Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Moving Up

Well, this blog has served me well for the past nine months, but it is time to move up to a site that will allow me more flexibility in my writing, marketing and publishing.  All previous blogs have been imported and are now available on ardisanelson.com/makingmebold/.

Please check out my new site at ardisanelson.com.  I can be contacted at info@ardisanelson.com.

Ardis Nelson
June 19, 2012

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Time for a Power Lunch

Yesterday I had what I can only term a “Power Lunch” with a friend whom I haven’t connected with for a few years.  Our “Power Lunch” wasn’t the kind of lunch where high stakes corporate mergers are born.  It was the kind of meeting where life transformation is discussed, tears are shed and dreams are shared.  It lasted over four hours!
My friend and I have run into each other at women’s retreats and commit to connecting for some one-on-one time, but for whatever reason, we didn’t get a date on the calendar.  As the date for this commitment approached last week, my anxiety seemed to rise on how I was going to get everything done.  And this commitment came close to being cancelled.  Thankfully that didn’t happen.
Waiting for a table at the restaurant seemed to take forever.  When the time came to seat us, my friend asked for a table in a quiet area (away from the group of noisy kids just seated).  I knew this was going to be some good quality time.  After we ordered lunch, we fell into a natural routine of sharing what God was doing in our lives.  It was like we never parted.
Our relationship goes back to the first day I walked into a Celebrate Recovery meeting, eight years ago this week.  I was drawn to her warmth, vulnerability and sense of humor.  She made a lasting favorable impression on me.  I’m sure she was one of the influencing factors that helped me to overcome my uneasiness and skepticism on whether to return to those first meetings.
What is interesting is that on the surface, we didn’t seem to have anything in common.  Our recovery issues were very different.  But since my work addiction landed me in recovery, I attended the breakout group for addictive behaviors.  I met some very interesting people—whom I still consider friends.  They were some of the core women who started my accountability and support team.  And they were just what I needed to foster my relationship with God.
That was a very difficult time in my life.  I was learning to let down the wall around my heart and let people see the real me.  It was risky, but worth the effort as I started to feel loved and accepted for who I was and not what I did.  It was where my love for God moved from my head to my heart.
Eight years later, my friend and I both marveled at what God has done in our lives and how He is using us in our spheres of influence.  I won’t soon forget her words of exhortation and grace as we parted company.  They were a life-giving gift and confirmation of the transformation that God has done in me this past year.
 I am incredibly grateful to God for this season of growth.  And yesterday I was reminded how blessed I am for the life-giving relationships I’ve sowed along the way.
When was the last time you had a “Power Lunch” and who was it with?  Who has God placed on your heart to connect with lately?  What is stopping you?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

At Nineteen

My oldest child turned nineteen a few days ago.  I know it sounds cliché, but I wonder where the time has gone. 
Evan is finishing up his sophomore year of college and celebrated his second birthday away from home last week.  Prior to his moving on campus, his birthday was a day we would always do something special for.  Over the years, we would usually go out for a family dinner on his birthday and have a party for him most years too. 
I vividly remember each one because I made a small scrapbook for him of each of his birthdays from the day he was born to his 17th birthday.  The scrapbook was my gift to him for his 18th birthday—the first one away from home.  As our firstborn, we provided some pretty elaborate birthday parties for him.  I can’t imagine Evan not remembering his parties or the attention we lavished on him.
In comparison, I don’t think I ever had a birthday party growing up.  I remember going to a friend’s house for her party when I was about five years old.  I was in awe of the event and how she was showered with so much attention.  The only celebration I can remember was when I was about eight years old.  There weren’t any kids invited to the house, but I remember having a German chocolate cake—my favorite.  It was a memorable occasion because my parents remembered that small detail about me.  
I was nineteen too when I finished my sophomore year of college.  I was attending a small liberal arts college 200 miles away from home.  I spent the summer between my sophomore and junior year housesitting for a professor and working on campus.   I loved my independence.  Looking back now, I’m sure that decision must’ve caused my mother much pain as I also chose to never live at home again.  But I know God opened that opportunity to protect me from the dysfunctional environment back home.
Thankfully, my son will return home again this summer.  We will adapt to having another mouth to feed and watching him come and go on his own schedule.  It is the new rhythm of letting go.  I am choosing to enjoy it for as long as it lasts.
And so how do you make a birthday memorable after so many well documented parties and dinner outings?  You turn to the simple. 
To celebrate Evan’s 19th birthday, we didn’t shower him with attention, parties and presents like we did in the past.  He came home for the weekend and enjoyed some family time.  It was nothing fancy—dinner on the grill, video games with his brother and a bit of TV with the family.  And for the first time ever, I made it just a bit more memorable (for me anyway), by baking him a birthday cake.  Proving that even at 19, parents do still have a few tricks left up their sleeve.

