Family


Yesterday was my hubby’s birthday. His day. His choice of how he wanted to spend it. He decided he wanted to go on a long motorcycle ride together. It was a beautiful Colorado day so it sounded good to me.

It’s amazing how much thinking you can get in on the back of a motorcycle all day. There were no distractions, just the gentle breeze of the warm air as I leaned back and held on. No music was piped into my helmet and there was no way for me to constantly check my cell phone. At first I just took a deep breath and allowed myself to take in the beauty that surrounded me in the canyon as we headed to the hills. But then I found myself recounting the last few months. The ministry and life ups and downs reminded me of the constant curves we were encountering on the road.

May began with a trip to California to join dozens of other friends and co-laborers for the Youth Ministry Executive Council. The event didn’t disappoint. It was filled with great connections and fellowship. It inspired and refreshed me. Then, two days later I found out that a friend that I just shared a meal with there, Rebecca Long, had died in a tragic accident. She was 32 years old. What in the world? I still think about Rebecca a lot, praying for her family almost daily. I can’t even fathom their pain.

Next stop in May was a trip to Daytona Beach, FL to train trainers for the Assemblies of God. After years of talking about partnership and building a strong relational foundation, the dream of training trainers with D2S content to energize and equip exponentially was finally here. It went even better than expected and paved the way for a much needed week of vacation with my hubby. Still reflecting on Rebecca’s death, Rick and I headed out to sea.

June and July brought even more partnership “high’s” as we collaborated with Sonlife on their Muve events in Chicago and Portland and announced a full training partnership that includes multiple levels of cooperation in order to accelerate the vision for 30,000 Gospel Advancing Ministries by 2025. But right on the heels of that, I received news that my aunt has stage 4 bone cancer. Another hairpin curve. Does she know Jesus as her personal Savior? Will God provide a way for her to hear His redeeming message of hope through His Son? Am I to be the messenger that she needs? I find myself praying through these questions, waiting for His Spirit to lead me to answers.

Our own Lead THE Cause University went into its third year this summer with a brand new program, the addition of Core Trainers, and a soft launch to the youth leaders in attendance of the values of Gospel Advancing Ministries. It went great! There were a lot of moving parts, but I can honestly say all of the hard work paid off! Yet, there was one looming black cloud that kept that experience from being picture perfect. One of our hand-picked, solid, in-the-trenches-getting-it-done youth leaders fell morally. When the news came it hit me like a sucker punch to the stomach. The wind still escapes me as I think about it and it eventually leads to a knot in my gut that makes me want to wrench, but then I remember that God is in control of ALL things and He doesn’t need my help.

I just returned from Columbus last week. It was a real blessing to see the folks we trained in May (affectionately known as “YAM’s” – Youth Alive Missionaries), training students to share their faith. Even more fun was experiencing the hunger for evangelism that is was so apparent in the 9,000+ students and youth leaders there. Many of the AG practices are well outside my comfort zone, but I still felt like I was truly among family. Then this morning, right before we left for our ride, I received a disappointing email. Another curve. I’d been working pretty hard on something that didn’t work out. At first it throws me off. But as I climb on the back of the bike and take a deep breath, I realize that this too, is just another curve.

It was a great day and I enjoyed the birthday ride with my hubby. I am so thankful for our strong marriage. Today, my son turns 30 years old! Yes, I have a lot to be thankful for even in the midst of the twists and turns!

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Jack is my nephew. He is the 14-year-old son of my youngest brother, Darin. He’ just about as tall as I am and has beautiful red hair. I remember rocking him in the backyard swing of my parent’s mountain home when he was a baby, singing softly to him to settle his crying when nothing else seemed to help. It was then that I knew something was wrong. My brother and his wife did everything they could to figure it out until finally he was diagnosed. Jack is autistic.

Although Jack cannot communicate verbally, it’s easy to tell when something makes him happy. He loves music and dancing and things that light up. Over the years I have enjoyed watching him grow and develop, in spite of the autism. Spending time with him reminds me that life is precious and helps me remember that simple things can bring joy.

Last February my brother made the 3-hour trek from Steamboat Springs to Loveland with Jack and his daughter Alex (then 15) to attend the Dare 2 Share conference. Both of us were uncertain of how Jack would respond to the large event and were concerned that the large event with thousands of teenagers would be too much for him. But, as Jack often does, he surprised us. Not only did he do okay, he seemed to be attentively listening to each and every word – for the entire two days! At to our amazement, he began to worship. Even though he had never even attended church before, Jack read the words on the screen and caught on quick to the melody, singing to the best of his ability. It moved me in ways I will never forget. Darin and I began to wonder if God had drawn Jack to Him. We had no way of knowing for sure.

