Journeys of the Heart

Saturday, June 10, 2017

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRIS

Happy birthday, son. Today you would have been 30. What a wonderful husband and father you would have made. Your dad and I will always be proud of you. I am honored and awed that I was chosen to be your mom.


I remember your squeaky kindergarten voice and little boy truck noises. You were an action-packed kid, knees scraped from tree climbing, your beautiful blond hair plastered down with sweat from dashing about in your home-made super hero cape. I'll never forget looking out the kitchen window just in time to spot you whizzing by on a skateboard. In one hand you held the dog leash attached to our black lab, Moonshine, who towed you down the street. In the other hand you held a squirming snake. Your joyful boyhood warmed my mother's heart.



Then the cancer came. It stole your energy, your hair, your school days, and many of your friends.  But it couldn't steal your spirit.

 I remember your glorious pranks! As we walked across the clinic parking lot you would spot an unsuspecting stranger, and slap the street sign when they weren't looking. As it reverberated you would hold your bald head and groan while they exclaimed "Are you okay?" 

Remember, the bottle trick, Chris? Whenever you finished a bottle of water you would hide it in you hand and squeeze it while bending over and grasping your back with the other hand. The crinkling noise sounded just like bones cracking! Sometimes folks would rush over, then you would hold up the bottle and crunch it for them while we all shared a laugh. 

I miss how you used to tease me. I never could find my car in crowded parking lots, so you diagnosed me with "parking lot disorder". When I frequently misplaced items you used to say that I was blonde in another life! Oh Chris, what I'd give to hear you tease me again.

When you were dying, you knew it before anyone else. You told us before the doctors made it official. You calmly accepted the fact that you would never see 15. You also told us that the Lord was coming for you soon and that you were looking forward to going to heaven. Chris, you comforted us as you spoke so confidently of eternity.



Romans 8:38-39 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So on this day that would have been your earthly thirtieth, I try not to dwell upon unborn grandchildren nor upon the painful brevity of your powerful time here. I know that you forgive my tears as I cry not for you, but for myself. You dwell pain free in the light, your earthly purpose fulfilled. I draw upon your example as I write this, hoping to achieve my own purpose, perhaps as someone who shines a light for those who grieve. 

Chris, you remind us that our time here pales in comparison to eternity.


Psalm 14:4: Man is like a mere breath; His days are like a passing shadow.
Chris, you have no need of birthdays. They are for those of us who are still limited by earthly time and space. Your love and your humor endure. The day will come when we meet in the Lord's presence where every day is a new birthday.
2 Peter 3:8 ‘But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

THOUGHTS ON THE THIRD STEP PRAYER

One of my favorite recovery prayers is The third Step Prayer. Found on page 63 in the book, "Alcoholics Anonymous", it is one of the most frequently and reverently uttered prayers by folks struggling to stay sober.

It begins with "God, I offer myself to Thee..." Sometimes I wonder—what if God said, "Ha,ha, no thanks, I'm good."


 Well, I couldn't blame God for declining, after all, He's not getting much of bargain here. He’s getting an almost 60, near sighted, forgetful, grandma with no patience( A cracker packet that won’t open—Just stab it with a pen) whose idea of being organized  is to move the paper pile from the top of her desk to the floor beneath her desk, and whose conception of backing up data is to walk backwards towards the trash can. I can't even locate my car in the Walmart parking lot. Yeah, God, I'm here for ya.

"...to build with and do with me as Thou wilt..." (I tried to build a four layer cake once and ended up with a pancake.) 

"...Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do thy will..." (Sometimes I spend so much time stuck inside my head I walk into walls.)

"...Take away my difficulties..." Ahh this is the part of the prayer I like best. Please, God, get rid of the hard stuff. Clear that traffic, transfer the annoying boss, set up Skype for my loved ones in heaven, make the forgetful hubby put the seat down, and could I get your email address?

 But, when I pause my self-pity button, I realize that my difficulties are the point. After all, who would want me to help them if I were perfect? More likely, they would want to slap me. My plethora of flaws make me approachable! The Lord loves to use my flaws.

