Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Tribute to My Mom

Nana Varee Juarbe . . . Mom
Began her journey ~ May 2, 1949
Danced into Heaven ~ September 10, 2014

I shared this at my mom's memorial service last Saturday. It was hard to know what to say. As if a few words could capture all that's in my heart for my mother. I suppose I will be paying tribute to her as long as I have words. But for now . . .

There are times when I am at a loss for words. Today is not one of those times. Today I have more words than I can number overflowing from a heart of gratitude and memories. Memories from before my time captured in some of the photos of Mom that were shared this afternoon, all the way through this morning when Jeff and I walked along the beach right beside the spot where we sat with Mom less than three weeks ago. 

And there aren’t enough words or time to express the deep love I have experienced from the hand of God through literally hundreds of people.

This is my mom’s last gift to me. People.

Mom loved people with abandon. So many people. Sometimes I thought TOO many people. There were no strangers with my mom and many times when we were out in public I quietly wished to myself that we could just be anonymous. Did she really have to talk to everyone like they were a dear friend? And whenever we talked she would speak of people that had no faces in my mind as if they were a family relative I just hadn’t had the chance to meet yet.

Over the last week, I have met many of Mom’s people. And you have overwhelmed me and my family with your love. In the absence of being able to communicate with my mom, you have held and comforted my heart with your kindness. And in a wonderful, mysterious way I have felt my dear mother’s love through you. A line in one of my favorite songs says, “Life with you is half as hard and twice as good.” Because of you, the pain and heartache that came with the last week of Mom’s life were half as hard and the joy and laughter and beauty twice as good. Thank you for living it with me.

On Mom’s last night, I prayed “God, please take her. Why is she still here?" The wait and struggle seemed pointless. 

God spoke to my heart and said, "It’s not just about her. It’s about every life she continues to touch from her dying bed through prayers, and visits, and Facebook messages. It’s about you and every song of worship you sing with your family surrounding her. It’s about all the work I am doing through her to continue to touch lives, and I will take her when her work is done here.

Death is hideous. And as we walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death with Mom, I longed for the day when we could mock death and say, “Where is your sting? Where is your victory?” Mom led us to the threshold of Heaven in her last hours, and we waited there with her in that painful, beautiful, sacred, holy place. And I learned the Gospel. 

This morning I read the story of Lazarus. When Jesus came to Lazarus’ tomb, He wept. And some saw Him weeping and said “Look how much He loved him.” But others questioned. They asked if Jesus could make a blind man see, why didn’t He keep Lazarus from dying. They wanted a miracle.

I have been both those people. I know some of you have too. I felt God’s presence at Mom’s side and knew how much He loved her. Yet He has the power to heal and still does. So why didn’t He heal Mom? Why did she die?

Jesus’ response to both groups of people was this:

He went to the tomb and told them to take away the stone. And He said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” Then He lifted up His eyes and gave thanks. And cried out with a loud voice saying, “Lazarus, come out!”

And Lazarus was resurrected from the dead. They got their miracle.

As Mom took her last breath, she crossed the threshold from this life to eternity. If you prayed a prayer for my mom, you got your miracle too. Mom is not dead. He resurrected her . . . just like Lazarus, and she is alive with Jesus in Heaven.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 

The day I longed for has come . . . Death, where is your sting? Grave, where is your victory?

Thank you God. Thank you, Mom’s people. Thank you, Mom. I love you.

Monday, September 15, 2014

When Your Dream Feels Broken

It was one of those slow-motion moments. I hurried through the kitchen, setting my empty mug on the counter as I walked. My fingers didn’t let go quite fast enough, and I felt the mug slide toward the edge.
“Nooooooo!” (Insert mental image of crazed woman moving in slow motion trying to rescue her favorite coffee mug.)
Crash! The mug lay in shards on the ground. Not the kind that fit neatly back together with glue and patience. Nope. Think splinters, dust, say goodbye, and “where’s the dustpan?” kind of shards.

Please join me over at God-sized Dreams to read the rest of this post!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I'm a Half Puerto-Rican Girl from Virginia (hah!) and I'm "going there" Too!

In light of this tragedy-filled and sorrow-full week, I am hesitant to post this for fear of sounding flippant or just not sober enough. But fear silences, and I believe silence is complicity. These are conversations that need to happen. And keep happening. So I'm humbly offering my voice. Please talk back.

My friend Deidra is a brave woman. In her own quiet, chill, and kind way, she's starting a movement of knee-knocking, Jesus-loving, hand-holding, diversity-embracing, hard-conversation-having, grace-like-a-river-giving women who are going there and committing to see unity become reality in the church of Jesus Christ.

And I figured it’s time I join them. 