It’s now a year later and Darin once again brought both teens to the Dare 2 Share conference, this time held in downtown Denver. One year older, Jack once again soaked up everything happening on stage. But then something happened during the prayer meeting finale Saturday night that blew all of us away. As the entire arena of 3,000 went down to their knees to pray to their God, Jack was right there with them. And this young man who can barely utter a please, thank you, or hello, proceeded to pray to His God for his mother and to “ask forgiveness for his memories.” As Darin and Alex overheard him praying they raised their heads and looked up startlingly at each other. Was Jack forming sentences? Was Jack talking with ease to God? Yes!

The next thing I knew Darin was pulling me into the aisle to tell me what was happening. We sat on the stairs and held each other and wept. Jack and the family had been through so much the last few weeks. As I gained some composure I turned my head to look down the aisle at Jack. There he was still head bowed, eyes closed, hands together, praying out loud to the Heavenly Father.

As we closed the prayer time with the song “The Great I Am”, Jack was as passionate as any other worshipper – it was obvious that he and The Great I Am had just had a connection. What an amazing God!

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Maybe you saw the movie. Or maybe you have seen the latest trend about this on Facebook. Whatever the case, this is more than just a cool phrase. It’s a way to express Christ’s love and be blessed at the same time. Yes, paying it forward isn’t just about the person you are blessing at the moment, it’s also about YOU. Let me explain…

Let’s face it, life is busy. It’s a day in and day out journey without a whole lot of “stop and smell the roses” moments. And even if you are lucky enough to get some margin for a pause, how quickly does the brain snap back to your to-do list?

Me? I feel like I could get an award for this lifestyle choice at times. I’m an activator, a doer, a “suck-it-up-and-get-it-done” type gal. Sometimes I even feel guilty if I’m not multi-tasking. I know, sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? I know I need to change. At the depths of my heart I realize that I need to pay attention to what is going on around me and not be so consumed with my own agenda. So when I see examples of others “paying it forward” it jolts me out of my obsession for activity and checkmarks and reminds me that there are people out there waiting for some love.

In early January I had a one day trip scheduled to Springfield, MO for some very important meetings. You remember the crazy weather across the country at that time that was causing all sorts of havoc for air travel. Well, this “quick” trip quickly spiraled out of control and I found myself alone in the small, isolated Springfield airport after Midnight. The hotel shuttle wasn’t running because of the sub-zero temperatures and the only taxi company had just a few cars running. They were grumpy and backlogged and could only promise another 45 minute wait. That’s when I met David. He was on the same flight as me and needed a taxi too. We commiserated and ended up walking the airport (short walk) looking for options together. Nothing. So, we decided to wait. As we were talking an older looking gentleman approached us and asked if we were waiting on a taxi. It seemed like this guy just came out of nowhere. He told us he had a cab coming in just a few minutes and offered to share it with both of us. As we stood and waited together I found out that he was a doctor for at-risk babies. We had an interesting few minutes all sharing about what we did for a living before the taxi showed up. Dr. Jeffrey quickly explained to the taxi driver that I needed to be dropped off first because “I had important work to do.” Apparently he had resonated with my explanation of the ministry I was involved and wanted to take care of me. Wow! When we pulled up to my hotel, Dr. Jeffrey immediately told me to not worry about the fare and to just pray for him and David. What a blessing! Of course I would be honored to pray for both of them. We exchanged cards and I was on my way. In my room that night (morning) I thanked God for these men. It’s been about six weeks since I met them and I am still praying for them consistently.

A major example of living a “pay it forward” life is my husband. He’s the strong, silent type but don’t let that fool you. Underneath that tough guy exterior is a man who is well aware of the hurting around him and he quietly will be looking for ways to bless and serve. Any recognition for these small gestures and he quickly fades into the background. You get the impression that he just wants a subtle acknowledgement and then hopes that others will do the same. For instance, just the other day he noticed a senior eating breakfast all alone at our favorite restaurant. He called our waiter over and told him to get us his bill but not to let him know who was taking care of it. I’ve seen him do this many times, so I wasn’t surprised at all. It’s one of the things I admire about him and, like I said, it provokes me to think about paying more attention to things outside my own “world.” Normally this is handled quietly and there isn’t much hoopla. But not this time. The wait staff, most of which we know by name, were so impressed they kept coming by and commenting about it to Rick. This made him incredibly uncomfortable but it made me think about how this one small act was also affecting all of them. Not only was this man blessed, but the dozen or so staff there that day were blessed and so was I.

