Journeys of the Heart

Sunday, June 10, 2018

RUNNING DOWN MEMORY LANE



Many years have passed; the trees have matured into a canopy, but the houses look much the same. I'm jogging in the neighborhood where I grew up, running down memory lane.




I moved away 40 years ago, but my childhood lives forever inside of me, and now it smiles out towards these familiar streets. 

I'm jogging past the street where I was always dashing for the bus with my brothers. Me, out of breath, and the two of them with their clip-on ties askew. I can still hear our metal lunch boxes banging against our legs, Batman and Robin propelling us forward.

Now I'm running past our friend, Jean's, house where Jean, my sister, and I practiced gymnastics on the lawn. Once when Jean grabbed her ankles and rolled backwards onto her face we laughed until tears streamed down our cheeks. 

Up the hill to the very same spot where my eight-year-old self and my brother, Tim, paused with our red wagon full of lemonade, ready to set up our stand. But Eddie the bully cornered us, hawked and spat, ruining our supply.

I see the house where I picked up the newspapers that I delivered every day after school, braving thunderstorms in the summer, and snowballs in the winter.  Every Friday I'd collect the money—90 cents a week. I was happy when they gave me a dollar and said, "Keep the change."




Then I pause to catch my breath. I'm in front of the house where I grew up. Fresh paint, a few trees cut down, but the face is the same. Colonial and content, embracing its current generation. I've heard that it's remodeled inside, but I'm not sure I want to see.

I want to remember it the way it was— with our dog, Heidi's, toenails tapping the kitchen floor, and the smell of Dad's pipe. Sunday morning brought the aroma of bacon and the sounds of Irish music playing.




We built forts in the basement and crawled in and out of them until our knees were black and blue. A few years later, I retreated back to the basement to talk to my boyfriend on the teen phone. We decorated our rooms with The Beatles and Peter Max.

 My oldest child, Erin, got to unwrap Christmas presents in that house.

Across the street is the Zink's house where we played kick the can, hide and seek, and let's see who can jump off the garage roof and land in the sandbox. I gaze at the driveway where Mark dragged a huge snapping turtle out of the woods. We dashed over to see it, then screamed and ran away when it hissed and snapped.

I jog past my best friend, Betsy's, house. We made magic there. Our dolls became real and they flew around the world, solving crimes and dancing with movie stars. We put on plays in her garage and spied on her big sister and her boyfriend.

 We were gone for hours and our parents didn't have to worry.

When it was time for dinner Dad stood on the front step, pursed his lips, and trilled his sailor whistle. Every kid in the neighborhood knew that call and would tell us if we didn't hear it first.




How blessed we were to be a loving family that grew up in a safe neighborhood, part village, part playground.

When I think of the many twists and turns that my life has taken since then, I am grateful that my tender years were spent on these streets. Here I learned to follow rules, take turns, laugh at myself, make friends, deal with disappointment, and play ball.

I reflect upon this as I finish my run down memory lane. My hope is that the woman whom I have become will be a light for others. 


Matthew 5:14:"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;"

In my teaching career I sometimes dealt with parents or children who were raised on mean and dangerous streets. Abuse and fear lived in their homes. Some of my students grew up much too quickly. I have learned to be patient with wounded souls.

The same is true of some of the women that I have sponsored in the rooms of recovery. They lack the benefit of a joyful youth. They never had a chance to play. Unlike me, their trials were front-loaded into their formative years.

 Does that describe you? If your childhood was a broken and barren place I want you to know that Jesus loves you too. We will never know all of the answers in this life, but it helps to remember that Jesus left his perfect neighborhood to spend 33 years in ours. He did this so our suffering could become temporary.

To read an article about what the bible says about faith and adversity click here: Ernest Angley Ministries

 I have endured great tragedy since those innocent childhood days, but I know that God still loves me and has prepared a place for me. When I visit the old neighborhood a few times a year I can reminisce about gentler days. More importantly, I look ahead to that heavenly neighborhood that we will all share one day—the one with streets paved with gold.

John 16:33 New International Version (NIV)


33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

How about you? What kind of neighborhood did you grow up in? Is it a place that blessed you, or was it something that you've had to overcome? Post below and tell me about it.



Friday, May 25, 2018

3 CHRISTIAN RESPONSES TO THE SCHOOL SHOOTINGS

Last Saturday morning,  like millions of others, I tuned into the royal wedding. The pomp and glitter were like candy for my brain. I fantasized for a few minutes, then commented dryly to my husband in my best British accent, "Well, love, looks like our invitation got lost in the mail."



