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Divine Appointments: Gratitude, Pride and Deliverance in Honduras

There is so much one cannot learn about a nation in a brief span of six days. And yet, so much that is known because of a shared Creator.

Two thoughts linger from my week serving with a mission team in Honduras:

  • Gratitude and pride can co-exist
  • Things are not always as they seem

Of gratitude and pride

As we offered food, supplies and prayers to families in and around Monte Redondo, I felt strongly that the receivers of our gifts should not be made to feel inferior because of their need. They may live in one dirt-floored room next to a dump, their clothes may be soiled and their hands rough from picking trash, but they are created in the image of God. They have families who love and need them. And, much of the time, their impoverished living conditions are not of their choosing, but the product of circumstance, and of a corrupt government system that provides only minimal support for poor citizens.

I feared their shame when they saw us approaching. I received their gratitude and joy.

Again and again, we were greeted with a warm smile and a stream of Spanish words that welcomed us into their homes. If a seat was available, it was offered to one of us. Our translators conveyed our message. Questions were asked.

Si, four children. Three families live here. I am out of work. My wife is sick. Please pray for our country…..

And, then…

Gracias. You came all the way from America? I hoped you would come. How can I pray for you? God is good…..

A family with so little showing gratitude? And moments of pride? Humble pride in their beautiful children, the well-kept kitchen, in flowers cultivated by the side of their homes.

We saw a range of living situations, from the dump-side shanties to the bright turquoise stucco homes clustered in a mountainside village. Some were cleaner than others, most were incredibly small.

But they were “home” to the families living there. When I asked our translator, after an extended conversation, why the father in a particular family has not considered another way to live, she said “It’s what he knows, what he likes. For him, there is no other way.”

Of misconceptions

The same gentleman told us he reads his Bible and understands and believes what it says, but he still hasn’t accepted Jesus into his heart. He does not know why, but he can’t take that step. Fear? Doubt?

I asked the translator whether she sees a mix of Catholicism and black magic among Hondurans who are not Christian, as I had encountered in Nicaragua. She said, yes, such confusion does exist.

Then this sweet young woman proceeded to tell me her own story.

She began practicing “witchcraft” at age four and was part of a cult as a teenage. In fact, had she not made the choice to turn her back on the occult at age 18, she feels she would be dead today. It grieves her to see people resist salvation when it is so close at hand. She is just 22, but wise beyond her years, and filled with the joy of her new life in Jesus.

Such encounters and conversations will continue to unravel in my brain and make their way into my heart in the coming weeks as I pray for my brothers and sisters in Honduras.

Aza Rivera was one of the boys rescued from the streets of Honduras nearly 15 years ago. He now works in the ministry and is a worship leader in his church. He is a blessing, both to the children of Forgotten Children Ministries and to the missionaries who serve.

Irene Zavala, Seydy Martinez and Marissa Ponce watched over us, made sense of our crazy Spanglish and, in general, made our week in Honduras fun and memorable. Irene shared her story of deliverance from witchcraft while we walked a steep pathway on our home visits. It’s a story I will never forget.

*****

Today is the last of my posts about our mission trip to Honduras. I’ll be taking a break from this blog for the remainder of the summer as I respond to nudges from the Lord to follow Him in a new direction. I hope you’ll rejoin me sometime around the end of the summer to see what God has up His proverbial sleeve and just how He wants to use me in the future.

Always be listening to His still, small voice. His words are the best.

 

 

Divine Appointments: A Story of Redemption in Honduras

There are many borders between northeast Indiana and Monte Redondo, Honduras. State borders, continental borders, national borders. We crossed them all in our journey to and from Honduras last week.

But manmade barriers prove ineffective when hearts come together to share stories of adversity and faith, and to celebrate divine appointments.

Meet Rossel Urbina.

Rossel Urbina

Rossel is familiar to those of us who have ministered through Forgotten Children Ministries many times, or who have heard stories about the children rescued from the streets of Tegucigalpa in the years following Hurricane Mitch. (An estimated 7,000 people lost their lives in the storm that hit Honduras in October, 1998.)

Rossel was one of 10 boys gathered off the streets of Tegucigalpa by FCM founder Stan Nowell over 15 years ago. A group of missionaries from my hometown were with him as he took them out to the farm that week. There, the boys received food, shelter and the message that God loves them.

