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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Beauty for Ashes

29 Sep

don1Eight years ago my life changed in an instant. Since then, I have been amazed at God’s graciousness when choosing to seek purpose in spite of pain. One year ago. on a day marked with “ashes”, He chose instead to bless us with “beauty”

When Don died eight years ago, the life I had created for 24 years changed in an instant. I was a widow—a single mother, but left with determination to honor my husband’s legacy and a will to create a life of significance for my children.  My resolve to craft contentment out of despair drove my every decision. With an extreme amount of faith and the support of family and friends, I began the journey to a new normal

Today I look at my children and believe Don would be proud of them. He would be happy that Chad is married and courageous enough to continue pursuing his dream. He would be thrilled that Chandler is finishing his senior year of high school and will soon be on his way to college. He would be most honored that they are men of integrity who love completely and always endeavor to live according to the legacy he left to them.

don2Make no mistake, not a day goes by that we don’t think of Don—that we don’t miss his presence here on earth. We embrace and acknowledge that he was a great father; husband, son, brother and friend who touched our lives more in his few short years than most do in a lifetime. We speak of him lovingly and often. We grin at the fact that we can’t eat apple butter without thinking of him, can’t pass a golf course without acknowledging his authority, or watch the St. Louis Cardinals without yelling “THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!”

September has always been a difficult month for me. From the first day to the last I normally have a feeling of angst and sorrow—yet all of that changed on this day last year —today no longer holds the stigma of sorrow, but is instead replaced with hopefulness. Sometimes I think that God, in his infinite wisdom, decides to astonish us with blessing when we least expect it-September 29th, 2012 was one of those God-moments.

ru2On this date a last year, with my nephews and sons in tow, we headed to Chicago, to meet my niece, Ru, for the first time. Words fail to describe the excitement we all felt—the anticipation, of finally meeting this darling girl, who we had grown to love from a mere picture, overwhelmed the atmosphere. Gone was any angst this day formerly signified and it was replaced with the message of hope that bringing Ru home symbolized.

I will never forget rounding the corner from the parking lot into the lobby of the airport — catching a glimpse of Ru on her daddy’s shoulders. Bright-eyed and a bit timid – this little girl had no idea what she represented in the hearts and lives of every individual there to meet her. Little did she know that her arrival would forever change the significance of this day to the boys and me.

Ru2aThere was nothing in the months and months of planning to bring Ru home that would have made us believe it would be on September 29th  that she would first set foot on American soil. In our humanness we could never have planned it more perfectly, but God’s plans are not ours…

I don’t believe that God intends for us to live weighed down by our circumstances. I believe He is always offering opportunities to ease our pain and to give it purpose – we must be willing to embrace them and reside in a place where we allow God to “give beauty instead of ashes, . . joy instead of mourning, and . . . praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3)

Today. we celebrate family.We celebrate God’s faithfulness. We celebrate hope.  This morning, Don’s Martin guitar will be played during worship by my nephew Eric. Kent and I will sing on the praise team in celebration God and where his grace has brought us, but most importantly  we know that when we look into the eyes of Ru–we find an authentic example of the “display of God’s splendor” (Isaiah 61:3b)–we find “beauty for ashes”.

 

 

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A Boy and His Dog

20 Jul

vadar

“I am a believer in divine providence; that Godly intervention does exist in our lives and when it is so blatantly presented to us we should claim it. I am claiming that the God who made me is also present in my everyday life; constantly providing courage and solace via earthly forms.” These are words I wrote on another post almost six years ago after the death of my husband. I am amazed at how this truth is made known to me even now. Here is another example:

It began with an emotional phone call from Chad on Saturday before we left on vacation. He and Joy had come to the realization that two huskies in a one-bedroom apartment was simply impossible to handle. We discussed possible solutions, and I offered to put a picture of Vader on Facebook to see if anyone was interested in providing him with a new home. Chad agreed, but with this one caveat, he and Joy wanted to interview the family first and then have time to make a decision.

Three minutes after posting Vader’s picture, I received a private message from my friend Linda in Chicago. She told me that her sister’s family (who live near Chad and Joy) were interested in providing a new home for the dog. She had an urgency that I didn’t understand at the time, but now is perfectly clear. Linda told me about her nephew, Tenor, who had been in a serious accident the week before. His car was totaled and he was fine, but his beloved husky did not survive the accident.

Already warmed by the story, I was rooting for Tenor to be Vader’s new owner from the start. Chad and Joy met Tenor and his parents after church the next day, and Vader immediately took to him. It was obvious that the fit would be a good one. The kids knew they had a difficult decision to make.

