Mothering Is More Than You Think

shutterstock_600936479Mother’s Day is once again upon us, and with it comes all sorts of emotions for all kinds of people.  Some are celebrating their wonderful moms, while others are mourning the loss of their mother, and still others may be cringing at the memory of a mother who wasn’t there for them.  Some women are relishing their own role as a mother, while others are just trying to make it through a day that reminds them only of the void that comes with never having been able to have children of their own, or worse, having lost one to miscarriages or other tragedies.  My point is this day can be beautiful and wonderful, or it could bring heartache and pain, and no matter where you or I fall on that spectrum, we all have to walk through this day somehow.

Family is such an important part of our society.  Our families shape us and often mold us into the adults we become.  If we are blessed to have been raised in a family where love and faith were a continual thread, it is easy to forget that there are those who have not shared our same experiences.  While we might have great memories upon which to reflect, there are others who are doing everything they can to not remember their own.   Such is the complicated nature of family relationships, and such is the complicated nature for so many women when it comes to motherhood.

Most of you know that my husband, and I were not able to have children of our own.  We looked into all the other possibilities, but none of them worked out for us.   Over time, the grief of our situation shifted and morphed, as it does with any other type of grief.  Not only that, but this year is the first Mother’s Day my husband and I have shared where one of our mother’s is no longer with us.  My mother-in-law was an amazing woman who never met a stranger or gave up on anyone.  She loved unconditionally and losing her has changed the palette of feelings that we share individually and as a family at this time of year.

IMG_0469This year, in spite of all of life’s challenges and the complications that can come with this day for so many women (and men), there is something different on my heart and mind. This year, I am thanking God not only for my own godly mother who raised me in deep love and faith, or the children in my life that I’ve had the opportunity to influence in one way or another, but I am also thanking God for the three children my husband and I sponsor through Compassion International.  It’s been a number of years now, and although it took a while to become comfortable with our communications back and forth, we have settled into beautiful relationships with three children who live across the world from us.  We have watched them grow, and have been blessed to be able to support, encourage and be connected to these kids and their families, and I am unspeakably grateful as I reflect on it today.

Mother’s Day is a day that we set aside to honor first our own mothers, and then all mothers.  As Prince Harry recently said after the birth of his first child, “How any woman does what they do is beyond comprehension!”   What women go through to bring new human beings into this world really IS beyond comprehension to those of us who have not experienced it, male or female!  That being said, it takes far more to make a true “mother” than just giving birth.  It involves a deep and lasting love, a sacrificial love that seeks the well-being of her children first, even when it demands more than she thinks she can give.  It is about understanding the responsibility you have to raise and nurture the human beings God has entrusted to your care.  It is about being there.  It’s putting your phone down and listening to them.  It involves so much more, but you get my point.

shutterstock_723877837When you consider what it truly means to “mother” another human being, you are able to step back and see a broader group of women than you might have before.  All the characteristics, traits and actions that make a woman a true mother, are the same ones that make us all mothers to the world around us.  I’m not discounting mothers in any way, in fact, I am doing the exact opposite.  I am elevating the aspects of mothers that we all celebrate on this day each year.  We celebrate the love and care.  We celebrate the sacrifices.  We celebrate these amazing women who took their jobs seriously and refused to give up even when their children may have disappointed them or caused them pain.  These are the things we celebrate, and as people of faith, THIS is how we are supposed to love the world!

