Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Emotions, Faith, Family, God, Hope, Parenthood

Leaving

Meet Susan Bernstein!  She is a wife to Eddie (married over 20 years), mom to three growing, young men (Brandon, Blake and Jordan) and a kind friend.  Susan is a dog-lover, a very organized stay-at-home mom (she jokes that she spends half her life at the grocery store), an amateur photographer and an aspiring writer!  Susan is loving, smart and brave.  THIS WILL BE A HUGE TREAT FOR YOU PARENTS OUT THERE (no matter what your age and stage)!  I hope you enjoy! 

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Guess Which One is Susan?

“The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.”  (Denis Waitley)

I would suspect most people don’t cry when looking through a Bed, Bath & Beyond catalogue. Last night however, I found myself doing just that. As I studied the various organizational and space-saving items they sell to help one fit their belongings into a 14 x 14 foot dorm room, the tears just started flowing. I couldn’t believe that in one short month, I’d be packing my oldest son up for college. My mothering mind wondered if he’d have everything he needed, but deep down I wasn’t too worried about shower caddies or desk lamps. My concern was more for friends, support, and wisdom…things they didn’t sell in that catalogue.

My husband noticed my tears and came over to hug me.

“You ok?” he asked me for probably the millionth time this year.

“Yeah.”  I exhaled and sighed.

“It’s not that I’m upset about him leaving,” a fresh sob forming in my throat, “It’s just that he’s never coming back.” And the floodgates erupted once more.

It hits me at odd times that our family of five will never again permanently reside under the same roof.  I beamed proudly during his graduation ceremony without shedding a tear. However, I had to pull myself together in the aisle of the Hallmark store as I shopped for a card and gift just days prior.  I choked back the tears as I chose Dr. Seuss’ Oh The Places You’ll Go, realizing he was about to begin a new phase of life, and it wouldn’t include us.

I knew in my heart the day would come.  I mean, isn’t this what we plan for as parents all along?  None of us have children and secretly hope that they’ll live with us when they are 40, right?  The fact that they leave means we actually did something right as a parent! We raised a child strong and independent enough to survive on his own! Isn’t that the whole point of this parenting thing? We spent untold hours teaching them the value of hard work, integrity, and the need for sunblock.  We had heart-to-hearts about taking the high road when betrayed by friends. We battled fears, real and imagined, late into the night, and steadied their shaky steps when they entered the unknown territory of a new school, team, or social circle.  All the pep talks, time outs, chore charts, and consequences have paved the way to this moment.  Leaving might actually be the Super Bowl event of parenthood, a time to fold our arms and smugly proclaim, “I rocked this parenting thing out of the park!”

Not exactly.  Yes, he’s a capable, intelligent and (somewhat) responsible young man.  He drives and makes decisions and can even vote or join the army if he wants to.  But is he ready?  I remember asking the same question when I left him at preschool a blink of an eye ago. He cried and cried for me, and I was sure I was doing him irreparable harm by leaving.  It’s funny, because my heart hurts in the same way now.  Except he isn’t crying anymore.  He’s on Facebook meeting incoming classmates and looking for a roommate. So, he probably is ready.  But am I?

Parenting seems to be the most selfless profession out there.  After you’ve done all you can to love, nurture and raise this tiny little person, you need to let them go.  As a child, my son believed everything I told him.  Now, he forms his own opinions, and he is influenced by a myriad of voices over which I have no control.  Our children aren’t mini-clones or younger versions of ourselves.  They actually have their own unique identity.  They will think and believe and do what they decide, and we are now on the sidelines, watching.  We silently cheer them on and pray constantly that they will have victory.   We are most definitely now on the bleachers watching their game of life, rather than next to them in the huddle.