You see, about a year ago, Tenor had numerous health ailments. He went from a young man who used to be a state swimmer to one who could barely muster the energy to get out of bed.  After several doctor appointments, he was diagnosed as having a genetic condition which affects every system in the body, but rarely is fatal. In January, Tenor’s family decided that caring for a dog might aid in his recovery. The family brought Mishka, a beautiful husky, into the family. Little did they know Tenor was still too ill to care for her.

Mishka was a challenge—high energy and almost more than the family could handle. Tenor realized that the only way this dog would fit in with the family was if he began to work with her.  It began with daily brushings, Tenor then began to take Mishka to a local dog parktenor and vadar and the transformation in both began. She became a more content dog and he gained new purpose. They became best friends, inseparable— She also rekindled a desire in Tenor to volunteer at the local animal shelter.

Losing Mishka in the car accident was devastating for Tenor. He even said that he never wanted another dog–fast forward to my placing Vadar’s picture on Facebook. The minute Tenor saw Vadar’s picture, it was like an answer to prayer. Vadar reminded him of his Mishka, but Vadar’s blue eyes made him special.

Chad and Joy did make the decision to give Vader to Tenor and his family. We often get updates as to how they are doing, and it always puts a smile on my face. I have no doubt that it was Godly intervention that allowed the kids to love and care for Vader until he was able to become Tenor’s. As this story unwinds, I am reminded of the promise in Psalm 147:3 “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” especially when it comes to a dog and his boy.

 

 

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B – Brothers

20 Apr

brothersI don’t believe an accident of birth makes people sisters or brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at. ~Maya Angelou

(revised and reposted from February 2009 @ Breathings of the Heart.com)

I am not sure what I thought my relationship would be with my brothers at this point in my life, but I never dreamed it would be as it is. We are seven years apart which means that I am 14 years older than my youngest brother. Growing up I had little to do with my middle brother, and being so much older I was more maternal to my youngest brother (considering the countless hours of babysitting). With seven years between us, we grew up as three siblings – each an only child. Fast forward to 2013. We are all adults (at least by age). We each have distinct personalities and have become great friends. It is quite amazing, even surprising.

We are shared characters in a myriad of “growing up” stories. Of Marc, I remember that he spent much of his time alone in his bedroom playing with Legos. Once, I blamed him for pushing me over causing stitches; a lie which to this day he has difficulty forgiving. Evan was the baby, but in order to coax him to behave I would scare him into thinking the police would come take him away if he didn’t do exactly as I wished. Funny thing is – it worked. I haven’t tried it recently, but have great doubts he would be as gullible now.

As Maya Angelou so eloquently penned, “brotherhood is a condition people have to work at” and we have. We are three unique people. Marc is pragmatic, Evan idealistic and me – somewhere in between.  As in any relationship we have made many concessions, overlooked little annoyances (sometimes BIG ones), and continually committed to strengthening our bond.

I often wonder what makes my relationship with my brothers so extraordinary (notice I did not say “perfect”). I can only surmise it can be traced back to our parents and the principles to which they believe children should be raised. Having a strong sense self, cultivating an ability to articulate your views, loving people for who they are and a strong commitment to God were the foundation of our upbringing.

These tenets are now the cornerstone of the relationship between my brothers and me. It is through these principles that we are able to disagree, encourage, irritate and hold each other accountable. Laughter, sarcasm, along with deep theological and moral discussions often clutter our conversations. It isn’t that we always agree, to the contrary, we often disagree, at times are disrespectful and inadvertently hurt the other (although NONE of us would admit to this – being hurt that is), but there has never been a time where we have allowed anything to sever our bond.

Some say a sister’s bond is extraordinary, but I say give me brothers any day.

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Just Ask Mary

16 Dec

Here is the Advent devotional I wrote for my church’s series this Christmas season.

Luke 2:19seward_-_mary_&_baby_jesus
“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
Devotional:
I have experienced the joy of giving birth twice. I remember every nuance of the nine months and delivery—every smell, every sound, every person who shared in the great event. I remember listening for the first breath coming from my child; counting his fingers and toes, and holding onto each moment as a special memory. Even though these memories are over twenty years old, I have treasured them in my heart and mind, never to be forgotten.

I can’t imagine the whirlwind life Mary had experienced up to this point. First, an angel told her she would give birth to the Son of God, and then she became pregnant-shamed that she was not married. Next, Joseph, who had to be overwhelmed with the prospect, obediently took Mary as his wife and while traveling to Bethlehem Mary gave birth in less-than-desirable conditions. This scripture finds Mary in a stable swaddling the Son of God and yet she was like any other mother. She cherished every moment and contemplated what had happened to her from the time the angel appeared until the birth of Our Lord. She treasured these memories as her story.

It is comforting to know that Mary had normal, human thoughts and emotions. But if you think about it, she was just an ordinary person commissioned by God for an extraordinary purpose. We are no different. We must take the time to contemplate our life circumstances, especially those that have strengthened our faith. Some life events are joyous, some sad, others bewildering but all jointly create our story. A story where God has taught us, guided us, and continues to remind us that it is He who creates the extraordinary from the ordinary. Just ask Mary.

