Retired English Teacher Teaches A Family Member English As A Second Language

Family Ties ~ The French Connection

At least 30 summers ago, there was a Fourth of July French family reunion and picnic at the home of one of my cousins.  A favorite cousin, one I had not seen in many years, was there with her three beautiful young daughters.

The day was a hot one.  For some reason, I asked the girls if they wanted me to put their hair up in French braids.  One by one, each sat on the floor before me as I brushed and braided each one's hair.  That is when I first got to know and to love my first cousin once removed named Annie French.  I think she was about eight years old at the time.

Unfortunately, I didn't see a lot of my cousin and her daughters while the girls were growing up.  The next time I spent any time at all with them was twelve years ago when we gathered in Cousin Mary's hospital room just before she passed away from ovarian cancer which was discovered very shortly before her death.  The girls were still so sweet, so beautiful, and so very young to lose their wonderful mother.  They were barely out of their teens and into their twenties.  My heart broke for them.

I knew Mary had given them a wonderful foundation. She, a single mom, had raised them to be strong, independent, yet loving, and caring young women. She also raised them to be strong in the faith that she had taught them.

Annie, the one I call Mary's mini me, always wears a glorious, winning smile just like her sweet mama did.  After her mother's death, Annie went on to graduate from college and to travel around the world as a single woman.  Most of her trips were mission trips.  She journeyed to Peru to take some seminary classes from a branch of the Calvary Chapel Bible College in Peru.  There, she met her future husband.

Thanks to Facebook, I have been able to follow her journey from afar.  I saw the photos of the beautiful bride that Annie was when she married her handsome smiling groom, a native of Peru, in Peru.  I read of their missionary work in Peru and in Costa Rica.  I was thrilled to see photos of the beautiful daughters they soon had.  I admired Annie's handiwork of sewing that she did for her husband, her home, and her daughters.  I was impressed by Darwin's work in the the ministry.

Perhaps, our lives would never have intersected again except at family gatherings when the Torres family might be stateside if Darwin and Annie had not come to the United States late this spring for an extended sabbatical.  Their plans were that they would return to Peru to plant a church in Cusco, Peru.  They were being sent out to do this work by Rocky Mountain Calvary Chapel in Colorado Springs.  They hoped that during the time the family was stateside, Darwin would also be able to take the test to become a U.S. Citizen.



A Springtime Meeting ~ An Answer to Prayer

In mid-April of this year, I wrote in my journal, "I am feeling stuck in a holding pattern of clouds and rain and storms...As I look out the window, I see patches of blue, lots of patches of blue as the clouds dissipate.  I got stuck in a storm pattern before the storm even materialized.  Our feelings really have next to nothing to do with reality."  I went on to write that I would be happier if I dug deeper into what made me happy and got unstuck from my holding pattern.  I prayed for opportunities to do more of what I love best: working with people and teaching.

Later, that very day, I got a message from Annie on Facebook.  Not knowing my professional background, she asked if I knew anyone who could teach her husband English so he could pass his citizenship test!  

Just prior to returning the the United States from Peru earlier in the spring, Annie had been working with Darwin so he could take the test for citizenship while they were in the States.  At home in Peru and in Costa Rica, the girls were learning English and were bilingual in Spanish and English.  Annie and Darwin communicated only in Spanish, and the girls spoke Spanish to their father.  This meant that Darwin's English was quite limited.  When he first took the test, he did not pass.  They hoped he could take it again soon, gain his citizenship, and they could return to Peru to begin their new ministry.

When Darwin did not pass the test the first time, Annie asked her aunt, my first cousin, if she knew  of someone whom might be able to help Darwin with English.  My cousin said, "Ask Sally.  She taught English.  She might know someone who knows how to teach ESL."  

I was beyond excited when Annie contacted me.  I told her I would be thrilled to help Darwin.  I told her of my background and even told her I had been praying for an opportunity to teach again.  We scheduled a time to meet at my home.  I dug out all of my old books and got ready to get to work doing what I love to do: teach English to speakers of other languages.  

I was a bit daunted by the task.  We didn't have much time.  Where should I start?  


At our first meeting, seated around my kitchen table that was covered with books on grammar, picture dictionaries, and other resources, I did an assessment to determine Darwin's understanding of and use of English.  Once that was complete,  we set our goals and objectives for the times we would meet.  Annie was my translator when Darwin and I could not connect.  I told them that the first goal would be that they would no longer speak in Spanish at home, but would use English.  I knew that we didn't have much time, so I wanted Darwin to use English for speaking and listening as much as possible.  I also suggested he start reading English storybooks to the girls at bedtime.

From there, we took off.  Darwin was such a gifted and willing student.  It was such a joy to work with him.  Along the way, we got to know each other and were able to share a bit more about our lives and about the faith we shared in common.  My heart became quite knitted together with the beautiful hearts that live in Darwin and Annie.  Darwin has a gift for language.  He is a bright and able student.  He worked so hard on learning English.  He expanded his opportunities to listen to English by going on a retreat with other men from his church.  He began going to Bible Studies taught in English.  He sought opportunities to have conversational English times with other men in his church.  

The French Connection ~ A New American Citizen


On June 20th, Darwin took the U.S. Citizenship test for the second time.  This time, he passed with flying colors.  Many prayers were answered.  He was not nervous during the testing.  He remembered what he had learned when the questions were asked.  He especially remembered the conversations and times we had when we went over "Who" "What" "Where" "When" and "Why" questions.  Those type questions can be so hard for second language learners.

Last night, on July 5th, Jim and I were able to have Annie and Darwin and the girls in our home for a celebratory dinner.  We grilled hamburgers.  I made potato salad.  We even had that American dish of apple pie topped with ice cream for dessert.  