After satisfying my American curiosity for all things monarchical I returned to the guide, and the Texas School Shooting headline snapped me back into reality. With a flick of the remote I had gone from one extreme to the other.

This time my horror was tempered with weariness, and sadly, less shock than the last school shooting in Parkland. Am I becoming more desensitized to all of the violence in our country? Maybe, but I also feel a growing sense of urgency.

Accepting the fact that America is not longer safe is not the same as condoning the actions of the perpetrators. But what do we as Christians do about it?





1: PRAY


This may sound trite, but first we should not stop praying. Click to read my 3 prayers for Stoneman High.

1 Chronicles 16:11 ESV / "Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!"










Perhaps you are discouraged by all of the violence, and wondering if one person's prayers really matter. I believe they do. First, God tells us throughout the bible( which, by the way, is loaded with violence) to keep praying. Secondly, when our prayers align with God's will they get answered. 

I ask continually that the Lord use my own tragic story to further His kingdom. On a regular basis I hear from people who tell me that my faith has encouraged them. My mess has become my message. My grief over the short lives of my sons is softened by my anticipation of glory.

Does that mean that I think school shootings, disease, and parents outliving their children are all part of God's will? Not at all. Those are by-products of a sin-wracked world, and a topic for another day. Prayer may not end the bloodshed, but it will give us an eternal perspective. It will also help us to see what our role should be.


2: DISCERN THE TIMES


.


The increasing violence is an urgent reminder of the second thing I think Christians should do: Discern the times. 

Ephesians 5:16 "Making the best use of the time, because the days are evil."






 Matthew 24:12: "And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold."



Matthew 24:7 "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. "

I could cite more passages, but you get the idea. It is becoming increasingly apparent that biblical revelations are unfolding before us. Many believers say that we are here for a reason. I am only beginning to discern mine. How about you?

In our discernment we should also take comfort in the fact that God knew all of this stuff was going to happen, and He will use it for good. In his "End times Ministry" blog Irvin Baxtor says current events are setting the stage for the biggest revival of all time.Click to read the post here.

 I have always been fascinated by the fact that I was birthed into 20th century U.S.A., and not into some other place or time period. I need to stop flicking the channel in my brain and start thinking about why I am here right now.


#3 ACT ON YOUR CONVICTIONS


Esther 4:14 : "...And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

My third suggestion is to act on your convictions. This is the only way to bear fruit. What is the Lord telling you? This will look different for each of us. For me it meant leaving full time teaching to make room for more writing. I'm living on a smaller income, but I'm writing for a greater purpose.

It could mean sharing the gospel, getting involved in that ministry that you've been putting off, getting help for an addiction, forgiving someone, standing up to someone, or political activism. Fill in the blank and do it. Creation is groaning louder than ever.

In the parable of the bags of gold from Matthew 25 (Click here to read.) three servants are given bags of gold. Two invest wisely and get a return on their money. The servant who buries his gold is the loser. The good and faithful servants put their gifts to work.



Colossians 1:10: "So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God."

Could it be that we Christians are here in this most difficult of times because we have been specially equipped to do certain works?

Recently I had the opportunity to share my faith with the mom of one of the Parkland shooting victims. Because I know what it is like to bury a teenager I can speak to her from a place like no other. 

Who can you speak to?




Now more than ever we need to be the light. I don't know about you, but any world where I can flick instantly from a fairy tale wedding to a massacre needs all the light it can get.



Tuesday, May 8, 2018

THE BIBLICAL BASIS FOR SPONSORSHIP


I chose my first sponsor because she was a snappy dresser. She wore stylish clothes and accessorized well. I envisioned us ensconced in a cozy corner at Starbucks having deep and meaningful conversations, followed immediately by shopping.




After she stopped returning my calls, and a friend informed me that she had relapsed, I determined that my criteria for selecting sponsors was, perhaps, a bit faulty.

AA literature defines a sponsor as "An alcoholic who has made some progress in the recovery program shares that experience on a continuous, individual basis with another alcoholic who is attempting to attain sobriety through AA."

The model is the same for other recovery programs such as Al-Anon, NA, CA, and countless others.

But, did you know that the concept of sponsorship is as old as the bible?

In Titus 2 Paul instructs us to teach one another..."what is appropriate to sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, ...teach the older women... not to be slanderers or addicted to too much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love...Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled..."

In the biblical days it was the older folks of the same gender teaching the younger ones. In our case, it is those who are older in their recovery teaching those who are younger in sobriety. 

This structure of one on one mentorship is all over the bible: Paul and Timothy; Moses and Joshua, Eli and Samuel, Naomi and Ruth, just to name a few.