If you think about it, do something for someone around you who needs a hand. And if you can, do it when no one is watching.

It started with a scurry of activity and stress. Bundled with the typical seasonal obligations were the remnants of a trying time in ministry early in the month. But ready or not, I headed in. Committed to making this Bresina Christmas Eve more memorable and family-focused than last year’s “quick and dirty dinner out,” I took a full day off in advance to ensure I could host a bash. It was the first day of my 14-day out-of-office stint, and I had a list of to-do’s.

Along with the to-do list was a couple of healthy (albeit difficult) commitment objectives I set for myself for this short-term sabbatical:

  • Focus on relationships (especially the ones that had suffered the most from the intensity of the past few months).
  • Rest.
  • Create some space to get “my head straight”.
  • Don’t work! (D2S stuff that is…)

Christmas Eve was a hit and everyone invited save one came and partook of the annual Bresina stinky (but delicious I am told) Oyster Stew. We didn’t get any extended family talked into joining us for candlelight worship services in Brighton at 11 pm, but I just don’t think our family is up to staying up that late. I will have to work out something different for next year. Christmas came and went and was filled with great food and fellowship and thankful hearts.

Remarkably, I came close to finishing the list and with one major exception, feel pretty good about keeping my commitment objectives. It took me a full week, but I finally began to relax. I spent almost an entire day unplugged and with the Lord. I had some great coffee times complemented by outstanding conversation. I saw three movies and went shopping with 8-year-olds for hermit crabs. The craft room is organized and I can see the top of my desk in our home office. I spent an afternoon painting platters with my closest confidant. I loved on my hubby, my son, my mom and dad, and many others. It was awesome!

But sadly, it’s now over. It’s time to hit 2010 head-on and accomplish His purpose for His glory! My desire this year is to continually be in prayer and to draw closer to my Savior. I want to rest in Him and allow Him to be the true authority in my life. As I head into the new year, these are the things I want to put first:

  • Making my relationship with Jesus my top priority.
  • Taking care of myself (sleep, exercise, eating right).
  • Pray without ceasing.
  • Love — purely, sincerely, honestly.
  • Model what I ask of others.

Here we go!

Yesterday my family came together to say goodbye to our beloved Granny. But instead of a traditional memorial service, Granny specifically requested a picnic in the park. She took the time to write down the details of this day before she left us. A casual gathering, a couple of songs, the release of helium-filled red balloons. I’m not sure why she wanted to be remembered this way, I never talked to her about it. But my guess would be that she didn’t want a big fuss, she just wanted everyone together and for everyone to get along with each other.

Granny treasured times with family. I remember her being the happiest when she was with the whole crew. Even in her later years, she seemed to enjoy watching the little ones running around playing just as much as being involved in the adult conversation. When I was younger her Christmas Eve party was something I looked forward to all year. She would rent a big clubhouse so there would be room for all the cousins. Santa would personally deliver our gifts and there was an endless supply of food.

I still can’t believe she’s gone. For some reason, I really expected her to outlive me. Up until the past couple of years, she was extremely active and healthy. She never was what anyone would consider a typical American grandma. She wasn’t a gray-haired, apron-clad woman who baked cookies. No, she was a beautiful professional woman – undeniably classy and unashamedly independent. And whether she was going to a 4 year old’s birthday party or out for a night on the town – she always looked good. As a young girl I remember bragging to my friends, I wanted to be just like her.

Before I became a teenager she would take me on special excursions. We’d shop for hours and hours and then she would treat me to a meal at a fancy restaurant. I would stay the night in her high rise apartment. She would talk to me about the way a lady should act. She would tell me I was beautiful and full of potential. I always felt grown up and sophisticated. These were some of my fondest memories.

So here we were, all of us a part of a family that she in fact began. Memories filled the air as we compared stories and shared fried chicken. Tucked away back in a little neighborhood park. She would have loved the atmosphere. Kids laughed and played in the playground, the teenagers enjoyed volleyball and the men competed at horseshoes.

Then the mood changed slightly as we each took a red balloon and stood in a circle out in the grass. An Irish bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace played loudly in the background and then the balloons were simultaneously released into the air. I couldn’t hold back the tears. It was a bittersweet goodbye.