            So for this mom, who tries hard to make her kids’ birthdays special, simple was a good change.  And less really was more. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Riding High After the Writer's Renewal Conference

After spending two days at the Northwest Christian Writer’s Renewal Conference, I am riding high and a bit on overload.  The conference was jam-packed with workshops and opportunities to meet pre-published writers, authors, agents and editors.  And yes, I deliberately chose the word “pre-published”’ after hearing “Gym” Rubart use it instead of “unpublished”. 
As a first time attender, I was paying attention to everything I heard.  And it wasn’t just the variety of people that I was listening to at this conference.  I was also listening for God’s voice and nudging for confirmation and discernment, and hopefully a neon flashing arrow that pointed in the direction of my next right step.  I think it would’ve been hard to be at the conference and not hear Him calling you to continue on your writing journey.  It was such an amazing place of encouragement to writers at all experience levels.
Like any other new endeavor we try in life, there is bound to be some trepidation and maybe outright fear.  While I know attending this conference was my next right step of obedience, I also know that the harder work is still ahead.  That was the biggest message that I left the conference with—it takes time to write a book, it takes time to hone your craft, it takes time to cultivate relationships, and it takes time to engage in social media.  Even so, spending vast amounts of time on these tasks doesn’t guarantee a publishing contract.
What I think it does do is mold you more into the person God created you to be.  For me, I think it will provide a bigger training ground for trusting God and waiting on His timing.  In other words, to work on two key fruit of the spirit that I still seem to lack—patience and self-control. 
Now it is time for the bigger challenge—to physically write the book that God has laid on my heart to write.  I learned lots of valuable information to move forward on this project, the biggest one from attending Cindy Scinto’s class on outlining.  Even with that new tool in hand, I still have to choose to step into this bigger arena. 
As Andrea Mullins asked in my final workshop, “What things in your life are stopping you from embracing the world of publishing?”  She followed that question with this piece of encouragement for the journey, “God gives us a message because He wants us to proclaim it.”
I firmly believe that about this new direction in my life.  And even if my book never makes it to a bookstore shelf or an e-reader, I know God will use this season in my life to provide more spiritual growth.   And along the way I will proclaim His message in whatever way He leads.
What about you?  What has God taught you through the process of writing for Him?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Permission Granted . . . To Not Have It Altogether

I will be attending my first writers’ conference in a few days.  Wow, let me say that again.  I will be attending my first writers’ conference in two days.  One year ago, I was just getting comfortable with writing in my journal.  Most of my friends knew I was starting to take my writing more seriously.  And now I am finally taking the next step of faith and investing in my craft.  It is hard to believe.
Over the last few weeks the anxiety has been building with all the decisions I thought I needed to make.  I set a pretty high standard on how to be prepared for this conference including having several chapters written on a book and being prepared to pitch it to a publisher.  Also with the timing of my first manuscript being published in a book this summer, I wanted to make the most of the writers’ conference by having my platform defined, getting my website up, a new email address, new business cards designed and so on.  I wanted to be able to make a favorable impression with whomever God put in my path at the conference.
After talking with a writing mentor of mine, she really helped to talk me “down off the ledge”.  I was reminded about how I do already have a blog, a business card, and publicity photos and am a published author.  Earlier this week I also received an endorsement for my story from a national author and ministry leader whom I have long admired.  That is pretty amazing stuff for a beginning writer.  I am doing my part and God is definitely doing His.
I think I started to lose sight of what this conference is really all about for me.  As a new writer, I’m not expected to have it altogether.  I’m not expected to know it all or to have it all under control.  I don’t need to be perfect.  I just need to relax and remember that God got me this far in the process in a miraculous way and in His perfect timing.  He’s not going to abandon me now.
I also think what I needed was permission to not have to do this perfectly and to not have to perform.  As I let that sink in, I start to feel a tremendous sense of relief and freedom to attend the conference with much more grace for myself and this process. 
As a recovery group leader at my church, I know what it is like to have newcomers attend their first recovery meetings.  They are often anxious, have lots of questions and are generally in a place of deep need.  I openly welcome them into the group, answer their questions and offer encouragement to embark on their recovery journey.  Why would I expect anything less from a Christian writers’ conference? 
So I have to learn to be a newcomer all over again.  I have to patiently learn the writing and publishing process.  I also have to learn to make mistakes and move forward with God’s help.  And that’s the journey of life.  At my age, you’d think I’d have it mastered, but I am a work in process . . . one day at a time.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Preparing for Mother's Day

                Except for sending flowers and a card to my mother for Mother’s Day in years past, my Mother’s Day focus has mostly been on spending time with my immediate family—my spouse and two sons.  That was until two years ago.  That was the last time I saw my mother alive—Mother’s Day 2010.  Since that time Mother’s Day has much more significance to me. 

                My mother had a nervous breakdown when I was six years old radically changing the trajectory of my life.  From that point on the messages I received were to avoid being like my mother.  For the most part I learned to stuff my emotions for fear that I would be labeled “crazy” like her.  Her mental illness led to her absence in my life in many ways.  Growing up she was mostly absent emotionally and then when I entered adulthood, I chose to disconnect from her physically as well.
                But two years ago, God laid it on my heart to visit my mother one last time.  I had visited her twice in the previous six months to care for her after a debilitating stroke left her paralyzed on the right side of her body and unable to speak.  This visit was even more painful than the other visits and I feared this was going to be the last time I would see her alive.
                It is hard for me to believe that visit was two years ago.  My life is radically different now, including the way I prepare for and celebrate Mother’s Day.  That is because in the process of losing my mother, I was blessed with the gift of emotional and spiritual healing.  As a result, I have gotten in touch with parts of my identity that I had denied and suppressed for years.  I tend to think that the way I am now is similar in many ways to how my mother would’ve been had she not suffered that nervous breakdown all those years ago.  I am grateful for recognizing that I AM wired like her.  It is part of the legacy that she left me and makes me very grateful for her on Mother’s Day.
                Another major way that my Mother’s Day celebrations have changed is that I share this special day with Rosa in Spain.  Rosa is the mother of Pedro, the exchange student we had in our home the last two summers.  Rosa and I lost our mothers within three weeks’ time in a way that has connected us like sisters.  Mother’s Day in Spain is one week earlier than in the United States which means I have to plan way in advance.  This year I even enlisted Pedro’s help to buy flowers for Rosa from me.  It is very touching to now have this mother to mother connection—especially since we have never physically met.
                One last thought about preparing for Mother’s Day.  Last night during the women’s open share time in our recovery meeting, I asked the attendees to each share something that they are grateful for with their mother’s or with their own mothering.  In the past, I think it would’ve been hard for me to answer that question.  It’s not that I resented my mother or blamed her for the lack of nurturing and guidance.  Those things were out of her control and were not intentional.  But sometimes it’s hard to be grateful in the midst of pain and sorrow. 
Answering this simple question last night gave each of us an opportunity to practice gratitude—a necessary recovery tool that helps to take us out of our victim mentality and look for the positive in life situations.  It was a blessing to hear each woman share a nugget that made them grateful in this way.
                I personally have a tremendous amount to be grateful for in my own recovery journey.  It has positively changed my own mothering skills, it helped to push me out of my comfort zone to care for my mother at the end of her life and now it has helped me to reach across the world to celebrate Mother’s Day with my sister Rosa. 
               What are you grateful for this Mother’s Day?   