I mentioned earlier about the children my husband and I have sponsored for a number of years.  Although I did not give birth to them, nor are we raising them, I love them with all my heart and feel a great responsibility toward them.  My heart desires the very best for them.   I cheer their accomplishments and share in their difficulties and sorrows.  I worry when I hear of events going on in their countries, cities or villages.  They are embedded into my heart, and I am so grateful to have yet another area to channel that mothering gene God put in my heart.   I have found Compassion International to be an incredible organization with which to partner, and I could not be more blessed to have three beautiful children to love and care for as a result of their efforts.

shutterstock_1257354151So on this Mother’s Day, by all means, honor your mother and the other women in your lives that are worthy of that honor.  Thank God for all the women who mothered you throughout the course of your life.  Honor them by doing the same for others around you.  Don’t reserve your nurturing just for your children, but also for those children without mothers, and for adults who are wounded and hurting.  Over and over again, Jesus tells us to love one another.  He tells us that everyone is our neighbor (Luke 10:25-37).  He tells us to go the extra mile when we don’t have to do so (Matt 5:41).  He tells us to love our enemies (Matt 4:43-48).  Jesus made it perfectly clear that we are commanded to love!  He told us,“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”(John 13:34-35)

Reach out to this world full of struggling people.  Nurture them, love them, and never be afraid of getting your hands dirty.  After all, isn’t that what mothering is all about?

Happy Mother’s Day and blessings to you all!

Compassion International – Sponsor a child

Sorrow From the Sandlot

This morning I found out that my childhood best friend lost her father yesterday.  I haven’t stayed in close touch with Dawn over the years, but she was my best friend during the best years of my childhood.  In the late 70s, we had moved from California to Little Rock, AR as a result of my dad’s job.  Dawn was the first friend I made, and it seems we almost instantly became fast friends.  We spent three years in Arkansas – just three years out of my 48 – but those three years were the best years of my childhood.  Sometimes I think they were the best three years of my life.  I was at an age where I was old enough to be allowed to go out, run around the neighborhood and woods, and play without supervision – living a  tomboy’s dream.  But I was young enough that I didn’t know all of the bad things that could happen or were going on in the world.  There was a lot of upheaval, as there always is in life, and yet for me, none really existed.  It was just a great time in a great place with the best of friends.

Dawn DeannaDawn and I both had a strong tomboy spirit.  We didn’t mind getting dirty and we played football and all kinds of other sports.  We even competed together against a bunch of boys in a Punt, Pass and Kick competition.  I’m pretty competitive, and so was Dawn, so when she beat me in that competition, I wasn’t real happy about it.  What I was happy about was that she and I took 1st and 2nd place in a competition in which we were the only girls.  It’s one of my great memories, and the truth is we were girls who could kick butt!

Dawn had an amazing family.  She had the most beautiful mom of any friend I ever had.  She was stunning, and she was kind.  I didn’t spend much time with Dawn’s dad.  I dare say, he probably didn’t even remember me after a number of  years went by, but I remembered him.  I remembered the family he led and raised, of his influence on his family and what wonderful people they all were as a result.  Over the years after we moved back to CA, I lost touch with Dawn until 16 years later when we reconnected.  We spoke on the phone and said we would stay in touch, but then like most people do, we got busy with our lives and lost touch again.  It would be another 12 years or so before we eventually reconnected on Facebook, and in doing so have been able to keep up with each other’s lives even though we haven’t seen each other in more than 30 years, nor have we spoken voice-to-voice since that day in 1996.  Facebook can be a curse sometimes, but in circumstances like this, it is a blessing beyond belief!

So this morning, when I found out about her dad’s passing, I was surprised at how it affected me.  I just sat there and cried and cried, brokenhearted for her, her mom and her family. Pucek family I’ve experienced a lot of loss in life, and I’m always touched and have deep sympathies for the loved ones that are left behind, but this was different.  Maybe it’s because I’m dealing with my own aging parents and the health struggles they endure.  That is a reality my generation is now facing with our parents, aunts and uncles.  We don’t like to think about the losses that may be coming in our own lives, so it hits us harder when that reality is right in front of us.  But it is more than just that piece.  This loss affected someone incredibly important to me, with whom I have such a deep connection in my heart and spirit.  Someone whose friendship I have carried with me and inside my heart all these years.  This loss reminded me of something, and not just the truth of how painful loss can be.  It reminded me of how special and uplifting true connections of the heart can be.  It reminded me that when you love and care about someone, it transcends time, space, and circumstances.  It makes them a special kind of chosen family.  Our experiences with them shape our lives.  They open a vault in our memory in which these experiences are placed, and it lasts forever.  It preserves them forever.