Ephesians 4:2-3 gives a beautiful description of the sponsor-sponsee relationship. "With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

My own personal definition of a sponsor is "someone who introduces and assists in the maintenance of a sober lifestyle through the 12 steps." Along the way we become bonded in spirit. 

The book Alcoholics Anonymous , Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. states that "We are people who normally would not mix. But there exists among us a fellowship,a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful...The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us..."

I have seen men with advanced degrees being schooled by construction workers. The latter knew how to live a sober lifestyle, and the former wanted what they had. All pretense of income status and lifestyle dissolves when we are fighting for our lives.





It warms my heart when I see big, burly, 'Al' in his grimy work boots, embrace 'Joe' in his Brooks Brothers suit. After all, Jesus chose a bunch of blue collar guys to spread the most important message in history. And he did this intentionally.




1 Samuel 16:7:"But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."

As our sponsor guides us through the recovery process we get a new set of spiritual eyes. Sharing our deepest fears, letting go of our resentments, and learning to forgive enables us to see each other through the eyes of Jesus. We become each others' good Samaritans. 

Being a sponsor is equally important. As we share our spiritual toolkit with a newcomer our own tools are sharpened and we continue to learn more about ourselves. We feel that peace that surpasses all understanding.

I like to think that the spirit of love and tolerance which pervades a successful recovery relationship is similar to how we will all relate to each other when we get to heaven. That is one reason I am a grateful, recovering alcoholic.

What has your sponsorship experience been like? Please leave a comment below.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

THE BEGINNING OF A LEGACY


Today was one of the best days of my life. It was the beginning of a new legacy—a legacy birthed from tragedy and nurtured by love.

Today The Where Angels Play Foundation began building the playground in memory of our Chris and our Jarrod.



 They came from all over. Many of them are veterans of 911 like retired fireman, Bill Lavin, who founded the Where Angels Play Foundation .  Local fireman, police officers, county workers, and scores of volunteers arrived this morning. They are some of the same folks who lined up years ago at our Chris's bone marrow drive. Many of them are the first responders who tried so earnestly to save our Jarrod on the day of his accident.

Carlos Soto was there too. His daughter, Victoria, died protecting her first grade class from the gunman at Sandy hook.

Maurice and Robert came all the way from Rwanda. Maurice lost almost his entire family in the 1994 genocide. Robert spent much of his youth in a refugee camp, hungry and barely surviving. But here they are, 7,000 miles from home on a mission of grace.

Maurice and me on the beach by the playground

 Ours is playground number 48. The foundation began building playgrounds after hurricane Katrina destroyed one in Missisippi. They went on to build 26 more playgrounds in the northeastern United States in memory of the Sandy hook victims. Last year they built one in Rwanda in honor of those killed in the genocide. This week, they sent representatives to meet with families in Parkland, Florida to begin planning a build there.

But today, they were all here for us, for our boys, and for our community. They came with truckloads of supplies and equipment. We watched them pouring cement, hoisting beams, drilling, sawing, and creating a beautiful monument of love.

Galatians 6:2 "Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill[a] the law of Christ."

Supplies arrive at the site

Our granddaughters, Saradi and Skyla, are the honorary foremen

Today was a great day for our family because we have been embraced by heroes, and joined forever in spirit with other parents who understand our pain. Together our tears of sorrow water seeds of hope that sprout playgrounds!

Numbers 11:17 "I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone."

Our playground in progress at South Lido Park in Sarasota, Florida.

By tomorrow evening our playground will be completed, but its legacy has just begun.




Thursday, March 29, 2018

MY FOUR UNIVERSAL TRUTHS FROM THE MOVIE MIDNIGHT SUN

Sometimes my grief builds up inside of me like an over-inflated balloon. I need to let a few tears escape before everything pops and makes a mess.

That's what the new movie, Midnight Sun, does for me. It gently allows me to acknowledge my grief, and also to remember a few universal truths.

Midnight Sun, starring Bella Thorne as Katie and Patrick Swarzenegger as Charlie, is a fictional tale about a very real disease. In the story Katie is a high school senior living with XP(xeroderma pigmentosum) a genetic disorder that makes exposure to sunlight life threatening. Most patients do not live past the age of 20.





Katie must spend her days indoors, only venturing out at night. She grows up behind windows shielded by ultraviolet resistant film, watching the world go by.

Her life is made bearable by a tender, humorous, and creative dad, Jack, played by Rob Riggle. He is a widower who home schools Katie and encourages her in her music.

One evening Katie meets a young man that she had always admired through the window. But their unexpected encounter leaves her flustered, and she dashes off like Cinderella. Instead of a slipper she leaves behind a notebook which enables Charlie to track her down.