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Expanding My Spanish Circle of Friendship

               Do you ever have those moments in your life when you are just so full of gratitude and can’t believe how perfectly ordained an event could be?  I have had so many of those over the past year that I have started to document them in my writing.  They give me goose bumps or “God bumps” as I call them, every time I think of them.  Last week I had another one of those special moments.
                The story began a few months ago when I started to accept the fact that in order to really tell the story that God has put on my heart to write, that I would have to meet Rosa, the mother of the Spanish foreign exchange student we had in our home two summers ago.  I always knew I would meet Rosa face to face.  But now God was telling me that it wasn’t just my story to tell.  He wanted me to see this from Rosa’s perspective too.
                I had no idea how I was going to be able to do this or if Rosa would even be open to sharing that with me.  And after all, we do not speak the same language.  When I expressed my desire to Rosa, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that she was already learning English.  So our goals were totally in sync.  Now Rosa is learning English so that when we meet our communication will be unhampered.  And I am writing the story from my perspective in preparation to meet with her someday. 
                Someday ... writing a book is no small task though and I knew (know) that I would need a deadline to keep me moving on this major project.  And then there was also the concern about where to get the money.  When the sales of Pedro’s CD didn’t materialize like I had hoped, I asked God for an answer.  That is when he gave me the perfect response.
                One day when I was looking through my jewelry box, I came across my mother’s wedding ring.  It was a vintage style white-gold diamond ring from my step-father that she had given me several years ago.  I had forgotten I had it.  Immediately when I saw it, I felt God give me a nudge to sell the ring.  I initially wondered if I’d be able to part with it, but I totally sensed that my mother would be thrilled at the idea.  I felt her smiling at me from beyond.  She wanted me to go to Spain.  She knew how important this trip would be for me.  I also knew that selling the ring would be part of this story.
                Two months later and the ring still sat in my jewelry box.  I knew I would have to get the ring appraised and I started to wear it so that I could drop it off at a jeweler.  One day while on an outing with my friend Linda, she noticed the ring and asked me about it.  I told her I was selling it to get to Spain.  She immediately told me she wanted to buy the ring.  I was shocked and only took her half seriously.  But the ring fit perfectly on her finger.  She insisted that she really loved the ring and wanted to buy it.  Linda had just received her Washington State mental health license and wanted the ring to acknowledge this accomplishment.  As a single woman she also wanted this ring to signify that Jesus is her husband.
                This was just too coincidental to not be a sign from God.  The reason I need to go to Spain is because of the healing I received when my mother passed away.  The story of this healing is connected with Rosa and with Spain.  And now my best friend wanted to buy the ring.  I knew my mother would be so happy.  The ring wasn’t just going to be sold, it was going to be cherished and worn by my dear friend as a reminder of her love for Jesus.

                Now all that remained was the appraisal and selling of the ring.  I wanted enough to cover the airfare to Madrid during the peak summer season, but I had no idea of the value of the ring.  I prayed about it and released the outcome to God.  Last week I took the ring in to be appraised.  I was overwhelmed with delight and tears of joy when the ring appraisal covered the cost of my ticket to Spain!
                So I can confidently now say that I really am going to Spain.  I am planning a trip in the summer of 2013.  That gives me one year (that’s the deadline I needed) to write the manuscript—my detailed side of the story.  It gives Rosa one year to learn English—and with a little luck I can work on my Spanish a bit too. 
                What is so cool about this story is that it doesn’t really feel like I gave up my mother’s ring.  It feels more like I am investing in my Spanish circle of friendship.  My best friend received a ring she adores, she has a connection to my mother and is now a key player in this amazing story that God is weaving across 5300 miles to Spain.  And, just like my mother, Linda will be there in spirit with me next summer.
It gives me “God bumps” again just to think about it.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Building Teams For Life

