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

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Year To Remember, Part 1

It may sound cliché, but 2011 was a year to remember.  If you received our annual family newsletter you have heard some of these amazing things.  I hope that it will eventually be a published book.  Until that time, I’m sharing this more openly in my blog and any other avenues that God leads.  Part 1 is about how writing became such an integral part of my DNA this year.
I started out 2011 trying to just take one day at a time with the uncertainty of my terminally ill mother’s fate hanging over me.  I had made three trips back home in the 17 months since my mother’s stroke and was longing to see her again.  In the midst of this waiting, I was also comforting Rosa, Pedro’s mother*, with the news of her mother’s passing.  And then three weeks later, my mother suddenly passed away.
I was initially in shock as I felt certain that God had told me I would see my mother alive again.  I didn’t understand how God could take my mother so suddenly.  I returned home to St. Louis to handle my mother’s final arrangements and burial. 
That painful trip ended up being such a blessing for me.  I was able to speak at my mother’s memorial—something I never foresaw myself doing.  My mother was mentally ill for pretty much all my life and so I wasn’t very close to her.  Over the months preceding her death though, God was giving me glimpses of how I am like my mother in ways that I hadn’t seen before.  The eulogy ended up being a beautiful tribute to my mother and a way I could share those things with her. It was incredibly healing for me.   The revelations and healing were so significant to me that God laid it on my heart to start writing.
A few months later, my connection with New Life Ministries and Steven Arterburn, led to an interview about my experience.  The interview was distributed nationally to supporters of the ministry.  And so I continued to write.  Shortly after that I was asked to join the team of devotional writers at my church.  I was just getting used to the idea of being a ‘writer’ and I certainly never thought I’d write devotionals.  But after prayer and thoughtful consideration, God gave me the confidence and His words to do it.  I also took some writing classes over the summer and wrote a few short stories.
                In the fall, I began to take my writing more seriously, started my blog and joined the Northwest Christian Writers Association.  It was through this group that I heard about a story submission to a Christian publishing firm for stories of mother/child healing relationships.  That led to the writing and submission of my first manuscript just over a month ago.  That was a huge leap of faith—fingers crossed and praying.
So I started out 2011 with lots of uncertainty in my life around my mother’s passing.  I ended 2011 with closure, wholeness and a new sense of purpose.  God has given me a story and a desire to write it.  That is pretty scary at times because it is a big commitment, but also because I didn’t see it coming.  But isn’t that the way God does His best work?  If I went down this road on my own, I’d want to take the credit for it.  But since I know this is something that I couldn’t do on my own, I have to rely on Him.  He is the author of my story and I’m blessed to collaborate with Him on making it known in whatever way He leads.
*Learn about my Spanish connection and who Pedro is in Part 2.