Friday, October 24, 2014

Dreams Interrupted

I look up the word interrupt and find definitions like these: made discontinuous, followed not by the expected, stop the continuous progress, break the continuity. The word clearly evokes a detour from what is expected.

My God-sized dreams have been interrupted . . . by more than I could have imagined and all at once. It’s the kind of stuff that makes me think I’m going to wake up in the morning and say, “You wouldn’t believe what I dreamed last night!”

But this interruption is clearly not a dream. It’s reality full on. She came blasting in with a blow horn and just when I think I’ve got her and all her chaotic circumstances rassled to the floor, she pulls an expert move and I’m pinned again.

I’m running out of steam in this match and wondering if maybe "crying uncle" is my best defense.

Join me at God-sized Dreams for the rest of this post and some God-sized encouragement for you and your dreams!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Letters from the Valley

We live on a mountain between two valleys. The trees on the east side of the mountain are cleared just enough to give us a view of the valley east all the way across to the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s gorgeous. But the valley on the west side can only be partially seen when all of the leaves die and fall from the trees. Then we can see the sunset.

As I walk this new path after my mom’s recent death, I’m struck how the “valley of the shadow of death” seems to be on both sides of the mountain. It’s the mountain that casts the shadow. The mountain is death.

I’d always imagined approaching the mountain from the valley would be the most daunting. Death is unnatural and frightful. The surprising thing was how in the middle of the fear and sadness, I had so much peace and even joy at times. God was with me, and I wasn’t afraid of the shadow.

Now I am on the other side of Mom’s death, and there’s another shadow as I journey away from death and through another valley. Life without my mom is foreign. Some days it is daunting. The shadow of grief can be so dark. 

But I will fear no evil, because my God is with me.

I’ve been thinking about my blog and how it is mostly just about my life, joys and trials, and sharing it with you in the hope that you might be encouraged or maybe feel less alone.

A favorite line of mine is from the movie Shadowlands when a student of C.S. Lewis tells him "We read to know we are not alone." I love that! It's so true. With every major life event, I have scoured my bookshelves, the Internet, and bookstores to find someone who has been here before and who can offer me some wisdom for the road.

And that's why I write . . so others might read and know they too aren't alone.

Why “Letters from the Valley"? Because that is where I am. This unexpected season has fallen like a spring snowstorm. I'm realizing day by day that I don't get to say when this season ends. And honestly, it's not near as morbid as it sounds. It's not morbid at all. It's unlike anything I've ever known. It's deep and confusing sorrow right in the middle and in between laughter and life. It's heavy enough to make me want to stay in bed forever some mornings and other days it seems like it's gone. Until it returns, unexpectedly and knocks me on my butt and into a puddle of tears. It's grief.

I know many won't be interested in this series, and that's fine. A year ago, before Mom's cancer diagnosis, I wouldn't have been interested either. After her diagnosis, I might have been willing to peek in once in awhile as I was gradually accepting the reality of life with the possibility of death impending. A month ago, I would have read every word as we brought my mom home for hospice care before she died four days later.

This valley journey is one I didn't plan, but it's one I'm willing to share. I hope some of you who are farther along this road might share your experience and wisdom (you can comment here or on Facebook or email me at If you're just starting this journey, I hope you're comforted by not going it alone. And if you're wise and brave and willing to acknowledge that it's a path we will all inevitably walk, I pray somehow sharing my story will equip you when the time comes for you to walk this valley.

So I’ll be writing off and on about this journey for awhile. It’s fitting really, the autumn is bringing death all around us. The oddest thing is how surprisingly beautiful it can be.

Did you know Winsome Woman is on Facebook? I'd love for you to join me there. I want to hear your thoughts . . . let's talk!

Monday, September 22, 2014


The origami bird Sam made and taped to Mom's coffin. She loved to watch the birds at her feeder.

Today I will . . .

Walk slow

Breathe deep

Look into the eyes of all I see




Smile easy

I will talk back to my to-do list and live this day with intention not compulsion.

I will "Act out of passion, not fear."

I will be mindful of my and my family's loss and not resume life as normal. No matter how loud it yells.

May I never resume even a single day as normal. As Mom liked to say, "Normal is just a setting on your dryer."

This day is my life. And it is anything but normal.

May I receive, cherish and live this day well.

And do it all over again tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Tribute to My Mom

Nana Varee Juarbe . . . Mom
Began her journey ~ May 2, 1949
Danced into Heaven ~ September 10, 2014

I shared this at my mom's memorial service last Saturday. It was hard to know what to say. As if a few words could capture all that's in my heart for my mother. I suppose I will be paying tribute to her as long as I have words. But for now . . .