As I prepare to release my son into the world, I will shop for all the things he needs for his new “home.”  I will buy fluffy towels and warm blankets, plenty of Command hooks and microwave popcorn.  He will leave packed up with all the essentials, including 18 years worth of unconditional love.   I will watch with wonder, excitement, and a fair amount of sadness, as he leaves us behind and begins his life.  He has a story to write, and he will write it his own way, on his own terms.  I will always be a part of that story, but just one part, the one loving him from afar and praying that God protect him and put good, loving people in his life.  And I suspect, for a few years at least, I’ll be the one helping to pack and organize him at Bed Bath and Beyond.


 

How great was that?!  I just want to thank Susan for sharing her heart with each of us!  If you are interested in reading other parenting blog posts by me, the Dolly Mama, click on the links below:

The Goetz Family Law

Ending Well (and a surprise beginning)

To Pick Up or Put Down (Every Parent’s Never-Ending Battle)

My “Top 10” Epic Mom Fails (With Help from My Kids)

 

**PLEASE FEEL FREE TO SHARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA…THE BUTTONS ARE BELOW**

PHOTO CREDS TO JASON AT WWW.AWAKENEDFILMS.COM

 

Posted in Beautiful Mess, Childhood, Ethiopia, Faith, God, Hope, Missionary, Peace, Third Culture Kid

I’m an MK. What are You?

“I don’t like that man.  I must get to know him better.”  (Abraham Lincoln)

TTYL – Talk To You Later
SSDD – Same Stuff Different Day
LMK – Let Me Know
PAW – Parents are Watching (my personal favorite…not really!)

We live in a world where we communicate with all kinds of capital letters.  It just makes it easier when using our thumbs to type words designed for five fingers.  And sometimes, things can get lost in translation.  Here’s my favorite:

“I heard your aunt passed away.  LOL.”
(If you’re struggling with this one, the person sending thought LOL meant “Lots of Love” and it really means “Laugh Out Loud”)

In the olden days, instead of #textspeak, we called these capital letters acronyms.

I grew up with one that identified me:  MK (Missionary Kid).  For as long as I can remember, I have used those two letters to tell people who I am.   In fact, I just did it again this week when meeting someone for the first time.  And I haven’t lived overseas for 4/5 of my life.  I guess it’s supposed to give insight into some depth of my being for the curious or just be used as a conversation starter.  Sometimes, people are fascinated and other times, I get the feeling they feel a little sorry for me.  It’s a funny dichotomy.

Life as an MK is BOTH fascinating AND difficult.  BOTH wonderful AND confusing.  Kind of like your life.  It does pose BOTH a unique set of challenges AND a particular group of rewards (CHECK OUT MINE HERE).  Just like your life.

For a long time, I felt strange and unusual, almost like an animal in a zoo for everyone to gawk at.  We were on display, especially when we came home on deputation…a fancy word for visiting churches to raise money (and believe me, my parents did their best to protect us from the insanity of standing up in front of churches and singing songs in Ethiopia’s native tongue).  **CHECK OUT MY PARENT’S BIRD’S EYE VIEW HERE**  I felt excluded, like everyone else was in some kind of inner circle and I was on the outside.  It was partly true.  I did have a different story than those I eventually went to school with here in the US.  I did have a life that didn’t resemble theirs.  But it wasn’t the whole truth.

The WHOLE TRUTH is that each one of us has a unique life story that encompasses sorrow AND joy, hardship AND celebration, beauty AND darkness.  The WHOLE TRUTH is that I can accept BOTH myself and my particular journey AND love others as I get to know theirs.  The WHOLE TRUTH is that instead of a wall of division between US (MKs) and THEM (RJs – Regular Joes – who might have lived in the same house in the same town for their whole childhood), there is solidarity that we ALL are in the same big giant circle as humans. After all, I now have a husband and children who are RJs and I certainly never want any division between us.  Blogger Janet Newberry calls this divided place a “two-circle world,” one that’s based on exclusion and isolation, not inclusion and community.  The WHOLE TRUTH (the one that sets us free) is that our distinct stories don’t divide us.  They unite us.  This makes room for a “one-circle” world.