Have you ever given any thought to the how’s and whys of the relationships you have around you?  As we go through life we connect with people and build relationships from a variety of sources.  We have blood relatives, marital ties, work relationships, school relationships, church or ministry relationships and special interest or hobby groups—to name a few. If you really take a look at the people in your relationship circles, you can start to see patterns in the people you have around you.  Those patterns can help you to determine your own areas of growth and pruning in your life.
Before I got into recovery, I didn’t pay any attention to the reasons people were in my life.  I just blindly went through life doing all I could to cope with each new circumstance that landed in my path.  When I started to realize that I had choices about who I could be in relationship with and what those relationships would look like, it was very freeing.  I had to go through a painful process of pruning some of those relationships.
One of the guiding principles I use to build new relationships is based on a definition from the book “Safe People” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.  They define safe people as someone who:
1.    Draws us closer to God.
2.    Draws us closer to others.
3.    Helps us become the real person God created us to be.
As I recently began to lead a group of women through a Christian 12-step program, I was again faced with looking at the relationships I have around me.  While I’ve been blessed to have some amazing spiritual women mentor me and befriend me, I still needed to strengthen the team of recovery relationships I have around me.  That’s because as you work through the 12 steps you need to be connected with people who have walked this path before you.  You need their expertise and guidance and to offer hope as you progress through the 12 steps.
But that is not the only team I am building around me.  I am taking these same principles into my career and life goals as well.  For my writing, I attend monthly Christian writer’s meetings so I can meet other writers and glean from their wisdom.  For my scrapbooking and photography interests, I connect with others who have a love of those hobbies.  I also have a group of trusted friends who I can call on for prayer and comfort in my darker times. 
Building teams for life is a very rewarding process.  The harder part is discerning when to prune those relationships.  But if we go through life with the philosophy that there are seasons to our lives as Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, it is much easier to make decisions to prune our relationships or to let them go at the right time.
Whether you are working on a 12-step program or just dealing with life’s every day challenges, we all need a team of people around us to support us, encourage us and mentor us.  When you think about the teams of people around you, do you see gaps that need to be filled or areas to prune?  What’s your next step to cultivating the relationships you need in your life to achieve your goals?  What are you waiting for?  Just do it!

Monday, April 9, 2012

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. 
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!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sticks And Stones May Break My Bones

Over the past few weeks I have been under an amazing amount of spiritual attack.  The attack actually started a few months ago as we formed a team at my church to launch a Celebrate Recovery ministry.  Initially the attack was in the form of many organizational and logistical obstacles to overcome.  But then a few weeks ago, the attack turned very personal in nature when my motives and recovery were questioned. 
When this first happened, a friend told me that I was being bullied.  That is exactly what it was—only this time it wasn’t being done by some school age kid, it was by an adult.  It was a painful process to walk through.  As I did, I was able to share with my 14-year-old son how to take responsibility for my part in the matter, offer and seek forgiveness and to walk tall in midst of the continuing attack.  I was thankful to be able to turn this into a teaching moment with him.  Like my friend, he recognized it as bullying from the start.
In hindsight, I can definitely see how Satan used this to throw me off course and to attempt to derail me from being on this team.  Sometimes I even became my own worst enemy in the process.  When I was young, kids used to say ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’.  As an adult, I know that those words are not true.  Words do hurt people.  And in fact, quite often people intentionally do use words to hurt people.  After all, hurt people hurt people.  Their words can and do stick with you—if you allow it.
The voices from people in our past, including bullies can keep us stuck in the past and prevent us from living the life that God has called us to.  Satan wants us to keep believing those lies.  He puts the bait out there and wants us to get hooked on it.  Once we do, we can easily go down the road of doubt, self-condemnation and becoming a victim.  It is not a pretty sight.  I know because I have been caught up in it in the past and have to constantly be on the lookout for it.
That is precisely the reason I love Celebrate Recovery.  It is all about working through our hurts, habits and hang-ups.  Quite often it is the words that have been spoken into our lives in the past that we don’t let go of.  We repeat them in our mind or we listen to the voices in our head that tell us we are not good enough and that God could never use us or love us after what we have done.  Celebrate Recovery is a safe place to work through those hurts with others who also struggle and have found victory over it through Christ.
I know that Satan is not done with his attacks against me or this ministry.  He knows it is a threat to his dominion.  I also know that God is not done with me yet.  He is using my trials to build me up into a better leader.  I have a group of amazing mentors, accountability partners and prayer warriors around me that have walked this road as well.  I know I am not going down a path that has not been walked before.  I have some battle scars, but will proudly reveal them to those who want to walk this journey with me.
I have often been reminded of Ephesians 6:12 over the last few weeks.  “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  Then God’s still quiet voice also reminds me of his promises as in Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
In the face of persecution and spiritual attack, we have a choice to make.  Are you going to let the ‘stick and stones’ lies of the enemy define you or are you going to believe what God tells you about your identity in Christ and His plans for you?  I choose to believe God.  I know He’s got my back.  What about you?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Why I Write

