Posted in college, Emotions, Family, God, joy, love, Parenthood

JOY Unspeakable

“Weeping may endure for the night, but JOY comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

9/29/99 was an ordinary Wednesday for most people.  But for me, it was a “line-in-the-sand” kind of day, a day that marked a change in my life that brought unconditional love in the form of a 9 pound 5 ounce baby girl.  Rachel JOY Goetz, our fourth child, was born that morning, at 1:09 am, to be exact.  And now, in just two short days, she is off to embark on her next adventure, taking the “Rachel-only” piece of my heart with her!

Two years ago, at the age of 16, I gave her a gold-dipped white rose for her birthday.  The thoughts I penned for her that day ring truer in my heart tonight as I sit at my computer.  My initial impulse is to weep (and I’m sure it will come in buckets soon enough), but in the wee hours of a Friday, I am reminded that JOY does come in the morning.  So for now, I celebrate.

IMG_6520

Dearest Rachel,

I love giving you this rose.  It symbolizes so much that I want you to know about yourself and why you have changed my life and the lives of all who meet you.

First of all, the rose is WHITE.  White is a symbol of innocence or purity, but not perfection.  I see in you a pure heart, one that longs to love others with good intentions, treat others kindly with much grace and little judgment and do your personal best without getting caught up in “perfectionism.” Your pure heart is beautiful!

Secondly, the flower is a ROSE.   Roses are heart-stoppingly beautiful to the eye and their smell is equally show-stopping. When I think of you, your outward beauty is heart-stopping for me. Many times, as you know, you take my breath away! You are simply gorgeous on the outside! I can’t get around it. But again, more importantly, your “aroma” is show-stopping. Your infectious smile, caring heart, and love for the “haves” and the “have-nots” is truly incredible.  

ROSES demonstrate the following things and I see them in you:

LOVE – You love unconditionally. We have said this about you from when you were a baby. When others are with you, they can’t help but feel loved and accepted. What a gift that is!

FAITH – You are a trusting soul. You believe the best about others. You easily trust God’s heart toward you.

BEAUTY – Rachel, you are truly beautiful, inside and out.

BALANCE – You understand the delicate balance of life: work, play, others and yourself. I love watching this in you. You are a good teacher to me.

PASSION – What can I say? Your passion for what really matters to you is crazy cool to watch!   Those five things…God, love of family and friends, music, puzzles and the beach!

TIMELESSNESS – I think of you as a timeless person. You enjoy people aged 2 to 102. You love where you are and who you are with. Time seems to slow down when I am around you!

WISDOM – Dad and I used to say that “you got it” even when you were a teeny one. You see so much of the world through wise eyes and a wise heart. You are the best counselor to your friends and you see things that others just can’t see.   My favorite wise saying that you have ever said was, “It is better to be kind than right.”   You were only 10 years old when you spoke that deep truth to my heart (and to our basketball team).  Yes! You just “get it.”

INTRIGUE – No one can say that they have explored the depths of what makes you Rachel. You have a mysteriousness about you that is very interesting and causes me to want to know you more. There is so much to you and it has been fun seeing a beautiful young woman begin to unfold!

DEVOTION – You are one of the most loyal people I know.   You stick by your friends, your beliefs, your love for Jesus, your family and yourself!

SENSUALITY – You love all things…what you can see, hear, smell, taste and touch! You enjoy life to the full. You see all the gifts God has for you in nature, in others, in music, in so many simple things, in all of life!

Lastly, the rose is dipped in GOLD. To me, gold symbolizes long-lasting value. Every time you look at the rose on your bookshelf, I want you to be reminded of how incredibly valuable you are, to God, to us, to yourself and to your future. You have infinite value, much more than any GOLD in the world.  The whole person that makes up Rachel JOY Goetz is so undeniably precious and I pray that you would continue to hold onto that understanding for the rest of your life!

I want to end with the second verse that God gave me when you were born! It has really come true for me! And for anyone who has spent a minute with you!

“My God shall do exceedingly abundantly above all we can ever ask or imagine, according to the power that works within us.” (Ephesians 3:20)

I love you precious daughter!

Mom

IMG_6785.jpg

PS  If you aren’t tired of Rachel yet, click HERE to watch my gut-wrenching slide show of her amazing life!

PPS  And if you want to read what it was like to be her sister, check out Sarah’s blog post from May of 2011 about the unconditional love that was 11 year-old Rachel.