Both Dawn and I have undoubtedly gone through many things in our lives that have been difficult to endure.  Difficult losses or the challenges that come with day to day living.  But you know what?  She is my friend.  In movie terms, she is my “Sandlot” friend, my “Stand By Me” friend.  And today, she and her family are grieving.  Today I weep and I grieve with them.  I honor the life of my dear friend’s father and lift prayers for the entire family and all the friends whose lives he (and they) have touched.

So today, I want to remind you all to take a few moments and open the vault that contains all the memories of those meaningful relationships and amazing friendships you’ve had over the course of your life.  If you are still in touch with them, remind them of how much they have meant to you and the difference they made in your life.  If you have no idea where they are or what ever happened to them, stop and send up positive thoughts and prayers of gratitude for their role in your world.

shutterstock_184599686The movie “Stand By Me” ends with the following words:  “It happens sometimes.  Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in restaurants. … I never had any friends later on like I the ones I had when I was twelve.  Jesus, does anyone?”

Much love and prayers for the Don Pucek family

And blessings to everyone.

Light at the End of the Darkness

Annette Ness blur cropOn Saturday, it will be 17 years since I lost my best friend, Annette…however, it was a Thursday evening 17 years ago today, January 16th that I saw her for the last time.  Even the days of the week this year coincide with the days of the week when she passed away.  I had no idea our time together that Thursday evening would end up being the last moments we spent together and I suppose that made it all the more beautiful.  I told someone yesterday that I could not have been blessed with a greater or more perfect “last” visit with Annette.  Every single thing that happened that night was beautiful and complete.  It truly was completely perfect.

When we lose someone, we long for completion.  We long for closure and finality instead of unresolved situations or feelings.  Unfortunately, it is an extremely rare occasion when we actually GET the completeness we so desire.  I have lost many people in my life and almost all of these situations did have some kind of final closure for me.  That doesn’t mean I have forgotten these beautiful souls, but it means that I was able to experience some kind of commemoration of their lives that made me feel like they had truly been honored…or at least I had honored them if no one else did.  It is important to me.  It is just as important as my perspective on the brevity of life.  It is that truth that we are not promised another day that has always driven me to ensure the people in my life know how I feel about them.  I am not morbid; I simply think it is SO extremely important for us to express our love and gratitude for those special people around us.  It not only makes goodbyes more tolerable, it can actually add a sweetness to it.  It doesn’t make it easy, but it does make it more complete.

Annette and I did not have a perfect relationship, but we had a perfectly beautiful connection.  And in the end, our final time together truly was perfect.  As I reflect back to that night…this night, I am immersed in beautiful sensations.   There are no earthly words to truly express what I feel in my heart and soul when I remember that evening.  One of the things that stands out in my memory is a song I sang to her that night.  She wanted me to put on a tape I had made for her of me singing her favorite songs, so of course I did exactly that.  The music was playing in the background but then she asked me to sing along, even though it was already my voice on the tape.  There was one song in particular that Annette always loved.  It is called “Light at the End of the Darkness” and over the years she often asked me to sing it at church for her.  There was just something about that song for Annette that spoke to her and lifted her up from whatever difficulties she was enduring at the time.  It’s quite an old song, but it was never outdated in Annette’s mind.  I haven’t sung that song since Annette died and today I realized just how much I miss it.

Saturday, January 18th, is a day often filled with the memories of Annette’s actual death and of the terribly heartbreaking experiences of that entire day, but Thursday, January 16th, brings memories of the most beautiful kind.  It reminds me of how blessed I am to have been given such a night of perfect completeness with someone so important to me.  It makes me appreciate every single moment, word, touch and breath of that night.  It makes me thankful to God that He knew what was coming in less than two days so He provided me a night that, for most people, only exists in movies.  It brings back the sights and sounds of that night and brings such a sense of completeness that my heart doesn’t know what to do with it.  And then it hits me…I miss her so much it hurts.