I haven’t been doing much writing lately as I have been dedicating most of my time to a major ministry project at my church.  A few days ago though, I took some time out to submit an essay to a writing contest. 
It really got my writing juices flowing, got me out of my head and in touch with my heart.  As you will see in the submission below, my writing comes from a place of passion and call on my life.  I attend monthly Christian Writer’s Meetings that help me to build my writing skills, but more importantly they encourage me to pursue my writing for His purposes. 
Writing prompt:  In 300 words or less describe why you write.  I struggled to keep it to 300 words, but this is part of my learning the craft.  The winner will receive a full scholarship to attend the NW Christian Writer’s Conference.  That was nice incentive, but even better for me was the chance to sit down and reflect on how important my writing has become in my life this past year and what motivates me to do it.  I am very grateful that God is taking me down this path.
Why I Write
I had just been through one of the most difficult weeks of my life.  My mother had suffered a severe stroke 18 months prior and now I had returned home after dutifully handling all of her end of life matters.  I went through the painstaking process of having her cremated, writing her eulogy, speaking at her memorial, and saying my final goodbyes in a ceremonial foot washing.
While on this trip back home, God took care to reveal hidden treasures in my soul that connected me to my mother, but I hadn’t previously realized.  He gave me beautiful glimpses into the ways that I am like her.  It was an amazing gift of freedom and wholeness.  In the midst of these revelations, God placed a heavy burden on my heart to start writing.  And, I did. 
I found my voice in my writings, heard God speak to me, and share His visions for my life.  God revealed the story that He wanted me to write and placed a much bigger call on my life. He has given me dreams to offer inspiration and hope to others from a grateful heart. 
Even today as I cling to the transformations that God has orchestrated in me, I fondly remember the words my writing teacher shared when I was on the fence about my writing ability.  It was from a book by Louise De Salvo “ …if you want to write you must follow your desire to write…if you want to become a writer, eventually you’ll learn through writing—and only through writing…if you want to write and don’t because you don’t feel worthy enough or able enough, not writing will eventually begin to erase who you are.”  This is why I write.

Monday, February 27, 2012

On Reverence

There is no doubt that the events of the last year in my life have drawn me closer to God.  I know this may sound strange, but when I returned from my mother’s funeral, I was on such a spiritual high.  God had shown up for me each day I was there, giving me much needed closure, giving me strength to get through each day, giving me the words to write my mother’s eulogy and to speak it and giving me insights into my identity that I denied for years.
As I began to accept these revelations about myself, I continued to explore my faith and seek God’s wisdom on how to walk this new path of spiritual growth that He was lying out for me.  Surprisingly for me, this path put me back in the Catholic Church.  At first, I was very confused by all of this.  I grew up Catholic and turned away from the church as a teen when I gave my life to Christ and joined a Protestant Church.  But for some reason, God was wooing me back and His vehicle was the Catholic Church.
This period of wooing and exploration coincided with the season of Lent.  So last year, for the first time in my life, I made several decisions that allowed me to really listen to God and approach Easter with a fully repentant and willing heart.  My main Lenten decision was to attend mass and prayer time every Wednesday in the Catholic Church.  Each week as I left the church, I noticed God giving me some word or insight to cling too.  I also left with incredible peace—a quieting of my mind to the worries of life.  
As I observed Lent from a sacrificial and willing perspective, I also came to enjoy a deeper relationship with Christ and a reverence for the Lord.  Growing up in the Catholic Church, the liturgy and tradition seemed stale and impersonal to me.  But as I attended these services with new eyes, I was able to appreciate the reverence that is demonstrated by the priest and the parishners.
Last year’s season of Lent was so amazing for me as it gave me time to really focus on Jesus without distraction.  I still go the Catholic Church most weeks and definitely miss it when I don’t.  I have met some very devout followers of Christ in the Catholic Church.  It has changed my way of thinking about the Body of Christ.  It has affirmed and strengthened my relation to my Spanish family as well.
Last week, when I attended the Ash Wednesday service at the local parish, I reflected on this next season of Lent and the reverence that I now have for the Lord.  Last year, I was hesitant to have those ashes put on my forehead and a bit embarrassed to be seen.  This year, I attended a ministry meeting at my church and didn’t even flinch when asked about it. 
I know God has wired me differently than other people.  (We all are.)  I’m letting God point me in the direction that I should go.  Do I question it at times?  Yes, but thankfully not as much as I used too.
For this season of Lent, I challenge you to find reverence for the Lord in whatever way God has wired you to connect with Him.  May He create in you a clean heart as you live out these next 40 days and beyond.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Waiting on Pins and Needles