My profession which has given me so many wonderful experiences over the years just keeps on giving back to me.  I am so grateful I was able to work with Darwin.  I am blessed beyond measure to   have taught immigrant children, young adults from other lands studying English as a foreign language, and adult learning English for various purposes.  To have the opportunity to work with Darwin in his journey towards citizenship will be one of my great joys.  I loved getting to know this wonderful young man of God.  I am excited about following his journey as he goes to Peru to plant a church.  I have been so richly blessed because our lives have intersected at this point in time.  I needed this experience of teaching him and learning from him and from Annie more than they will ever know.  Now our hearts are forever knitted together.  

Darwin and Sally photographed in our classroom setting: the kitchen table.


After my father retired, he spent much time working on family genealogies and gathering photos and stories about the French family history in the United States.  My paternal family history in the United States, the history that Annie and I share,  goes back to 1676 when our ancestor first came to these North American shores 

Now, 340 years later, I had the opportunity to welcome a new American citizen to our family.  He came from South America.  He married into the French family and became a much loved family member.  I couldn't help but reflect about the rich family history that keeps being written in this wonderful land that has been home to my family for over three centuries. 

A few years ago, I wrote a reflection on what it means to me to be a citizen of the United States of America.  You can read that post here:  I Am An American.  Now, I can add this chapter to my American story just as Annie and Darwin are writing their own American story.  

Our connections are deeper than that of family history.  We are more than cousins.  We are bound by our love of Jesus and by our Christian faith.  

I was reminded of Ephesians 2:19 as I thought of the connection that I now have with this family.

...you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household.  



The French Connection:  Annie, Darwin, & daughters with Sally

Darwin and Annie will leave to return to their new home near Cusco, Peru, in less than a week.  They will begin the work of establishing a church and working with those whom already are anxiously awaiting their return.  I will miss having this family as a part of life, but I am so happy that they are returning to the land of Darwin's birth to do the work they have been called to do. 

Thank you Annie and Darwin for including me in your journey.  Thank you for making me a part of the story you two are writing with your lives.  It has been my honor to work with you.  I love you.  My prayers go with you.  







A Personal Narrative about Decisions That Impact Others

On a beautiful Sunday morning thirty-three years ago today, on November 7, 1982, after months spent studying my Bible, I entered a small Baptist church in North Ogden, Utah.  For sixteen years prior to this date, I attended and was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

 I was a convert to the LDS (Mormon) Church at the age of twenty-one.  My former husband, a return missionary for this church, baptized me on the same day we became engaged.  We married a few months later and were "sealed" in the Salt Lake City Temple for "time and all eternity" a year after that.  For the next sixteen years, I was a loyal and faithful member of the LDS Church.

On November 7, 1982, I had been separated from my husband a number of months.  I had turned to my Bible as a source of comfort and wisdom as I was seeking ways to deal with the break-up of my marriage.  Along the way, my heart and mind began to be transformed as I began to see many things in new light.  I told no one I was reading the Bible.  I didn't want to be influenced by anyone in any church or religion until I felt like I had a more firm foundation regarding my own personal beliefs about God and His Word.

As I read and studied and prayed for direction and answers, several other factors which I will not go into today led me to decide I needed to attend a Bible believing church where the Word of God as found only in the Bible was preached.  I contacted a Christian couple I knew of, the Goldrings, and asked them if they could direct me to a church where I could study the Bible more completely.  They sent me Valley View Baptist Church in North Ogden.

Over past few years, I had watched the pastor personally build Valley View from the ground up.   He had lived in an old house located on the same plot of ground where he was building the church.   Weekly Sunday services were held in this house as he worked on a new building for the growing congregation.  Some Saturdays, or week nights, I would see members of this church with hammers, saws, and ladders working on the construction of this building.  I admired their hard-work, determination, fellowship, and faithfulness from afar.

On that day when I finally walked through the doors of the now completed church building which housed Valley View Baptist, I had actually gotten up and dressed in my children and myself in our Sunday best and headed to the LDS Church located just up the street from our home.  Then, after fighting a mental battle in my head which kept saying, "You know you just can't continue to go to a church in which you no longer believe.  Why are you doing so?"  In reality, I could no longer remain status quo.  I knew that my decision to attend another church, even for one Sunday, which is really all I intended to do, would impact my children.  As I recall, only the younger three children were with me on that day.

As I drove the car along the familiar path towards the church I attended each week, I finally made my decision.  Instead of turning right, or to the north,  at the corner by our house, I kept driving east and headed the mile or so down the road to the Baptist Church.  I entered the sanctuary a tad bit late.  The services had already begun.  I was grateful I would not have to meet anyone.  With the Bible my father had recently sent me clutched tightly in my hand, I slipped into the back row of the church as the congregants began to sing some of the old hymns I had missed for so many years.

On that Sunday, Pastor BJ Hall preached on Luke 18: 8- 30.  I turned to the passage and began to read as he preached.  Was this sermon meant just for me?  I read and listened to the story about the rich young ruler who asked Jesus, "Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"  Jesus immediately pointed out to the rich young ruler that "none is good, save one, that is, God."  Then Jesus reminded this man that he knew the commandments and spoke to him seven of ten commandments.  The man said, "All these I have kept from my youth."  Jesus replied with the words that he lacked one thing:  selling all and following Him.

I knew this story, but on that day it had new meaning to me.  Had I been resting on being good?  Had I actually believed that my "goodness" would somehow grant me eternal life?  Did I believe that by doing all that was prescribed for me to do by a religion I had joined I would be granted points with God?  Did I believe that if God asked me what I had done so that He might grant me access to Him after my death I could say, "Well, I've been good.  I haven't broken those seven commandments."  I was convicted about how shallow my arguments would be before a Holy God after I had just read that Jesus had already said there were none good save God.

An internal battle was being waged.  I knew the truth.  I knew I had chosen to follow Jesus when I was twelve years old.  Along the way, I had been sidetracked when I chose to trust in practicing religion instead of trusting and following Christ alone.  I had been hanging on to or trying to practice self righteousness.  I did not want to admit how far I had gotten away from trusting in grace through faith alone.  I knew it would be difficult to publicly affirm my true beliefs.  I knew my life would be forever changed when I did such a thing.

