Finding & Balancing Relationships that Last

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

Won't you be my friend?

Won’t you be my friend?

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

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

One of my Favorite Speakers

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

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

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

Six Categories of Relationships

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

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

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

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

friend-encouragement

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

Guarding Your Heart

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

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

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

Being Selfish?

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

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

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

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

Comrades pressing on together.

Comrades pressing on together.

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

The 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).

CR Mission Update 4 – Additional Meetings in Rivas

I’ve been back from Spain a few days, still dealing with the effects of jet lag and trying to re-integrate into life in America. I’m feeling very blessed that the Lord would use me to be His Hands and Feet on the ground in Spain. There is so much I’d love to write about all of this, but for now am passing on the latest in the series from the ministry where I serve at Pine Lake Covenant Church. Muchas gracias for your support and prayers while I was on this mission of faith.

Celebrate Recovery on the Plateau

In my (Ardis Nelson, member of the CR leader team at PLCC) last post about the Celebrate Recovery (CR) mission to Spain, we had just completed the seminar portion of our time at the host church in Rivas, Comunidad Cristiana Luz y Vida (Light and Life Christian Community). The following day was Sunday, October 5. We were given the Sunday school time slot to present more CR information to the overall church.

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CR Mission Update 3 – The Seminar in Rivas

My time in Spain is coming to a close. I’ve walked what seems like a hundred miles this past week around Madrid and visited over a dozen churches and one Egyptian temple. Thanks to all who made this mission and prayer journey possible. I’m excited to see what God does in the physical realm next. Adios España! Vaya con Dios!

Celebrate Recovery on the Plateau

The seminar to introduce Celebremos la Recuperacion (Spanish version of Celebrate Recovery) was a big success! The people in attendance at the seminar were very open to this ministry and interested in bringing it into their churches or para church organizations.  The host church in Rivas, Comunidad Cristiana Luz y Vida (Light and Life Christian Community), is prayerfully discerning how to integrate CR into their cultural context and what their next steps will be.

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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.

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

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

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

CaregivingServing My Stepmother

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

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

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

Helping HandsServing My Father

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Change of Heart

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

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

The Unexpected Gift

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

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

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

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

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

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.

  • 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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