Sadly, the boys had to be taken back to the city and to the streets at the end of the week. But in 2002, Stan returned to establish a permanent orphanage for street children. Rossel was one of the boys who came to live at Finca Grace farm.

Last week, through a translator, Rossel shared the story of his divine appointment.

He was 10 years old when his mother died. His father was an alcoholic, so he was left to wander the streets.

“But, God gave me what every child needs — a family and brothers.”

Rossel stayed at FCM through high school. He married and had a son, and though he had been rescued from the streets a decade earlier, Rossel found the world outside FCM still had a pull on his life.

The burdens of providing for his wife and child became too great.

“I strayed from the Lord,” said Rossel. “I hit rock bottom. My heart and mind were destroyed. I didn’t care anymore. I began doing things that damaged my marriage, that damaged my body.”

Rossel spent time in jail. After he was released, he sought help in a men’s ministry at Teen Challenge.  Through the program, he worked to regain his self-worth and restore his marriage. He also encountered “a man sent by God.”

An art teacher at Teen Challenge told Rossel he wanted to give him something — the gift of art instruction. For three months, Rossel apprenticed under the man and gained a years’ worth of art instruction.

As a result, Rossel is working full-time creating art. He is able to care for his young son at home while his wife works as a nurse. Each week, Rossel visits FCM to share his story and to sell his original pieces to mission teams. They are tangible evidence of the redemptive grace of God, meted out through the hands of FCM and Teen Challenge.

Samples of Rossel’s art (including the wall hanging featured at the start of this post).

Listening to this young man share his life story last week, I was struck by the truth that no man is immune from trial, whatever his language, nationality or family history. There are no barriers that promise life will be without struggle. All are faced with the same choices; some will make mistakes that alter their lives forever. Others will turn back to what they know is the better path, even when it’s hard.

Rossel’s message is this: “Everything that happens in life has a purpose.” He would not have chosen to lose his mother and father, to live on the streets, to turn from God or test his marriage. But Rossel’s testimony gives purpose to those realities and proof of God’s grace and mercy, and His divine appointments.

*****

Tomorrow — Irene’s story and Aza’s gift to FCM.

On a Mission: Divine Appointments

An unfamiliar birdsong awakened me this morning, as it has for the past three days. I’m in a mountain village in central Honduras — Monte Redondo or “round mountain”. The bird’s trilling is soon interrupted by the sharp staccato of a bus horn. The middle grade boys living at Finca Grace (Grace Farm) chatter as they board the bus to travel one hour into Tegucigalpa to begin school.

The lush green mountains of Honduras always surround us, like a protective cloak, isolating and insulating the people of this small Central American nation. But the reality is that the beautiful mounds of earth cannot protect them from the cares and worries of life.

On Monday and Tuesday mornings, we left early to ride in our school bus to neighboring villages where we walked from house to house, calling out “buenos dias”. We offered them prayer, along with food, clothing, tracts, candies, small toys, beaded bracelets — whatever we could carry on our backs and in our arms.

In each home, we were greeted warmly, invited to sit, offered hugs. Our visits were short, but they knew why we had come. The didn’t refuse prayer, and their list was long.

Family

Children who have strayed from their faith

The loss of a son to cancer

Safety for a nephew trying to get to America

Diabetes

Pregnancies

A job

Good health

Single parenting

They sound familiar. Within our team, we have the same needs, and so we pray together, in a circle, hands linked. Asking God to touch lives, heal brokenness, provide. The blessings flow in both directions.

But this mission has not been without trials, events that could have caused us to question our daring to share the gospel outside our borders. The sudden death of a team member, family illnesses that threatened departure, and finally an accident on a bumpy trail that sent a team member home early.

In each case, God has provided. A new team member, an 18-year-old boy in place of a 77-year-old woman, became a divine appointment. Among his challenges has been helping to care for another team member, a 79-year-old woman who suffered a broken ankle on a trek into the mountains to call on families. Here, still, God provided transportation, an efficient emergency room staff, helpful ticket agents.

And as today’s work unfolded, God again had His way with our well-thought-out plans. When a government-sponsored free food opportunity conflicted with our plan to give hot meals to workers at a city dump, we moved our bus back to Monte Redondo. There we fed lunch to hoards of school children in black and uniforms on a soccer field in the center of the village.