Luke 18: 29-30 convicted me all the more.  "Verily, I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, who shall not receive in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting."

At the end of the sermon, Pastor Hall issued an altar call for those to come forward who wished to receive the Lord.  My internal battle intensified.  I could not remain in that back row of the church any longer.  I moved towards the aisle and began to make my way towards the front where the pastor was standing.  With my body shaking, but with head and heart firm in conviction, I told him I was already a follower of Christ.  I wished to publicly declare that I was rededicating my life to Jesus and renouncing my affiliation with the LDS Church.

Sunday, November 7, 1982, was my personal Reformation Sunday.  I returned to my true beliefs that Sunday,  and in many ways followed the pathway of the Protestant Reformers before me.  The "five solas" were again embraced by me:

  • Sola Scriptura - Scripture Alone
  • Sola Gratia - Grace Alone
  • Sola Fide - Faith Alone
  • Solus Christus - Christ Alone
  • Soli Deo Gloria - To God Alone Be Glory


On that day, as the service was ending, after the congregation had sung their signature hymn, the one I will always associate with Valley View Baptist Church, "Victory in Jesus," Pastor Hall  prayed for me and asked the congregation to pray for me.  He said, that as soon as I left the church that day, that the "great guns of hell" would be aimed at me and that I would need much prayer and support.

He was right.  That is another story for another day.  Now, I want to turn my attention to the ones who really suffered because of my decision: my children.

Suffer little children...

Thirty-three years ago, when I made a decision in North Ogden, Utah, to leave the religion I had been a part of for sixteen years, and reaffirm my true religious beliefs, I was thirty-seven years old and the mother of five children ages fifteen, twelve, eight, six, and four.  I had been raising the children alone without a job, an education, and with very little financial support from their father.  He had left the family home many months before.  I had hoped to save the marriage.  That is why I started reading the Bible.  I was looking for answers on forgiveness and reconciliation.  

As a family, we all were as deeply submerged in the cultural assimilation of the LDS Church lifestyle as any Mormon family in Utah could be.  We also were going through great turmoil as a family.  The head of the household had left.  I was struggling financially and emotionally from the toil of raising a large family with few resources and little support.  I also had been a victim of domestic violence.  This is a part of our family story which is difficult to relate, but it is a truth that we all had endured because of the abuse that had been suffered and witnessed.  Deep in my heart of hearts, I believed, and still believe, that people can change, and do change, because of forgiveness and grace.  I believe  reconciliation is a powerful outcome that occurs when grace, truth, and forgiveness come together.  It remains the prayer of my heart for my entire family.

When my own life turned directions, when I began a new path, I did so out of faith in the God I had known since my earliest days.  I had great hope for my future and future of my family.  I also was a realist.  I knew that my actions could, and most likely would, have great ramifications that might not prove to be beneficial to all concerned.  

Keicha's Memory of Events in 1982

A great divide opened up in my family on that day thirty-three years ago.  Today, my oldest daughter and I discussed how my decision affected her.  She was twelve years old in 1982.  Her life was in chaos because the family which had always seemed so strong, secure, and supportive had come apart at the seams.  Her father was gone and her mother had gone off and done some crazy thing like leaving the Mormon Church.  As she said, "I didn't have a dog in the fight," but she and my other children were caught in the middle of some huge battle being wage around them.

At a time when all she wanted was to feel like she belonged somewhere, her life had been upended first by her father's actions, and now by her mother's actions.   She began to cling to the one thing that had always been there for her and had not changed:  the LDS Church.

The actions of her mother and of her father had nothing to do with her, yet suddenly, through no action of her own, for reasons she didn't even understand, she felt different, ostracized, singled out by her peers, and by some adults in her life.  She was asked why her mother was doing what she was doing.  She was asked if she would remain faithful despite what her mother had done.  She acted out at home towards me and towards her younger siblings who accompanied me to the Baptist Church.  

She said she had loving and supportive people who reached out to her, but she said she always felt that by doing so they were also asking her to take sides in a battle she didn't understand, one of which she did not even wish to participate.  She just wanted her life back as it had always been.  She felt that she had to choose between her loyalty and love for a parent and her loyalty to an institution.  In the end, she said, "They drove me away."  She does not blame me for the position in which she had been placed.  Thankfully, we have had many years to work through the damage done to our relationship between 1982 and 1983.  

She is passionate about how parental decisions about lifestyle and religious choices impact children.  She understands first hand how such decisions can impact in a negative way the children trapped in the middle.  She understands how alone such children can feel.  She understands what it feels like to be labeled "different" by peers, adults, a church, because of the actions of parents.  I admire her passion and her compassion.  I admire how she uses her own voice, one that she gained from many heartbreaks, to speak out for those who might not have a voice, or whose voices are being silenced.

A Memory I Have of Julie During This Time

During this time of family upheaval, Julie, at age six, embraced all that was taught about Jesus at Valley View Baptist.  She loved to sing, "Victory in Jesus."  She asked for a cross necklace for Christmas.  On the first day back to school after Christmas break, she proudly wore her new necklace to school.  She was in first grade.  Her teacher had bought the home in which we lived when Julie was born before we moved to North Ogden.  The teacher was well acquainted with the family and was well aware of the turmoil the family was experiencing.  When Julie returned home from school that day, she told me the following story.

The teacher had asked Julie in front of the entire class why she was wearing a cross to school.  Julie said, "Because I asked my mom for it for Christmas."  The teacher asked, "Does this mean you are no longer a Mormon?"  Julie said, "Yes, now I am a Christian.  Someday, I am going to walk the streets of gold."  The teacher then told her this was inappropriate to say in school and that she was not to wear the cross to school anymore.  Julie was devastated by the way she was treated by the teacher.  She didn't understand.  I verified her story with the teacher.  I expressed how inappropriate the teacher's questions and directives were towards my daughter.  

