journeyHow it all Began

About the same time that Lent began, my son and I started a new bedtime routine.  We read a daily devotional and then prayed together.  On the evening of Ash Wednesday, he asked me about the ashes on my forehead which led to a conversation about Lent.  (By the way, observing Lent, or Ash Wednesday, is not exclusively for Catholics as some mistakenly believe.)

The next day after school he announced he was giving up video games for Lent!  My heart leapt for joy at his sacrificial offering.  I don’t remember what I said that night.  I didn’t ask him about giving anything up himself.  When he told me his decision the next day, he was excited.

My husband and I have had discussions with our son about the amount of time he spends on video games in the past.  Sometimes those discussions turned pretty heated, and he’d lose his gaming privileges.  We’ve also suggested alternative ways of using his leisure time.  Nothing else ever seemed to interest him.

And that's not all of it!

My son’s video game collection–and that’s not even all of it!

However, as Lent started my son was excited to share his choice—and even recognized how hard it would be.  Those first few days he admitted to me that his thoughts would turn to gaming.  He learned to turn his attention elsewhere — sometimes to God, and other times to his studies.  Those thoughts diminished over time.

The End of the Journey

As the 40-day journey grew closer to Holy Week, we talked about what he would do after Easter.  Would he return to his old gaming behavior?  Would he continue his fast?  I shared with him my previous Lent experiences—ranging from returning to immediate gratification with candy on Easter Sunday to abstaining for a prolonged period.  He has opted to return in moderation.

What excites me about this year’s pilgrimage to Easter is not so much that he stopped gaming, it’s that he (and us together) started a great ritual of connecting at the end of the day.  I would often forget, and he’d remind me to join him for our devotional and prayer time.  He also started reading the Bible again and occasionally writing in a journal.

My son and our dog, one of his best friends.

My son and our dog, one of his best friends.

In God’s Timing

I know a lot of this is only possible because my son made a decision to try medication again for his ADHD a few months ago.  He is a changed person.

The medication has given him access to areas of his brain that before were preventing his behaviors from aligning with his desires.  It has allowed him to establish new homework routines, focus on his studies, become more social and succeed in school.  In turn, he is now making more adult decisions and able to find a part of his self that was inaccessible before.

I’m very thankful that we went down this road with him.  I’m grateful that he persevered over the last few years.  I praise God for His timing in all of this (yet again!) and how my son is actively pursuing his relationship with Him.  I’m also glad that I was able to model something to him in the past and that he caught that behavior on his own.

Surprised by God

I had hoped that my son would actually write this post for me (another thing we talked about during Lent), but he is busy with his studies.  He did, however, quickly volunteered to help with the photos and captions.

Surprised by GodWhen I asked him what he’d like to share about his Lenten Journey, he said, “It was a beneficial experience for me.  It helped me to know God better and do well in school.”  That’s a lot to get out of a 16-year-old who is filled with new hope and finding his way in life.

As far as my fast, I’m still abstaining—for now.  I’m embracing the joy of getting to know my son in a deeper way.  That was my Lenten surprise.

Did God surprise you on your journey toward Easter?  I’d love to hear your story.

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

 

Holy Week, Holy People

Holy Week—the pinnacle of the Christian faith. It starts with Palm Sunday—the remembrance of Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem on a donkey while surrounded by crowds cheering ‘Hosanna’. It ends on Easter Sunday, with the Good News of the empty tomb. He is risen!  In between is the story of sacrificial love and gruesome suffering that led to the exchanged lives that Believers in Christ receive.Holy Week Faith Matters

It is not unusual for my mind to be on matters of Christian faith. I am not a trained pastor. I haven’t attended seminary. I don’t pretend to be a religious scholar. So why would I spend time on Holy Week sitting down to write a post about it?

It is because FAITH matters! And YOU matter to God!

If you are anything like me, you may not have grown up believing that, or maybe you still have doubts about it to this day. The root of that doubt doesn’t lie with God. It lies to a large degree with the formation of your identity as a young child and your family of origin.

You matter to God

Childlike Faith

In Luke 18:16-17, Jesus says “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Was Jesus excluding adults in His Kingdom? No, He was reminding us of the innocence of a child. He was telling us to trust—a characteristic that we often lose in childhood due to shame, disappointments, emotional wounds, abuse, etc. This mistrust or absence of innocence can be brought on by a traumatic incident and sudden loss, or may be due to negative messages that over time we integrate into our souls as unworthiness. With those kinds of identity messages being heaped on us at an early age it’s no wonder we reject God or don’t believe we are who He says we are.  (I know because I have struggled with that myself.)*

My-identity-in-Christ

Who Are We?