We all tend to find people who relate to our stories, our beliefs, our way of living.  We tend to group ourselves according to these commonalities.  It doesn’t just happen to MKs and RJs.  It happens everywhere:  politics, religion, race, hobbies, life status, you name it. Just looking at groups on Facebook reminds me that this happens in spades.  If I look around me, I’m not sure it’s working great.  Yes.  It matters that we find others who are going through/have gone through what we have, share a similar story.  In fact, it’s important.  It creates a place of understanding, of being known, of safety, of belonging.   But again, it’s only partly true.  It isn’t the whole truth.  The WHOLE TRUTH is that excluding others because we feel excluded doesn’t ensure us true belonging.  The WHOLE TRUTH is that Jesus’ prayer that “we are one just as He and His Father are one” provides the love and belonging we all were designed to have and long for.  The WHOLE TRUTH is love and exclusion cannot coexist and that God invites us all into this great, inclusive love story.   We already belong!!

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I want to live out of that WHOLE TRUTH.  I want to live FROM a place of belonging, not FOR it.  I want to invite myself and others into this “one-circle world,” to unwrap the gift of each person God has for me to enjoy, no matter what their story, background, political affiliation, race, etc.  If I am honest, I’m not there yet.  My world is “two-circlish” right now.  I want that to change.  It might mean more work on my part.  But more work usually means more reward.  One way is that I would love to unwrap the gift that is you.  I would love to know your story.  Here’s one little step for me and you to take (this blog post is my part in it):

If you had to describe your life in #textspeak, what would it be?  Mine has now changed to PMKNRJ (Previous Missionary Kid, Now Regular Joe).  Let me know here in the comment section or out on social media.  Can’t wait to hear!

If you want to share your deeper story with me, please go to the contact page and send me an email.  Or “friend” me on Facebook.  I will count it as a very sacred privilege to get to know you.  Thank you.

**FOLLOW ME VIA EMAIL IF YOU NEVER WANT TO MISS ANOTHER POST**

Last thing:  if you are wondering where the pics are from up top, it’s from the Dr. Seuss book, “The Sneetches and Other Stories.”  Great read!

 

 

Posted in Emotions, Faith, Family, Freedom, God, Hope, Love, Peace

Shattered Shalom (restoring it…in my home and in our world)

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”  (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

If you asked me even five months ago what I thought peace meant, I summed it up as “the absence of conflict.”  In fact, a quick search on Google backed me up on this. My husband also cheered this idea in spades.  He loves an atmosphere where everyone gets along (how one Facebook friend defined it), especially us.  It’s like heaven to him.  Having a house with four very unique and spirited children did not lend itself to this.  The constant conflict and fighting sent us to our beds exhausted many nights.  I would mutter to myself (and sometimes scream loudly to my kids which, if you take a second, is pretty ironic), “Just a few moments of peace is all I’m asking!!  Is it too much?”  I know I don’t have to talk any further without a bunch of nods of the head, muttered “mm-hmms” and loud “AMENS!”

Whether it’s the constant arguing of politicians and political analysts on “news” shows, gut-wrenching war across our world, bickering among children or family members over the latest “who-knows-what,” co-workers disagreeing over how a project needs to be done, or late-into-the-night discord (or should I say straight-up fights) among spouses, it is just plain tiring.  No wonder we want some peace.  Some quiet.  Some “everyone-just-get- along-please” moments.  We are saturated with it all day long.

YES, THAT IS MY SON AND HIS SOCCER TEAM AT HIS SENIOR PASTA PARTY!
Sorry for the diversion.  Back to the blog post.  I think you understand my point.
ALL.
DAY.
LONG.
To combat it and try to find some measure of inner calm, I find myself doing one of four things:  fighting, running, avoiding, or just standing there with a blank stare not knowing what to do next.  This is the natural response from our human bodies when we feel threatened and overwhelmed.  It’s our “lizard brain” (as I like to refer to the amygdala) doing what it can in the moment when the adrenaline rush takes over to protect us.  Psychologists refer to these responses as fight, flight, faint or freeze.