*******

This long narrative is a departure from my usual type of writing on my blog.  It is deeply personal.  It is my own story of my journey as believer.  I don't often write about my faith in this forum.  My oldest daughter and I have been talking about the events that led up to my departure from the LDS Mormon Church in the last few days.  We've talked about the effects that a decision I made in order follow my own deeply held religious convictions impacted her and her siblings.  There were details that she never knew or had forgotten.  There were wounds that she suffered that she needed to talk to me about.  

For many, many years, I have not written, nor have I publicly spoken about leaving the LDS Church. I stopped writing and speaking about this part of my life because of the impact it had on lives of my children.  I wished for them to struggle and search for their own understanding and beliefs when it came to religious beliefs.  

My children and I have many, many long debates and discussions about God, Jesus, the Bible, religion, and personal beliefs.  They were raised to think for themselves.  Just as I was raised, they also were raised to never participate group think.  I encouraged independent thought and exploration when it comes to establishing personal belief systems.  I also share openly and completely what my beliefs are.  Believe me, when we all get together, there are some pretty interesting debates that are waged between the siblings and between myself and my children.  I welcome, encourage, and embrace these debates because I firmly believe the words of John Milton: "Let her and Falshood grapple, who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?"  

Freedom of Choice, Freedom of Religion, and Freedom of Speech are freedoms for which I will always fight.  They are freedoms for which I hope my children will always fight in the ways that are aligned with their own convictions.  

A recent decision made by the LDS Church has caused great controversy in Utah.  Not living there, I was not even aware of the controversy until my daughter and I spoke yesterday.  Her heart is breaking for the children that are caught in the middle of the controversy.  My heart always breaks for children whose lives are negatively impacted by any decisions that the adults in their lives make.  

I am not going to personally engage in the public debate that is now swirling around in social media and in the press regarding recent decisions of the LDS Church.   My blog is a place where I express my beliefs.  It is not a place where I get involved in public debate.   This post was only written from a personal point of view regarding my own life and how decisions I made impacted my children in what appeared to be a negative way at the time.  Over time, I believe my children have come to deeply respect my choices because I made them based on my deepest held beliefs.  

They know I love them more than I love life itself.  They know I pray for them every single day.  They know I will use my voice to express what I believe.  They know I would never force my beliefs upon them because I trust in a great big Sovereign God for all matters of life and faith for those whom I love. They know that I believe in a God who never changes.  He never has changed.  He never will change.  Nothing catches Him by surprise.  He is the Beginning and the End.  I can trust Him for them.

The words of Jesus are often twisted and turned to support whatever beliefs many wish to be foisted on others.  I do not wish to do that.  If you read this entire piece of writing, I hope you will seek out Truth in an open and free way.  

I personally believe that Truth is only found in the Bible.  The truth of the Bible can only be understood by testing scripture against scripture as a complete and whole truth.  Parts and pieces can not be cut out and interpreted to explain some belief that does not line up with all of the other parts of the Bible.

I leave you with these words of Jesus that are found in Matthew 19:14:

Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me:
for of such is the kingdom of heaven. 
KJV

Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, 
for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.
ESV







Rebirth



After Christmas, the two red amaryllis blossoms that had sprung forth from a bulb planted in just stones and water, died back.
Those brilliant red blossoms that brought brilliant color to the drab days of winter eventually faded and began to die.
If I had known nothing about bulbs,
or if I had known nothing about amaryllis,
I would have assumed the spent looking appearance of what was left of blossoms meant the the plant’s day had come to an end,   
I then would have tossed the plant out.

Instead,
I cut the flower stalk back to about three inches above the bulb.
I then took it downstairs to a cool dark closet that seldom gets opened.
I thought I’d check on it again in the fall.


Mid-March, I was looking for something in that dark, unused closet.
Not wanting to knock over the glass container containing the rocks and the bulb, I looked to see exactly where it was hiding in the closet.

Imagine my surprise when I saw a new green stalk shooting out of the bulb.
On the end of stalk was a bud.

I brought it upstairs, 
gave it a big drink of water
 and 
waited to see what time and light
 would do for it.

Thankfully, I had not read the fact sheet stating that amaryllis planted in rocks and water without soil
would not re-bloom.
The photo below proves they will re-bloom.
There was a rebirth.

Now the Christmas plant has bloomed for Easter.

Last week, my daughter sent me a text with a photo of daffodils attached.
Daffodils are my favorite flower.
They are a beautiful symbol of hope and rebirth.
She had made an arrangement with the flowers that combined springtime objects that gave her sweet memories.
One item in the arrangement were the salt and pepper shakers that once belonged to our dear Julie.

This next week will be a hard one for us.
Easter is a mixed occasion of joy and grief for me.
The last time I saw Julie was on Easter of 2010.
On April 8, Julie would have turned 39 years old.
Julie
Easter 2010

If I knew nothing about life, and death, and about faith in a God in Whom I can trust,
I would have completely been undone when my daughter died.
Many, many years ago I came to faith in Jesus Christ.
I went down paths that led away from my belief,
But I did not remain on those misleading paths.
I returned to faith.
When I needed that faith in the most,
My need was met by Jesus, the one trusted as a young girl, with grace and continued healing.

Easter brings me joy and hope.
Tomorrow, I will raise my voice in joyful Hallelujahs of praise for the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I will join others around the world when it is announced 
He is Risen
By saying,
He is Risen Indeed.

A few day later, on what would have been Julie’s birthday,
I will remember Julie with these words penned by C.S. Lewis as an epitaph for his beloved Joy:

“Here the whole world (stars, water, air,
And field, and forest, as they were
Reflected in a single mind)
Like cast off clothes was left behind
In ashes, yet with hopes that she,
Re-born from holy poverty,
In lenten lands, hereafter may
Resume them on her Easter Day."

Have a blessed Easter.




A Remembrance ~ Reflections on the Passing of a Great Woman of Faith - Kara Tippetts

Last night, incredibly sad and unsettled after hearing of the death of Kara Tippets I picked up my journal to write through my jumbled thoughts and jarred emotions.  As I wrote, some clarity came to me about what I was feeling.  I'm sharing them here with you.

