Monday, December 22, 2014

Celebrating Beauty

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I received the invitation. It’s a busy season, so I tend to scrutinize the events that go on my calendar more than normal during the month of December.
But then again the founder of Verity VareĆ© is my daughter, and her dream business was turning one. It was going to be a birthday celebration!

Join me here to read the rest of this post and find out more about the fabulous message of Vv !

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The View From Here

Rain, not snow, is falling here this cold and dreary December morning. But this post from last December has cheered and recalibrated my heart . . . .

The first flake fell all alone. I saw it as I was standing on the porch waiting for the dog to do his business. The air smelled like snow, wet and cold and so fresh!

By the time I took up my early morning spot on the sunroom couch, the snow was falling lightly. The valley below was turning white, and I could only see a bit of the mountains across the other side. A few minutes later, I looked up from my book and the mountains were gone. And then, so was the valley.

I sit there each morning for the view. The farther I can see, the better. On blue-sky clear days, the mountains twenty-some miles across the valley cut the sky with their ridge.

But now my view was limited to the tree line right in front of the little patch of grassy yard on the side of our mountain. The same trees I look straight past when my eyes are yearning for the view.

As my view closed in, so did my focus. I noticed the craggy sculpture like bends of the dead tree at the edge of the woods. The rocks emerged as the snow whitened their tops. The snow itself became more visible. My limited view became the backdrop for all this glorious heaven-pure falling from the sky. The flakes like ballerinas in a massive, soundless choreography.

My heart's view narrowed as well. As if on cue, my family's faces took center stage. We wouldn't be going anywhere. The kids would be wanting to sled. The tree needed lights. We could read by the fire. Maybe bake.

And we did. Sam and I read Christmas books as I wrestled his almost but not quite too big eleven year old body into my lap. I sledded with the boys for two hours. We ate lunch in front of the fire and watched Christmas cartoons. The tree was illuminated and decorated.

A few weeks ago I heard a piece of advice given to my son's bride-to-be . . "Give him your eyes and smile."

Those words have rung in my ears and pulled at my heart ever since . . "Give them your eyes and your smile." Isn't that what the ones we love really want? Isn't that what we really desire?

Your eyes . . the window to the soul. Eyes don't lie. That makes them the very best conduit for love.

And your smile. It's like sunshine. Warm, comforting, affirming.

That's what I want to give my loved ones this Christmas season. In the midst of the busyness, events, and gifts, I want to give them my eyes and my smile.

If I dared to tell the kids that was my main gift ambition this Christmas, I can only imagine how they'd respond. I remember physically feeling my heart sink when my own mom would talk about "keeping Christmas simple". . code for fewer presents.

Like that child, I still confuse my heart's hunger with my head's desires. My Heavenly Father offers peace, rest, hope and joy, and my head thinks these are somehow not enough. It says I need stuff. And I need things fixed. I need my people to love me and act like I think they should.

But what I really need are His eyes, searching my soul, illuminating the shadowy places with the gentle and gracious light of his love.

And I need His smile. I need its warmth. Its security. 

Christmas is all about how God feeds the deepest hunger of our hearts. God sees, and because of Jesus, He smiles.

And our hearts are filled.

a repost

Friday, December 5, 2014

Beneficiary of a Dream

I don’t remember Mom talking much about dreams. What I do remember was how she lived life oblivious to boundaries. She created something from nothing all the time. My dad tells stories of coming home from work to find her painting rocks with me and my little sister. Meals were always special occasions no matter how simple. I remember themed birthday parties, Norman Rockwell-esque holidays complete with flaming plum pudding . . . 

Join me over at God-Sized Dreams to read the rest of this post!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Dreams Interrupted

I look up the word interrupt and find definitions like these: made discontinuous, followed not by the expected, stop the continuous progress, break the continuity. The word clearly evokes a detour from what is expected.

My God-sized dreams have been interrupted . . . by more than I could have imagined and all at once. It’s the kind of stuff that makes me think I’m going to wake up in the morning and say, “You wouldn’t believe what I dreamed last night!”

