Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Walk of a Lifetime

Happy Mother's Day, dear mamas! I hope you have had a wonderful day celebrating with your families. Today we honor ALL women, of all ages, and we especially want to thank our moms and grandmas for giving us life and for loving us unconditionally. The love, wisdom, kindness, discipline, guidance and lifelong nurture of a mom deserves our never ending gratitude and respect. Moms, we can never thank you enough!

2 years ago today, on Mother's Day, I started writing this blog to share the stories of our family and God's faithfulness to us during each step and every season of our lives. Thank you for your kindness, support and encouragement as you have followed our journey. Today, I simply want to honor my entire family, especially the women of my family...moms and yet-to-be moms.
First of all, thank you Danny, Jason, David, Chris, and Heidi for allowing me the incredible privilege of being your mom! The way you honor God, love extravagantly, and chase hard after your dreams makes me so proud. 
Isn't this amazing?! Our fun-loving and growing family.
Thank you, Cortnie and Brittanica, for being the best daughters-in-law a mom could ever want! The way you love my sons is perfect. The way you love your families makes my heart so happy.
Jason, Cortnie, Olivia, Evan and Felix

David, Brittanica, Johnny, Jovi, Jack (and unborn daughter)
Thank you, Tim, for being a wonderful son-in-law! The way you love and care for Heidi makes me feel incredibly at peace. (Besides, I really wanted one more son! Ha!)
Chivalry is not dead!
And thank you Olivia, Evan, Felix, Johnny, Jovi, Jack, (and granddaughter coming this fall!) for being the most amazing grandchildren I could ever desire! You are the most beautiful, smart, talented, and incredibly funny little humans on the planet, and you bring this grandmama so much joy! You are Children of Hope, and you are going to change this world in indescribable ways!
Olivia, Evan and Felix
Johnny, Jovi and Jack

And a very special thank you to my mom for being the best mom a girl could want! My mom loved my brother and me with her whole heart and made incredible sacrifices to raise us as a single mom. She is 96 years old and continues to love all of us - her children, grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren - deeply. We are blessed to still have her in our lives. Isn't she adorable?
3 generations! Grandma, Mom, and Daughter with new son-in-law, Tim
She even made the 1,200 mile/18 hour trip from Las Cruces, NM to St. Louis, MO to attend Heidi's wedding! That's a lot of love for this great-grandma!
Life's journey - our walk through life - can be tricky. It's difficult for everyone, but today my focus is on women. Young or old. Married or single. Rich or poor. Moms or not moms.
As many of you know, 3 weeks ago I walked a marathon in celebration of my 60th birthday. It was hard, but not as hard as I thought. Although I planned, and trained, and rested, and did all I knew to do, God was still the One who helped me. I prayed for a beautiful, warm day, but it was cold and windy, and I walked the last 3 hours in the rain. Isn't that just like life? We want warm, sunny, stress-free days, but storms come and winters can be long, hard and lonely. But we press on. Just like my symbolic "Walk of a Lifetime" done on April 13, 2019. By the grace of God, I did it. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other.
"This is What 60 Looks Like" (This t-shirt is better than a medal!)
I plan to write much more about this in the coming weeks and months, but for now I'll just say once again that this walk was symbolic. We all start out in life tiny and pure, with excitement and hope for our future, ready to run our race...wearing our spotless, white tennis shoes. But as we go through life, seasons change and the winds come and threaten to slow us down and discourage us. Our "shoes" become old, gray and worn. But what do we do? We keep walking
And so, on Mother's Day, 2019, I want to encourage all women, but today I start by saying to my daughter and my daughters-in-law (and every young married woman reading this)... 
 and my teenage granddaughter (and every teenage girl reading this)...
 and my baby granddaughter (and every other baby girl)...
and for my granddaughters yet to be born (and every other unborn baby girl) ...
Through every season of life, before you have children and after they are born, hold on tightly to the hand of Jesus. Trust Him, and just keep walking. From birth to death. No matter what comes your way.
When the sun is shining, keep walking. He is your joy.
When the storms come, keep walking. He is your peace.
When you're surrounded by family and friends, keep walking. He is your brother.
When you're all alone, keep walking. He is your best friend.
When He's answered your prayers, keep walking. He is your provider.
When doubts and questions come, keep walking. He is your counselor.
If your home is full of children, keep walking. He will be their Heavenly Father.
If your home is empty, keep walking. He will be your comforter.
If you are a married mama, keep walking. He is love.
If you are a single mama, keep walking. He is your source and will help you.
Once again, dear friends, Happy Mother's Day! I honor you today for the heroic work you do, day in and day out, month after month, year after year. Although your labor may seem invisible, God sees you and will reward you openly. He will answer the desires of your heart, and your children will rise up and call you blessed. Be Women of Class. You are beautiful. You are a treasure.
With all my love and a heart full of gratitude,

May The Lord bless you and protect you.
May The Lord smile on you and be gracious to you.
May The Lord show you His favor and give you His peace. 