There are times when I am at a loss for words. Today is not one of those times. Today I have more words than I can number overflowing from a heart of gratitude and memories. Memories from before my time captured in some of the photos of Mom that were shared this afternoon, all the way through this morning when Jeff and I walked along the beach right beside the spot where we sat with Mom less than three weeks ago. 

And there aren’t enough words or time to express the deep love I have experienced from the hand of God through literally hundreds of people.

This is my mom’s last gift to me. People.

Mom loved people with abandon. So many people. Sometimes I thought TOO many people. There were no strangers with my mom and many times when we were out in public I quietly wished to myself that we could just be anonymous. Did she really have to talk to everyone like they were a dear friend? And whenever we talked she would speak of people that had no faces in my mind as if they were a family relative I just hadn’t had the chance to meet yet.

Over the last week, I have met many of Mom’s people. And you have overwhelmed me and my family with your love. In the absence of being able to communicate with my mom, you have held and comforted my heart with your kindness. And in a wonderful, mysterious way I have felt my dear mother’s love through you. A line in one of my favorite songs says, “Life with you is half as hard and twice as good.” Because of you, the pain and heartache that came with the last week of Mom’s life were half as hard and the joy and laughter and beauty twice as good. Thank you for living it with me.

On Mom’s last night, I prayed “God, please take her. Why is she still here?" The wait and struggle seemed pointless. 

God spoke to my heart and said, "It’s not just about her. It’s about every life she continues to touch from her dying bed through prayers, and visits, and Facebook messages. It’s about you and every song of worship you sing with your family surrounding her. It’s about all the work I am doing through her to continue to touch lives, and I will take her when her work is done here.

Death is hideous. And as we walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death with Mom, I longed for the day when we could mock death and say, “Where is your sting? Where is your victory?” Mom led us to the threshold of Heaven in her last hours, and we waited there with her in that painful, beautiful, sacred, holy place. And I learned the Gospel. 

This morning I read the story of Lazarus. When Jesus came to Lazarus’ tomb, He wept. And some saw Him weeping and said “Look how much He loved him.” But others questioned. They asked if Jesus could make a blind man see, why didn’t He keep Lazarus from dying. They wanted a miracle.

I have been both those people. I know some of you have too. I felt God’s presence at Mom’s side and knew how much He loved her. Yet He has the power to heal and still does. So why didn’t He heal Mom? Why did she die?

Jesus’ response to both groups of people was this:

He went to the tomb and told them to take away the stone. And He said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” Then He lifted up His eyes and gave thanks. And cried out with a loud voice saying, “Lazarus, come out!”

And Lazarus was resurrected from the dead. They got their miracle.

As Mom took her last breath, she crossed the threshold from this life to eternity. If you prayed a prayer for my mom, you got your miracle too. Mom is not dead. He resurrected her . . . just like Lazarus, and she is alive with Jesus in Heaven.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 

The day I longed for has come . . . Death, where is your sting? Grave, where is your victory?

Thank you God. Thank you, Mom’s people. Thank you, Mom. I love you.

Monday, September 15, 2014

When Your Dream Feels Broken

It was one of those slow-motion moments. I hurried through the kitchen, setting my empty mug on the counter as I walked. My fingers didn’t let go quite fast enough, and I felt the mug slide toward the edge.
“Nooooooo!” (Insert mental image of crazed woman moving in slow motion trying to rescue her favorite coffee mug.)
Crash! The mug lay in shards on the ground. Not the kind that fit neatly back together with glue and patience. Nope. Think splinters, dust, say goodbye, and “where’s the dustpan?” kind of shards.

Please join me over at God-sized Dreams to read the rest of this post!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I'm a Half Puerto-Rican Girl from Virginia (hah!) and I'm "going there" Too!

In light of this tragedy-filled and sorrow-full week, I am hesitant to post this for fear of sounding flippant or just not sober enough. But fear silences, and I believe silence is complicity. These are conversations that need to happen. And keep happening. So I'm humbly offering my voice. Please talk back.

My friend Deidra is a brave woman. In her own quiet, chill, and kind way, she's starting a movement of knee-knocking, Jesus-loving, hand-holding, diversity-embracing, hard-conversation-having, grace-like-a-river-giving women who are going there and committing to see unity become reality in the church of Jesus Christ.

And I figured it’s time I join them. 

I’ve been going there in my head for years. I’ve even lived there. In fact, I’m the fruit of there. You see, my fair, Pennsylvania-country-girl mom and my dark, handsome, Brooklyn bred-Puerto Rican dad went there forty-seven years ago.