The fact that I have figured out how to live sober in spite of my difficulties makes me a useful resource. There are rooms full of people who identify with my screwed-up-ness. "...that victory over them(my difficulties) may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life..."

When we in recovery realize that sobriety isn't all rainbows and unicorns, and when that pink cloud wears off( So cool, I remember where my car is parked!) we turn to each other for support. But we cannot offer it to others until we ourselves have plugged into our higher power. C.S. Lewis says that we have to come to the end of ourselves.


In her radio show I heard Joni Eareckson Tada speak of kintsugi, also known as kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with powdered gold, silver, or platinum.The breakage and repair are honored as part of the history of the object. The end result is even more beautiful than the original unbroken piece. That's what the third step allows us to do—become human kintsugi!





Some days the best part of the prayer for me is the last line..."May I do Thy will always!" That's where I allow God to paint his gold on me.When I attempt to align my will with God's that is where the real building begins—relationships, useful employment, and true recovery that is so much more than not drinking.

What I wonderful concept: God can actually use me if I let him! The Third Step Prayer opens that door.

Proverbs 3:5-6New International Version (NIV)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.[a]

Sunday, May 7, 2017

GIVING HOPE TO OTHERS

I recently spoke to a friend whose life has also been touched by tragedy. We discussed the fact that some of us seem to be handed much harder lives than others. It's so easy to envy others for their healthy family or their cushy lifestyle.

 I believe that those of us who have had to walk through greater trials have been given greater responsibility in this life. Perhaps the Lord is trusting us to provide the world with a perspective that goes beyond circumstance. In this temporary life we have been tasked to become messengers with an eternal message.

From C.S. Lewis "If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world."

 I believe that there is no greater calling than to give hope to others:

 Romans 5:3-5: "Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."

I once had the honor of meeting Sister Antonia Brenner, a nun who chose to live inside the walls of a prison.  Her story is told in the book The Prison  Angel. Click here. She gave up a safe, comfortable life in order to minister to inmates in a notorious Mexican prison. Inmates tell the story of how she once walked into the middle of a prison riot, past tear gas and bullets. When the rioting prisoners saw her fearless demeanor they stopped fighting.

I think the real reason they stopped their rioting was because Sister Antonia had offered them the one thing they needed: hope. She had been ministering to them with basic needs such as aspirin, blankets, and glasses; but more importantly, she had ministered to their souls. Murderers, rapists, and every imaginable career criminal heard the gospel of hope from sister Antonia.




I have also had the honor and privilege of meeting women like"Cassie". Cassie once walked the streets, prostituting  herself in order to pay for her drug addiction. If anyone was hopeless it was Cassie. But Cassie sought help, and surrendered to a loving God. She eventually went back to school and earned a counseling degree. Now she works with other women battling addiction. 

She says, "I was once a hopeless dope fiend, now I'm a dopeless hope fiend!"

When I first met Cassie I had just begun my own journey of recovery. For years my daily drinking had steadily increased. I had tried many times, unsuccessfully, to stop. Cassie's perseverance inspired me. Her character blossomed before me, just as mine blooms now for those who follow. Now others tell me that I inspire them!

Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and other twelve step programs are successful because they connect people who have suffered in a similar way, and gently, lovingly, without prejudice, show them a way out.

In other words, we get to carry a light of hope.

I recently attended a conference for women in recovery. As is the tradition at many of these conferences the person with the longest sobriety(in this case 52 years) was invited on stage with the person who had the least sobriety(6 months). The senior member presented the newcomer with The book of Alcoholics Anonymous( affectionately referred to as "The Big Book".) In the front of the book all of the conference attendees had signed their names and sobriety dates.

It was an inspiring message of hope complete with 300 signatures stating "You can do this, and we are here for you!"


My biggest dose of hope has come from an unlikely source—my young son, Chris. His leukemia treatments included a drug that produced painful sores inside his mouth and down his whole GI tract. During his chemo cycle his immune system became so depleted he was often bedridden. But his last words to us were words of hope. "Mom, when I get to heaven I'll see Jesus. I'll have hair again, and I'll be able to get my driver's license."