Sometimes, events unfold that are unplanned, even tragic. But always, the mission remains: share the gospel and provide out of our wealth for those in need.

Divine appointments will be made. I’ll share a few more as the week unfolds.

A team member shares gifts and conversation with a family waiting for a free hot meal (note: they did not travel in the car, but walked).

Dwellings for dump workers are stacked into the hillside.

Team members served lunch and gave small gifts to school children in the village of Monte Redondo.

Feet on the Ground, Ministry in our Hearts

Today, the real mission work begins.

At least, that’s what one might assume. When we load our bus with bags of supplies for families living in the surrounding communities here in eastern Honduras, we’ll know our week of missionary work has begun.

Actually, the ministry that’s called our group of 12 women and one brave 18-year-old boy to Tegucigalpa began Saturday night when we shared dinner with the boys at Finca Grace.

And it continued Sunday at a church service and a day spent with the girls in the city. A pair of flipflops, an awkward conversation in two very different languages, games played on oil-cloth covered tables with rain pounding on the roof, hugs and giggles.

Such is the stuff of foreign missions.

We’ve traveled 1,800 miles from Indiana to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. For the next four days, we’ll share food, Jesus, hugs and handshakes with people in mountain communities, city streets and orphanages. Children who formerly lived on the street or in too-small homes with no running water will know that a group of Americans carry them in their hearts.

Later this week, as I gather with women from Monte Redondo for a Bible study on prayer, I’ll also encourage them to claim their inheritance in Christ, to know that they are co-heirs and remind them of how much they are loved.

“Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way.” I Samuel 12:23

In Real Life, Wonder Woman is a Redhead

It’s the top-grossing film so far this summer. “Wonder Woman” tells the back-story of DC Comics’ iconic Amazon Warrior Princess Diana. Movie trailers show Wonder Woman filling the big screen with heroics in her quest to save the world during “the war to end all wars, discovering her full powers and true destiny.” (Quote: IMBD.com)

The heroine could have been modeled after our community’s own wonder woman and warrior princess, Marie.

Marie, a 78-year-old redhead who stood barely five feet tall, was killed in an automobile accident in late May. She had just spent the morning with a fellow church worker and was on her way to run errands when another car traveling at a high rate of speed hit her car head-on. Marie died instantly.

In the days leading up to Marie’s funeral, people from throughout our small community shared stories with one another about Marie’s heroics, about all the ways she touched the lives of adults and children alike. Marie’s exploits are too numerous to list, and many were done without recognition or fanfare. But, the children she taught in her trailer park kids club, the inmates she visited and prayed for and the lost and needy souls who somehow found her, will not soon forget Marie.

Marie (right) with one of the guests at Tim Tebow’s Night to Shine, February 2017.

As is often the case with someone who wants to save the world, right up until the Lord took her home, Marie was concerned that she might not be fulfilling God’s purpose for her life. Marie answered her own question about her life’s purpose in a God-ordained video testimony recorded just days before her death. In her own words, Marie declared her only desire in life was “to give back to Jesus because of all He has done for me.”

Marie gave back to Jesus souls who turned from sin, kindnesses that could not be returned, commitment that was unparalleled and a love for scripture that rolled off her tongue. Without even trying, she spent her life “discovering her full powers and true destiny.”

Marie waged her own wars in our community. I’ll never forget the time she stated boldly that she intended to wipe out the disease of meth addiction in LaGrange. We believed she could do that, and so much more.

Marie planned to travel with a team of a dozen women to Honduras next week. There, she would have shared her Jesus with the children of Forgotten Children Ministries and families living in and around the capital city of Tegucigalpa. Since Marie is tending to other business, those of us left to travel without her are charged with trying to fill Marie’s shoes. They’re awfully big shoes to fill.

I was one of four friends asked to speak at Marie’s beautiful worship service. Because I believe this wonder woman’s legacy should be known and remembered, I’m sharing my words for Marie here.

Sweet Marie. I met that vivacious little redhead because of a vivacious blonde woman — Beth Moore. Marie and her best friend, Judy, caught wind that LaGrange First Church of God (down the road from her Methodist church) was hosting Beth Moore Bible studies. We were studying Breaking Free at the time and Marie joined us. She called the studies “a fresh drink of water for her soul.” Her presence at the studies brought light and a new dimension that was refreshing for all of us.