I will see you again soon my sweet Granny. Someday soon.

Just over two weeks ago Granny suffered a severe stroke and heart attack which led to a decision for her to be placed in hospice. I will never forget that day. We all knew that the decision for hospice was what she wanted, she made that very clear. But it certainly didn’t make it any easier on any of us.

It was a blessing to be able to spend some time alone with her before she was moved from her hospital room to the hospice unit. I decided to ask her if she knew what would happen when she died. It wasn’t like this was new territory for a conversation between Granny and me. We had talked about her diverse “religious” upbringing many times. She would laugh about how many times she had been “saved”, walked an aisle, or been baptized as she and her mom traveled from home to home when she was young. But here, in this hospital room, I was asking point blank. “Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins Granny?” She shook her head yes. “Do you know for sure that you will go to heaven when you die?” She nodded again. “Do you want to hear about what heaven is going to be like?” She shook her head no and put up her hand. Apparently, she didn’t want to hear anymore about it. So I prayed. I prayed out loud and boldly. And she held my hand tightly.

Over the next six days family members would be in and out of her room. She could hear us but her responses grew weaker and weaker as the days passed. We would pray and cry. We would read to her and play music for her. I read the entire book of John to her when we were alone together. And with many others in the room, I read about heaven.

I was asked many times if I thought she would be in heaven. As sincerely as I could, I would answer that there was no way to know for sure. But I have faith that I will see her again. I have faith that Granny understood who Jesus was and why He came and accepted it as her only way to eternal life. My prayer is that every person in my family will also make this decision. I know Granny would want us all together again.

I had a great talk with Jane last week. Remember Jane? She is my good friend and fellow Dare 2 Share co-laborer who is now dealing with a second cancer diagnosis after just recently recovering from breast cancer a little over a year ago.

Jane is 30% through her chemo treatments. 2 down, 4 to go. We had a minute in the midst of the busy work day for me to ask how she was doing. How she was REALLY doing. She sat down and calmly explained to me that while it has been hard (and especially difficult on her children), God has given her just enough grace and mercy that she needs at any given moment. We joked about how it could be illustrated like a video game – you jump and sure enough here comes a platform to land on – just in time!

Sure enough. That’s how He rolls. “Come to me,” He says. “Don’t worry about tomorrow, today has it’s own problems,” He reminds us.

Last week Rick’s company was sold. It certainly didn’t come as a major surprise, they had been struggling for years. We can’t even recall a profitable quarter. But when you are 50 years old with MS and have commited over 15 years to a place, it’s still a hardy jolt. How’s Rick? He, like Jane, is a pillar of faith. He won’t know anything for about a month while the company goes through a special accelerated Chapter 11 bankruptcy process and then finalizes the merger. But Rick is patiently waiting to see what God has in store next.

We’ve been talking for a while about life changes as we enter a new “season.” Looks like those changes will come whether we like it or not! 🙂

So, here we go… JUMP! Thank you Lord, in advance, because we know that you will provide that platform for us to land on “just in time.”

There it was. Sitting right on the kitchen table when I came downstairs to get breakfast. His cap and gown and “keepsake” tassle!

I can’t even believe that my son is graduating from college! I am so proud of his achievement. His journey over the past few years has taken him down some crazy roads, but he set his mind on prioritizing the value of getting a college education and stuck with it. His determination and persistence inspires me and I truly believe that this experience has created a man who will be a loyal, creative, hard-working professional.

He has had plenty of opportunities to give up and go a different direction. But he chose to personally sacrifice in order to make this happen. Wow! Along the way Rick and I have encouraged him to make decisions on his own and for his own reasons and this hasn’t always been easy for him. But he worked through it and he is now an AMAZING man of character!

I have to admit, I will be the proudest mom ever as I see my kid grab ahold of that college diploma. I know that he has beat the odds. And he is also the first one in our families to hold a bachelors degree!

But what excites me most about this is what comes next… watching him enter the marketplace, seeing him apply his incredible gifts (he is a great writer and also has a talented “eye” for capturing a unique angle from behind a camera), witnessing new relationships being developed, seeing him step into complete independance. What a remarkable season as a parent!

Congratulations TJ! You’ve worked so hard. Dad and I are so incredibly proud of who you are and what you’ve accomplished! We can’t wait to see what God will do in your life next…

xxxooo

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