A Response to Feelings of Grief

At first, I felt I was just incredibly sad when I heard of Kara’s passing.  After all, I didn’t really know her; I’d only met her once.  I only knew her through her writing.  Despite this fact, I doubt if I’ve ever been as deeply moved by one’s writing as I have been by the words that flowed from Kara’s heart and soul onto the medium she first used which was her blog Mundane Faithfulness.  I bought her book, The Hardest Peace, and knew immediately I was reading the work of a dear saint, one born the same year as my daughter, one whom could speak to her generation and to mine with an authentic voice like one we seldom hear today.  Her voice, though representative a young woman from her generation, was also timeless.  When she “went home to be with Jesus after a long battle with breast cancer,” I was not shocked by her passing.  I knew it could come at any time.  Reading on Facebook that she had left us, I wanted to sit and feel the feelings and think the thoughts that I knew I would feel at her death, but I pressed on with my evening.  I read posts about her on Facebook.  I looked at her beautiful face on a picture that was posted.  I tried to read, then I finally picked up my journal and wrote.  

I know grief must be experienced for one to heal, but quite frankly, I didn’t want to grieve.  I didn’t want to go there.  I wrote in my journal, I have not completely allowed myself to feel the sorrow welling up inside because grief just doesn’t seem to be something I want to experience right now.  Grieving is hard work and it drains.  I’m already drained, so I’ll compose myself while my heart skips beats and bottle up my sorrow.  I’ll cry tomorrow - when I’m not so tired, so drained, when I can work grieving into that schedule that I don’t even have.  

Sometimes, grief is too hard, and sometimes we fear going to that place of feeling grief.  It can be very overwhelming.  Let’s face it.  I just didn’t want to go there.  Yet, I knew I need to feel a sense of acceptance about the passing of one I loved dearly and allow grief to do its work of healing in my heart and soul.
Why Was Kara So Loved by So Many?

She Was A Prodigal Saved by Grace

I, like thousands of others, loved Kara Tippetts.  She lived just blocks from my home, was a part of my church denomination, and I almost attended the church she and her husband were planting.  She was a very close friend of one of my dearest nieces.  When I wrote a blog post (Click to read the post) about Kara in January, I had over 11, 800 hits to my blog post in one day.  I was astounded by the numbers.  She literally had thousands of followers on her blog.

Kara & Cristy
Kara & Cristy at Kara's home, recent photo of Kara & Cristy, Cristy ministering to Kara by rubbing her feet with essential oils during chemotherapy to help prevent nausea.

I think that her readers loved Kara because her authenticity.  There was nothing opaque about Kara.  She was transparent in her brokenness, her struggle to find grace in the midst of her “hard.”  Her most cynical reader was wooed by her genuine acknowledgement that she endeavored to love the life she had with a grace that came from some source beyond Kara herself.  She drew the unbeliever in Christ or the one disappointed by life to her own dear heart which was owned by Jesus because she never preached or judged.  Instead, she pointed to the One that gave her the Grace to tell her story to whomever would read it.

I think Kara drew us because she was, like the rest of us, a prodigal.  She had once been very far from God.  She had been the flippant young teenager whom liked to party.  She drank, she used pot, she was rebellious.  She stood out in a crowd because of her stunning looks and personality.  I think there was always an authenticity to her even as a young rebellious teenager, and as a young believer in Christ.    When she heard about Jesus, she saw herself as she was: a sinner.  She turned and walked a new walk; one with Jesus pointing the way. She didn’t try to fit herself into some mold.  

She was humble.  She never tried to use good works to get to God.  No, not her.  She saw her sin and accepted God’s grace for it.  From then on, she sought grace with an expectant heart.  She was by her own words messy, broken, and in need of love and acceptance.  She found that in Jesus.  She never forgot her daily need for grace.

She Loved Life and Didn’t Want to Leave Her Loves

I can only imagine how Kara must have grieved over leaving Jason and her children and the work she and Jason had been called to do.  I think that is one reason I am so sad.  She wrote of how she loved just touching her feet against her husband’s feet while she was in bed.  She was young.  She should have had many more years of marital pleasure and companionship.  She was her husband’s perfect helpmate.  Why should he lose his vibrant, beautiful wife?

Then there is the matter of her littles - her loves, her four young children.  As I wrote this, I could not stop the tears.  My heart breaks for them.  As I thought about their loss, I want to shout the question, “Really, God?" 

We Are Not People of Despair
We Are People of Hope

As a Christian, I have questioned God before.  He can handle my questions, my doubts, my unbelief.  When my head has questions, I am grateful to know that deep in my soul, in my heart, in that place where God’s spirit speaks to mine, I have never doubted God and His Word.  I know beyond any shadow of doubt that my God is Sovereign. That belief has always given me comfort.  It has sustained me through everything I have experienced in my life.  My faith rests in a Sovereign God and His will for my life and for the lives of those I love.  

We, as Christians, are not a despairing people even as we look at the realities of life in this broken world in which we live, even when we lose a daughter to suicide, even when we lose a young mother to cancer.  We do not despair.  We are a people of hope.  We hope in the promises of God which were fulfilled in the Messiah, Jesus our Savior.  He is our Hope.  He is our Salvation.  When we come to Him knowing we are totally undone and lost without Him, He forgives our human failings and gives us love and acceptance.

Yesterday, in church, our pastor preached on the “grace of prayer.”  He said that most of us live our lives as practical atheists.  Sadly, he is right.  He made his point by saying, As Christians, many of us go through life as if we believed “Apart from God we can do most things,” rather than living a life that gives witness to our expressed belief that “Apart from God we can do nothing.”  