You wouldn’t know it to look at me. My own son is probably the biggest evidence of being from there. With his dark skin, full lips, and brown eyes, he hints the most at my Puerto Rican heritage.

The thing is, there has been a part of me for so long I hardly realized it was a place. As I’ve read and been a part of discussions about ethnic diversity over the last year, I realize what a gift I was given to have been brought up in a multi-ethnic home. 

Mami & Papi (Dad's parents), Mom, my sister and me

My Hazard, Kentucky-country great grandparents (Mom's grands) and us

I was exposed to a different language and heritage from day one. My memories of family gatherings with my aunts’ families, grandparents and extended relatives are rich, loud, full of food and words I didn’t understand.

In some ways my perspective feels naive. Confused. There is just a place that’s a part of me, and I find it hard to "get it.” Kind of like, "What’s the big deal?" 

Of course, I’m not ignorant of prejudice and racism and its ugly stories. My father has a few stories of his own. The biggest is the one where my mom and dad eloped because her father was so prejudiced against Hispanics. My mom's family didn’t even need to meet "the Puerto Rican” who had stolen their country daughter’s heart. 

My dad. Looks threatening, huh?

It wasn’t until I was born that painful prejudices were laid aside and love for new life made a way for acceptance. I like to think I was part of that reconciliation, in my own baby-kinda way.

Me and the Puerto-Rican, aka Dad.

As I’ve contemplated my own experience and desire to really do my part in reconciliation (other than being born), the thing that stands out to me the most is embracing diversity. Creating it even. Contrived? I don’t think so. Intentional? You bet! When something’s broken, it takes an intentional effort to fix it.

I can’t claim any virtue in my mostly positive and accepting attitude toward other ethnicities. It came naturally because it was part of my experience, and any prejudice I’ve ever felt was toward those I was unfamiliar with. 

Human nature tends toward what’s comfortable. In the absence of exposure and experience, segregated relationships begin to make sense.

I see this in my own children. My older three experienced a lot more of the Puerto Rican side of their heritage. When my grandparents passed away ten years ago, the family visits lessened. My youngest has never been in a roomful of loud, boisterous Puerto Rican relatives.

We also moved from the metropolitan DC area to the Shenandoah Valley and its country life four years ago. Our oldest two boys were the minority in their school of African Americans and Asians. Now on most days, my younger three boys don’t see people who aren’t white like them.

This has undeniably influenced their attitudes. And it makes me realize that what was a natural part of life and experience before, now has to be intentionally facilitated. 


So when you’re a “white” woman, talking about things like diversity and racism can be a scary premise. It’s times like these when I wish my half-Puerto-Rican-ness was a little more evident. Honestly, I’d feel more legitimate if my skin tone was darker like my dad’s. (Is that okay to say?)

I haven’t been the victim of prejudice. I don’t know what it feels like to be discriminated against because of the color of my skin. 

But I have known hate. I have been the victim of mean girls. It wasn’t my skin, but it was my glasses and big feet and whatever else provided fodder for the day. I’ve known the pain of rejection and ridicule from my peers for things I couldn’t change.

And I've known the power and healing of acceptance, affirmation, and friendship. I believe those are the starting points for this incredible journey.

Going there promises to be messy. I don't care for mess, and I’m afraid of hurting someone. Of saying something that is offensive. Of sticking my foot in my mouth or worse unintentionally sticking my finger in someone’s eye. 

But unity is worth any amount of embarrassment, misunderstanding, or “I’m sorry”s that I might have to offer.

Messy is okay because of grace. And a unified body of Christ will make our Father smile so big.

So let’s go!

I'm joining these brave women and friends who are "going there" and facilitating the conversation . . . Alia, Jennifer, Lisa-Jo, Crystal, & Kate. Their perspectives are well worth the read.

And Alia posted this yesterday: Kingdom Come. It's one of the wisest responses I've read yet in the mess of this week. Her post captures the heart of God. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Public, Private or Home School? How Moms Can Support Each Other Regardless

As families across the United States and around the globe say goodbye to the easy-living days of summer and hello to a new school year, there are many tasks we have in common; acquiring new school supplies, new schedules, even new shoes top the list! But with the increasing availability of schooling options, the traditional school-day preparations of years gone by are becoming more and more diverse. Depending on whether your children attend public, private, or home school, a mother’s “to-do” list this time of year may look very different from that of her neighbors and friends.

The choices before us when it comes to raising our children are unprecedented, and that can be both a blessing and a curse.

Join me and the community at Circles of Faith today to read the rest of the post and join in the conversation!