So today, I have been listening to that song…but this time, I hear the words coming in the voice of my dear friend.  I see her smile and feel the warmth of her spirit…and truth be told, it is a special gift that continuously, simultaneously breaks and heals my heart.

Blessings!

A Huge Milestone

Annette new york 001This post is the sharing of something personal because today was a huge day in my world.   For over a year now, I have been working toward completing a book that tells the story of the journey I took with my best friend, Annette Christophe, as she fought brain cancer.  It has been an interesting process for me as I relived every moment, every joy and pain.  There were times I thought I couldn’t stand the emotional toll any longer and feared I would have to abandon the project, but my soul wouldn’t let me quit.  As a result, I got to take a new journey with her spirit that affected me in so many ways.   Today that book was published and made available to the public.  I thought I was prepared for the emotions of the book finally becoming reality, but I underestimated it all.The moment I found out the book was published early and was now in the public realm, I was elated!  In some ways it was like a huge weight was lifted and I was overwhelmingly joyful.  I wanted to shout from the mountain tops and share the moment with those closest to me!  Then things started to settle a bit, and I became extremely weepy and unable to control my tears.  I suddenly missed Annette terribly and at the same time felt her presence stronger than ever.  I feel like she is looking down right now, so proud of the accomplishment and endurance of what it took to bring our story to life.  I believe she is celebrating with me in spirit and I would swear I feel her hugging me.  When I stop and get quiet, it is almost more than I am able to stand or wrap my heart around.

How We Said Goodbye is, to date, my greatest creative accomplishment…for so many reasons.  But it’s more than that.  It is a journey that has changed my life once again.  It has opened me up completely again to Annette’s spirit and what she represents in my life.  It has been almost 17 years since she passed and the telling of our story felt long overdue…until I understood that God’s timing is perfect.  Even if I had tackled the writing of the book years ago, I would have been swallowed up in the intense emotions that accompanied its creation.   Instead, it happened when it was supposed to happen, and I am thankful for the fact it has finally come to fruition.

So I guess I want to say thank you to those of you who have been with me on this journey.  Some of you knew Annette and have known of our journey from the very beginning.  Some of you feel like you know Annette through knowing me and hearing me talk about her over the years.  Some of you never knew Annette and some of you have never met me….but ALL of you have been a part of this process in one way or another.  Whether through your support of me by simply reading this blog or by being someone in my literal world who has held my hand or my heart throughout the process in the past year…I would not be here without you and I am overwhelmed by your support.  Annette would love to see how she has brought so many people together…even those she never met.

It’s a beautiful and emotional day.  And today, I celebrate Annette’s spirit and thank God for the gift of her presence in the most amazing ways.  I will carry her with me always.

Blessings!

p.s.  You can read about the book by clicking on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.

“I Have No Life!”

shutterstock_79823446How many times have you found yourself uttering those words?  I must admit, even though I have been blessed greatly, there are days I feel like I life I have no life.  My husband and I weren’t able to have children so we haven’t ever had the camaraderie that exists between couples who attend their kid’s events, etc.  We’ve had friends who have children but over time it ended up that we were always the ones making concessions on what to do, or where to do it since it was easier for us to pick up and go somewhere than it was for others to pack up the kids and then be constantly watching the time so the kids weren’t out too late.  You would think as we got older some of this would subside but it really didn’t because it wasn’t long before our friends started having grandkids.  Once that happens, all bets are off.  Then there are the friends who seem to constantly be on the run with activities or dealing with the drama in the lives of those around them.  Whatever the circumstances, I look around me and think, “I have no life.”