The ensuing romance is predictable, yet moving. All of their dates are at night, and Katie struggles with telling him the truth. "I want to be a person not a disease." She says.




My first universal truth: Kids need time to just be kids. 


During my son's four year battle with leukemia I remember him expressing the same sentiment.  When Chris was in remission I was given strict orders not to tell anyone on his soccer team that he had cancer. Like Kate, being a normal kid was all that he wanted.

In the movie, when Kate first realizes that she is dying, she withdraws from Charlie. But her father wisely realizes their need to be together, and invites him over. They eat popcorn, watch movies, and laugh. 

When Chris came home from the hospital for the last time he said, "I want to lay on the sofa in the family room. Have everyone sit around me and just have normal conversations."




The quest for normalcy in films such as Midnight Sun gives us a valuable reminder of what really matters in life. Even as more tears escape from my grief balloon I remain grateful for the quality of the time that I had with Chris, and with his brother,Jarrod, who also died very young.

 If you know someone who is seriously ill the greatest gift that you can give them is a few hours, or even a few moments, of being normal. If that person is a child—just play with them!

My second universal truth: When you spend time with the dying, something transformational happens. You think that you are creating a special moment for them, but it becomes a gift that you give yourself.

When my dear friend, Lisa, watched her best friend succumbing to cancer she took her to swim with the dolphins. It became a defining moment in Lisa's life. It was the birth of The Infinite Wishes Foundation, which grants wishes to seriously ill adults. Click here for more info.

I think my defining moment came when I took my Florida boy to the mountains to play in the snow. It was his last time in remission.We were sledding as the sun was setting, turning the snow into colorful crystals. Chris paused at the peak of the slope and said to me, "I'm glad you're my mom."

My third universal truth: Love has risks, but it's worth it.

Like my love for my boys, the love between Charlie and Katie seems timeless.  They remain forever young in our memories. Their pure, untainted love makes me me grateful that I have the unconditional love of a good man. He tells me that I am just as beautiful now as I was at 19 when he met me. Yeah, I know, love is blind, but he actually means it! That thought squeezes out a few more tears.

As the movie ends we know that Charlie is forever changed for the better because of his love for Katie.

There is also a hint of eternity in the film. Katie tells Charlie that he can look up at the stars and talk to him. Chris told me that too. A few more tears trickle out.

My fourth universal truth: At some point everyone thinks about the hereafter.

Midnight Sun doesn't mention God. Those of us who are believers can fill in the blanks. But what about those of you who aren't sure? Did the loss of your loved one make you doubt? It is understandable if it did. I would love to hear from you.

But here I am, a mom who has lived through a Midnight Sun twice, and I still believe.

I believe that there is a longing for eternity in each of our hearts, and I don't mean religion. I mean relationship. We long for a relationship with the Lord, and we see glimpses of His perfection when the Kates and the Chrises share their beauty.

The bible promises us that Jesus settled the score for our sins, and in His time, He will make it right on earth too. We will get our kids back.

To read a thought provoking commentary by Billy Graham click here.

In the end of the movie Kate finally has her moment in the sun. She and Charlie share a sailboat ride into the sunset. Katie gets her wish to feel the sunlight on her face.

That's what bittersweet tales like Midnight Sun do for us. We cry, but we get to feel the sun on our face.

Tell me what you think. What is your truth?

Sunday, March 18, 2018

3 STRATEGIES FOR LIVING WITH DEPRESSION

He went to bed for 3 months, living on protein drinks, only getting up to go to the bathroom. My husband was in his dark night of the soul. We had just buried our second, and only remaining son.  His sudden, unexpected death thrust both of us into PTSD. Antidepressants and therapy weren't cutting it. I was powerless over his depression.




Because I was working, shopping, and functioning, I often found myself in the position of being his caretaker. My own grief was pushed aside, and anger replaced it.

Do you live with someone who suffers from chronic or acute depression? There are things that you can do for yourself to prevent your loved one from grabbing you and pulling you down with them. It doesn't matter if the depression is  medically diagnosed or situational like ours.




1. Take Care of Yourself
If your depressed family member is a child, it is especially important to seek help. Click here for a helpful article from Thewholechild.com.

2. Set Boundaries
  • Don't do things for them that they are truly able to do for themselves.
  • Don't allow them to traumatize you by reliving an unpleasant event over and over. It is OKAY to walk away.
  • If you are estranged insist on reuniting only with professional help.
  • If possible don't allow them to monopolize all of your time and attention.
  • Do not accept abusive behavior.
3. Forgive them
  • Remember that they are sick.
  • Let go of false expectations.
  • Ask God to help you see them through His eyes.
  • Pray for them.
Ephesians 4:2-3: "With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."