 

Posted in Emotions, grief, love, sacred, suicide, taboo

Grief – A Friend’s Story (Railroaded)

“There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.” (Aeschylus)

I sat in the car on a long trip, asking questions and listening.  Hard questions.  Painful questions.  The friend I was traveling with had lost her teen son to suicide only 14 months earlier.  The sacred beauty that poured out was mesmerizing and heart-changing.

Most of my life, I avoided all things about death.  One of my close friends in high school lost her battle to depression and died by suicide when we were in our 20s.  After that excruciating pain, I vowed to avoid all suffering, especially death.  It worked for many years.  I was not confronted with the horror until last summer.  And as you read in my first grief post, it came on full-force.  So much loss.  To so many.  People I loved.  People I could not avoid.

I decided to go deeper.  Lean in.  Experience pain.  Go to the hard places with those I cared for.  Seek to understand and learn and change and grow and plunge into the depths of all that it means to be human (including profound loss).

During our car ride, I asked this friend to share her thoughts in written form.  I wanted to pour over, pray over, learn from and understand this shadowy part of life.   Two days later, I received a Facebook message from her, sharing her current grief and continued suffering, trying to make sense of what had happened to her.

I encourage you not to click away and avoid, but listen with your heart and share her sorrow with your soul.  Come into the shadows, where hardship is, but where beauty lies, where suffering is, but the sacred is revealed.  I warn you.  Grief is beautiful and terrible and wonderful and necessary all at the same time.  Here is some of her heart.  

Nothing about my life is the same since my son died. Nothing. Yes, he is gone, but it is much more than that. My friend asked me one day if I felt “railroaded.” Yes, that’s it. Railroaded.

Before my son’s death, I had two kids who attended school and played sports. I hopped from here to there providing taxi service as well as being a spectator of those sports. I spent my weekends on a soccer field or at a cheer competition or sang at church. A free weekend was rare. I was a business owner who worked 4-5 days a week. I worked out five days a week and watched what I ate. I had just lost about 35 pounds and felt great. I spent evenings on the couch with my kids watching our favorite shows. I organized a charity Christmas party every year that we as a family participated in and Dad was Santa. We vacationed one week a year in the tropics and one week at the Jersey Shore. I planned girls’ nights. I went out with friends. All summer long, friends would be over for BBQs and the pool.  I was the life of the party.

After.  I don’t even know where to begin. My daughter got one too many concussions and had to quit her sport. I do not have to taxi anymore. I am not on a soccer field or at a cheer competition on the weekends (unless we go to watch friends). I do still sing at church. That’s one thing that IS the same.

Work is tough. Feeling like I can’t function and am just not up to doing things, it falls through the cracks. I do what I absolutely have to, but my regular work schedule is thwarted.

I work out as much as I can, but often not the five days I would like. If I feel bad mentally, I push through and go, but if I feel bad physically, I often don’t make it.

I feel, like my friend said, railroaded.

Eating. Another area that has been railroaded. Food. It’s what people bring when someone passes. Food. For months after. Food. Please don’t get me wrong. I greatly needed and appreciated all the food. If it weren’t for those friends who brought meals, I’m not sure any of us would have eaten. It is just much harder to eat the way you know you need to. Days turned into months and months into more than a year.

Railroaded. There are still shows that I watch with my daughter. But it just isn’t the same watching things without my son. Sometimes during Survivor I still get teary-eyed.

The Christmas party lives on. It was just different this past year. It felt railroaded as well. It was hard to plan because my son’s birthday is in December and I couldn’t do it that day. We struggled for the right day, but we did it because the kids would miss it. Dad was still Santa.

Vacations. Another victim of the railroad. We all did go to Florida last year. My husband and I were tourists, and our daughter spent her time at a cheer competition. Even though we were all there, it didn’t seem like a family vacation. There was the trip to Costa Rica that wasn’t. Cancelled at the last minute. It was just too hard to go without our son and brother. There was the attempt at Vegas for Christmas. We were there less than 24 hours. Too much anxiety and pain. We ended up coming home and blessing some homeless people in the midst of our pain. The Jersey Shore. I miss it so. I spent one weekend in early June and have not been there since. I miss a beach house and boardwalks with our family and friends. No more boardwalks, just railroads. I miss true family vacations.

My social life. Railroaded. I don’t want to be Julie the cruise director any more, planning a fun night for friends. Sometimes I turn down invitations because I don’t feel good. I miss being carefree and going out with friends. I miss feeling good.