Each step in life is making beautiful pearls.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Every Season, Every Step

Welcome to April! Winter is over - spring is here. Tomorrow is April 1st...the beginning of my month-long birthday celebration of turning 60. The month that I walk a marathon. The month where I reflect back on the past 60 years as well as look to the future. The month that I celebrate the faithfulness of God throughout each season of my life.

Today I'd like to explain to you WHY I am walking a marathon this month. And why I'm walking...not running.

Three years ago I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

I woke up on a Friday morning in June, 2016 and my hands (especially my right hand) were super stiff and sore. Over the course of the day, my hand grew increasingly hot and swollen. It started to cramp into a closed position, not able to open it at all...making it impossible to perform simple tasks such as holding a pen, typing, even buttoning or unbuttoning my shirt and pants. By the end of the day my hands looked like this:
These look like the hands of an 80 year old.
That Friday was my first time experiencing the excruciating pain of RA. The hot, burning, relentless savageness of the disease kept me awake almost the entire weekend. It felt like millions of tiny demons gnawing away at my nerve endings, and there was absolutely no relief. I had no idea what was wrong.
Monday morning I went to the doctor who took one look at me and knew what it was. After doing blood work, he confirmed the diagnosis. Rheumatoid arthritis. What in the world?! I was devastated. Soon afterward I saw a specialist who explained that this disease would grow increasingly worse over time, that the flares would become more frequent and severe, and that there wasn't a cure...only slowing the progression of the disease with medication. And that I would need to take the medicine for the rest of my life. It was a lot to take in, and it felt worse than a death sentence to me. For those of you who know me, I don't even like taking Tylenol, and I'm being told that I need to take medicine for the rest of my life? And it wouldn't even cure it? No, thank you.
Disclaimer: I am not saying that I am refusing to take any sort of medicine for RA the entirety of my life. I'm just saying that for me, back then (as well as now), I wanted to explore natural solutions such as diet and exercise to treat the symptoms for as long as possible.
Side note:  I've always said that things (both happy and sad) affect me very deeply...to my bones - my very core. This diagnosis seemed oddly symbolic of how I have carried the weight and pressures of life. (My body is attacking itself?) This is why I kept quiet about it for so long. Somehow I felt like it was my fault (I know it's not), and I didn't want outside voices feeling sorry for me or telling me what to do or how to "fix" it. It was a private battle that only very few knew about.
After the initial diagnosis 3 years ago, I experienced many, many flares. It has been hard to just live and enjoy life because I haven't known what would cause a flare or when it would happen. I truly dreaded waking up in the morning not knowing what the day would bring.
What if I have a flare at Jason's wedding?
Or at Heidi's wedding?
What if I can't cook the Thanksgiving meal?
What if a flare ruins a trip to see my kids and grandbabies?
What if I can't hold the newborn?
What if I can't stir the spaghetti sauce?
Or pick up a pan?
Or my purse?
Or unlock my car?
Or use the nozzle of my hair spray?
Or open my mascara?
Or hold my toothbrush?
Or zip my pants?
And the list goes on and on. Simple tasks that we take for granted. My daily struggle is real...but the flares can be horrendous. 
The flare of a lifetime. I woke up on Monday morning the last week of March, 2018 with an excruciating flare in BOTH of my hands that lasted for an entire week. I could hardly do anything! Somehow I managed to go to work, but I couldn't think, function, sleep...nothing! (And somehow I managed to hide this from my coworkers.) I didn't know what to do. I was begging God to heal me and to give me some sort of direction.
And that's when everything changed for me! The agony of that flare a year ago was so intense that I never wanted to experience it again. Mid-April of last year, just after my birthday, I began a quiet experiment. And again, I told no one. I wondered what would happen if I made 4 major changes in my life...if it would help the RA? I had nothing to lose. So here's what I did:
I cut out almost all sugar from my diet.
But I still enjoy desserts and goodies on occasion.
I cut out most carbs. Not all, but a lot.
I need carbs as I walk long distances.
I started using essential oils on my hands, feet, shoulders and knees.
Coconut oil, peppermint, lavender, and frankincense have become my best friends and daily companions.
And then I started walking. And walking. And walking.
My body responded immediately! I didn't miss the carbs and sugar.
I am not making any medical claims to the effectiveness of essential oils to cure RA, but I am saying that they brought much relief and comfort to MY hands that had been in so much pain. It worked for ME
I craved the warmth and sunshine that seemed to help heal and soothe my body. In the hot summer months I felt like toxins were leaving my body through sweat. I just felt so much better.
I spent most of my time talking to God during my daily walks. I prayed for everyone and everything that was on my heart, and I spent much time asking God to heal me. I also spent a good deal of time reflecting on my life and how good and faithful He had been to me and my family over the years. I also thought a lot about what the future was going to look like for me. One Sunday afternoon last May as I was walking, I had a brilliant thought.
"Next year, for my 60th birthday, I'm going to walk a marathon!"
And so, that's how we got here. Life is a marathon. This is all symbolic.
A marathon is HARD. It actually seems impossible, but we do it. Even through the pain.
Just like life. Life is HARD at times, but we succeed with God's help.
We need support before, during and after a marathon.
Just like life. During each step and stage of life, we need encouragement from our family and friends.
We inspire others when we dare to do the "impossible."
Everyone has an "impossible" dream. Even a 60 year old grandma with RA and vertigo attempting to walk a marathon.
And most importantly, we don't RUN through life. WE WALK.
And God is orchestrating every detail of our life...one step at a time.