We are Holy People!

Hard to believe?  Then consider the standard you are using to determine the validity of that statement. Are you believing the father of all lies, the devil (John 8:44)? Or maybe you are comparing yourself to the Heroes of the Faith praised in Hebrews 11.

Are you saying, “I’m no Moses”, or “I don’t have faith like Abraham?” These Fathers of our Faith ended their lives well, but they had many sinful acts in their lifetimes. Moses murdered an Egyptian and fled to Midian (Exodus 2). Out of fear for his own safety, Abraham passed off his wife Sarah, as his sister, allowing a king to take her as his wife (Genesis 12). These heroes of our faith were broken people who failed, but God still used them, just like He uses us.

Holiness

Proof of our Holiness

How can we consider ourselves holy? Romans 10:9 says, If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Jesus sacrifice was the price to make us holy in God’s eyes. God doesn’t see our sins anymore. We are the ones who condemn ourselves and continue to act like or believe we are unworthy.

Still having a hard time seeing yourself as holy—or that God would consider you holy? I grew up thinking (mistakenly so, by the way) that saints were only those people who were canonized by the Catholic Church. However, there are many verses in the Bible that reference God’s people as saints. For instance, Paul uses the term saints over and over again in his greetings to the New Testament churches. When our time comes to leave this life, Psalm 116:15 tells us: Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints (New King James Version).

As you enter into these last few days of Holy Week, remember who you are, and whose you are. Your holiness was paid for with a price. The proof is in the empty tomb. He is risen indeed!

Empty Tomb

*For a great book on our identity in Christ, read Identity Crisis: Reclaim the True You by Tamara J Buchan, or better yet, attend one of her amazing retreats.

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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.

The Road to Spain, Update 3 ~ Physical Readiness

I often refer to my trip to Spain as a pilgrimage.  But what does that mean?  Dictionary.com defines a pilgrimage as a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion.

My Pilgrimage

Why do I consider my trip a pilgrimage?  The connection I have to my Spanish family was influenced by events that were deeply personal and spiritual in nature (as referenced in Journeys to Mother Love).  It is on this trip that Rosa and I will personally meet face to face for the first time—three years after having hosted her son, Pedro, in our Seattle area home.

Santiago de Compostela, the final destination for "The Way of St. James", a pilgrimage in Northern Spain visited annually by 100,000 people.

Santiago de Compostela, the final destination for “The Way of St. James”, a pilgrimage in Northern Spain visited annually by 100,000 people.

How do you prepare for a 6-week pilgrimage 5,300 miles across the globe?  It is not that much different than preparing for a marathon or any long-term goal, by pacing yourself over time and with lots of discipline.

My goal is to be ready physically, mentally, and spiritually to meet the demands of this trip.  When I think of my trip and preparation in this context, the scripture that most readily comes to mind is Romans 12:1-2, “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.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (NIV)

Getting Healthy

Body, mind and spirit—even in my normal everyday life I struggle with keeping a balance between these areas, so I knew this would be a challenge for me.  My first area to tackle was getting my body physically fit for the trip.

I’ve been making changes to my lifestyle in phases.  Phase 1 was to get my body clock back on a more normal circadian rhythm.  That basically meant I switched from working second shift to first shift.  (My most creative writing time is late at night.)  Phase 2 was to start a daily video workout routine, Slim In 6, at home.

A simple step-by-step approach to weight loss and heathy eating.

A simple step-by-step approach to weight loss and heathy eating.

The next layer of fitness, Phase 3, was to change my eating habits.  I heard about the AdvoCare 24-Day Challenge (cleanse and weight loss program) through my friend, Linda Reed, who had great results.  She was so sold on the products that she signed up to be an AdvoCare distributor and fitness coach.

I had wanted to do a cleanse for several years.  However, it always sounded like such a difficult thing to do.  But this time I was highly motivated.  With Linda’s step by step coaching and encouragement, I completed the 24-Day Challenge last week.  I eliminated foods from my diet after years of trying to do it on my own.  I feel great and my energy level is much higher.

I won’t reveal my official results here (or yet), but suffice it to say, I am very pleased with the progress I’ve made in losing pounds and inches after five weeks of exercise and healthy eating.  I am continuing on with all of my new lifestyle changes at least until I leave for Spain.

The Temple of Our Bodies

The recent steps I’ve taken to prepare physically for my pilgrimage have reinforced my belief that my body really is a temple—a temple that houses the Holy Spirit.  I am making sacrifices to treat my body like one by making it a priority in my overall health.  The result not only affects my physical health, it is affecting my emotional well-being, although that is not what I intended to do.