As I contemplated my friend’s word, I realized it meant even more than she intended. This all started the night my son died on train tracks. My life has been, in more ways than one, railroaded. I hope that some day I won’t feel so lost and off kilter. I know that through all of this, God has held me in his hand and He has not let me go. That is the only thing that is keeping me on the tracks.

My response to her:

This is a good start to getting your feelings out there.  It makes so much sense to me.  It’s good to speak of losses and to say them out loud.  It gives a beautiful glimpse at the real stuff that makes up grief.   It is so good for me to hear and learn from you and share your pain.  It brings me both sorrow and healing.  I pray your sharing would bring you some measure of healing.

For those of you who have loved fiercely and lost someone precious to you, I pray that you would find a safe space to share your true heart, the one that might be hurting.  I pray that those who listen would dive deep and sit still and share some measure of your grief and suffering.  I pray that in God’s vast wisdom, compassion, kindness, mercy and love, He brings unfathomable healing to each of us in the places only He can reach.

To my friend who was willing to put her heart out there today, thank you.  You have given me the gift of yourself and there is nothing greater.  I am asking God to give you many good gifts straight from His heart to you today.

 

 

Posted in Emotions, God, sacred, thanks

TT (Season #01, Episode #04)

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.”  (Melody Beattie)

Which one of us, given the question, “Do you want more healing in your life?” would answer, “Actually, I want more destruction.”  My son, Josh, broke his hand a few years ago.  He was given a super teeny cast (the “Michael Jackson one-glove look”).   The doctor, as usual, (like I hadn’t heard this at least a thousand times before…after all, I raised four children) said, “follow my instructions and it will heal.”

We all know what it’s like to receive, from our wonderful and smart health care providers, that long sheet of paper spelling out all the instructions to make sure healing happens (and some of us… I won’t say who… do a better job than others at following them).  I knew this at the time.  I wanted Josh’s hand to heal throughly and quickly.  (After all, now he would have an excuse not to empty the dishwasher.)

Being the cynical person that I am, I wondered about the point of this miniature cast.  After all, look at it.  It’s ridiculously small and I’m not even sure it’s doing much of anything.  Did it even matter?  Could he get healing without the cast?

IMG_1672

However, being the rule-follower and anxiety-ridden person that I am, we followed the instructions to a tee.  We certainly did not want more destruction of the hand.  We both wanted healing.  And we both trusted that this wee cast would provide the right environment for it.

The right environment.  Hmm.  Now there’s a thought.  This bitty cast doesn’t heal his hand.  All it does, even super teeny, is provide the right environment for the healing to occur.  The cast doesn’t get in there and cause the bones to be “remodeled” (I know this term from watching 12 years of Bones episodes).  That comes because our bodies, given the right environment and care, have been designed by God to heal themselves.

More thoughts.  Can this apply to more areas than the physical?  Has God given our souls, minds and hearts the ability to heal if they are in the right environment?  I believe an emphatic YES.  Do they have to be huge?  I believe an emphatic NO.

This cast gave the room for healing.  What environments, even if they are not grandiose, but small, can I give to myself to make room for healing?

My whole blog is dedicated to hope and healing.  I would be amiss if I didn’t tell you that this morning, I need some of that myself.  It’s been a long, emotional week (as some of you who have read my blog know… and for those of you who don’t, check out anxiety post and murder post) and I am quite exhausted from it all.  I said to my husband this morning, “I just feel out of sorts and out of control.”  I sat down to write.  Process.   And guess what?  Next up (and I would imagine this isn’t a coincidence), Thankful Thursday.

I looked at my thankful app (that awful red notification circle was glaring on my phone).  I realized I hadn’t written one last night.  And to tell you the truth, I didn’t want to play catch up.  I didn’t really have anything.  Yesterday had been difficult.  But of course, God is wise and super loving.

The thought came out of nowhere.  Is thankfulness one of the environments that brings healing?  I began to look it up.  It is true.  There are about a million (okay, just a slight exaggeration) actual scientific studies to back this up (don’t want to bore you, but check this article out).

God reminded me that it might just be what I need this morning, even though super small, to bring some healing today.  No.  It’s not magic or formulaic (believe me, I have lived a lifetime of that destructive line of thinking). But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s GOOD.  So here goes.  Join with me.