When I share Chris's story with others who have lost children I'm sharing a grieving mom's gospel with my own unique story. I'm sharing the hope of seeing our children again.

And when our second son, Jarrod, died unexpectedly in an accident, I was tempted to go back to the bottle and say "Screw it!" But I had had years of practice with Romans 5:3. I had had years of running with that light of hope. I had had years of helping other women stay sober through tragedy. As my life circumstances had become more painful the holy spirit inside of me had grown stronger.

2 cor 12:9: 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. 

 Some, like sister Antonia, choose their suffering(Although, she probably wouldn't have called it that). Others, like myself, have had it foisted upon us. But if the end result is that we all become a source of light and hope, then we have served our divine purpose in this life.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

BREAKING BREAD: THE IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY MEALS

ACTS 2:46: "And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,"


 I am confronted daily with young children who struggle. Their social skills have declined steadily over the years that I have been in the classroom. Taking turns, working in groups, understanding  differences, and forgiving mistakes—these are tools that my students often lack. While many blame electronics, I believe that the extinction of sit down meals also plays a major role.

I have spent more than 30 years teaching elementary school, and the students who are the happiest and most well adjusted have adults who spend quality time with them, often over a meal.






It is during meal times, sans electronics, that children and teenagers can have the undivided attention of someone that loves them. This is the time when they can be debriefed from a stressful day, where a caring adult can help them cope with rules and conflict. It is also a time to celebrate their victories and accomplishments.This is when parents, sharing intimate conversations with their children, become their greatest teachers.

ACTS 2:42: And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Where are your kids getting their feedback from? Their  peers? Facebook? Twitter? TV?

 "I'm so tired from working," you say. "We don't have the time to actually have sit down meals and conversations at the table." Have you considered that investing the time when your family is young may save you time and money later when you are carting them to counselors or bailing them out of trouble?

Think of it as an emotional investment portfolio that will pay priceless dividends later on.




Two of my three children died very young, and I am so grateful that I have a wealth of family meal memories. We prayed together, we told corny jokes, we brainstormed project ideas, we discussed strategies for dealing with bullies, and yeah, sometimes we argued, but most importantly, we connected.

But don't take my word for it—look at the evidence. Dr. Anne K. Fishel, author of  "Home For Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun, and Conversation For A Happier Family And Healthier Kids", and co-founder of The Family Dinner Project.org. has spent years researching the topic. Her findings confirm that families that take time to break bread together have kids with a better academic performance, less depression, lower risk of substance abuse, lower risk of teen pregnancy, and more.Click to read more.

Cornell University did a study that backs up these findings and further states that family meals are an integral part of an overall positive family culture.Read more. The article recommends a minimum of 3 meals together a week. 

The more I researched the more I found! Family meals make a difference!




I would like to challenge you, if you are not already doing so,to make this commitment to your children. To my Christian readers: Chauffeuring them to youth group and church does not replace our precious meal times together. Remember Jesus hosted the "last supper", not the "last sermon" or the "last youth camp."

What the articles do not say is that you have to be a gourmet cook, or even cook the food yourself. (However, there are a gazillion easy recipes and tips out there.)They do not even say that it has to be dinner. But they all do say that you need to turn off the TV and the electronics.

I am not surprised that my observations as a teacher are backed by solid research. In my classroom point system my students can earn treats and privileges. Can you guess what one of their favorite rewards is?  Lunch bunch with the teacher. For a half hour they get my undivided attention where I can love on them. Sadly, many are not getting that at home. I am teaching them values that, once upon a time, we all learned at the dinner table.

Monday, March 27, 2017

THEY SMILE


This week's post is a poem for all of the parents who have caught their breath and blinked back tears when seeing someone who reminds them of their departed child.


Twenty Something,
Tall and thin.
Strolling through the aisles,
Looking like my son.



Hiking along a leafy trail,
A voice calls "Mom".
Tears sting my eyes,
Sounding like my son.