Kara, a prodigal saved by grace, lived her life fully demonstrating her belief in a Sovereign God upon Whom she was utterly dependent.  We loved her because she was faithful to trust in Jesus for the mundane.  Because of her faith, He in turn trusted her to do a mighty work in the lives of others. 
He broke her body and fed the multitudes with her words of praise for Jesus, the one that gave her grace in her brokenness.  Many were hungry for this message of hope, of grace, of peace, of trusting Jesus even in the hardest places of life.  Many tasted of the goodness of God while reading of the hard God was taking her through.  She wrote words that conveyed her life’s message:  Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:8 ESV)

Yesterday, on March 22, 2015, this dear one, Kara Tippetts, stepped out of this world and entered heaven.  I can just see her taking heaven by storm.  Her tears have already been wiped away by Jesus.  Her purpose on this life is complete, but she leaves such a great legacy of faith.  She has been claimed, her life redeemed, and she has been healed.  May it be so for all who loved her and took her words to heart.  May they also come to know the Jesus she loved.
Below, is a documentary trailer about her journey of faith. 

Most Inspirational Person for 2014 ~ Kara Tippetts


Kara Tippetts has inspired me all through 2014.  She is the author of the book, The Hardest Peace.  Her blog, Mundane Faithfulness, has grown in readership as she has chronicled her battle with cancer and her faith in God.  

In the midst of living, 
in the midst of seeking to live life well,
in the midst of seeking the grace to live a life that has purpose,
for many, 
circumstances and events come into life that threaten to be one's undoing.
Or, perhaps, when life seemed rather mundane,
when we might have even questioned if our lives even have a purpose,
we search for inspiration in books or inspirational speakers.
There is a reason that Rick Warren's book, A Purpose Driven Life has sold over fifty million copies.
Most of us want to believe that 
our stories, 
our lives, 
have purpose and meaning for ourselves, our children, our loved ones, our community. 

I can't speak for KaraTippetts, I can only tell you what I know about her.
At some point in time in the recent past, she began writing a blog called Mundane Faithfulness.
I really don't know when or why she started writing her blog, but I'm sure when she selected the title of her blog, she had no idea that readers of her blog would come to see her
 faithfulness as anything but mundane.

A Short Backstory

Kara and her family live a short distance from my home in Colorado Springs.  They came here when her husband Jason was called to be the pastor for a new church being planted in the area by my church, Village Seven Presbyterian, and the Presbyterian Church of America.  Not long after moving to Colorado Springs, Kara discovered she had breast cancer.  She made this discovery just shortly after she and her family had not only made a move to a new community, but also just after they had been evacuated from their new home by the Waldo Canyon Fire.  Thankfully, their home did not burn.  

I don't have access to her early blog writings about this time.  I think of how challenging those days must have been for her and for her family.  In her book, The Hardest Peace, she writes about this time by saying that she thought they would come to town with a plan of strength that would help them "build a small band of believers who would share Jesus with this community."  Instead, they found themselves broken by circumstances they never could have foreseen.  

I will not retell her entire story here.  I do encourage you to buy her book and read it.  You will read how she has not only won The Hardest Peace, but you will also learn how she truly has lived, as her book subtitle states, expecting grace in the midst of life's hard.  (Her book is available on Amazon.)

How I Became Acquainted with Kara

I started reading Kara's blog much as I would any other bloggers blog early in 2013.  My niece attends Kara's church, so she started sharing Kara's blog on Facebook.  I read with interest about a young mother's struggle with cancer.  My heart went out to her.  I began to think of her as a member of my church community.  In fact, I had considered attending the church her husband pastored before I started reading Kara's blog because it was closer to my home and a sister congregation to my own church.  

In May of 2013, hospitalized over Mother's Day with pancreatitis, I was visited by the pastoral care pastor from my church.  He is Kara's "dear Karl."  He has faithfully visited her as she has received chemotherapy and when she has had other medical procedures.  He has been by her side through much of her "hard."  He came up to see me after visiting with her.  Feeling quite sorry for myself, I had a change of heart as I talked with him and began to think about a mom with four "littles" going through chemotherapy to fight for her life, to have more time to be a mom, while I was just going through a bout with a non-life threatening illness.  Suddenly, her battle became more real to me.  I began to read her blog and to pray for her.

Immediately, I discovered that Kara was a great writer.   I began to relate to her even as I could not relate to her experience of cancer.  My experience was not unique.  Her voice has made her the best friend, the sister, or the daughter to readers all over the country.  She is loved, deeply loved by her readers.  She is prayed for thousands.  Her journey has been one many have traveled with her.

It doesn't seem like it was that long ago,  when on a Sunday morning in late fall 2014,  as I got out of my car to walk into church, I realized that the Tippetts family was walking just in front of me through the church parking lot.  When church services were over, I went up to speak with her and introduce myself as a faithful reader and aunt of one of her dear friends.  She was just as charming, intelligent, and lovely in person as I knew to be from reading her blog.  I thanked her for sharing her story.  I thanked her for building my faith.  She said, "I know you've had your "hard" also."  She seemed to know my story, and connected me with it.  Tears filled my eyes as she spoke these words.  I mentioned that I knew she would be shaving her head in just a very few days.  Wanting to speak words of comfort and supports, I said, "I guess I was surprised to learn that losing your hair is so hard for you," I said.  Immediately, it seemed so trivial to even say such a thing to her, one who was facing the loss of life with such grace, with such beauty, with such peace.  I wanted to take back my words as soon as I said them, but she assured me that being bald is not an easy thing to deal with. In an attempt to tell her that I understood what losing hair feels like, I quickly shared my journey of losing my own hair over the past few years.  She understood my pain.  Her words comforted me when I wanted to comfort her.  Instead, I found myself saying, "but I don't have cancer, I just have hair loss."  She did not minimize my experience with loss of hair.  Oh how I wished I had never said anything about losing my hair, but she has a disarming way of looking at you with her big blue eyes brimming over with life and empathy that caused me to spurt out a deep pain that I speak about with few.  