  • My oldest brother turned 60 (and don’t get any ideas of how old I am…he’s the first born and I am the baby… like the super baby).  We got to surprise him and share Ethiopian food.  I was able to watch him become overwhelmed with the love of his family and friends.  He might have even shed a tear. Highlight of the summer.
  • A long lunch and talk with a friend from high school who I hadn’t seen for 30+ years that I thought might not go so well.  After all, she had her act together even then (in a kind of straight-laced, smart, preppy, godly way) and I certainly didn’t (in a bouncy, talk-too-much, all-over-the-place, boy-crazy way).  It was wonderful and beautiful.  Our hearts connected as we shared our similar journeys of brokenness and redemption.  A true gift for me.
  • Rachel’s wisdom tooth surgery and healing went off without a hitch (and this is no small feat in her never-ending saga of tooth infections and emergency extractions).  It’s the small things sometimes.  The not-end-up-in-the-emergency-room things.
  • Celebrating the wedding of our friends’ son.  Watching young love blossom.  Their commitments to God and each other.  The roasts (I mean toasts).  Shoe games.  Gorgeous weather for an August Saturday.  Reminders of our own love and commitment.  Continued thankfulness for Allen and our 26+ years.
  • A rainy Monday provided for the day I woke up with a sore throat.  Cozy rest.  A nap when I needed it.  Rain makes me feel safe inside.  Long story.  Thankful.

Here’s to asking God to do only what He can do.  I can’t bring healing to myself.  Only He can.  That’s his job.  And my job?  To follow the instructions of the Great Physician.  Listen to His heart for me.  Place myself in environments so that He can do His job.  It’s not a formula.  It’s not magic.  I’m not even sure how it all works.  But I do know this, celebrating and speaking out and reminding myself of all that I am thankful for is GOOD.  And I will take it today.

 

 

 

 

Posted in freedom, God, murder, prison, sacred

Kim (A Prisoner on the Outside, but not on the Inside)

“If the Son sets you free, you are truly free.”  (Jesus)

My college roommate and best friend at the time murdered her husband on Valentine’s Day, 1998.  Even though it was a famous and well-publicized murder, I never knew until recently that she was serving a life sentence in a Maryland correctional facility.  We had spoken just a couple of years prior to the murder, but we lost touch, mostly because we had both moved and it was before social media (snail mail just didn’t cut it in those days).

Fast-forward to this past January when I spoke at a women’s group telling the story of my  continuing redemption and restoration.  I hadn’t thought of this friend for several years, but some things that we shared (not such good things) were a huge part of my redemption story and I shared them with this group.  Just FIVE days later,  I commented on a friend’s Facebook post and received a quick response, “Are you the Esther Maret that roomed with Kim Aungst in college?”  I recognized her as Kim’s high school friend, Rachelle.  Quickly, I private messaged her and said yes.  I couldn’t believe Kim’s name was coming up again.  I asked if she was still in touch and how I could reach her.

Her next message: “As for Kim, we are still friends but it is a long, sad, crazy story. She was convicted in 1999 of killing her husband. If you Google Kimberly Hricko, you can see part of the story. (I know some of you are clicking… don’t forget that you are reading what the media wants you to know and don’t forget to come back!!!) At first I wasn’t sure if she did it but she has since admitted she did. I am pretty much the only friend from that period of her life that stood by her. I just felt that regardless of what she did, she needed someone. She has since turned herself to Jesus and is helping others in prison. She has a daughter who I kept in touch with. She was like a niece to me. She is married and has a daughter.”

A few more messages were exchanged.  My body started to tingle all over.  I was overwhelmed at the heart of Rachelle who had unconditionally loved Kim, but my mind went to how this could have happened.  Two young girls sharing a dorm room at a Christian college.  Best friends.  The transfer after freshman year to separate schools.  One goes on to marry, raise a family and do normal things (that would be me).  The other kills her husband and is in jail for life.  I spent the better part of a week sorting through my feelings and decided to write her a letter, convinced that God had brought her back into my life.  Would she respond?

Mustering the courage to tell Kim that my heart was broken for her and that I wanted to see her, I penned a short letter, enclosing a picture of our family, telling her bits about myself, promising not to judge her, explaining that I just wanted to be hear her story and be her friend again.

It took weeks to get a reply (snail mail in jail is extremely snailish).  She wanted to see me.  Relief washed over me.  I met with Rachelle for breakfast and spent the better half of the morning getting reaquainted, sharing the stories of our lives and making a plan to go see Kim together.

That happened this past Thursday.  A four-hour trip to Jessup, Maryland (Rachelle almost not getting in because of  bra hooks that set off the metal detector), a one-hour visit with smiles, stories, and quick hugs, and a four-hour trip home.

Early Thursday morning, I  prayed that I would bring healing and restoration to Kim and that I would (wait for it…okay, it’s hard for me) listen, listen, listen.  But, of course, God had something else up his sleeve.