Laughter at the playground,
Little ones scamper and squeal.
Tugging my heart back through the years,
Laughing like my son.



Then he grins at me,
This Jarrod look alike.
Bouncy, vibrant, alive,
Smiling like my son.

His softness touches my heart,
This Jarrod soul alike.
Rising above his peers,
Whose heads are bowed, worshipping their phones.

At home, the Lord puts his arm around my son.
From their heavenly perch they gaze
Upon this gentle spirit.
Reaching out like my son.

They smile.

1 Thess 4:13-14 "Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians."

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A GRIEVING MOM VIEWS "THE SHACK"


As someone who has suffered the loss of a child (in my case 2 children) I approach such movies with caution. Will I come away with an uplifting message or will my grief be exacerbated?




It helped that I had read the book several years ago, so I knew what to expect from the plot. The father of a murdered child receives a mysterious invitation to return the scene of the crime—a shack in the woods where he encounters the holy trinity. In the movie the father, Mack, is played by Sam Worthington, and God the father “Papa” is played by Octavia Spencer. Jesus, who is played by Aviv Alush, is a closer biblical match with his dark hair and beard, and the Holy Spirit, played by actress Samire Matsubara, manages to be both earthy and ethereal at the same time.



The over-riding theme is forgiveness. Mack must learn to forgive the murderer in order to free himself from the anger that grips his heart. I am no stranger to anger, but I have come to realize that it is a normal part of the grieving process.

After our Jarrod’s death we met with the young man who accidentally shot him. We told him that we forgave him and that we were praying for him. Forgiving him was a conscious choice that we made, and it is correctly portrayed in the movie as a difficult process.  But our job of forgiving is much easier than the parent who loses a child to a deliberate act of violence. It is my hope that this movie speaks to them in a positive way.

Cancer took our other son, Chris. How do you forgive a disease? Does it go back to Adam and Eve and their original act of defiance that introduced sin in the world? Most biblical scholars say so. Cancer is a by product of a fallen world. How do you forgive God for allowing a teenager to die?

This issue is addressed in the movie when Mack becomes angry with Papa, not understanding how She could allow his innocent child to die. Oh how many of us have had that conversation with God!

This scene with Mack yelling at God and storming off the porch was very validating for me. It tells me that it is okay to get angry with God. People in intimate relationships do get angry. I think that is why grieving parents sometimes hate it when people say “It was God’s will” or “They’re in a better place.” The message is don’t get angry—just accept. Well, like Mack, we aren’t always ready to do that, and God understands.

Papa’s response was to keep loving Mack through his anger. Her answer is that God doesn’t promise to fix everything. He does promise, however, that He will never leave us. He reminds us that we can’t see the big picture, and that He can create good from evil. Papa encourages Mack to trust Her.

Another theme in the movie is that God can manifest himself in any form. In the Old Testament he appears as pillar of fire to guide the Israelites through the dessert, and later, as a burning bush. So why not a 40-something African American woman? Omniscience can coexist with warmth and humor.

How many of us have had encounters that we cannot explain? Perhaps someone appeared out of nowhere when we were desperate for help, or we received a unique sign from our departed loved one. Our Chris is fond of sending feathers. He certainly couldn’t do that without God’s cooperation. The movie lends credence to the endless possibilities of the divine.

So what was the hardest part of the movie for me? It was the scene where Mack is allowed to gaze through a waterfall and glimpse his daughter frolicking happily in heaven. One peek at my boys enjoying eternity would energize my soul for years to come! Please please, somebody take me to that waterfall! I sat in the theater, tears in my eyes, like a slighted child, murmuring “No fair.”


And that is always the risk when we encounter heaven through the eyes of Hollywood. The loose ends are usually tied up much neater than they are in real life. Overall, as a grieving Christian, I found that the movie did not stray from my basic biblical beliefs, and it tickled my imagination reminding me that God is always with me, but not always in ways that I can fathom.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A PEACE THAT SURPASSES ALL UNDERSTANDING


Peace is really all that most of us want. But what is peace? Is it getting what we want? Is it freedom from anxiety? Is it the certainty that everything will work out eventually? Is it knowing that we are right where we are supposed to be, doing what we are supposed to be doing?