As I very feisty and passionate individual, I naturally gravitate to fighting.  As we all know, this does nothing to help.  It escalates the issue and then the whole house is in an uproar, hurt and angry.  It becomes a mess.  Allen, on the other hand, is drawn toward fleeing.  He shuts down, gets quiet and goes into another room.  Our kids vary on the spectrum, with some fighting, some getting quiet, some going to their room to watch TV or sleep, and some utterly dumb-founded, not knowing what to do.  It makes for a little bit of a “not-so-peaceful” house.

ENTER COUNSELING and the beginning of understanding that although, in the moment, those responses are normal, they don’t restore harmony.  We are working from brokenness not health.

ENTER BOOK, As We Forgive (Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda) by Catherine Clare Larson, suggested to us by our group leader before we head to this beautiful country to dig a well in September (HUGE SHOUT OUT AND MUST READ).

ENTER VACATION with family members (nine people plus baby for seven days).  Arguments and behavior patterns and all that good stuff.  (You know what I mean?!)  I figured out that nine people make up 36 different relationships.   That’s enough to start a war.

RE-ENTER BOOK.  Reminder that all of the above are really just shattered shalom (the fancy Hebrew word for peace).

I have always believed that shalom had the same meaning of peace that I had in my head.  Come to find out I am missing something.  A huge thing.  And it just might really make the difference in my own little world with my own little group of people.  But it also might make the difference in our huge world with all the groups of people (like seven billion and counting much to my son’s chagrin as he’s a little paranoid about over-population).

So what is it?  What is this shalom?

SHALOM IS NOT DEFINED BY ABSENCE.  Instead, it encompasses the PRESENCE of true human flourishing (my friend’s Word of the Year):  socially, emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Larson reminds me that it is “ultimate harmony.”   Shalom speaks of fullness, completeness and wholeness, hardly the absence of anything, except perhaps division (as another Facebook friend reminded me).  In Ancient Israel (where the word comes from), when a crime was committed, the central point was not on the outer (the broken law and restoration of order), but rather on the inner (broken shalom and restoration of peace) for all involved:  victim, community and even offender.  It was important that ALL would flourish, all would be brought back to wholeness.

As I stated above, our human body responds to conflict in one of four ways:  fight, flight, faint or freeze.  We are naturally drawn to one of those responses when it comes to personal conflict.  However, somewhere among attacking, running away, avoiding and becoming paralyzed lies a completely different way, one that is more difficult, but offers much in the restoration of this fuller peace, or shalom.  In fact, sometimes conflict and disagreement are required to achieve it.

Really?!?

In the flight, faint or freeze responses, the focus is on “ME.”  I am looking for what’s easy, convenient and non-threatening.  Protecting myself becomes the highest priority.  However, in the fight response the focus is on “YOU,” blaming you and expecting you to solve my problem or my pain.  Again, protecting myself becomes the highest priority.  The peace-making, shalom-restoring response shifts to “US.”   The restoration of the relationship and the flourishing of ourselves and the other becomes the highest priority.  Wholeness, fullness and completeness come to the forefront.  Conflict happens and disagreements occur, but the relationship is not threatened.  In fact, clashes and variance might just provide the avenue for greater wholeness than without them.  The move from YOU vs. ME to US changes everything.

For this girl who tends to blame others and fight, this is really BIG.  A huge change of thought.  And practice.  It’s not enough for me to “not have fighting,” the absence of conflict.  I want more.  I want wholeness and healing and true flourishing.  In every area of my life.  For me and for you.  When I think about Jesus, the “Prince of Peace (guess what the Hebrew word is there),” this makes more sense now than ever.  He doesn’t just want “quiet” for me.  He wants shalom.  He wants me to flourish.  He wants the same for you.  And he wants the same for our world.   Here’s to restoring it more and more every moment and every day.  I hope to start right now.

 

Thank you again for reading all the way to the bottom.  WOW!  Please like this here and especially out on social media if you can!  Comment here or there as well.  It means the world to me!  

