Thursday, December 5, 2019

Travelogue - Puerto Rico

Once upon a time I worked for an airline and traveled the world for almost nothing. But all I really wanted was a baby.  I mourned continually over my empty arms.  Nothing else would appease me: Hawaii, the Greek Islands, Europe, sailing down the Nile - a decade of beautiful places and experiences that I mainly viewed through the lens of pain. I didn’t understand God’s love language to me in the waiting season.  I missed so many amazing places of worship on the way to my arms being filled to overflowing. 

The way I spent my 20’s shrouded in mourning is a great life regret.

Today I am traveling again, for different reasons, but still very similar to the way I did so many years ago. I know without a doubt God has once again given me this season as a gift in a beautiful way of merging mission and passion. It’s a do-over of sorts. Life is full of long, complicated and painful journeys; infertility was only one of many that I’ve endured. If there is one lesson I can take away from the 23-year infertility chapter, it is that I cannot fret or worry or mourn my way through this life.  

This week work led me to Puerto Rico. A traveler to my core, I was so excited about this new adventure I couldn’t fall asleep the night before my flight.  I’ve been to the island years ago on two other occasions, but only in the San Juan area.  This trip required me to rent a car and travel to Mayaguez, on the western side of PR.  I padded my travel time on each side of work events to allow for moments of spontaneity: pulling over at enjoy look-out points, taking the temperature of the Caribbean water with a quick dip, snapping photos of interesting sites, and choosing local eats over convenient chain options.  

Puerto Rico did not disappoint!  I so enjoyed spending time with ministry partners, learning about the heart-breaking impact of Hurricane Marie, and discovering the resilience of the people. I intently practiced present-moment mindfulness by not letting my thoughts creep back to other weighty matters and instead choosing to focus on the “great and small” of life happening right in front of me: 

·       the vibrant colors saturating the Puerto Rican culture through nature and art.
·       the proud rooster walking down the sidewalk, crowing like he totally belonged in that human space.
·       the irony of eating St. Louis style ribs, known to be a specialty of the BBQ joint I just happened to stop at for dinner.
·       the newlywed who saw me standing on the shore at sunset who coaxed me to jump into the rough shore break and enjoy the sunset with her family. 
·       the experience of driving in San Juan’s rush hour traffic when 12 lanes of inbound cars merged into 4 without traffic lines or signals of any sort. 

While travel is all a little harder on my body these days, I am intent on not missing the moments made for worshipping along the way this time.  I cannot reverse the way I lived my 20’s, doubting the goodness of God, but I can learn from that experience.  This week I’ve been reminded again to savor the gifts I’ve been given. 

Here’s a Christmas song I’ve had on repeat most of this week that seems to capture so beautifully what I'm feeling: 


I have come from so far away
Down the road of my own mistakes
In the hope you could hear me pray
Oh Lord, keep me in your reach.

How I’ve longed through these wasted years
To outrun all my pain and fears
Turn to stone from own cried tears
And now its your grace I see

Love won’t compromise
It’s a gift, it’s a sacrifice
My soul renewed, and my heart released
In you I find my peace.

Wonderous child of whom the angels sing
Know my joy, feel my suffering
Shining star make this love you bring
So bring that I may believe

That my way will not be lost
From now on, ‘till that river’s crossed
My soul renewed, and my spirit free
In you I’ll find my peace

~ Michael McDonald

(Recorded by my fav, Russ Taff)



Saturday, October 26, 2019

How I Hear From God

Special note: A pastor friend invited me to participate in a discussion answering the question: how do I hear from God?  This post will be featured as one of five bloggers examining many sides of this topic throughout November.  You can access the entire conversation here:

This morning in my daily devotion I’m reading from 1 Chronicles 14 where King David is fighting the Philistines. In preparation for the battle, David inquires of the Lord about strategy and God answers very specifically: “Do not attack them straight on. Instead circle around behind and attack them near the poplar trees.  When you hear a sound like marching feet in the tops of the poplar trees, go out and attack!” (NLT).

I don’t know about you, but throughout a lifetime of inquiring to the Lord I’ve never been given such a specific and detailed answer.  Yet, this type of communication was commonplace for David and many others as recorded in the Old Testament.  