It’s hard when you spend your life always trying to cater to the people around you.  Even if you do it by choice out of sincere love for them, there are days when it can wear on you.  For me, I have this thing about not being a burden to others or infringing on their time and such.  I want the people around me to enjoy life to the fullest and, as a result, don’t want to interrupt their busy days or keep them from doing something else they have planned.  Of course, then I sit at home by myself and start feeling sad because it seems more and more that I don’t fit into their schedules…even though they would normally welcome the “interruption” and be glad to connect.  It may sound like I’m whining, but hang with me for a few more minutes.girlfriends

When you look at other people and it seems they are living life to the fullest, it can be difficult to realize that it also feels as though you are not important enough for them to make time for you.  Whether it is the truth or not doesn’t really matter because perception can be a powerful thing in our lives.  Is it really that they don’t have time for us or is it simply that we keep trying so hard to not be demanding or selfish that we fall over ourselves in order to feel totally alone?  It seems so counterproductive!  So what is it that makes us look at others and think they don’t care enough about us to initiate conversations or activities?  These are the times we need to stop and look within.  I’m not saying there aren’t people who will take advantage of you or take everything you are willing to give them without ever giving it a second thought, but more often than not, the problem rests within us and not with them.

For most women, we are taught that we should not get angry or upset.  We are taught to be agreeable and always put others first.  We are also taught this as Christians.  (“Prefer one another.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.”) silence Everywhere we look we seem to get the message that wanting or needing something for ourselves is selfish.  We are taught that standing up for what is right for us is selfish.  We are taught that our needs are less important than the needs of others.  This thinking is hammered into our brains over and over in life and then we wonder why we feel so drained.  We find ourselves feeling unimportant or even used by the people in our lives.  The truth is that our wants and needs are important too!  It doesn’t make you a bad person if you choose to pursue the things in life that make you happy.  It doesn’t make you a terrible Christian if you say “no”sometimes to people or activities that deplete your energy.  It doesn’t make you selfish to stand up for yourself and be who you are created to be, which includes respecting your own needs and desires!  It doesn’t mean you are the center of the universe, but it does mean that in order for you to be the best you can be, you have to learn to feed yourself.

“Give a man a fish and he eats for a day.  Teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”  We’ve all heard that quote but look at it from this perspective:  If you constantly rely on someone else to make you feel loved, then you will feel loved only for a short while.  If you learn to love yourself and be kind and gentle with yourself first, then you will feel loved for a lifetime.  We need to stop looking to the world around us to make us feel like we “have a life.”  We need to simply step up to the plate and CREATE the life we desire.

If that means burning the old tapes repeatedly playing in our heads that tell us we are selfish for taking care of ourselves, then strike a match and let’s watch them burn!

fire

Blessings!

When Helping Hurts

Helping Hands“Helping”…it seems like such a noble word, such a noble act. We are taught to help others. We are taught to be helpful to those around us. We are told that helping someone else may sometimes mean we have to sacrifice some things in our own life or situation but that it is good for us to do so. If we don’t help, then we are told we are “selfish.” If we don’t help, then we must have a cold heart. Even the Bible reminds us:

  • “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:16
  • “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2
  • “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” James 4:17

So helping IS a noble thing to do. When we find ourselves in situations where we can offer help to another, we should take that opportunity to do so. Sometimes that is an easier thing than others. When our help requires us to do something, it is easy to act. If it costs us something, we may give it more consideration before we do it. If we must sacrifice in order to help, it takes it to yet another level. But what about when helping requires us to NOT do something but instead to be still and let a situation unfold? That is a different matter all together.

Recently I was reminded of a situation many years ago when someone I knew had put herself in what I thought was a dangerous situation – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. She was not making wise decisions and I did everything I could in order to get her to hear me, but nothing worked. I was terrified for her and tried to help but eventually I began to realize my hands were tied. She was a grown woman and there was nothing I could say or do that was going to change her mind. The only things left to do would have done more harm than good so I was forced to stand by and watch…helplessly. I prayed constantly for her. I loved her without condition and vowed to be there to pick up the pieces; I just hoped there would be pieces to pick up. For someone who always wants to help, it was excruciating at times to have to stand back and watch.