I’ve been going there in my head for years. I’ve even lived there. In fact, I’m the fruit of there. You see, my fair, Pennsylvania-country-girl mom and my dark, handsome, Brooklyn bred-Puerto Rican dad went there forty-seven years ago.

You wouldn’t know it to look at me. My own son is probably the biggest evidence of being from there. With his dark skin, full lips, and brown eyes, he hints the most at my Puerto Rican heritage.

The thing is, there has been a part of me for so long I hardly realized it was a place. As I’ve read and been a part of discussions about ethnic diversity over the last year, I realize what a gift I was given to have been brought up in a multi-ethnic home. 

Mami & Papi (Dad's parents), Mom, my sister and me

My Hazard, Kentucky-country great grandparents (Mom's grands) and us

I was exposed to a different language and heritage from day one. My memories of family gatherings with my aunts’ families, grandparents and extended relatives are rich, loud, full of food and words I didn’t understand.

In some ways my perspective feels naive. Confused. There is just a place that’s a part of me, and I find it hard to "get it.” Kind of like, "What’s the big deal?" 

Of course, I’m not ignorant of prejudice and racism and its ugly stories. My father has a few stories of his own. The biggest is the one where my mom and dad eloped because her father was so prejudiced against Hispanics. My mom's family didn’t even need to meet "the Puerto Rican” who had stolen their country daughter’s heart. 

My dad. Looks threatening, huh?

It wasn’t until I was born that painful prejudices were laid aside and love for new life made a way for acceptance. I like to think I was part of that reconciliation, in my own baby-kinda way.

Me and the Puerto-Rican, aka Dad.

As I’ve contemplated my own experience and desire to really do my part in reconciliation (other than being born), the thing that stands out to me the most is embracing diversity. Creating it even. Contrived? I don’t think so. Intentional? You bet! When something’s broken, it takes an intentional effort to fix it.

I can’t claim any virtue in my mostly positive and accepting attitude toward other ethnicities. It came naturally because it was part of my experience, and any prejudice I’ve ever felt was toward those I was unfamiliar with. 

Human nature tends toward what’s comfortable. In the absence of exposure and experience, segregated relationships begin to make sense.

I see this in my own children. My older three experienced a lot more of the Puerto Rican side of their heritage. When my grandparents passed away ten years ago, the family visits lessened. My youngest has never been in a roomful of loud, boisterous Puerto Rican relatives.

We also moved from the metropolitan DC area to the Shenandoah Valley and its country life four years ago. Our oldest two boys were the minority in their school of African Americans and Asians. Now on most days, my younger three boys don’t see people who aren’t white like them.

This has undeniably influenced their attitudes. And it makes me realize that what was a natural part of life and experience before, now has to be intentionally facilitated. 


So when you’re a “white” woman, talking about things like diversity and racism can be a scary premise. It’s times like these when I wish my half-Puerto-Rican-ness was a little more evident. Honestly, I’d feel more legitimate if my skin tone was darker like my dad’s. (Is that okay to say?)

I haven’t been the victim of prejudice. I don’t know what it feels like to be discriminated against because of the color of my skin. 

But I have known hate. I have been the victim of mean girls. It wasn’t my skin, but it was my glasses and big feet and whatever else provided fodder for the day. I’ve known the pain of rejection and ridicule from my peers for things I couldn’t change.

And I've known the power and healing of acceptance, affirmation, and friendship. I believe those are the starting points for this incredible journey.

Going there promises to be messy. I don't care for mess, and I’m afraid of hurting someone. Of saying something that is offensive. Of sticking my foot in my mouth or worse unintentionally sticking my finger in someone’s eye. 

But unity is worth any amount of embarrassment, misunderstanding, or “I’m sorry”s that I might have to offer.

Messy is okay because of grace. And a unified body of Christ will make our Father smile so big.

So let’s go!

I'm joining these brave women and friends who are "going there" and facilitating the conversation . . . Alia, Jennifer, Lisa-Jo, Crystal, & Kate. Their perspectives are well worth the read.

And Alia posted this yesterday: Kingdom Come. It's one of the wisest responses I've read yet in the mess of this week. Her post captures the heart of God. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Public, Private or Home School? How Moms Can Support Each Other Regardless

As families across the United States and around the globe say goodbye to the easy-living days of summer and hello to a new school year, there are many tasks we have in common; acquiring new school supplies, new schedules, even new shoes top the list! But with the increasing availability of schooling options, the traditional school-day preparations of years gone by are becoming more and more diverse. Depending on whether your children attend public, private, or home school, a mother’s “to-do” list this time of year may look very different from that of her neighbors and friends.

The choices before us when it comes to raising our children are unprecedented, and that can be both a blessing and a curse.

Join me and the community at Circles of Faith today to read the rest of the post and join in the conversation!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Good Dog

It's where bloggers write for 5 minutes . . . no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking (or at least not a lot). Click on the button above to read more thoughts on fill.