               The days were slowly passing by since I sent my manuscript off to the publisher on December 1.  At first I put the entire idea of being published out of my mind.  I had gone away for a weekend to write the manuscript and put so much of my normal family and life commitments on hold as I worked toward the manuscript deadline.  So naturally after I sent the manuscript into the publisher, I felt a tremendous sense of relief.  I met my goal.  I wrote the story.  I celebrated.  Then I filed it in the back of my brain and jumped into the thick of the holiday season.
                Then one week passed by, 2 weeks, 3 weeks.  As Christmas approached I hoped that maybe there would be a Christmas gift in my email.  On December 22, I did receive an email from the publisher.  The subject line read: Christmas Gift from Cladach.  My heart skipped a beat.  I opened the email with much anticipation only to be immediately let down by the reality that this was a marketing email to announce a free e-book that the publisher was offering.  It was a nice Christmas promotional idea, but my hopes were dashed.
And there it was again—right in the front of my mind.  This email seemed to trigger all of my doubts about going down this path and if I really could be a writer.  I had put myself out there.  I had written what was on my heart to write—the story that I felt God calling me to write—and it came back void.  I felt exposed.  I was already in a writer’s funk and not writing on my blog.  There was nothing I could physically do about it, so I worked on letting go of my fears and doubts emotionally again.
The New Year brought renewed hope for me.  I attended my monthly Christian Writer’s meeting and started to think about setting some writing goals for 2012.  I decided to hold on to the belief that this piece would be published this year—if not by this publisher then by another.  So many people had witnessed this story unfold and told me how amazing it was.  So many people had been inspired by it.  So many people said they couldn’t wait to read about it.  God was definitely telling me to pursue it.  I trusted Him with this story and again put it in the back of my mind.
As a beginning writer, I was learning how difficult the waiting part of this process was.  I definitely wasn’t looking forward to the potential rejection that commonly follows.  I knew that the two month milestone would be pivotal to me.  It is at that point, that a writer usually contacts the publisher if they haven’t heard.
A few days before the two month anniversary, I watched the movie “The Help” again.  The first time I saw it, I was just starting to see myself as a writer, so Skeeter’s journey to become a writer really resonated with me.  This time around I watched the bonus feature about the making of the movie.  The bonus video clip told the story about how the book debuted on the New York Times Bestseller list and the impact it had on Kathryn Stockett, the author’s, life.  She was with friends when she got the news and immediately they marked this moment in time (with a toast) as an event that would forever change her life.  I got goose bumps when I saw this video clip.  I sensed that I was moving toward this event in my life too.  I felt encouraged and wrote about this in my journal.  I felt poised for success.  I was on pins and needles.
The following day, the much anticipated contact from the publisher arrived.  The subject of the email was the reply (RE) to the original email I sent with my manuscript.  I knew as soon as I saw it that it was the long awaited answer.  I let out a scream and held back on opening the email.  I received it as I was on my way to an appointment. I delayed opening the email until later in the day when I wasn’t so rushed.  After I returned from my appointment, I prepared myself by spending some time in prayer and surrendering the outcome to God. 
The email reply was short—just one line.  I immediately thought it was a rejection.  I had a friend on speaker phone with me to share this moment.  I read the line silently and then began screaming—and crying. 
“What, what, what?” my friend asked.  “What does it say”?
“They’ve accepted my story!” I shouted through tears of joy.  “They are sending a contract!”  My sheer joy elicited excitement from her as well.  The house was filled with a mixture of shouts, laughter and tears.  My son rushed downstairs to find out what all of the commotion was about.  He thought that something terrible had happened.  I told him the good news and held him in a big hug for a long time letting all of the emotion release from my body.
This excitement was followed by emails to the publisher, my husband, my prayer partners, my writing teacher and of course, Rosa and Pedro in Spain.  Later that evening, I attended my regular support group meeting and let the tears flow some more.  The timing was so perfect with the anniversary of my mother’s passing just one week away.  This day was also the 8-year anniversary of the devastating event that led me to start recovery in the first place.  God had perfectly redeemed this day for me into something with such a positive nature.
The icing on the cake that night was celebrating and toasting this occasion with my friend at her house.  It was like déjà vu.  Just like Kathryn Stockett, the author of “The Help”, my life was taking a potentially dramatic change.  We were marking this date as a milestone in my life and thanking God for His blessing.

I know my writing isn’t Pulitzer quality and that I am only one of ten or so authors in this book.  I also know that this was only possible because it is God’s will.  My waiting for this news wasn’t just something that was two months in the making.  This is part of the bigger story about how God redeems years of heartache, depression and loneliness.  It is the restoration for the years that the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25). 
The really cool thing about this is that this story is not done yet.  God is at work in my life.  He is at work in Spain.  He is at work in the Protestant Church and the Catholic Church.  God is at work all around us.  He is for our good if we surrender to His will.  That is the message of this story.
I’m no longer on pins and needles about the publishing of my manuscript.  However I am still on pins and needles on what lies ahead.  It is a quiet tension inside of me that I need to get used to as I live a life where I often struggle to put God first.  When I do, He is graciously waiting for me.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

I Woke The Bear

It wasn’t until we welcomed Pedro, a Spanish young man, into our home for a short term exchange program two summers ago, that I started to notice how much I use idioms in my language.   At first, I just took for granted that he knew what I meant.  I began catching myself immediately after I said one, identified it as an idiom and explained the meaning. 
Pedro loved learning the idioms.  It was educational for both of us.  I had to think about how to explain the meanings of these strange American phrases and it became part of his immersion in the English language. 
After Pedro’s first summer with us, he was hooked on American idioms.  His first year favorites were ‘6 of one, half dozen of another’ and ‘it’s a piece of cake’.  A few months later back in Spain, Pedro reported that when his teacher asked the class the meaning of ‘6 of one, half dozen of another’, he was the only student who did.  Score some ‘brownie points’ for Pedro.  (That’s a new one I haven’t shared yet.)
When we found out Pedro would return the next summer, we prepared for his return by making a list of idioms to teach him.  It became a family game as we all started to notice our idiom usage. 
Pedro returned to Spain after his second summer with a much larger vocabulary of American idioms.  His new favorites were ‘in the doghouse’, ‘not my cup of tea’, ‘don’t rain on my parade’, ‘too many irons in the fire’ and I’m embarrassed to acknowledge that he also learned ‘who cut the cheese?’—but not from me.  Whenever we Skype with Pedro, he always reminds us of his idioms—which is always good for a chuckle or two. 
Although this is all lighthearted banter between us, we really did aid Pedro with his educational pursuit of learning the English language.  In fact, when Pedro sat for the Cambridge Exam to receive his certificate to teach English as a second language, the test even had some questions about English idioms.  We just found out he passed the exam with ‘flying colors’.  (Oops, there’s another one.)
Unfortunately, Pedro will not be returning this summer to our home.  That hasn’t stopped our cultural exchange or communications though.  A few weeks ago while at a scrapbooking retreat, I created a calendar filled with photos from his last stay in our home.  Each month, I inserted text boxes on the calendar with American idioms so he can continue his love of learning idioms all year long.
As I researched the idioms online, I again was surprised how often I use them in my language.  I carefully selected the idioms because I knew I might eventually end up explaining them to him.  In the process, one particular idiom stood out as soon as I saw it—one I knew I had to send him.  It perfectly described a trait that Pedro and Rosa, his mother, have accepted in me over this past year as we grieved the loss of our mothers (Pedro’s grandmother).  It is ‘wearing your heart on your sleeve’. 
‘Wearing your heart on your sleeve’ means to express your emotions freely and openly.  It is a trait that I have become very proud of.  As I have worked through the loss of my mother, I have embraced the more sensitive side of myself.  It was a part of me that I had stuffed for years.  Now I realize that God gifted me with my emotions and sensitivity for a reason.  It is the way I give back to others—through compassion and empathy.  So my exercise in educating Pedro on American idioms turned into a life lesson for myself.  I found an idiom that describes me perfectly. 
But don’t think this idiom exchange is all one sided.  I am pleased to note that I finally learned a Spanish idiom from Pedro a few weeks ago.  The English translation is ‘I woke the bear’.  It means to get someone’s attention or interest.  I’m not sure if it is a compliment, but I think it applies to Pedro’s love of idioms (although that was not the context he used it).  I’ll have to wait until my next Skype with Pedro to get clarification.  Until that time, I think I’m going to ‘stick my neck out on a limb’ and say that I’m ‘on the right track’.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Turning Failure Into Victory