If you talked to Marie more than once, you know how she loved her Bible and loved Jesus. I’ve learned as much in my conversations with her as in most Bible study classes. She not only loved the Bible, she lived it.

I only had the blessing of knowing Marie for about eight years, but the woman I came to love and respect is a product of everything in her life that came before. I recently mentioned a book to Marie, and she wrote it down. In the book, Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message, says this:

“Apart from the before, the now has little meaning. The now is only a thin slice of who I am; isolated from the rich deposits of before, it cannot be understood.”

I didn’t know Marie before, as many of you did, but in knowing her now, I understand that Marie is resilient, kind, positive, forgiving, loyal, independent, determined, sometimes impatient, gracious, generous, devoted, tender…….and so much more.

That little redhead who sat in Bible study classes, in Sunday school and church, who visited the incarcerated, who taught trailer court kids about Jesus and planned to join us to minister to orphans in Honduras — she’s a product of her roots and her life experiences. I think she would tell you she wouldn’t change a thing about her life. I hope she wouldn’t, because it made her who she is for us today.

I was having lunch with Pastor Ben a few months ago when Marie swept into the restaurant for a gathering of the red hat ladies. She popped over to our table and just poured her joy out all over us. When she left, I told Ben “I want to be Marie when I grow up.” I do.

No one can replace Marie, but if we each take up a strand of the work, the heart-filled philanthropy that was part of Marie Dwight, maybe together we can continue her legacy and make a difference in our community.

I mentioned that Marie could sometimes be a little impatient, and I think she might have known her time on earth was winding down. I imagine that when Jesus called her home, she said something like “Alright! Let’s do this!”

Our Sunday school teacher shared these words from Alistair Begg with her class when we learned of her death. I want to close with them now. I’m pretty sure Marie would approve.

“We are not far from home – a moment will bring us there. The sail is spread; the soul is launched upon the deep. How long will its voyage be? How many weary winds must beat upon the sail before it shall be berthed in the port of peace? How long shall that soul be buffeted on the waves before it comes to that sea that knows no storm? Listen to the answer (from 2 Corinthians 5:8) ‘away from the body and at home with the Lord.’ The ship has just departed, but it is already at its destination. It simply spread its sail, and it was there.”

 

Join me in Honduras! Beginning Sunday, June 11, I’ll share daily reports and photos from the mission field as we minister to the children at Forgotten Children Ministries and to individuals working in the dump outside Tegucigalpa. We covet your prayers — that God be glorified and that our journey is a safe one.

 

Breathe: Why I Write and Attend Conferences

A good friend called my cell phone recently while I was attending a writers’ conference in Holland, Michigan. I’ve done some freelance work for her and she had a request. When I told her where I was, she asked “Why do you go to a conference when you already know how to write?”

I had to smile. Why, indeed?

First, I can always improve my writing, so there’s that.

But just as importantly, I go because these are my people. I love writers and appreciate their tenacity, their creativity, their worldview. Ann Kroeker, a writing coach, recently advised her podcast listeners to surround themselves with good writers — in books, in writing groups and, yes, at writing conferences.

Who are your “people”? Where do you go to get energized, inspired? I have a good friend who runs an online supply company for those who knit and crochet. She goes to craft conferences regularly. I get it.

So, I go to my gatherings and come away with fresh ideas and new connections. Today, I’m writing about writing on a blog for one of my very favorite writing communities — Breathe Christian Writers Conference. When I attend their conference in October, I’ll have the honor and privilege to share a Saturday morning devotional on creativity.

Do you write? Or would you like to write? This is the place to go. Great mentoring and sharing happen at the Breathe Christian Writers Conference. And, this year’s keynote speaker is the wonderful non-fiction author Leslie Leland Fields.

For more information on Breathe and to read my little piece about why I write, hop on over here.

Redeeming Ruth: A Story of Love and Hope

I love adoption stories. Reading or hearing about families that are formed or enriched by opening their hearts and homes to a child gives me hope for the world in general. Adoption, to me, is the ultimate example of sacrificial love..