So often, I have wished I could have ministered to her as she has to me.  Once, deeply moved by one of her posts, I sent her a scripture verse that had become one that I would cling to after my daughter's death. "God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered for a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast."  I Peter 5:10  Even as I sent this verse to her via comments on her blog, I didn't see all that is in this verse.  God has kept her strong, firm and steadfast in her faith.  Not only that, He will restore her when she is in His presence.

Kara is in the care of hospice now.  Her fight with cancer is now done.  She is living the life she has left by continuing to give thanksgiving to God for all of His rich mercy and grace in her life.  Read her latest post here: "Sacrifice of Thanksgiving."  You will understand after reading her words why I have selected her as my most inspirational person for 2014.  You will see her beautiful smile, her beautiful spirit, and her beautiful family, and you will know why she is so loved.

On the last Sunday in December, in our small group at church, we were told that Kara would enter hospice care the next day.  As I prepared dinner that day,  I wondered when was the last time Kara had been able to cook for her family.  I gave thanks that I was healthy and able to cook a meal.  I gave thanks for a young woman named Kara because she had continually reminded me to live life more fully while I still have it.  

What have I learned from Kara?  
Why is she an inspiration?

I've learned to expect grace to show up even during the hardest seasons of life.
I knew this.
I've experienced this.
Kara has reinforced this belief. 
 
I've witnessed the beautiful sanctification of a soul.
This has taken place as a young woman's body has walked through unimaginable pain and suffering.

I've learned to accept more fully that God is the true author of our story.
I've learned that trusting the outcome of that story to Him would be impossible without 
His mercy and grace.

I've seen the truth of this quote that she used in her book lived out in her life:
Give me the courage to stand the pain to get the grace.
~Flannery O'Connor A Prayer Journel

I've learned that fear is the opposite of trust.
I know she has felt fear.
I also know that she has exchanged the fear for trust.

I have been inspired by the vibrancy of her faith and her life.
Just this week, weakened and dying, she had a photo shoot with her family so she could have their last days captured forever on film.
I was again struck by her beauty, her smile, her blue intelligent, and full of life eyes.
I thought to myself, even the camera loves Kara.

I will be heartbroken when Kara leaves us to go home to Jesus.
I will also rejoice that she will be with Him, the lover of her soul.

On January 1, I read the morning devotional in Charles Spurgeon's Morning and Evening.
His words reminded me of Kara's journey.
He spoke of the Israel's wandering in the wilderness and how they longed to be in the land which flowed with milk and honey.
He spoke of crossing over the Jordan which causes the unbeliever to shudder.
He then spoke of what this is like for the believer.
To be with Jesus in the rest which remains for the people of God is a cheering hope indeed, and to expect this glory so soon is double bliss.
...let us rest assured that we have already experienced more ills than death at its worst can cause us.
Let us banish every fearful thought, and rejoice with exceeding great joy, in the prospect that this year we shall begin to be "forever with the Lord."

Truly, I have witnessed the ills that many have suffered in this life.
I have witnessed how Kara has met these ills with faith and trust.
She did not set out to be followed by thousands on her blog.
She did not set out to write a book.
She set out to be faithful in the mundane parts of life as she raised her beautiful children and loved her wonderful, kind, and loving Jason.
She did not set out to inspire and be loved by throngs.
She did not try to put into practice ways of living a purpose driven life.
She simply believed a Sovereign God and took Him at His Word.
She sought His grace knowing full well that she could not earn His grace;
knowing full well that He alone is the giver of His grace.

Then, she shared her story, one of God working out His grace in her life.

I love you Kara.
Thank you for sharing your life with us.

You will remain in my prayers until you go home.
Your children and your Jason will always remain in my prayers.
God speed.




Unpredictable Seasons

In life
much is unknown.
I once thought I would navigate only smooth waters through life.
Now, why would a mountain girl think that she would sail through life?
I know nothing about the water.
I didn't grow up around it.

I know the mountains.
I know the seasons in Colorado.
I know that mountains can be tough to scale.
 I know that at any time a storm can blow in over the mountain bringing rain, sleet, and snow,
all in one day,
no matter what date is on the calendar.

Pikes Peak from Garden of the Gods
April 21, 2013

Early in my life, before I went to school, I would step outside to look at my beloved mountain,
this very mountain, Pikes Peak, that lived at the end of my street,
to see if I needed to wear a coat to school.
Silly me.
In the morning, I might have seen blue skies behind this peak,
and so I skipped off to school without a coat.
By afternoon, I walked home shivering in the snow I had not seen coming.

Living in the mountains makes you tough.
The air is rarified.
There is not as much of it up here in my neighborhood.
Living in the mountains has taught me that one is not in control of the seasons.

This season of my life has not been an easy one.
Certainly, I never could have expected that when I turned 65,
Celebrating my 65th Birthday
a day I had long looked forward to, (that was because I would no longer have to COBRA my insurance.), that my life would turn upside down just three months later when I lost my dear daughter.

Since that time,
I've needed all the lessons I ever learned in life to take me through this season of grief.
I've learned that grief, like the weather, is very unpredictable.
I've learned that it can make you question everything you ever believed about
life,
faith,
hope,
love,
and
God.

I've learned that you find out who your friends are.
And, I've found out that I have many.
From my friends, the true ones, the ones who have prayed for me,
walked with me, cried with me, and laughed with me,
I've learned what true
compassion,
kindness,
sympathy,
and mercy look like.

I've experienced the grace of God in ways I could never have known if I had not suffered such great loss.

Loss has taught me that
life is precious
and I hope to live it victoriously.

Loss has taught me that faith is the only thing that gets me through the day,
and the only way I will live victoriously is by faith.

I've learned that while there is life, there is hope, but mostly, I learned that
as Rick Warren recently Tweeted,
Optimism is psychological.
Hope is theological.

I've learned that love means a whole lot more than I ever thought it did.
I've learned that I love my children, all of them, more than life itself.

Keicha, Jon, Julie, Mom, Amy, Ryan
Jim's Retirement 2007
I've learned that I never would have made it through these last three years without the love of one person.  That person is the man I married.
He has carried me through it all.