 

 

Posted in Beautiful Mess, Emotions, Faith, Freedom, God, Hope, Love, Marriage, Parenthood, Sacred

Unraveling and Re-raveling (Getting Rid of the Formula)

“Trust me.  There is no formula for most things that are not math.”  (Daniel Pinkwater)

 

godly husband + passionate wife = great marriage

great marriage + good parenting = well-behaved child

well-behaved child + right school and strong youth group = wise-choice making teen

wise-choice making teen + strong college = successful adult

successful adult + other successful adult = godly husband + passionate wife

And the formula goes round and round.  Or does it?

When I was just a wee bit younger (okay, like 30 years ago, but I’m not that old, right?!), I believed wholeheartedly in the formula above.  Why wouldn’t I?  It’s perfect.  Just do it all right, make all the right, godly choices and life goes the way it should.  After all, isn’t that what I’ve heard my whole life from preachers and family and professors and authors and friends and even from my own head?  Things like:  “Blessed is the man who does not walk in step with the wicked…whatever he does prospers.”  (Psalm 1)  “We proved to ourselves that when you do things right, good things happen.”  (Tom Sawyer)  And my new favorite:

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To say it again:  just do it all right, make all the right, godly choices and life goes the way it should.

EXCEPT.

WHEN.

IT.

DOESN’T.

What happens then?

Somewhere along the line of that cute little formula, the “right” side of the equal sign fails to happen.  Sometimes it goes like this:

godly husband + passionate wife = messy divorce

great marriage + good parenting – child with Oppositional Defiance Disorder

well-behaved child + right school and strong youth group = teen substance abuser

wise-choice making teens + strong college = struggling-to-find-or-keep-a-job adult

successful adult + other successful adult = distant husband + depressed wife

For many years, I counted on the formula.  When it didn’t seem to be working, I just tried harder.  “It must be something I’m doing wrong,” I thought.  “Maybe I don’t have the equation right.”   After all, there is a way to guarantee a great marriage, well-behaved children, wise-choice making teens, and successful adults, right?  I read “10 Step” books.  I made long prayer lists on color-coded index cards.  I went to seminars and then led them.  My formula-living was not limited to the above scenarios.  Much of my life was permeated by this black-and-white thinking.

Until…

Until…

Until…

Until the formulas stopped working.  Good people got divorced.  My kids weren’t all that well-behaved at times.  Many teens, including my own, made “not-so-wise” choices and some of my children’s friends struggled with addiction.  Well-educated people had a hard time finding a job.  Many lost their jobs.  Successful people were anxious and depressed, including me.  Ugh.

My idea of how the world worked came crashing down.  I didn’t know what to think.  Anxiety took over.  Hopeless thoughts came much more than I wanted them to.  I kept trying harder.  It just got worse.  Finally, I came completely unraveled.  UNRAVELED.  My carefully-built-rubber-band-ball-of-how-life-works began snapping.   If not this, then what?  What do I do now?  How do I live?  UNRAVELED.

BUT, (and I love these “buts” of life) what seemed like a tunnel without a light became just what God used for a whole new “RE-RAVELING” as Rachel Held Evans refers to it: a very different way of looking at people and relationships and what matters.  I began to live in more truth and with that truth came some slow steps toward freedom.

Once the formulas were stripped away, I was invited into relationship, both with God and with others.  At first, this uncertain place seemed like a curse.  It would take lots more time and wisdom and there wouldn’t be simple answers.  It would be complicated, messy.  But as I embarked on this different journey with much trepidation, I found that it just might be a gift, and a good one at that.  The truth is that life is messy and no amount of “doing the right thing” ensures complete safety and success.  This might sound harsh and hopeless at first glance, but it is actually helpful and freeing.  Instead of viewing life as a problem to be solved, I began to see it as a mysterious adventure to be enjoyed (kind of like action thriller enjoyment, which is kind of scary and fun all at the same time).  Instead of seeking certainty,  I began to pursue wisely-placed trust, trust in a wild God, One I can’t control, but One who is completely good and utterly safe.  I am steadily (actually it seems to be in fits and starts) finding that as trust is developed, love thrives.  And this is what I truly want.  Chasing certainty is slavery; carefully-placed trust in a God who loves us is freedom.