Meadow Rue Merrill and her family did just that. In 2004, Meadow and her husband welcomed an abandoned 17-month-old girl from Uganda into their family. Meadow had always dreamed of traveling to Africa and “adopting a beautiful brown baby”. When Meadow and her husband met Ruth, they had three young children, the youngest also 17 months old, but they began thinking adoption could become a reality. However, this child came with complications. She had cerebral palsy and could barely lift her head, let alone sit, walk or run. And, though she was in America, she had to return to the orphanage unless she was adopted quickly. The Merrills made the commitment to give Ruth a home and embarked on the adoption journey.

Meadow began writing her family’s adoption story in 2006 with the hope that their adopted daughter, Ruth, could one day add her voice. That was not God’s plan.

It took Meadow 10 years to write Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores. The result is a beautifully powerful story of a family forever changed by a little girl with an engaging smile and boundless potential. Meadow’s book is part spiritual memoir and part family drama. It also reflects Meadow’s journalistic roots. Her retelling of her trip to Uganda and the many complications that threatened to halt the adoption capture the reader. We feel as if we’re making the journey with Meadow.

In an essay written as she was completing the book, Meadow said this about welcoming Ruth into her family:

“Was raising Ruth hard? Yes. It was also the most unexpected, amazing, life-affirming, heart expanding experience of our lives. Because Ruth could physically do nothing for herself, our new routine—and our three older children’s—involved daily sacrifice. Yet, loving and serving Ruth filled us with joyful confidence that we were living out God’s will, expressed throughout scripture, to share his love with others. Our purpose was to love Ruth, and we did. Completely.

Meadow Rue Merrill

Then, without warning, Ruth died in her sleep after a mild illness. Not only did we lose a beloved child, I lost my trust in God. How could he allow this to happen? Here we had deliberately sought to obey God, and he had broken our hearts.

For months, I struggled to pray or read my Bible—once familiar practices that had often strengthened and comforted me in the past. For me, there was no comfort, only the aching question of who was to blame for Ruth’s death: us? or God? If us, how could I forgive myself? And if God, how could I trust him?

Discovering a hidden, underlying cause for Ruth’s death—something we could not have anticipated or prevented—slowly helped me let go of the guilt I felt. In the weeks and months that followed, I gave myself permission to feel and express the anguish of having lost our precious Ruth. I needed to mourn, but I also needed to be comforted. For those who trust God, grief is not the intended legacy of life. Love is.”

Redeeming Ruth is a book about hope, perseverance, unconditional love, and God’s healing power. If you read one spiritual memoir, biography or travel story this year, choose Redeeming Ruth. Your soul will be enriched and your trust in humanity expanded.

At this point, I would normally offer to give a copy of Redeeming Ruth to one of my readers. However, a copy of this book will be placed in the hands of a dear woman in our community who has fostered and adopted children here in America and has opened her heart to orphans in Honduras.

For You — ‘Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives’

“And then the day came, when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to Bloom.” Anais Nin

I would love to give every woman in my life a copy of Everbloom: Stories of Living Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives. Instead, I’m going to share bits of it here (and give away one copy) in hopes that you will give yourselves this gift of life-changing stories.

This beautiful collection of essays and poems, written by the women of Redbud Writers Guild, is dedicated to:

“…all women who have yet to find freedom in Christ in order to embrace their story and share it with the world. We believe in you, and we pray this book will help you ‘walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.’ ” (Hebrews 4:16 from The Message)

Every story and poem in Everbloom picks up a thread in the analogy of a tree – roots, trunk, branches and blossoms. Just like the women of the Guild, they are diverse and rich in story. With vulnerability and sensitivity, they point the way for all of us as we experience loss, fear, joy, confusion — life.

From a lovely essay by Bronwyn Lea titled “No Story Wasted”:

“I went into motherhood expecting a time of spiritual drought. After years of vocational ministry and a rich spiritual diet of study, prayer, and witnessing the Spirit at work, I anticipated that maternity leave would mean switching from go-go-go to idling in neutral.
I did not expect God to shop up in the nursery, whispering to me that the tenderness and love I felt toward my baby was just a fraction of how he felt about me. How her dependence on me was just a fraction of my dependence on him.
The Spirit met me in the silent spaces. In the wild and surprisingly solitary clearing of motherhood, God showed me an artesian well I hadn’t known was there and whispered “Plant yourself here, my thirsty one. Blessed is the one who walks with me: she is like a tree planted by streams of water, she yields fruit in season, her leaves do not wither.”