God speaks this clearly to believers throughout the New Testament too. A good example is the back and forth conversation between the Lord and Ananias in Acts 9.  God’s instructions were very detailed: “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now.  I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.” Acts records Ananias’ response to these instructions and God’s reply to his questions too. 

I believe God still speaks to us today. Scripture explains He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 18:8, Mal 3:6).  He speaks to us through general revelation, such as what we observe in nature and from history; and, He speaks through special revelation as recorded in Scripture.  

Worship and prayer are both powerful ways I hear from God. Worship is the cornerstone of my spiritual life.  Many days I wake up in the morning with a song running through my head and heart.  I’ve come to wonder if this is the Holy Spirit helping to prepare me for the day ahead.  Prayer is also a huge factor of my faith life. I’ve found that prayer quiets and heals my soul, or as Ole Hallesby so powerfully writes, “prayer is the breath of the soul, the organ by which we receive Christ into our parched and withered hearts” (Prayer, 1936, p.14).

God speaks to my heart during personal devotion time and through the preaching of the Word too. These are aspects of his special revelation, which require me to faithfully attend to the habits of reading the Bible and attending church.  I’m constantly amazed how often these activities seem to overlap and confirm each other. For instance, when a passage I’ve studied during the week just happens to be a key component in pastor’s Sunday message. 

Meditating along the ocean shore or hiking through a nature preserve become holy places where He will reveal something new about His faithfulness and strength to me. Soft as rain, these gentle whispers create a new thought that cause me to suddenly see situations in my life differently. In the “be still and know” solitary spaces, God is near and always leading me forward.  

Finally, and probably most profoundly, I hear from God through the relationships we form in this life.  Within the context of family and friends I learn of His faithfulness, compassion, and enduring love.  As I wipe away my children’s tears, I know that God also wipes away mine. Not only can I understand His patterns and purposes deeply through these vital relationships, my desire for His presence deepens.  When earthly relationships bring pain and disappoint, I run to the Creator to be healed by His unconditional and steadfast love.   

How do I hear from God?  Oh, I hear from him in so many beautiful and powerful ways. I may not be the recipient of full conversations as the saints of old, but His presence fills me, heals me and guides me daily. He is imminent and He is faithful.  I just need to be quiet and listen.  

Sunday, September 29, 2019

My Hope is in You

A situation happened this week that left me feeling like someone had literally punched me in the stomach.  I heard news that stung so badly; I couldn’t believe it and yet somehow instinctively, knew it was going to happen. Just when I was starting to heal over this particular situation in my life, the band-aid was ripped off and I was bleeding again.

I’m not sure how you react when life gives you a proverbial punch, but I immediately reach out to those I trust who can understand the situation and also give me sympathy.  Next, the internal tapes of justification start rolling, serving as a self-defense mechanism for this unexpected pain.  Sometimes I cry in response to disappointment, but this time I was just mad.  Finally, I hit the “I don’t care anymore” phase where I mentally willed myself to let the thing go and move on.  Then usually, and unconsciously, I repeat the whole emotional loop again. 

After a few days of this cycle, God seemed to take notice where my heart was treading.  First up this morning was the fact that Psalms 39 was part of my daily devotional.  As I read these words I knew that David understood the anger and frustration I’d been feeling this week: 

I said, “I will watch my ways
    and keep my tongue from sin;
I will put a muzzle on my mouth
 while in the presence of the wicked.”
So I remained utterly silent,
    not even saying anything good.
But my anguish increased;
 my heart grew hot within me.
While I meditated, the fire burned;
 then I spoke with my tongue:
“Show me, Lord, my life’s end
    and the number of my days;
    let me know how fleeting my life is. (NIV)

Next up was my reading for the human services counseling class I’m taking this term.  Unbelievably, the next chapter was on forgiveness.  The author explains, “Forgiveness first involves recognizing and grieving over the damage that has been done, then choosing to release the negative emotions associated with the offender.” (1) Hum....I'm guessing God has something to say to me in this moment.  I think it goes something like this: “Sissy (2), it’s time to let this thing go, your days are too short to stay in this place of unforgiveness where bitterness and resentment will only hurt you.” 