40 daysI hope my physical preparations have inspired you to eat healthy too, and treat your body like a temple.  All it took was 24 days and an AdvoCare coach like Linda.

Now that I have Phases 1, 2 and 3 in place, I’m moving on to my next area of readiness—preparing my mind—with only 40 days to go.

Acts of Service, Part 1 ~ Wash My Feet

Although Holy Week and Easter Sunday celebrations are over, my mind is still on the events of last week and one particular act Jesus did for His disciples—and ultimately for us.  It was his humbling act of washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17).

Being Served

On Thursday evening, at a church service I attended in celebration of the Lord’s Supper, attendees were invited to participate in a foot washing ceremony.  People were slow to come forward and not everyone participated.  I guess, it’s not for everyone, but to those who participated, I’m sure it left them with a sense of humility and reverence.Foot washing

I first participated in a foot washing ceremony at a women’s retreat several years ago.  It was at a time in my life when my faith was being renewed and stretched in ways I’d never experienced before.  I didn’t jump at the chance then, but prayerfully waited and emptied my inner self before submitting to this act of humility.  It was very freeing and left a memorable mark on me—one that I recreated as a final act of service for my mother after she passed away.

Serving My Mother

Washing my mother’s feet wasn’t something I planned to do in advance of her passing.  But on the plane ride back home to take care of her funeral arrangements and memorial, I felt the Lord put this desire on my heart.  I had never even heard of doing it for a deceased person and thought that might sound strange.  However, I knew that bodies were anointed with oils in biblical times—like was done for Jesus—and it just seemed to be the right thing to do.

My family and I were only allowed one viewing of my mother’s body before they cremated her remains.  I knew the funeral home would have to agree to my request.  I was nervous about asking and prayed about it in advance.  They agreed, even setting up the facilities and giving us the privacy to wash my mother’s feet.  The tears flowed as I dabbed water on my mother’s feet and told her my final thoughts and prayers on her behalf.

Serving OthersWashing my mother’s feet was just one of the many powerful and beautiful ways that the Lord allowed me to serve and honor my mother in her parting.  If you are not a Christian or have never experienced something as humbling or selfless as this kind of act, I imagine it may sound somewhat strange or even ridiculous in nature.  I would’ve thought the same in years past myself.

Serving Others

The point is not to go around physically washing others’ feet.  Jesus used this symbol of humility and obedience to model to his disciples, and to us, to serve others.

Since my mother’s passing, my perspective on how I serve others has taken a dramatic shift—a Holy Shift, if you will.  It isn’t generally in structured ministry opportunities at my church.  It isn’t even in a non-profit setting.  Besides my writing, I’ve chosen to serve others through opportunities to connect over coffee, email, Skype and now in the speaking realm.  It may not look like ‘serving,’ but it is meeting the needs of others as we share Jesus’ message of hope and healing.  And, as followers of Christ, that is His call to wash each other’s feet.

Holy Week, Holy Movies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was The Sacrifice Worth It?

Last year I entered into the Lenten season with much anticipation and reverence as I started to explore Jesus from a more contemplative perspective.  I spent much time in prayer and meditation.  I also fasted from alcohol.  It ended up being the most amazing 40-day spiritual journey of my life.  And so I decided to make many of those changes a permanent part of my everyday life. 
As I entered into the Lenten season this year, I was expecting the same kind of holy ground type of experience.  That’s not exactly what I got though.  I fasted again this year, but this time it was from alcohol and sweets.  I increased my prayer and meditation time which had become a bit inconsistent over the past year.  That’s where the similarities ended. 
lent cross
This year, Lent coincided with a period in my life when I was being called into a major leadership role in ministry.  After three years away from serving in ministry leadership, I had forgotten how prevalent and pervasive spiritual attacks can be.  (A friend told me today that is also why God doesn’t allow women to remember the pain from childbirth.) 
This has probably been the most difficult spiritual journey of my life.  I know that if I hadn’t been heavily investing in my time with God and seeking His will for my life as part of my Lenten practice, that I wouldn’t have fared so well during this trial.  I needed that quality time alone with God to give me His peace and to strengthen me each and every week.
Lent is technically over, but for me the spiritual disciplines of the last 40 days are not.  I did already have a few sweets and my body quickly told me it didn’t like that decision.  And at least for now, the alcohol is still on hold. 
So was the sacrifice and fasting worth it?  Absolutely.  As God continues to call me to serve Him in ways that stretch me outside of my comfort zone, I will continue to seek His wisdom and discernment on how to do it not on my own self-sufficiency, but according to His will.  It’s the best chance I have of living a worry-free life.
On to the next 40 days—and Pentecost!
  • 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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