January was a month of many significant spiritual milestones for me.  This year marked the 8th anniversary of my coming out of denial and realizing that I couldn’t do life on my own terms.  It was the anniversary of my demotion.  It is funny how easy I can say that now.  At the time, I was so humiliated.  I was also incredibly relieved.
I knew something had to change in my life.  I was working 6-7 days a week.  At one point I worked 20 days in a row trying to fix the mounting system problems that were causing so much work and stress for me and my staff.  I worked long hours at my office.  I worked on the bus.  I worked into the early morning hours from home.  I was exhausted.
When I walked into my boss’s office on that Friday afternoon, January 30, I was thrilled to have met our deadlines.  I was proud of myself and the people on my team that worked so hard to overcome huge obstacles—all for the sake of accurate and timely W-2s.  (Let’s just say that my employer had a history.)  I was greeted with the news of my demotion.
There is a huge story behind all of this, but the point is that God used this life-changing event to transform me.  He used it to point me toward Him and He used it to help me take responsibility for my decisions and behaviors that had led me down this path of self-destruction.    It has been a long process.  During January, I don’t even give W-2s or working in that kind of environment a second thought.  There was a time that I loved it and thought it was my mission in life—that I would be lost without it.  It was my idol.
As I started to work through my work addiction that first year—while still being employed, I had to set boundaries on the number of hours I worked, I had to not try to do everything and be everything for everybody.  I had to learn that it was just a ‘job’—that it was just a ‘paycheck’.  I had to learn that my value was not dictated by what my boss, peers or staff thought of me.  I had to learn that my value was dictated by God and His unconditional love for me.   That took lots of time and lots of love being poured into me from the outside—by other followers of Christ who also struggled seeing themselves as God sees them.
What is so ironic—and humorous in hindsight—is that although my boss demoted me for my lack of people skills, God has ‘promoted’ me and abundantly used me in this area.  He has taken me out of my analytical walk to one of faith and obedience from my heart.  Sure I am very detail oriented.  I am a good organizer and highly capable of managing projects.  But the area that I get the most satisfaction with is in the trenches of working through the struggles of life—of connecting one on one or in small groups with others who are hungry for spiritual growth.
That is where I give back in ministry.  I love to facilitate life change. I have served in various ministry roles since my demotion.  Even now I am part of a team that is launching a ministry that has been near and dear to my heart since I was demoted.  It is Celebrate Recovery. 
Celebrate Recovery is a biblical 12-step program based on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-10).  At first I attended for my compulsive work habits, but I soon came to realize that these principles were needed in all areas of my life.  It was about embracing a lifestyle change that put Jesus first in my heart, mind and soul. It was about the character building that I needed to become more like Christ.  Lastly, it was allowing Him to turn my failure into victory.
Eight years later, I am grateful for that experience and still sold out for Jesus.  My identity is no longer wrapped up in what I do, but is now based on who I am.  My identity is in Christ.
Celebrate Recovery launches at Timberlake Church in Redmond, WA on Wednesday, February 29 at 7PM.  Check out CelebrateRecovery.org for a meeting in your area.  Or join us, if you live locally, to help us celebrate the launch of this new ministry of hope and healing.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

White As Snow

When I sat down to blog earlier this week, I was inspired to write about the snow.  Everyone in my house was in bed.  I opened the front door and stepped outside on the covered porch of our house.  I delighted in the glistening sight of snow blanketing the neighborhood.  It was peacefully quiet—no, more than that, it was totally silent.  The land had been kissed by God and hushed into a remarkable silence. 

I took in a deep breath of the cool fresh night air.  It was invigorating.  Although the temperature was below freezing, in this brief moment of time I didn’t notice the cold.  I could feel His presence in the silence and in the beauty of the snow kissed landscape.  The scripture that immediately came to mind was from Isaiah 1:18, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” 

I sat down with my computer and started to write—fully intending to blog about this vivid scene.  But somewhere in my ADD brain, my writing headed elsewhere and I fell asleep before finishing.  Then the ‘snowmageddon’ events of the next few days interfered with any hopes of finishing that blog.  Now in the midst of the slush of bloody hell (a phrase coined by my husband), I can more clearly see where God wanted me to go with this.