Through every season, from our first steps to our final steps, He is faithful. The song below expresses it perfectly. "God of all My Days" has become my theme song this year! I sing it to myself on every walk. God is with us in every season and stage of life.

God of All My Days by Casting Crowns

I came to You with my heart in pieces
And found the God with healing in His hands
I turned to You, put everything behind me
And found the God who makes all things new

I looked to You, drowning in my questions
And found the God who holds all wisdom
And I trusted You and stepped out on the ocean
You caught my hand among the waves
'Cause You're the God of all my days
Each step I take
You make a way
And I will give You all my praise
My seasons change, You stay the same
You're the God of all my days
I ran from You, I wandered in the shadows
And found a God who relentlessly pursues
I hid from You, haunted by my failure
And found the God whose grace still covers me
I fell on You when I was at my weakest
And found the God, the lifter of my head
And I've worshipped You
And felt You right beside me
You're the reason that I sing
'Cause You're the God of all my days
In my worry, God You are my stillness
In my searching, God You are my answers
In my blindness, God You are my vision
In my bondage, God You are my freedom
In my weakness, God You are my power
You're the reason that I sing
'Cause You're the God of all my days 

Each step I take
You make a way
And I will give You all my praise
My seasons change, You stay the same
You're the God of all my days

And so, dear friends, hopefully this explains why I have decided to walk a marathon in celebration of my 60th birthday as I'm entering a new decade of my life.

To update you on how I'm doing physically, God's grace is certainly helping me! I have definitely lost grip strength in my hands, but I'm working on that through mild weight training. The flares have reduced significantly! In fact, I did not experience any RA flares from April - November of last year! It was definitely a hard winter though. With the cold, damp weather and not being able to get out in the sun much, I have experienced some flares, but certainly not with the intensity that they were last year. Most mornings and evenings, my hands are quite sore. I need warm, dry weather to really feel well. At times I experience hard nodules on the outside bottoms of my feet that make me feel like I'm walking on rocks. I tried throwing in a little jogging to shorten the time when I'm out walking long distances, but it was just too painful. Too much pressure on feet, knees and ankles. Which again makes this whole "walking a marathon" idea seem so impossible. How I'm able to walk 13, 16, 17+ miles without being sore the next day is nothing less than miraculous! To God be all the glory! I'm going to continue to walk and fight this disease for as long as I am able.

My actual birthday is on April 16 but I plan to walk the marathon on Saturday, April 13, 2019. When the celebrations are over, I plan to write all about the past year and everything I've learned. Because we're all walking, and the goal is to make it HOME. Until then, thank you for your love, support and prayers. If you would like to celebrate with me on April 13, details of the event are on Facebook. I'd love to see your faces! This is the beginning of a year-long celebration of life and healing.