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Tenaciousness

12 Jun

Tenacious adj. – stubbornly unyielding

Tenaciously adv. – with obstinate determination

Tenaciousness noun. – Persistent determination

I have noticed that the word tenacious and forms of this word have eked into my vocabulary these past few weeks watching my family meet life challenges head on. I am taking this moment to reflect on authentic examples of tenacious living, so that I may be challenged to step up and live–more tenaciously.

Chad and Joy have decided that now is the time in their lives to follow a dream and move to New York City in pursuit of their aspirations. Many things had to happen to make this move possible. The biggest being that Chad needed to sell his car in order to have rent money for a year. They both had to quit their jobs, figure out what they can move and what needs to be sold. Chad had to walk away from a lucrative recording business he began over a year ago. Yet, their tenacity amazes me. They are committed to “persistent determination” in making this move. As a result, things are moving forward. Chad sold his car last week…and they are moving forward.

Chandler is my laid back child. If folks were asked for adjectives to describe him, tenacious would probably not come to mind–but that is because they don’t “really” know him. He often appears apathetic, when in fact, he cares greatly. His life revolves around…football. Following last season, he decided that he would pursue football tenaciously. He began training more than ever and actively sought the title of “lifter of the month”. He missed this in April by 5 pounds, but reached it in May. Now, he spends his time preparing his mind and body to train and is in full anticipation for the season to begin in the fall. He is “all in”.

Brandon embodies tenacity. If there is a skill or competency that he feels he hasn’t mastered, he meets it with great determination. Swimming is a great example. After hearing that, when the boys go to camp at the end of the month, the most exciting activity is cliff jumping, Brandon realized his swimming skills could use some honing. We have since been to my brother’s pool on several occasions. Brandon has spent HOURS swimming back and forth in my brother’s pool. I have winced on more than one occasion–ready to jump in to save him, but EVERY time he pokes his head out of the water with a smile on his face. He can now swim with confidence.

Perhaps the greatest example of tenacity is my brother Marc and sister-in-law Sandra. They embarked on this adoption journey around the same time as our family decided the same. They are in the midst of adopting a special needs child from China. When they made their decision to proceed with adoption, their social worker told them that IF they were in China within a year, that would be “normal”. If they ended up bringing their daughter home in December, it would be a miracle. Perhaps their agency was not familiar with the Abla “tenacity”. These two have completed in 5 months the work of most in 12. Their dossier is in China as I write this blog–something that shouldn’t even be — until the fall. Talk about “obstinate determination”

Often, the obstacle to achieving our aspiration or dream is — tenacity. What are you missing because you are not “stubbornly unyielding” or are without “persistent determination”? I have asked myself this question tonight. It is with tenacity I face–tomorrow…

“I know your persistence, your courage in my cause, that you never wear out.”  Revelation 2:3 (The Message)

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His Eyes*

25 Feb

In his eyes lies bravery beyond  

The years that mark his birth.

Masking vulnerability, 

Ripping at his courage.

The window into his soul,

Blown wide open by means of

Powerless

Circumstances 

 

Hovering between child innocence 

And adult guilt

He tentatively moves forward

Unaware of the hope

Lurking in the midst of

Pivotal 

Circumstances

 

His optimism longs to

Bridge the chasm between

History and this moment

To remain well traveled

A triumphant pilgrimage through

Purposeful

Circumstances

*I am always encouraging my students to publish their poetry without requiring the same of myself. Normally this type of poetry would be private – instead I am taking a page from my own “playbook” and sharing it with you.

 

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Up for Another Challenge!

10 Jan

I am going to try this Photo-a-Day challenge I stumbled across on Amanda’s and Alicia’s blogs. I have tried the Project 365, but knowing my inability to sustain long term projects, I am certain 31 days is doable for me. I am starting 9 days late, but figure it’s just a reflection of my rebellious nature. What I am hoping is that this exercise will be the springboard to jumpstart a more disciplined writing regime.

Let the experiment begin–

DAY ONE -YOU!

This is the way you can find me most days after work. Once I get home, I love putting on sweats and a comfy sweatshirt (Nebraska of course) to begin my second job of mom and wife.

Lately, when I look into the mirror, my mother stares back at me. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however, it takes me by surprise when I recognize my mother’s features in my face or my mother’s mannerisms as my own.

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He Will Give Us Peace

21 Apr

“I wonder too..if the rent in the canvas of our life backdrop, the losses that punc ture our world, our own emptiness, might actually become places to see,
To see through to God.
That which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him.”     -One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp-

Revisiting my personal grief has been difficult. With the unexpected loss of a dear friend this weekend, the wound was broken open and heartbreak oozed from the hurt–another “rent in the canvas” of life.