My only response to hearing such gently revealed truth? “Yes, please show me Lord how to forgive, I know you alone can make me whole.”

People are going to hurt us.  Life involves suffering.  Relationships involve pain.  But so does bitterness and unforgiveness, because these negative emotions keep us trapped in a loop of self-justification and defense.  I don’t want to live my life with armor around my heart.  Armor is heavy and a burden, it hinders and slows me down.  I have to believe there is a better way towards whole-hearted living. 

I don’t know how to do this on my own, but the beautiful truth here is that I don’t have to.  I didn’t orchestrate my devotion or study time today, but God did and if he can speak to my pain, he can also heal it.  Psalms 39:7 continues on to say, “But now, Lord, what do I look for?  My hope is in you.”  Selah. 

[1] McMinn, Mark. (1996). Psychology, Theology, and Spirituality in Christian Counseling. Pg. 207
[2] Sissy is what my Mom called me and what I turn call my girls.  I’m pretty sure it’s that endearing daughter term God uses for me at times too. 

[1] McMinn, Mark. (1996). Psychology, Theology, and Spirituality in Christian Counseling. Wheaton: Tyndale House. Pg. 207
[2] Sissy is what my Mom called me and what I turn call my girls.  I’m pretty sure it’s that endearing daughter term God uses for me at times too. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

A Teenager is Born

Dear Mama Catalina, 

A teenager is born!  Our baby is 13 today!  I don’t know if 13 is a significant age in Guatemala for a boy, but Dennis has dreamed of this day for a few years now.  12 was not easy on him, but he has come through brilliantly on the other side.  You would be so proud of the progress he has made and the obstacles he has overcome. This boy – our boy – is strong.  

I was not with Dennis on his first birthday.  We missed celebrating that milestone together by 21 short, but oh so long days.  His foster mama Karen held a little party for him that year and made sure he ate cake for the first time.  I was able to call and wish him feliz cumpleaƱos with the help of a Spanish-speaking friend.  He was not with you or me that day. I cried the whole day. I’m guessing you did too. 

Today he will go to school, then youth group, then football. I won’t really see him today either, but I’ve made dozens and dozens of cupcakes so he can celebrate with all of his friends. Our boy is a social extravert, although lately he listens to that inner-insecure-teen-critic too much. Tim and I embarrass him widely by just “being” these days, right on track where he should be as the calendar rolls to #13.  We hold our parental ground valiantly though, knowing one day he will emerge on the other side of these hormones knowing we never left his side. 

He would want you to know he’s finally broken the 100-pound mark on the scale and he’s just so proud of that fact. So proud. This year during his sports physical the pediatrician made an estimate he will reach 5’10 in height. There was actual fist bumping in the exam room when we heard that number! He’s starting 7th grade off with a bang academically too – it’s looking like he will made honor roll this first quarter!  That’s a complete turnaround of where we were this time last year. He is playing tackle football, which he loves and I hate.  I can’t stomach the games or seeing the bruises on his body, but as I said in the opening of this letter – this boy, our boy, is strong. 

One of Dennis’ teachers recently shared with me that his wishes for the future are: “see my biological mother, be a person who helps the world, and be an engineer.” You are always present in his mind and thoughts.  He carries you with him in this life even though I am the one walking by his side. I carry you with me today on this milestone birthday.  I pray that the grace of God that surpasses our understanding will wrap you up in His love until the day we can meet and wrap our arms around you too. 

Love always, 

Mama Dawn

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Travelogue - North & South Carolina

This week I’ve traveled 325 miles back and forth between North Carolina, South Carolina and the Carolina coast meeting with partners of Operation Blessing. I’ve now passed the 90-day mark as the Manager of Philanthropy for the SE Region and finally feel like I’m starting to hit the rhythm of my new role.  The stories and passion for this work are growing in my heart and I’m enjoying connecting with donors throughout my region. This week was filled with inspirational and emotional moments centered around the ministry I serve.  It was also filled with blessings for me personally as I “stop to smell the roses” along the way.