The moment I saw her sitting in the visiting room at the sterile table, my heart leapt for joy.  As we spoke, she was the same Kim, kind, funny, smart, interesting and my friend.  The three of us spoke for the hour, reminiscing, sharing stories of ourselves, our thoughts, our families, and she shared about life in prison.  It was fascinating, to say the least.   Here are little glimpses of her life:

  • She works and makes $3.45 a day as a layout engineer using CAD software.  She designs office space for municipalities and has even done some dorm layouts for the University of Maryland.
  • She has to buy all her own toiletries.  Tide Pods are $6.99 for a small box.
  • She lives in the most privileged section of the prison because of good behavior.  She has a TV (with an old antenna) and a DVD player.  She has seen reruns of the TV shows where she is featured countless times.
  • She has a pet cat named Lynn.  The local shelter has partnered with the prison to allow inmates to care for a dog or a cat which goes with them to freedom if and when they get out.  (litter box right in the cell)
  • She started a book club (that has now spread to three or four other prisons) where college professors come and teach.  Her favorite book is Life of Pi.
  • She speaks to victims’ families and allows them to ask her any question.  This is designed to bring understanding and the potential for forgiveness and healing.

The story of her heart was even more fascinating.  She has come to the place where she has taken ownership, admitted guilt, and sought ways to contact her husband’s family to ask for forgiveness.  She has hope that (and it would truly be a miracle) one day there might be some kind of healing between them.

I was confused and amazed as to how she had gotten to this place.  How had she worked through all the shame and guilt.  I mean this is big stuff.  Like huge stuff.  Way out of my league stuff.  Why is she okay?  And not just okay.  She actually used the word “blessed.”  I received a little peak at part of the answer.

We spoke about how God’s heart is NOT for retribution, but for restoration.  His desire is not to punish her, but to redeem her (or any of us for that matter).  She knows this life-changing truth at the core of her soul.  He loves her no matter what she has done.  He is restoring her.  Not to freedom on the outside (both literally and figuratively), but to freedom on the inside (both literally and figuratively).  WOW!  Just WOW!

It all hit me like a tons of bricks:  this is why Jesus came.  Freedom for the prisoners (Luke 4:18).  Not the outside kind, but the inside kind.  And no circumstance or failure (even premeditated murder) or brokenness is too much for Him.  He doesn’t discard anyone.  He never sees anyone as beyond hope.  He can free anyone, even normal me.  This is His main business.

I prayed very differently on Thursday night.  This time it was not that I would bring healing to Kim, but thanksgiving that she had brought a little more healing, freedom and restoration that day to little old me!  Surprise!

(By the way, I received her permission to share all of this.)

 

 

 

Posted in anxiety, beautiful mess, Emotions, taboo

“I Just Had to Pee” and other Half-Truths (Fighting the Monster of Anxiety…A Day in the Life…Glimmer of Hope)

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”  (Desmond Tutu)

“Are you doing okay?” my husband asks at 3:30 am.  “It seems like you are having a hard time sleeping.”  “I just had to pee,” is my response.  Half-truth.  Statement that quiets the other’s worry.  Words designed to make everyone (including myself) believe that “I’m okay.”  This happens often with the struggle of anxiety.

I have fought with what’s best described as Generalized Anxiety Disorder since my late 30s.  More than 14 years.

If you knew me growing up, in my 20s and early 30s, you would have told others I was independent, strong, and care-free.  I was the teen who drove to Canada to see my boyfriend and slept in the back of my beat-up Ford Pinto without any thought to the dangers of a young woman alone at a rest stop.  I was the young adult who left home after college, delivering pizza while looking for work, and sleeping at friends’ houses with only about $20 in my pocket.  I was the young mom who allowed her preschool children to play in our cul-de-sac without supervision, never hesitating to think they might be snatched, hurt or fall into the river that was only 50 feet into the woods behind our house.  Not someone you would classify as anxious.  Far from it.

I will never forget that morning.   I woke up.  Just as I was getting out of bed, my left leg collapsed right out from under me.  I fell.  My heart raced and I panicked. I got up slowly and was able to walk normally, but called the doctor immediately. “What was happening? Did I have a brain tumor?” Not sure why that thought immediately came as I had never paid much attention to my health. I was crippled with fear almost in an instant. I was pretty sure I was going to die.