Getting that job, the nice house, the achievement award—those all produced only temporary peace for me. How about you? Soon the job was stressful, the house needed repair, and the award got dusty. There was always something more that I wanted. I just wasn't sure what it was.

Phil 4:6: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ."

When my teenager, Chris, was enduring lengthy cancer treatments I felt a certain sense of peace just being in the hospital playroom, playing bumper pool with him. (He used to call me "Mrs. Bumperdoodles".) In that situation my sense of peace came from knowing that I was meant to be Chris's mom, and while I didn't know why he had to get cancer, I felt in my heart that we were predestined to spend those precious times together.

Chris's sense of peace on his deathbed was a life-changing experience for me. "Don't worry about me, Mom, "Jesus is coming, and I'll be fine." His peace truly had transcended any understanding that I'd had up until that point in my life. At the time I wasn't a bible reader. I hadn't given Chris any scripture or any pearls of Godly wisdom. His peace had come from outside of our earthly realm.





I have shared that story many times. I am still in awe of how the Lord allowed my dying son to witness to me. 


After Chris died alcohol gave me a form of peace. The warm glow spread throughout my body and dulled my senses. At first, anything seemed possible. Those of us who have battled addictions know what it is like to return again and again to  a chemical peace, a false spirituality. What seemed like freedom at first eventually became a prison.


When I finally surrendered to a loving twelve step group, the sense of peace I felt was overwhelming. Here was a bunch of people who understood me better than anyone else, and they did it with true unconditional love. They talked about a higher power that gave them peace. It started me on a quest to find that loving God. In the years following Chris's death I started studying the bible and sharing my growing faith with Chris's younger brother, Jarrod.

Jarrod, like me, was always and outside the box kind of person. He had a gifted IQ, but hated school. Unlike his older sister, who thrived in school, Jarrod had trouble conforming and ended up finishing online. But during those sometimes troubling years Jarrod and I became very close, and he trusted me enough to confide in me and ask for my advice on matters of the heart. "Do you think I said the right thing, Mom?" He'd ask after sharing a conversation he'd had with his girlfriend.

My heart would swell with love and pride when Jarrod and I had those conversations. I could see the man that Jarrod was striving to be. Once again, I felt a tremendous sense of peace knowing that I was fulfilling my God-given motherly role.

When Jarrod was 19 he and some friends, who were all  under the influence, got in trouble with the law. As as a result, Jarrod had to spend 2 months in jail. The Lord used that time to work on Jarrod. He requested that I bring him a bible.

"Mom, I read this cool passage today," He told me from behind the plate glass. "I really like how it talks about the belt of truth, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit." Here was my son, stuck in jail, finding peace in Ephesians 6. And like my other son, he was teaching me the true meaning of peace.

At the tender age of 21 Jarrod was killed in a freak accident. Like Enoch, the old testament prophet whom God suddenly called home, he was no more. Maybe God was pleased with Jarrod also and wanted him. I know Jarrod didn't always walk with the Lord like Enoch, but I do know that they both ended up in the same place.

A few days after the funeral, Jarrod's girlfriend called and said, "I have to tell you what Jarrod said to me a couple of days before the accident. He told me that he felt really at peace with God."

I have some friends whose children are atheists. They worry about where their children will spend eternity. While they can still call them on the phone, sit down to meals with them, and give them hugs; they don't share the same peace I have about my children⸺a peace that surpasses all understanding.



Do I feel peaceful all the time? Absolutely not. I cry out for my boys that I miss so much. Some days it's hard to get out of bed. Some days my life without them feels more like a life sentence. 

But I have come to realize true peace doesn't mean feeling good all the time. It is grounded in the certainty of an absolute truth. This truth has been planted in our hearts by a creator that we all long to return to. Knowing that we will someday—that is peace. It waits gently behind my tears.