I flew out of Sarasota at 5 am on Monday morning. Thankfully, our airport is small and close to home, so I got to sleep until 3 am.  But friends, 3 am is still a very early start to a work week!  I was leaving the airport with my rental car in Charlotte when the sun broke across the sky.  It was time for all of the coffee I could find before my first appointment.  As I drove north in the direction of my 9:30 am meeting, I passed the hotel I was staying at for the first few nights.  I decided to stop in and see if I could get an early check-in for around noon, so I could freshen up before heading to my second appointment of the day.  What an unexpected blessing to have the front desk agent offer to let me in my room at 7:30 am!  Not only did I get that much needed coffee, I was able to unpack and get settled before starting my first day in Charlotte. 

Twice on Monday I passed signs for the Billy Graham library.  I honestly had no idea what this was, other than what the name implied. I wanted to stop and check it out, but I was coming and going and that 3 am wake up hit hard right at rush hour in a city I didn’t know.   Better to get to my room and call it a day, I reasoned.  However, when I drove past it a 3rd time on Tuesday, I knew I had to stop.  I pulled in and walked towards the area marked Prayer Garden, where I was greeted by two volunteers who welcomed me to the site.  The man started singing over me and the woman prayed the most on-point prayer you could imagine. There I stood, tears pouring out of my face, when I realized we were standing at the foot of the graves of Billy & Ruth Graham. It was a very special and unexpected moment for me, as you might imagine. 

Another highlight of my week was connecting with friends I had not seen in at least 20 years! I’m telling you, there is nothing more powerful in this life than reconnecting with people you’ve loved in the past and picking right up where you left off.  We talked nonstop for 3 hours and really only stopped because it was a work night and well, I’m more of a morning person!  We laughed and reminisced about youth group and high school and weddings and babies and family.  I’m so proud of the lives they’ve built and the faith they’ve held.  Reviving our friendship in person -not on social media - was such a blessing to me! I also got to spend some time with my boss, who drove down from VA to the NC coast to spend time with me and squeeze in some more training.  We watched the sun set over the bay on Wednesday night, enjoyed a late dinner together, and closed the place down with laughter.  She is also such a blessing to me!  

After wrapping up my last meeting on Thursday morning, I drove 4 extra miles out to Oak Island to check-out the NC coastline. I’m telling ya, put me near a beach and I’m there with feet in the water, if only for a few minutes.  Now that I’m used to the Gulf shades of turquoise and light blue, I’m always amazed how dark the Atlantic seems by comparison.  The water at Caswell Beach is still warm though, and the sand dunes are incredible.  I also checked out the Oak Island Lighthouse that lights up the mouth of the Cape Fear River to guide ships into the Port. For the life of me, I can’t imagine who thought they should name a river Cape Fear!  In any event, you can apparently climb this lighthouse for some incredible views of the area.  It’s on my to-do list for the next visit in this region!

The people and landscape of the Carolinas are indeed a treasure.  I’ve enjoyed every mile I’ve driven and let me tell ya, the NC rest areas are second to none!  Their peach ice cream is pretty good too, if you are ever driving by a road side stand selling this deliciousness, I highly recommend you stop!   

Tired, but thankful for a beautiful week, I’m returning home to Sarasota where the next adventure awaits:  Hurricane Dorian!

Friday, August 23, 2019

The One About Football, a Phone, and a Moped

Dennis found out he did not make the football team at his middle school today. He came home devastated, beyond that if there is such a thing.  They picked 7 kids out of 60.  He made the first cut, which brought the pool down to 20.  He was not one of the 7 out of 20.  There were some weird deals in all of this and I’m not going down that path with this post, but just know for a boy who struggles with rejection, this decision was all kinds of hard.  I’ll just say how proud I was for him to see the list, talk with the coach, and ride the bus home before the pain oozed out of every fiber of his being. 

We sat with him in the raw, brokenness for a very long time.  It didn’t comfort him at all that we had already lined up another local league that was starting Monday night – tackle no less, what he really wanted. No, that didn’t help.  He wanted on that school team.  The one where they picked 7 kids out of 60. That was the team he just knew he was supposed to play on this year.