I am not sure that I believe God causes or even allows tragedy to occur. I am more convinced that because we live in a fallen world, we experience all of life-the blessings along with the tragedy. As humans we tend to want pat answers. Why did God allow this to happen? Where is God? Why didn’t he “show up”?* What I am sure of, is that God IS here when we hurt–he hurts with us. He is here when we can’t breathe–to breathe for us and he is here when we cry out in utter despair–to give us peace.

 

* Check out my brother Evan’s, awesome sermon on Lazarus: http://www.bcnazarene.com/index.php?option=com_wrapper&view=wrapper&Itemid=640

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Chanman is Drivin’ Part II

04 Apr

Mom: (knuckles red from holding onto the arm rest)

Chanman: Seriously mom, I would rather drive with Kent.

Mom: Yeah, I would rather you drive with Kent as well.

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A Global Perspective at Christmas

30 Dec

My brother, Evan has always been the global thinker in our family. He has his finger on the pulse of those less fortunate both in his neighborhood and abroad. He is a children’s pastor who leads the kids under his influence to take action globally, especially in Uganda. Through a variety of activities, his children have become personally connected to the plight of the poor in Uganda. More than that, they are “learning to do good” while developing a global perspective. What a gift!

It was no surprise that Evan introduced the idea of “micro-financing to end poverty” to my brother Marc several months ago. I only have to hear “micro-” and my eyes begin to glaze over and by the time I hear “financing” I am totally checked out, but I will try to explain it in “Marsha-ese”. Micro-financing is LENDING funds to the rural poor in developing countries, usually in the form a small loans (smaller than banks are interested in loaning). This is often the only way they would be able to establish or maintain a business that has the ability to lift themselves out of poverty. Loans are repaid and can then be re-loaned to other individuals. The concept is quite amazing, and has real potential to put a major dent in extreme poverty.

Marc began to research this concept and came across an organization that actually connects people, through lending, for the sake of alleviating extreme poverty. Kiva is “the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend to unique entrepreneurs around the globe”. If you want more information check out the about page on Kiva’s website (the video is great). About Kiva.

This Christmas, the Abla side of our family decided that we would take the amount of money normally spent on gifts for each other and instead invest at Kiva. So, last night all 12 of us, kids included, squeezed into our family room, sat around the Christmas tree began to invest in real people around the world.

Creating our family account was an ordeal in itself. What would we call our group? You can only imagine the suggestions with the names Cuttill Roat Abla Price (no, we did not select CRAP as our Kiva name, but you know it was discussed. Check us out anyway at Cuttill Roat Abla Price ). With the family photo snapped and uploaded, we only had one more step to complete our profile. We had to finish the statement, “I loan because…”. I don’t think any of us had actually thought much about why, but our answer came when Evan recited Isaiah 1:17 “Learn to do good: Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” This scripture became our hymn, as well as our Kiva group slogan. We invite all to join this group at Isaiah 1:17

Once our family account was initiated, we pressed the much anticipated “lend” button on the site. Waiting anxiously for the multitude of needy folks to pop up, we became instantly disappointed when we found NO loans were available to be funded! WHAT? We waited and waited—still—none. Then, all of a sudden, one profile came available. In unison we yelled at the computer operator “CHOSE THAT ONE! CHOSE THAT ONE!” and that’s how Jhudy, a small grocery owner from Peru, became our first investment. As we read about Jhudy’s life and circumstances, excitement began to grow in the room. Jhudy was a real person with a real desire to make her life better and overcome poverty through entrepreneurship.

We followed the same process to fund the next seven loans and each time the kids would read about these people and become a bit more engaged in the process of investing. Once all of our initial monies were spent, several more loans became available. It was at this point that my sister-in-law announced, “Hey, Marsha. Here is a widow with a daughter from Tajikistan who is seeking a loan to invest in seeds and mineral fertilizer to improve the quality of her produce.” Well, she had me at “widow” and Begidjon Khairova became the first loan we were able to choose ourselves and the final loan of the evening. Funny thing was, everyone still had their laptops or iPhones out researching other loans on the site. Zack had created a “group” on Facebook and everyone had created personal accounts on Kiva.

You know, I don’t remember our family EVER being so engaged during any Christmas gift exchange in the past. Somehow opening presents wasn’t even missed and in the end we were able to say, “Merry Christmas Begidjon.” “Merry Christmas Norma.” “Merrry Christmas Riza.” “Merry Christmas Jhudy.” “Merry Christmas Cotzojay.” “Merry Christmas Mariela.” “Merry Christmas Sherali.” “Merry Christmas Olivia.” “Merry Christmas Zulma.” And a very Merry Christmas to our family who has always invested in each other, so it only seems natural to invest in others.

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