With a heart full of love and gratitude,
May The Lord bless you and protect you.
May The Lord smile on you and be gracious to you.
May The Lord show you His favor and give you His peace.

God uses every season and every step in life to create beautiful pearls.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

20/20 Vision

So . . . I went for a little walk last month. On the first Saturday of 2019, I arose as usual, laced up my tennis shoes and decided that it was a beautiful day to walk a half-marathon. No hoopla. No cheering crowds. No medal to commemorate this achievement. Nope. Just a simple walk by myself up and down the hills of my neighborhood that took just a little over 4 hours to complete. But why?

Because I have a goal - a lofty goal! Before I venture forward and talk about my dreams for the future, please allow me to share some of the highlights of our family from last year. 2018 was an incredible year with memories to last a lifetime!

In the spring, after 5 long years of discipline and training, David was selected to compete on American Ninja Warrior, Season 10! We traveled to Indianapolis, IN in April to cheer him on. Our whole family was so proud of him as he advanced to the city finals and we were able to watch him when it aired on national TV in the summer. Ninja Pastor D-Wom was incredible, and we were amazed that God gave him opportunity to shine in front of all America! We're thrilled to be on Team D-Wom!

Then in the summer, after being together for 5 years and growing in their love for one another, Tim and Heidi were married in August (just shy of 6 years as a couple). It was a beautiful, fairytale wedding in the most perfect setting imaginable! What incredible joy I had as a mom as I witnessed my only daughter commit her life to the man of her dreams. The joy was multiplied as Jason walked Heidi down the aisle wearing his dress blues, David performed the ceremony, and Danny and Chris escorted me to my front-row seat. Words cannot describe the emotions of that day for me! I treasured every beautiful moment!


A few months later, in December, after 5 years of being together, Jason and Cortnie welcomed sweet little Felix Alexander into their family. Evan became a big brother, and Olivia now has 2 baby brothers to play with in the California sun! They became a family of 5, and I am now a blessed GrandMama with 6 precious grandkids. Life is grand!

Over the course of nearly 5 years adjusting to life post-Marine Corps, Chris is now excelling in a more than challenging and stressful profession. He has been OTR driving for the past year and a half. I have so much respect for him and the behind-the-scenes sacrifices he made for his family in 2018. We are truly grateful!
And most recently, after more than 5 years of planning, preparing, studying, working and praying, David and Brittanica just launched a new church plant, The Grid Church, Chicago a few weeks ago. I was thrilled to witness their grand opening!
And then there's me! After more than 5 years of struggling mentally, emotionally and physically through the changes that occur mid-life, I am finally better. There's so much more to the story, but simply put I feel happy and whole again. Thank goodness!
Which brings me back to the focus of this post. Most often when I am quiet, it's because I'm hiding. I don't want people to worry about me, especially when I know that I'll eventually be ok with God's help. But this time was different. Quietly, over the past year when I was silent on this blog (and I apologize for that!), I was laboring hard in secret to regain control of my life. And it worked! 
Did you notice a recurring theme above that ran through the events of our family in 2018? A timeframe?
5 years! 5 years training to become a Ninja. 5 years of relationship before committing for a lifetime. 5 years of relationship and marriage as children are added to the family. 5 years struggling professionally and adjusting to career changes. 5+ years of grueling labor to birth a new church in one of the hardest cities in America. And for me personally, 5 years of walking through one of the hardest seasons of my life and the emptiness it held - midlife.
5 is the number of God's grace. Whether it's 5 days, 5 weeks, 5 years - or for me, 5 children - I've learned that we are all weak, no matter how strong we think we might be, and we all go through seemingly unmanageable seasons. We all need God's help, His favor, to see us through the changes every season of life brings. We need faith. Vision.
We need 20/20 vision.  As I look back over my lifetime, I can see the hand of God and His grace in absolutely every detail of my life and that of my children. It helps me now and gives me confidence that the God who helped me before will help me again. Looking back helps us as we look forward
In 2 months, I will celebrate my 60th birthday!  And I am actually quite excited about it! It may seem silly, but as I have reflected on my life over the past year, it seems that my "seasons" can pretty well be summed up in 20-year increments.
The 20 "GROWING" years (ages 0-20). A little girl who loved dolls, jump rope, jacks, hopscotch, books, school, friends, my mom, and . . . more than anything else . . . ballet!
The 20 "QUIET" years (ages 20-40). A young woman hiding a lot of pain whose main focus was to love, nurture and protect these 5 precious babies entrusted to my care: Danny, Jason, David, Chris and Heidi. Be still my heart.
The 20 "VOCAL" years (ages 40-60). A mature woman who watched babies grow into incredible teenagers and young adults. I am so proud of each one of them! God did an amazing work of healing and restoring my heart from the pain of past hurts. I found my voice and gained confidence in speaking the truth.
I watched these 5 . . .
grow into these wonderful adults!
So now, the question for me is, "WHAT'S NEXT?" What is the theme for my future?
I want the next 20 years to be the "GIVING" years (ages 60-80+). May the steps I begin (quite literally!) in 2019 blossom and grow by the year 2020!
I'd love to travel, and talk, and share about the grace and faithfulness of our Heavenly Father. I'd love to write more and spend quality time with family and friends. I'd love to birth Hearts and Pearls Ministries and help as many mamas as I can mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I'd love to have the resources to financially meet the needs of as many people as possible. I'd love to have the ability to travel from coast to coast and spend time with my kids and grandkids. I'd like to restore hope to the hopeless, peace to the restless, compassion to the hurting, and healing to the wounded. I'd love to be the voice of encouragement and inspiration in a world that is weary and disillusioned. I want to tell the world that Jesus cares!