This is where being a parent is sooo hard.  There are just some things you can’t fix in life’s journey…… like finding your child’s biological mother or getting him on the school football team

But there are some things you can fix.  We’ve promised Dennis a phone for his 13thbirthday for a very long time.  That day is 1 month and 2 days away.  Tonight I said to Dennis, “Son, let’s go get your new phone” and the drooping eyes suddenly popped up.  He couldn’t believe what he just heard.  I watched as hope came out of hiding from inside my little man, “Mom, are you for real?”   I told him that there are two things he’s waited a long time for:  playing football and getting a phone.  Tonight, I couldn’t get him on that team, but I could get him a phone. 

We grabbed our things and walked outside only to discover all 3 of our cars were gone. Without hesitating I said, “Well, shoot, I guess we are taking the moped.” Again, he looked at me and said, “Are you serious?”  You better believe I was not going to let a little thing like not having a car keep this kid from his long-awaited phone, especially tonight.  

I may have watched a YouTube video (or two) to figure out how to get the bike started and taken several practice loops around the neighborhood, but I eventually got my son to the Sprint store several miles away.  I'll never forget him yelling in my ear, “You’ve got this mama” as we buzzed along Tamiami at 29 mph at 6pm on a Friday night.  

We are safely back home now, in one piece, with the new (red) phone in hand.  We’ve talked a lot about how things cannot heal our hearts and sometimes you cannot fix what is broken.  But Dennis knows I will sit with him in his pain as he cries about not knowing where Mama Catalina is as birthday time comes around again, or on nights when he does not make the team he desperately wanted to play with this year.  He knows that I will learn to ride a moped if necessary, and that I will always – ALWAYS – have his back.   

Monday, August 5, 2019

Fix My Eyes

There are days were everything feels impossible and overwhelming.  Days where the unresolved pressures of life and the endless burdens of worry nearly bury me.  These are the times where I find the thief of comparison and memories of past disappointments whispering in my ear.  I know to worship and choose joy, but sometimes I succumb to the sorrows of life instead. 

Today was one of those days. By 5:30 tonight I was literally a heap of tears in my husband’s arms.  I was sobbing about regrets, fears and loss – nothing within my power to fix or control. Lest anyone fear, it’s nothing in particular regarding anyone in our family.  It’s simply that I seem to finally crawl over one mountain, and before I can catch my breath, another one looms before me.  

After the tears faded, Tim suggested we go to the beach.  He even convinced me to go on the back of the moped.  Just the two of us, driving through the misting rain, heading to the place where my soul finds some peace in this crazy world.  The last time we shared a moped we were exploring the Greek island of Rhoades, many years before we became parents. Is this a good idea at our age?  Doubtful, but tears weren’t helping either, so off he whisked me to the sunset and the sea. 

We parked at one of the beach entrances we don’t normally use.  The path from the parking to the beach was messy with standing, slimy water.  I could see the water ahead, but the way to get there on this new path was not my favorite. I was suddenly struck by the parallel to my day.  At that moment I looked over my shoulder and saw the rainbow.  I was headed towards where I wanted to be, the ocean, even though the path was messy and uncomfortable to walk.  But above it all hung the promise.  Ahead and above – that’s where I needed to fix my eyes, not on the mud I was temporarily trudging through.  

We bobbed for an hour in the warm water, soaking up the sea, talking to visitors from Toronto and enjoying our front row seat to the greatest show in Sarasota - the nightly sunset. The cares of life were slipping off my shoulders and suddenly I could breathe easier again. We climbed back on the bike as the skies turned a gorgeous bright pink and drove past the restaurant where our son works.  We beeped at him from across the street, he embarrassedly waived us away, and we headed home.  All felt right in my world again. 