A battery of tests for brain tumors, lyme disease, and MS.  With each waiting period and diagnosis in the clear (my leg was probably just asleep when I fell), I thought I would have some peace.  I only got worse. The final diagnosis: a full-blown nervous breakdown. For three months, I lay in my bed, cried, couldn’t leave the house, and had what they call depersonalization, the feeling of being “out of body.”  I thought I was going crazy. It was the darkest time in my life.

Fourteen years of counseling, on-and-off medication, progressive muscle relaxation audios, my Headspace app, exercise, comforting Bible verses on sticky notes, deep breathing, prayer and begging God for relief, yoga, chamomile tea, close friends and a husband who shared my pain, changed diet, not watching the news or clicking on WebMD.  You get the picture.  Fighting it from every angle.  Seasons of relief and seasons of being back in the fight.  Fast forward 14 years to the past 24 hours.  I am back in the fight.

A day in the life of half-truths (the whole truth being said inside my head):

7 am “Good morning Allen.  I am glad Jared has work today.”   (“Will he get up on time?  Should I wake him?  He’s 23.  Don’t do that.  Bad boundaries.  But what if he doesn’t get up?  He will lose this job.  He won’t be able to pay his student loan.  He will get bad credit.  His future could be ruined.”)

8:45 am (knowing he is supposed to leave at 9) Send a text. “Want a smoothie before you leave?”  (“Hopefully he is awake and moving.  If he doesn’t respond, I can call him.  Don’t do that.  Bad boundaries again.  But what if….”)

9:45 am (“Sarah’s sonogram for the baby is right now.  They are rechecking some weird spot they found on his heart.  What if he has Down Syndrome?  It’s a soft marker for that.  Stop thinking that, Esther.  The doctor said it’s a super slim chance and all the other markers were fine.  You need to get over this.  Go to the grocery store.  And don’t text her.  Wait until she texts you.”)

10:45 am  Send a text.  “How did your appointment go?”  (“Is the baby alright?  Is Sarah going to have to quit her job to care for a special needs child?  Will she be able to handle this?  This would be horrible.  No, it wouldn’t.  Lots of people make it through and actually thrive.”  And on and on with the back-and-forth while I don’t hear anything for almost two hours.  Shaking at this point.)

12:37 pm Send another text.  “?”  Response:  “Everything is fine.”  (“Why do you keep doing this?  You are supposed to be over this.  See.  It was all fine and your worry was useless.  You have issues.  Maybe you should go back on medication.  Don’t want to do that.”)

12:45 pm (As you can see…relief was short-lived)  “Hey Rachel.  How are you feeling?” (said daughter had wisdom teeth out four days prior and had almost died of  a tooth infection as a young girl)  (“Does she have an infection?  Do we need to call the doctor immediately?  Please just say “better.”)

1:30 pm “Josh, did you hear from Uber yet?”  (“Why did we allow him not to get a real job this summer?  We should have been stronger with him.  Is that controlling?  He better start working.  I will feel so much better when he’s making money.”)

5:30 pm  From Allen:  “Any word about the truck selling?”  My response:  “Lots of people are looking at it and taking pictures.”  (“This truck is the death of me.  Why did we ever let Rachel buy it?  It will never sell.  We will be stuck with it.  I just need it gone.  This box needs to be checked off my list before she leaves for college.  Why isn’t it selling?  I will be okay when it sells.  What if it doesn’t?  I won’t be okay.”)

Dinner out with friends.  Distraction.  Bed time.

Fitful night’s sleep filled with dreams about above items.

3:30 am  Allen:  “Are you doing okay?  It seems like you are having a hard time sleeping.”  Esther:  “I just had to pee.”  (“If he only knew.  Don’t want to talk about it.  Maybe I should write a blog post to get this sorted out.  Would others read it?  Would they love it or stop reading all my future posts since I don’t have my act together?  Maybe it will bring this stuff to light.  Maybe someone will feel understood.  Is it worth the risk?”

As you can see, I believe it’s worth the risk.  I believe that I am not alone.  I believe that bad stuff thrives in the darkness, in the hiding.  So, here I am, bringing it into the light. A glimmer of hope arises in my heart that I have just taken another step towards healing.

You?  What do you need to bring into the light?  Where can you have hope?  Healing?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Emotions, Family, love, marriage, wtf

Make A Marriage Great Again (Part Three of Ten)

Everybody’s got a dark side
Do you love me?
Can you love mine?
Nobody’s a picture perfect
But we’re worth it
You know that we’re worth it
Will you love me?
Even with my dark side?