When dog walking is therapy. 

And our pace is set by things to smell.

The perpetual pleaser in me fills with the delight he has of sniffing every other bush.

Walk three feet. Sniff. Walk a couple more. Sniff.

And the happy dog makes me smile. 

The ever-present demand to do more, be more, ceases to exist. This is enough. I am.

The people we meet don't talk about the headlines, their troubles.

Our commonality is the four-legged creatures on these long leads. Breeds, mixes, rescue dogs. These are the limits of our conversation.

And my weary mind finds refuge in these simple boundaries.

A couple walks toward me slowly on the path. I step aside to let them by, shortening the lead. Not everyone likes big dogs.

Is he friendly.

I nod.

He looks like my Nola. She lived 14 years. Want to see a picture? Man I miss her. She was a good dog.

Enjoy your walk.

Walk. Sniff. Sniff. Walk.

A tall, thin elderly man with two dogs on leash, a yappy dachshund-looking-something or other and a fluffy black partner, approaches.

He's a Norwegian breed. They were bred to catch rats on the ships. So they had to be small. 


We walk. He sniffs. 

And I notice.

The blue tail of a skink darting under a bush safe from sniffing dogs. 

Lazy turtles plopping off a sunny log into the green pond.

Wavy reflections on the rippling water.

The breeze. 

And it feels like my Father stroking my hair.

Whispering, "Breathe deep. Rest."

Man's best friend. It's no wonder.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

My "Dear John" Letter to Facebook . . kinda

I'm breaking up with Facebook.

Not really though. We're just "taking a break." Kind of like you did when you were dating and you just weren't sure this was the right guy.

But I'm talking about Facebook not eternal love.

And yes, Facebook, we need a break. I'm just feeling smothered. Between your news feeds, status updates, comments, likes, and neverending tidbits of trivia and information, you've got my brain short circuiting.

You know I was an info junkie years before you came along. Your creator was still in diapers when I would fill my tote bag and arms with library books and stumble back to my dorm to read on a Friday night while my roommates were all gone and it was quiet.

But this relationship has taken info to a whole new level, and it's just too much to handle.

I'll miss the mornings I rolled over and blearily started my day with you. Ever since I got my iPhone you've come to bed with me and been there when I woke up. It was exciting at first, but now . . not so much.

The thing is, Facebook, for all the fun we've had, I realize faces don't belong in a book. 
{<==click to tweet} Faces belong on bodies. They're right in front of me, and I'm missing them.

It's not like I hate you or think you're inherently evil. 

You have introduced me to some of my favorite people and facilitated relationships that would have died without you. 

I've found incredible information, life changing even, as I perused your news feeds. 

You've made me laugh and cry. 

I don't resent you for making everyone else's life look all sunshine and roses and mine look like crap. I know better than to think that the age old battle with comparison is your fault, Facebook. {<==click to tweet . . oh, please} 

Besides, I am a mature adult, and I know everyone posts the good stuff. Why not? Who has picture albums (remember those) commemorating the worst of life? 

But I've also wasted hours, and I don't have hours to waste. Really, I think you're great! I just need some space. 

Here's the good news. We're not really breaking up. I have a plan, and these are the new rules:

- we won't visit on the phone. My time with you won't be half conscious, compulsive checking anymore. I want our relationship to be intentional. So we will only visit when I'm on my computer.

- we'll be together only between 1 and 2 pm. That's my personal prime time, so you're up against a lot of competition. But don't worry. That means when I intentionally choose you, you'll have my undivided attention. Quality not quantity.

- no weekends starting Friday at 2. Because when it come to the weekends and family and friends, well you lose. Sorry. It's not personal.

Facebook, you have a way of magnifying my state of being, for better or worse. You can make me feel depressed just as fast as you bring out my pride. {<==click to tweet}. So I'll be paying close attention to how I feel when I'm with you. As one-sided as it may sound, if you don't make me feel better about life, family, and friends . . . well, click.

You're a really nice guy, Facebook. I just need some space. And I think our relationship (and all my others) will be better for it. 

Fondly (most of the time),

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

When Restless Means Rest More

The first few weeks after Winsome, the women’s retreat I founded and my God-sized dream come true, I just kept spinning. After winding up that hard, you can’t stop on a dime. Weeks and months of preparations weren’t “unspun” in just one weekend. So as tired as I was, I kept writing emails, wrapping up loose ends, and brainstorming ideas for next year.
Then I hit the proverbial wall. I need to find some place between full-out spin and slamming face first into the wall. But there’s something in me that starts out slow and then doesn’t want to stop, like a runner that sprints until he collapses.

And now I felt like I would be happy to just stare at a blank wall for a month.
While my mind, body, and emotions were spent, my soul felt restless . . .