I’m not crazy about rides on that moped, but tonight’s adventure was exactly what I needed to reframe today’s heaviness.  I know better than to put on the garment of worry and fear, but sometimes it happens. I’m glad to be supported by a partner and family who know how to help me move forward on hard days:  take her to the beach, get some salt water in her hair, sand between her toes, and maybe, just maybe there will be a well-timed rainbow and dazzling sunset to remind her that God’s got it all covered and she should remember to fear not. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Carving Out the Time to Write

Writing is healing for me – cathartic.  You might not relate but writing brings me a release I cannot explain.  When the words start to flow and I hit the rhythm of the process, sometimes my fingers cannot keep up with the thoughts.  When this happens, I actually feel like God is writing and I’m just the scribe.  When the words just bubble up from within, there is peace, contentment, and even joy.  I long to return to that secret place, yet it’s rare I find my way back there.  It takes time, stillness, and the willingness to be vulnerable with a blank page. 

In her new book Girl Stop Apologizing, Rachel Hollis suggests that as an aspiring author I need to write wherever and whenever I can. To be honest, this advice frustrated me when I first read it.  I want the solitude and sometimes even the holy writing experience. However, day after day and month after month slip by with no progress, sometimes even on my blog. Carving out the time for the luxury of writing alone and in peace becomes the pipe dream. These are mythical, rare, moments - I want them, crave them even, but best intentions notwithstanding, they rarely pass my way. 

This morning I am sitting in a Panera waiting for an appointment with tablet in hand and there is suddenly a small space in my life to knock out some writing. What could I possibly write that makes a difference, not to mention is on point and consistent with my book (or even my blog) in these few minutes?  Is author and speaker Rachel Hollis correct?  I’m not seasoned enough to know for sure yet, but I’m highly doubtful you can write a life thesis in carved out, tiny segments. Maybe this kind of writing is more about intentionality and purpose than it is about content?  But, is my goal simply to get words down on paper?  Well, yes and no. 

**Yes** in that I need to cultivate my skills and loosen my thoughts, because life’s burdens can totally weigh us down and stop the flow of words needed to write effectively. Maybe that’s the work I can do sitting in a Panera with cheeky music on the speakers, a table full of seniors playing a rowdy board game that involves dice (are the dice sounds growing louder as I focus on them?), and workers who are chatting it up now that the morning rush has passed.  Maybe this is conditioning, like clocking the miles for an upcoming race or weight lifting reps in a gym.  Maybe this is about being able to write while people talk and life shuffles by, which it I’m being honest, I’m not good at that at all.  


Part of my problem, which involves high levels of (problematic) perfectionism bordering on OCD, is that I wait to write till all is quiet and well, perfect.  For me that means the laundry is all done and put away, the house is clean, the dog is walked, all of the schoolwork is completed, supper is made .... well, any and all of the possible distractions that stand in my way daily are accomplished.  As you can imagine, for a working mom of five, this RARELY happens.  I’m not saying all the planets don’t sometimes align so I can pump out a blog or work on a chapter of my book, but I am saying all these particular planets don’t align very often. 


I could certainly benefit from developing a new skill set to write outside of the idyllic “she shed” situations when everything else is not perfectly finished.  Loud and obnoxious coffee shop writing sessions maybe needed to focus on simply loosening up my words. Think of writing like a well from which water flows: the more you write, the more it flows.  The converse in also true, the less you write, the less it flows.  So, I’m sitting here in these precious alone minutes in Panera, basically priming my pump.  This is not the time to worry about perfection or polish, I'm just trying to get the flow started again.  


But I think “no” also applies here. I believe my book does require and deserve more of my reverent attention.  I do not believe I can work on that project in the same way –as that manuscript is not about word count, measured productivity, or publisher deadlines (because there are none!)  Two years after I put it back in the drawer because life interrupted, it still calls to me.  I constantly write down thoughts for this chapter or that section. Significant reflection time will be required to re-read the 200 drafted pages, synchronize my notes, and begin again with the project.  I don't possibly see how this type of writing is squeezed into the margins of my time. 

However, I know in my soul it is still not the season for that project to resume.  Not quite yet, anyway. Grad school picks up again in a few short weeks and the slow pace of summer all too soon will fade into the hurried frenzy of fall.  For now, I must focus on carving out these small spaces and conditioning my skills – for that I’m willing to follow Rachel’s advice and try writing wherever and whenever I can (but most definitely with a pair of headsets on next time).