The next morning I woke up to the sound of freezing rain tapping on the skylight in our master bathroom.  One hour later the power went out!  As 22-year residents of the Seattle area, we were used to this drill.  We managed to stay warm with a fire and cook on the outdoor gas grill.  Dinner and games by candlelight were also on the agenda. 

That night I again went outside to take in the beauty of the snow.  The scene was dramatically different though.  Instead of glistening white snow, there was darkness.  The snow was still blanketing the ground, but with no street lights or house lights to illuminate it, the neighborhood was eerily dark.  The silence was also gone.  It was replaced by the buzzing of nearby generators.

The next day was the first time I ventured out in the snow.  At this point it wasn’t fluffy white snow though.  It was heavy, wet, ice crusted snow.  It was slippery, crunchy, uneven and dirty.  There was no more beauty in it.  It became an unwelcome reminder of the lost days and lost work. 

So what started out as ‘white as snow’ really did seem to revert back to that ‘red as crimson’ classification.  Some of the snow melted, some of it became hard and some of it became dirty—not unlike our lives.  God wants us to know that He sees us as white as snow.  He wants us to know that even though we may feel dirty or crushed and ‘red as crimson’, that is not what we are. 

As I reflect on the snow of the week, I can definitely see where Satan tried to thwart any enjoyment of it.  He wanted us to isolate.  He wanted us to become frustrated by our circumstances.  He didn’t want the light to shine through.  He wanted the darkness to rule. 

In Isaiah 1:18, God used the analogy of comparing our sins to being white as snow to represent our purity in His sight.  Our challenge is to choose to believe it, no matter what the circumstances. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Year To Remember, Part 2

While God was transforming and healing me with my mother’s passing in 2011, He was also giving me a connection with a family in Spain.  Our families met the year before through a short term summer exchange program when their son, Pedro, stayed with us.  Pedro’s grandmother was also diagnosed with a terminal illness and only had a few months to live.  So Rosa, Pedro’s mother, and I ministered to each other through the painful process of preparing for our mother’s passing.
Neither Rosa nor I spoke each other’s native language, but we used an online translator to send emails to each other.  Occasionally, Pedro would fill in the gaps or translate on a Skype call.  Our letters back and forth were beautiful gestures from the heart and proof that with God there are no barriers that cannot be overcome.  Each time I gave to Rosa, I also received from her and vice versa.  It was very comforting and healing.
Early on in this relationship with Rosa, Pedro also took steps to deepen the connection between our families.  In January 2011, Pedro sent us a link to a YouTube video of ‘Seattle’ a song he composed and dedicated to our family.  It was an amazing gift of kindness and gratitude.  Over the next few months, Pedro sent more original piano compositions.  We were astonished by this young man’s talent and oblivious to the fact that he had played several of his compositions in our home the previous summer. 
The more Pedro sent his songs to us, the more I toyed with the idea of recording his music.  And so for Pedro’s 18th birthday, when he was in Seattle, I took him into a recording studio to produce his first CD.  That day was very memorable.  I did a photo shoot of Pedro in the studio for his CD cover, artist photos, etc.  I video recorded several of his songs as he performed in the studio.  Those videos are on youtube.com.  Then we spent several hours with the music engineer editing the songs.  We left the studio with a fantastic master recording of 13 songs from his prepared playlist.  As soon as we got in the car, we popped the master into the CD player.  Pedro was in disbelief—smiling ear to ear—as he listened in sheer delight to his music kiss the speakers and fill the car.
In the days that followed we created all the CD content, labels, burned disks, etc. and mass produced 50 CDs for friends and family in Spain.  The first printing of the Spanish CD was titled, ‘Compositions of Pedro González Arbona’.  An English version of the CD soon followed with the title ‘Introducing Pedro González Arbona’.  After all, I’m betting this won’t be this young man’s only album.  Pedro’s music is mostly inspired by cinema and soundtrack composers like Hans Zimmer and John Williams.  He dreams of scoring a motion picture soundtrack someday.
After Pedro returned to Spain, I pursued having his music set up for online sales and digital downloads.  Months earlier, Pedro had affectionately started calling me his ‘manager’, but now it is a role I take more seriously.  I used my love for writing to create Pedro’s website copy and worked with Pedro on edits and Spanish translations as well.  By Christmas 2011, Pedro’s music was available on itunes, Amazon, Zuneand various other music sites.  He now has a Facebook artist page and his music can be purchased through his Facebook store as well.  Physical copies of his CD are available on CDbaby.com.
So 2011 really was a year to remember for me.  Although it started with the passing of my mother, it ended with the expansion of my family and some radical ‘career’ changes that I never would’ve anticipated. 
After some of my first published devotionals, one of my friends told me I found my calling.  Those were precious words to me.  I hope and pray that is true, because now that I’ve been writing this past year, I can’t imagine not doing it.  I cannot not write.
In the case of Pedro’s music, I ‘manage’ his American music endeavors out of love for him and his music.  Pedro is like a son to me and his mother is like a sister (which probably makes me more like an aunt).  I am Pedro’s #1 American fan so it is only natural that I would do this for him.  Someday the proceeds will be enough to buy the long-awaited ticket to Spain to meet Rosa face to face.  That trip will be the trip of a lifetime for me as I plan to write about their amazing country and more of the story that has brought our families together. 
That will be a year to remember too.  Will it be 2012?  Only God knows.  I’m waiting for His answer.

4/26/2012 Update: God provided a way for me to get to Spain in 2013.  Here's the related story. Expanding My Spanish Circle of Friendship