lost and alone

Sometimes the most helpful thing we can do is to be still and let things happen. That goes against the grain for many of us because those old tapes play loudly in our head and tell us if we do not “help,” it means we are selfish and don’t care. When someone you love is in a situation that is detrimental to them or they are making choices that are taking them down a path that will bring them nothing but pain, it is natural to want to alter their course! If you love them, it is natural for you to do everything in your power to get them to change direction or make a better decision. It is natural to exhaust your resources to make things different. It is NOT natural to step back and allow something to run its course. To do so means accepting the risk and possibility that something terrible may happen. It means living with the fear that a person may end up with very severe and painful consequences. In my situation, I truly feared I might get a phone call telling me someone I loved was dead. Thankfully that did not happen, but if it had, I would have had a difficult time not feeling guilty for the rest of my life for not doing more…even though there was nothing more to do.

Help doesn’t always look or feel like we think it should. Helping is sometimes painful. Helping sometimes means we have to be still and not act. It hurts to watch someone we love go through difficulties or endure pain but when we overstep in trying to help, we often trample on what our Father is trying to work in their lives…and in ours. We cannot see the complete picture that God is painting. We look at a small portion that seems dark and ominous and try to wipe it away when it is actually the backdrop for displaying the light! Without darkness and shadows there would be no depth and beauty to the picture.

colorful skyGod can do amazing things with the broken pieces of a life touched by poor decisions and even dangerous circumstances. Sometimes the best way we can “help” is to get out of the way and let HIM do the work. When the time is right, He will open the door for you to step back in and be helpful in a more active way, or He will close that door for your involvement completely. Until then, strengthen your spirit. Get on your knees and pray. Rest…and trust that sometimes the best place to be in is the one in which you cannot “help.”

Blessings!

How We Said Goodbye

Annette ct compressedSixteen years ago today I lost the dearest friend I had ever had. Her presence in my life and the relationship we shared is the very reason I have such incredibly rich relationships with other people today. She changed me. We changed each other. Together we learned how to trust completely and what a difference it can make when you know there is someone who supports and loves you without judgment or condition. We were honest, brutally so at times. We laughed and cried. We shared everything. We LIVED!

Annette was a beautiful human being and even though she fought fiercely to keep her broken moments from the world around her, I found them to be beautiful. When cancer struck our lives, she fought it with all she had. We fought it together every step of the way. Our relationship became even more important as we battled this terrible disease together. Neither of us was married or had children and I believe God knew exactly what He was doing by allowing us to be able to focus on each other as we traveled the road together. People can think or whisper whatever they want, but Annette and I knew the complete and pure bond we shared.

Annette bap compressed I miss Annette. Today I miss her as deeply as if it was the moment I lost her 16 years ago. Some years are just like that. I am so thankful for the gift God gave to me in – and through – Annette. It is what drove me to begin writing the book “How We Said Goodbye.” It is a story that needs to finally be told in its entirety. I have always said that my relationship with Annette was the most beautifully painful experience of my life and it is true but I would not trade it for anything.

So today I remember. I remember everything good even though it brings tears. I remember the beauty, though it feels like the rain is falling. Love is just that way.

How We Said Goodbye – Introduction:

“They say life throws us curves when we least expect it. I suppose that’s true. Sometimes those curves can be wonderful but sometimes they are devastating. One thing I have learned in my life is it is better not to know what the future holds. If we knew of the things we were going to have to endure in life, most of us would shrink within the confines of our homes or even our own souls. Not knowing what tomorrow holds frees us to live completely for today. It gives us license to embrace the world around us because tomorrow it may all be gone. When we allow ourselves to live with open arms, we create opportunities to receive more than we can ever dream. Yes, there will be pain, but in time the pain fades and leaves beautiful memories of amazing experiences we didn’t recognize as we were living them.

Goodbyes are always the most difficult and painful part of life. Loss comes in so many different ways, but when our goodbyes are the result of losing someone we love, we must remember how blessed we were to have ever had them at all.

I never would have dreamed that saying “Goodbye” could be one of life’s greatest and richest blessings, but I have lived it first-hand. Here is our story…”