But this interruption is clearly not a dream. It’s reality full on. She came blasting in with a blow horn and just when I think I’ve got her and all her chaotic circumstances rassled to the floor, she pulls an expert move and I’m pinned again.

I’m running out of steam in this match and wondering if maybe "crying uncle" is my best defense.

Join me at God-sized Dreams for the rest of this post and some God-sized encouragement for you and your dreams!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Letters from the Valley

We live on a mountain between two valleys. The trees on the east side of the mountain are cleared just enough to give us a view of the valley east all the way across to the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s gorgeous. But the valley on the west side can only be partially seen when all of the leaves die and fall from the trees. Then we can see the sunset.

As I walk this new path after my mom’s recent death, I’m struck how the “valley of the shadow of death” seems to be on both sides of the mountain. It’s the mountain that casts the shadow. The mountain is death.

I’d always imagined approaching the mountain from the valley would be the most daunting. Death is unnatural and frightful. The surprising thing was how in the middle of the fear and sadness, I had so much peace and even joy at times. God was with me, and I wasn’t afraid of the shadow.

Now I am on the other side of Mom’s death, and there’s another shadow as I journey away from death and through another valley. Life without my mom is foreign. Some days it is daunting. The shadow of grief can be so dark. 

But I will fear no evil, because my God is with me.

I’ve been thinking about my blog and how it is mostly just about my life, joys and trials, and sharing it with you in the hope that you might be encouraged or maybe feel less alone.

A favorite line of mine is from the movie Shadowlands when a student of C.S. Lewis tells him "We read to know we are not alone." I love that! It's so true. With every major life event, I have scoured my bookshelves, the Internet, and bookstores to find someone who has been here before and who can offer me some wisdom for the road.

And that's why I write . . so others might read and know they too aren't alone.

Why “Letters from the Valley"? Because that is where I am. This unexpected season has fallen like a spring snowstorm. I'm realizing day by day that I don't get to say when this season ends. And honestly, it's not near as morbid as it sounds. It's not morbid at all. It's unlike anything I've ever known. It's deep and confusing sorrow right in the middle and in between laughter and life. It's heavy enough to make me want to stay in bed forever some mornings and other days it seems like it's gone. Until it returns, unexpectedly and knocks me on my butt and into a puddle of tears. It's grief.

I know many won't be interested in this series, and that's fine. A year ago, before Mom's cancer diagnosis, I wouldn't have been interested either. After her diagnosis, I might have been willing to peek in once in awhile as I was gradually accepting the reality of life with the possibility of death impending. A month ago, I would have read every word as we brought my mom home for hospice care before she died four days later.

This valley journey is one I didn't plan, but it's one I'm willing to share. I hope some of you who are farther along this road might share your experience and wisdom (you can comment here or on Facebook or email me at If you're just starting this journey, I hope you're comforted by not going it alone. And if you're wise and brave and willing to acknowledge that it's a path we will all inevitably walk, I pray somehow sharing my story will equip you when the time comes for you to walk this valley.

So I’ll be writing off and on about this journey for awhile. It’s fitting really, the autumn is bringing death all around us. The oddest thing is how surprisingly beautiful it can be.

Did you know Winsome Woman is on Facebook? I'd love for you to join me there. I want to hear your thoughts . . . let's talk!

Monday, September 22, 2014


The origami bird Sam made and taped to Mom's coffin. She loved to watch the birds at her feeder.

Today I will . . .

Walk slow

Breathe deep

Look into the eyes of all I see




Smile easy

I will talk back to my to-do list and live this day with intention not compulsion.

I will "Act out of passion, not fear."

I will be mindful of my and my family's loss and not resume life as normal. No matter how loud it yells.

May I never resume even a single day as normal. As Mom liked to say, "Normal is just a setting on your dryer."

This day is my life. And it is anything but normal.

May I receive, cherish and live this day well.

And do it all over again tomorrow.

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.