And this, a piece by Sarah Rennicke about feeling displaced as her career took her far from home. It is entitled “Untangled”:

“Following Jesus requires my all, not pieces scattered here and there, given then taken away because it doesn’t feel right. He calls for complete devotion, but allows the freedom of struggle as I mourn what I have given up in the process. For me, it was familiarity, belonging, and the way I laid out my days. But of course, the best way to push up from the ground is to lay down my life, hand him my heart, and have trust he will settle me where it will be for his glory and my gain.”

And “When a Baby Dies”, words from PeggySue Wells about the loss of an unborn child:

“We buried Violet Trust on May 1. We took pictures of our tiny daughter; my favorite is the photo of her next to my wedding ring. We tenderly swaddled her in the cloth Estee prepared and wrapped her in Leilani’s white satin blanket. After we placed her in the casket Josiah had made, the box was only half-full. Estee and three-year-old Hannah brought out a basket of gifts they had made for the coming baby. Lovely created yarn dolls, bead necklaces, and carefully colored pictures filled the wooden box to the brim. Holly added dried flower petals. Violet was nestled in a box filled with gifts of love from her family and friends.
Nothing was left to do but nail the top on the casket. The ringing of the hammer sounded devastatingly final. We read aloud poems and Scripture friends had sent to encourage our hearts. We prayed and sang worship songs.
Everything within me protested as we laid Violet in her final resting place. I didn’t want my baby to be cold, wet, or alone.”

I met the members of Redbud Writers Guild at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the spring of 2016. But I’d actually stumbled upon these women in writing groups here and there over several years. They were writers of intent whose generosity and faith in the goodness of a giving God drew me to them. During the past year, as a member of this sisterhood, I’ve been inspired, encouraged, challenged, humbled and admittedly, sometimes intimidated. But mostly, I’ve felt nurtured and accepted for who I am – a wife and mother living in a rural community, a one-time newspaper reporter turned blogger, and a writer who aspires to inspire by using the gift of writing.

You can read more outstanding pieces by subscribing to The Redbud Post. This month, my essay on our son’s collision with anxiety is a featured post.

Please leave a comment to win a copy of Everbloom. A winner will be chosen at random and notified by e-mail.

For the Love of a Tea Party :: Thistle Farms Changes Lives

There was a party in Nashville, Tennessee, this week and I really wanted to be there. I would have brought the tea cups.

Let me explain.

A few years ago, on a trip to see my sons in Nashville, Tennessee, I ran across a quaint little café on the northwest side of the city. Thistle Stop Cafe sits in a corner storefront on Charlotte Pike. With giant purple thistles painted on one the side of the building and a huge metal thistle sculpture on the other, it’s hard to miss.

The café serves wonderful breakfasts and lunches, as well as specialty coffees and teas. A display to the side of the coffee counter offers Thistle Farm’s natural bath and body products, handcrafted fair trade items and books.

Photo: Thistle Farms

The food and the service were both delightful, but the most remarkable feature of the café was the lighting. Hanging from the ceiling were chandeliers made of china tea cups.

I rarely make a trip to Nashville without stopping in the café, but when I visit the city this weekend, I’ll have to pass. The café is closed for remodeling and expansion and will reopen this summer. When it does, my tea cups (which I’ll deliver on my visit) will be hanging from the ceiling along with thousands of others from throughout the country and around the world.

More important than my need for a great meal, or my appreciation for the intentional work of the company, or even the beautiful tea cup chandeliers, is the mission of Thistle Farms — to heal, empower and employ women survivors of trafficking, prostitution and addiction. The women who cook and serve and create the body care products are doing a healing work, living out the ministry’s motto “Love Heals”.

Founder Becca Stevens, right, helps prepare a display of skin care products made and packaged by the women living and working at Thistle Farms. (Photo: Thistle Farms)

As for the party I missed, Thistle Farms hosted a concert and celebration marking 20 years of dedication to its mission. Founder Becca Stevens, country singer Reba McEntire and the women of Thistle Farms gathered at the historic Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville on May 3 to honor program graduates in an event that raised funds for the ongoing work of Thistle Farms.