My husband has slowly started participating in life again, but neither of us will ever be the same. There is a level of acceptance that must come with severe loss. The battered vet knows he will never see his comrades again in this life. The parents of shooting victims will never forget that their beloved child isn't going to walk through the door and ask what's for dinner.

By following the suggestions above, I have reclaimed a sense of normalcy. I involve myself in helping others whenever I can, so that while I can't always help my hubby's outlook, I can make a difference in the lives of others. This helps to neutralize the negative impact that his depression has on me. I wrote about this in a recent blog post.Click here to read more.

Those of us walking in faith know that mental healing is coming our way.




Revelation 21:4 "and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away."

Do you live with depression? What has helped you? Please share your comments below. I would love to share your story in a future post.

Monday, February 19, 2018

MY 3 PRAYERS FOR STONEMAN HIGH


The shooting brought it all back for me: the split second devastation, the sudden loss of a child, the incomprehensible shredding of a family. As a mother who belongs to this ever-growing fellowship of grief I offer my 3 most fervent prayers for the families, my brothers and sisters in despair.

1. A POSITIVE CHANNEL FOR YOUR ANGER:


Your anger is inevitable and undeniable. It is flaming and raw. To deny it is to stop being the loving parent that you are. "Why oh why, Lord? Where are you?" We say with clenched teeth and burning tears. Allow your anger to exist. Acknowledge it—don't gulp it back down inviting it to feast upon your soul.

After the death of our sons my husband, Rob, and I were two wounded creatures spinning, tottering, and thumping into each other. We had to learn to punch a pillow not each other. 

The survival rate of marriages after the death of a child is dismal, but not insurmountable. Read more. I believe many marriages fail because our anger becomes misdirected.




Dear families, I pray that your anger is directed purposefully. I pray that you use it to change laws, to help others, to run a marathon, to write a book, to raise awareness, to elect new leaders, to create memorial tributes. Click here to see what we are doing.

But until you figure that out remember that it is okay to scream and cry. Just try not to do it to each other. God knows you are pissed. Yell at Him instead.


Psalm 42:3 My tears have been my food day and night, While they say to me all day long, "Where is your God?"

2. FREEDOM FROM GUILT

I pray that you don't blame yourselves. Our version was: "I should have kept that lunch date. It's my fault." Don't believe the lies of our enemy, the destroyer. "I shouldn't have sent her to that school." "I shouldn't have had that argument." "I didn't say I love you enough—I was a bad parent." That is the voice of Satan, stabbing, jabbing, lying.

Eph 6:11 "Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes."

The truth is, if you are parents like us, you did the best that you could, and your child knew it. He still knows it.


3. COMFORT


My third and final prayer for you, dear families, is one of comfort. This may seem unattainable right now. I pray that the Lord( even if you don't believe in Him) brings to your mind those moments of joy and reassurance that you need right now.

Let me tell you about the death of our first son, Chris. Unlike your child he died slowly. Cancer ended his life at the age of 14. One of the last things he said to us was. "I won't be bald anymore. I'll be buff again and get my six pack back. I'll be with Jesus." His faith and humor has brought us great comfort in the years since his passing.

Our other son, Jarrod, died suddenly like your child. He was 21. He woke up in his room, rumpled clothes on the floor, texting his girlfriend, dashed out the door, and never came back. One minute his laughter filled our home, and the next moment our house became an empty chamber.

Jarrod did not die in an act of violence, so I can't even pretend to know what that is like. He was killed in an underwater speargun accident. It was a Co2 powered weapon that should never have been sold to a non-commercial fisherman. It had the power to send a spear through his skull. So, I share your anguish regarding our country's grossly negligent laws.





Stoneman families, I hold a special love for you because we share this unfair burden together. Why couldn't we have more time?

Despite the senselessness of it all, I draw comfort from one of Jarrod's last conversations. His girlfriend called a few days after the funeral and said, "The last time we spoke Jarrod told me that he felt really at peace with God." 

That is my prayer for all of you in this time of anguish. May you receive dreams and messages of comfort about your child. I pray that friends, family, and teachers share special moments with you. I pray that loving ears hear your cries. May you see the brightness of your child's life and feel the hope of eternity.

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."    Matthew 5:4

Dear Marjory Stoneman Douglas High Families(or anyone else who has lost your loved one) if it brings you comfort to tell me about your child(or spouse) please post a comment below. 
.