"How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!" Romans 10:15
And, with that in mind, I'm starting by going for a walk. A walk that celebrates LIFE!
I will share more details in my next post, but simply put, what happened to me last year - 2018 - was really quite remarkable! In the midst of my mid-life struggle that had been going on far too long, I came home from church one beautiful Sunday afternoon last April and felt compelled to go for a walk. I strapped on my tennis shoes and went on a one-mile walk. I breathed in the warm spring air, and I felt better! The next night after work, I went out again and walked for 2 miles. The next night, 3 miles. And lo and behold, I could think again. It seemed impossible that after years of sadness, depression and questioning what the rest of my life was going to look like that all of a sudden the questions were gone! Over the course of the next month, I came back to life! There's more to the story, but for now I'd like to tell you how I plan to celebrate my 60th birthday.
I'm going to walk/run a marathon! In my neighborhood, with as many or as few as would like to celebrate with me. You all are invited! Once again, you might be wondering WHY?
Because it's symbolic. We all go through seasons of life as we walk from birth to death. Life is a marathon that can be exuberant at times as well as excruciatingly painful at others. Sometimes it seems impossible, just like walking a marathon! We need God's help through it all.
And I have asked God to help me as I've been preparing to walk/jog this marathon. As I mentioned before, the training actually began last May. After I was comfortable walking 3 miles, I added a mile each month until I was walking between 9-10 miles/5 times a week by November, 2018. At that point, I wanted to walk a half-marathon the beginning of January, 2019, which I did as shown in the opening photo. Believe me, I couldn't believe that I actually did it! The plan now is to add 1 mile every 3 weeks with hopes of reaching 16 miles by the end of March. Then hopefully, 26.2 miles in mid-April!
This happened last Saturday!
Woo-hoo! 14.5 miles in 4 hours and 10 minutes (about a 17-minute mile). Not super fast, but I did it! (In case you're wondering, the app on my phone interprets the hills I walk as flights of stairs.) Not too shabby for an almost 60-year-old gramma! Next goal: 15.5 miles the beginning of March. I can only do this with God's help!
And so my dear friends, there's the update on what's been going on in my life in 2018. Crazy, right?! Thank you for your enduring love, encouragement, and friendship through the years. In times of my nonstop chattering, thank you for listening. In times of my quietness, thank you for caring and understanding. In times of my joy, thank you for sharing it with me. In times of my sadness, thank you for carrying the burden with me. In times of sharing my dreams, thank you for supporting me. And in times of crazy goals like this one, thank you for encouraging me!
Let's make 2019 a CELEBRATION OF LIFE!
And 2020, we're coming for you with CLEAR VISION for all God wants to do! 20/20 vision!
With all my love and a heart full of gratitude, my dear friends,

May The Lord bless you and protect you.
May The Lord smile on you and be gracious to you.
May The Lord show you His favor and give you His peace.
Baby Teresa learning to walk. I'm still holding my Heavenly Father's hand and learning!
Pearls in the making!