The love of my life

This journey has take a toll on my dear husband,
but he is faithful,
and kind,
and loving.
Thankfully, he has his best friend, the other one besides me,
to one who never asks for anything,
the one who never gets bogged down by grief, loss, sadness, or illness,
to comfort him and bring a smile to his face.

Jim & Boston
His buddy and best friend
And so, in this season of life,
the one we thought would be filled with retirement dreams,
my dear husband and I are experiencing day by day struggles with illness, pain, all those other physical side effects of aging.

The seasons of life are unpredictable.
That is certain.
Since one can never really predict the weather, or the aches and pains of aging,
on good days,
we take off to enjoy the beauty of nature around us.

Jim & Boston walking in the Garden of the Gods

The skies are sometimes threatening, and cloudy, but that does not keep us home.
We are blessed to have such great beauty just several miles from our home.
We've learned that you can't wait for the perfect season, or the perfect day, one must enjoy each day as it comes and give thanks for it.

As a native born mountain girl,
I am taking the lessons I've learned about the seasons to heart.
Spring does not always come when the calendar says it should.
On the 30th of April, we had blue skies, and warm sunny weather for our walk in the neighborhood.


On May 1, I ventured out on the deck to take a photo of our bird bath covered in snow.

One just never knows what to expect from one day to the next with the weather in Colorado!

I am optimistic about the weather.  That is a psychological term that I am applying to the coming days.
I know we will soon have blue skies, and sunny, warm days.

I have hope for the future.
I know I can't predict the future any more than I can predict the weather.
But I have hope.
I have hope because I know who holds my future.
He is the very same One who has held me through all the seasons of my life. 



April ~ The Cruelest Month?

Spring





To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
April
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

Keukenhof
May 2010

*****

I've long since quit trying to analyze poetry for a paper that must be written for a college course.  Now, I try to enjoy poetry for its own sake without digging too deeply.  Yet, I must ponder why this poem speaks to me as it does.  Is it the whole of the poem, or just parts that reach the deepest parts of the sadness I have experienced this month?

I think the beginning two lines speak the loudest to me.  Spring with its evidence of new life, re-birth, the cyclic nature of life has always been comforting to me.  The first sight of my beloved favorite flower, the daffodil, has always filled me with joy.  

Did I lose my innocence about life last spring?  Do those happy, sunny jonquils now mock me rather than lift my spirits?  Or, must I dig deeper in my soul to find comfort that no longer finds joy just by seeing the early blooming of those bulbs planted with such hope last fall?  

The poet is right.  Beauty is not enough.  April, for what purpose have you returned again?  

Julie In Ireland
Your coming has brought new grief to a heart that was healing.  It reminds me of how much I have lost.  It reminds me of that sunny little girl who was born on a beautiful day in April.  It reminds me that the last time I saw her was as year ago in April.  I associate her with daffodils.  They were blooming when she was born.  I had them carved into her headstone.  


Life brings its disappointments, its failures.  Life brings grief, and for some, it brings unspeakable heartbreak.  

The poet makes a statement, and then she asks a question:

It is apparent that there is no death.
What does that signify?

For me, the answer is: in this life, beauty is not enough.  Faith is.  

Between a Rock and A Hard Place

I grew up enjoying many family picnics, hikes, and Sunday afternoon drives in the Garden of Gods.  It remains one of my favorite spots on earth.  It has always been a favorite family destination.  Thankfully, back in 1908, the area was deeded to the City of Colorado Springs "where it shall remain free to the public, where no intoxicating liquors shall be manufactured, sold, or dispensed, where no building or structure shall be erected except those necessary to properly care for, protect, and maintain the area as a public park."


In the early 80's, after living in Utah for many years, I returned to Colorado Springs as a newly divorced single mom.  It was not an easy time in my life for many reasons.  I did not have an education and could not find a job that would pay a wage I could live on.  I had been through a devastating custody battle that split my family of five children down the middle.  The two older children remained with their father in Utah, while the three younger children and I lived in Colorado Springs.  


I was surrounded by many loving family members and friends who supported me emotionally, and spiritually during this difficult time.  Money was very tight, but there were a few things that the children and I could do that always seemed to make the time we had together special.  One of those things that always was hit was visiting the Garden of the Gods on a Sunday afternoon.  The kids loved scampering around on the paths through the rocks.  


On one of our visits, I recall that I was feeling especially down.  I felt helpless, and I seriously wondered if life was ever going to get a little bit easier.  In need of some time of solitude, I walked through a part of the park that I could recall from childhood.  I remembered walking down this same path on a Girl Scout outing many years before.  Lost in thought about happier times in the park, I happened to look at these beautiful red sandstone outcroppings jutting heavenward.


I was alone as I stood in front of this interesting formation.  I thought to myself, "I feel like I am between those two rocks.  Yes, I really feel like I am between a rock and a hard place."  


My eyes did not seem to be able to remain on the enclosed area.  Instead, I found myself looking heavenward where the formation seemed to be pointing.  Suddenly, the words to a hymn filled my mind and soul.  "Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me."  Yes, here it was: the cleft in the rock.  A visual representation of that place of protection, providence, and safely replaced the old image of being trapped with no way out.  I was filled with comfort, hope and much peace.  


My life did get better - much better.  I was able to get not just one college degree; I ended up earning three.  I married a prince of guy who treats me like a queen.  I worked in a rewarding and fulfilling profession.  My children have made wonderful lives for themselves.  I have seven wonderful grandchildren.  


This past year, as a family, we have been through more trials than we ever hope to see again.  I lost my beloved daughter.  All of us are learning to live without Julie's beautiful smile and great personality.  We are going  through much pain due the breakup of a marriage.  I know that at times, I have felt like I was revisiting that metaphoric place of being between two hard places, but truthfully, I have been reminded over and over that the "cleft in the rock" is the safest place to be.  Many times all I can say is, "helpless, I look to thee for grace."  I hide myself in Him.