(Kelly Clarkson)

We had a fight this weekend.  It was over boundaries and adult children.  And no, the next WTF (refer to joke in first MAMGA post) is not the word fight (sorry to disappoint…we will get to that F), but the word fallibility.  Back to our fight.  It was mostly about how we don’t believe the other person is doing a good job in these areas (and certainly not doing what we would do).  Remember, Allen is kind and gracious. I am sarcastic and discerning. Allen is a hard-worker, quiet and reserved. I am quick-witted and loud. He is methodical and analytical. I am passionate and decisive. Allen is a supporter and a peacemaker. I am a leader and aggressive.  Now just imagine (if you dare) how we might approach everything just a tad (ha-ha) differently and we strongly wish the other person would change and think and do what we think and do.

After a day of shutting down, processing by ourselves, apologizing, going to counseling, and then processing together, we came to the same conclusion we always come to:  we both want the other to accept us for our complete selves, flaws and all, even if change never comes.

As in many marriages, we started off seeing only the good in each other.  Believe it or not, we actually kept that up for about 10 years.  It meant a lot of hiding and dodging and pretending, and I must say it felt kind of good.  No hard talks.  No hard work.  We strived to believe the best.  After all, who wouldn’t want a kind, gracious, hard-working, supportive, peace-making husband.  I was sure for a long time that I did, or at least should.  And believe it or not, many times  I would ask Allen, “Isn’t there something that you don’t like about me?  What ways do I drive you crazy?”  And he would return with the answer, “Can’t really think of anything off-hand.”

Until it all “hit the fan.”  About 10 years into our marriage, and with help from some friends, Allen took a huge risk and shared some of his “not-so-perfect” stuff with me.   I would love to tell you that I returned his risk with the reward of kindness, understanding and grace.  Not so much.  His reward was judgment and anger.  After all, I liked my perfect, cookie-cutter world, where we were “godly” people and had a picture-perfect marriage and family.  It was really easy to live there.

Over the next months, things began to slowly change in my heart.  Allen’s risk effected me.  I was free to explore the “dark side” of my own life, the ways I was hiding and pretending, the parts of me that are fallible.  And you know what happened?  For the first time in our marriage I felt safe and free to share those things with him.  If he wasn’t perfect, then I didn’t have to be either.  What a relief!

(For you curious folks, I will share one example that might seem silly.  When Allen was at work and my littles were down for a nap, I would sneak and watch “Days of our Lives,” a soap opera I believed a Christian wife and mother should not do.   You might even be chuckling, and on the surface, it seems trite and “no big deal,” but it reveals the deeper hiding and lack of safety that permeated our lives and our marriage.)  

This was the beginning of a very different marriage (we say we have the tale of two marriages), one where transparency and authenticity came to the forefront, and hiding was over (or mostly over).  I would love to say it went swimmingly and that now, it is all easy sailing.  But that “ain’t the truth,” as they say.

Without the hiding came truth (sometimes hard-to-bear truth), and hard work, long examinations of ourselves, counseling and not-very-easy talks, which continue to this day.  We began to believe what we now know beyond a shadow of a doubt:  real intimacy can’t happen without knowing each other’s deepest selves (fallibility, or dark sides, and all) and loving and accepting those deepest selves.  This came along with another truth:  this is something worth fighting for.  It will bring healing and wholeness to places only God and His unconditional love can reach.

It’s been a full-of-hard-work, wonderful, tough, worth-it 16+ years since this “AHA” moment in our marriage.  And as you read at the beginning, the fighting continues, both with each other and FOR each other.  We continue to face the battle for grace, mercy, acceptance, kindness, and unconditional love, both for ourselves and for each other.  It’s tough going many days.

I watched Scott Harrison (the charity:water guy) on Sunday after my last post.  He said something in his message about the fight for clean water, but it struck me in a completely different way:  “Don’t be afraid of the work that has no end.”  There are days when I want go back to the pretending and hiding marriage where it’s easier and less complicated, where the work does have an end or seem to.  But as I know in the deepest part of me, the best thing in my life is that I am fully known (super risky STEP ONE) and fully loved (super hard STEP TWO) by another.  This reveals the very heart of God to me, something my soul craves and is designed to know.  This work has no end, but it’s worth every ounce of effort we put into it.  Allen and I are determined not to leave but to love.   We reminded each other of that very thing last night (and I promise, we weren’t in a good place at the time).  That changes everything.

There’s a place that I know
It’s not pretty there and few have ever gone
If I show it to you now
Will it make you run away?

Or will you stay
Even if it hurts
Even if I try to push you out

Will you return?
And remind me who I really am,
Please remind me who I really am.