“This week’s event celebrated work that is firmly rooted in the belief that love is the strongest force for change in the world. We do this by providing safe and supportive housing, the opportunity for economic independence, and a strong community of advocates and partners.” Founder Rev. Becca Stevens

Last year, customers and donors of Thistle Farms helped make the following possible:

  • 59 women survivors employed by Thistle Farms, earning over $1m a year in salary and wages
  • 9,215 nights of safe, supportive housing provided to women recovering from life on the streets
  • 14,100 hours of counseling and therapy for survivors, ensuring their physical and mental well-being
  • 40 organizations across the country replicated our housing model, currently offering 185 beds for women seeking sanctuary from the streets
  • 24 shared trade partnerships around the globe, supporting the economic freedom of more than 1,700 women

These words from the father of a young woman healed at Thistle Farms express the heart of this project:

“Knowing Rachel had a safe environment for her journey, gave me, as her father, the comfort and confidence to continue on my recovery journey, which I began during her incarceration. Once a week I now attend two 12-step programs for parents and families with addiction, Al-Anon and Families Anonymous. The strength of the Thistle Farms program provided a secure environment for Rachel, which helped me to pursue my recovery from co-dependence. We were on parallel journeys to recovery.”

My china tea cups belonged to a dear friend who has survived three bouts with cancer and to my step-mother, who passed away last summer at age 88. They’ll be wrapped in newspaper and placed in a box along with half a dozen cups I purchased at a thrift store run by a domestic violence agency in my hometown. Profits from sales at the thrift store help provide services for survivors of domestic violence and their families. It seems appropriate that they should be hanging in a space where women are finding hope and healing.

A God Who Wastes Nothing

I sliced my thumb today. A pretty solid gash from a freshly-sharpened knife instantly covered the peppers I was chopping for a breakfast scramble. I ran to the sink to inspect the wound, letting my son clean up my mess and take over the chopping.

“Is it as bad as that time in Nashville?” he asked. Ah, yes — the time I sliced open my thumb when visiting him in Nashville. A much bigger cut caused by a porcelain knob that broke off in my hand when I turned on the shower, that one called for a visit to an emergency care facility. I won’t give you all the details, but I was in the shower, he was at work and I had no idea where the nearest facility might be. I pulled on my “big girl pants” after nearly passing out on the floor and found directions on my phone. Six stitches later, my gauze-wrapped thumb and I drove across the city to visit him at his work site.

It’s what moms do.

I rub my fingers over the numb spot on my right thumb and remember that day. It was exactly five years ago this month. I wrote about my visit to Nashville at an important time in my son’s life for Topology Magazine. I’m writing about him again — this time for an entirely different reason.

I first shared our son’s journey through anxiety, panic and depersonalization in a post for Amelia Rhodes’ book Pray A to Z.  An expanded essay is featured in this month’s Redbud Post.

I’m honored to be part of Redbud Writers Guild “a vibrant and diverse movement of Christian women who create in community and who influence culture and faith.” Each month, guild members submit essays to be considered for The Redbud Post. This month’s theme is “Perspectives on Mental Health Issues”.

When I wrote the essay, our son was climbing out of a season of debilitating anxiety. He had moved home after five years of living in Nashville and was receiving therapy to overcome a condition that was taking over his life.

Six months after beginning treatment, this is our son today. Recently, he traveled alone six hours round trip to visit the city where he hopes to relocate, a big deal when we remember there was a time when even leaving the house was a struggle.

I’ve shared my son’s story with his permission because we both are praying that it will help others traveling the same road. You can read about “A God Who Wastes Nothing” on The Redbud Post.

The first time I sat with our son while he was experiencing a panic attack, everything in me wanted to wrap my arms around him and make it stop. All I could do was pray and wait for it to pass. Anxiety and panic are all too familiar to my son’s generation. It’s estimated that at least half of young women born between 1980 and 2000 suffer from an anxiety disorder and a third of young men. Our adventurous, athletic and creative son had his first collision with anxiety and panic in his early 20s. (more…..)

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Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives is a beautiful anthology of essays and poetry by authors from The Redbud Writers Guild. It’s now available for purchase here and at book stores. I’ll share more about this lovely book and give away a free copy on May 12, but you can order copies now for the mothers in your life. It would make the perfect Mother’s Day gift.