(Kelly Clarkson)

***Watch the video of the song before you sign off by clicking HERE***

Share, comment, sign up for my email list and all that good stuff.  Would be honored if you did so.

Next Friday:  FINANCES…yikes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in charity, Ethiopia, ministry, Missionary, serve, water

charity:water

We believe in a world where every single person has clean and safe water.  (Scott Harrison)

Clean water is one of our family’s passions.  Loving others with no strings attached is another.  I’m shouting out today to an organization that combines both and changes the world one “cup of cold water” at a time!

Rachel’s college essay captures the heart and passion of Scott Harrison, the founder of charity:water!  This organization changed our lives and hearts.  I pray their story will change yours.

One individual who has influenced me profoundly since I was a young girl is Scott Harrison. He first came to speak at my church when I was eight years old. He told the congregation his story, shared his passion in its entirety, and truly won my heart.

Harrison’s story is not what one would expect of someone who is now devoted to serving those less fortunate. Harrison grew up in a Christian home and went to a Christian school until he convinced his parents to let him go to public school. While attending public school, Harrison joined a band and began straying from the Christian faith. At the age of eighteen, he moved to New York City with his band and played gigs at various clubs until his band broke up. Harrison then began working to promote the same nightclubs where he played. He spent the next 10 years flourishing in this business and used his money to excessively “party.”  He used alcohol and drugs to numb the boredom of his life, while constantly searching for the next big thing, eventually becoming morally and spiritually bankrupt.

At that time, his father gave him a book called, “The Pursuit of God,” by A.W Tozer.  He had a crisis in his conscience that sent him on a path to rediscover his faith and reflect on his lifestyle.  He posed the question to himself, “What would the exact opposite of my life be?” (charitywater.org)  Shortly thereafter, Harrison went from making lots of money promoting clubs and alcohol, to serving with Mercy Ships as their volunteer photojournalist.  This organization is a fleet of floating hospitals that provide medical care to those who don’t have this crucial need. During this time, he met another volunteer on the ship who also had a passion to dig wells in his spare time for communities who had the worst water resources. Harrison began to ask questions about the link between dirty water and the very diseases the ship was providing treatment for.  He discovered that 80% of these diseases were caused by dirty water. He decided to devote his life to removing what he deemed the biggest obstacle facing the poor: access to clean drinking water.  

Harrison’s vision became one of bringing clean drinking water to the 663 million people who walked miles every day to fetch dirty water for themselves and their families. However, he realized there would be obstacles, one being that people have hesitations when donating to charity, primarily because they don’t know how much of it is going directly to the work and and how much is funding the overhead of the organization. To ensure people their money was being used for their designated purpose, Harrison decided that 100% of the money that was donated to the charity would be given to funding clean water service projects. He personally would have the challenge of raising the money for the administrative side of the organization. He even took it one step further and told the donors that he would track each dollar using GPS so they could see exactly where and how their money was being used. On his 31st birthday, in September of 2006, Harrison decided to use his skills and connections to throw a huge birthday party for himself in New York City and charged $20.00 to all 700 of the people he invited.  He shared his passion that evening, built three wells with the money and sent the pictures of those wells to each person who came. Less than two years later, Harrison came to my church and shared his vision, inviting those who had September birthdays to follow his lead and use their own birthdays as a way to raise money for charity:water.

As a soon-to-be nine year-old girl with an upcoming September birthday, I caught Harrison’s vision for a world where everyone has clean drinking water.  I was so excited and decided that I would have a birthday party and instead of asking for gifts, I would ask for a donation for charity:water.  I am sure that the money I received was not nearly enough for a well, but my heart was changed.

The mission of charity:water is something that effected my whole family. We have gone into the charity:water headquarters, been to their fund-raising Christmas galas, run in 5Ks to raise money and awareness, and currently, we have three pictures sitting on our counter of completed wells in my mom’s birth country of Ethiopia.  Last Christmas, my siblings and I pooled our resources and donated our own well. I will be excited when it’s the picture of our well on the counter along with the others.  I am so glad that Scott Harrison came and shared this need with our church, and that I have had a part in meeting it.  He not only won over my head, but my heart.

Scott Harrison is changing the world one well at a time, and in turn, one heart at a time.

Update (back to Esther):  our family has another well in the works for 2017 in Tigray, Ethiopia.  25 years ago, more than 3.2 billion people had no access to clean water.  That number is now 663 million.  One well may not seem like very much, but if each of us does our part, the number could one day be zero.