My relationship with others slowly began to change as well.  Instead of having an agenda (the sum of the equation), I began to believe that I could just BE with others, no matter where they land on the spectrum of life.  This is hard for me.  I really struggle with this.  I have an agenda for everyone.  I think I know best.  I want you to change for the better.  And I believe I know how you should get there.  It doesn’t come from the best place.  It’s because I think I am better and know better.  I like a little bit (I mean a lot) of control.  UGH.  But as I’ve turned the tables, and the truth is told, I don’t want to be anybody else’s agenda or project.  Instead of “here is what I think you should do, be, act like, etc., I love when others say, “I’m with you,” and that’s the end of it.  I don’t want to feel like I’m going to the principal’s office when I am with someone.  No one wants that.  It creates defensiveness and hiding.  However, when someone is just WITH ME in my beautiful, messy life, this unconditional love opens the door for vulnerability and trust.  Change is much more likely to happen in this safe space.  As Bob Goff says in his book, Love Does, this kind of “love operates more like sign language than being spoken outright.”  I need more of this in my life, both ways.

The best thing for us (and our world) is to love God and love others.  Formulas are not love.  And to boot, they don’t work.  Loving God is trusting Him, especially when things don’t go as planned.  It is a trust that is wisely placed.  IT BRINGS US FREEDOM.  Agendas are also not love.   Loving others is being with them, especially when they are not where we think they should be or want them to be.  That’s a love that’s unconditional and safe.  IT BRINGS THEM FREEDOM.

I am glad my rubber band ball came UNRAVELED.  I am also very thankful I am on the path to RE-RAVELING.  I don’t know about you, but I want to keep living in and from these places, creating safe spaces for both myself and others, filled with vulnerability, trust, love and freedom.  In the end, St. Paul was so right when he wrote, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”  Let’s do what counts together!

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Posted in Beautiful Mess, Emotions, Faith, Family, God, Guest, Hope, Love, Marriage, Parenthood, Sacred

The Dirty Mirror at the End of the Hallway

Welcome to my guest blogger, Grace Hufschmid!  Grace is a wife to one (Eric), mom to two (Marley and Presley) and a friend to many (including me).  Grace is a regional manager for Operation Christmas Child, the people who bring shoeboxes filled with goodies to the poorest of the poor.  Grace’s heart is kind, authentic and fierce!  YOU ARE IN FOR A TREAT!  Enjoy!

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Call me crazy but one of my favorite things to do is to clean my house. It is a feeling of instant gratification to see a mess and then wield the power to clean it up… bonus points if I find some random piece of dirt that has somehow eluded prior cleaning efforts. For me, it is an almost euphoric feeling to walk into a room and look around knowing that every nook and cranny has been cleaned and organized.

Over the past few months, as aspects of my life have felt somewhat out of my control, I have poured every ounce of effort into taking control of the one thing I can… my clean home.

Except for the mirror at the end of the upstairs hallway. That mirror is dirty. It has smudges and grime and fingerprints all over it. It’s so bad that you can see that it’s dirty from a pretty good distance. Now it’s not dirty because I haven’t noticed it (obviously I have by the above description) and it’s not that I haven’t had the time to clean it. Believe me! I have walked up to that mirror many, many times with Windex and paper towel in hand with a very determined look on my face. The real issue is that when I get close, close enough to clean it, I see it… little tiny fingerprints all over it. For as long as I can remember, my husband has walked my two little daughters up to that mirror and let them look at themselves. They bang on the mirror, poke dirty little fingers at their reflections, laugh and yell all while my husband tells them how beautiful they are… all in that mirror. From a distance, it just seems like random smudges and dirt, but up close I can see the work of tiny happy little hands and I can’t wipe it away.

Enter the dilemma: last week we were hosting a first birthday party for my daughter. I wanted everyone coming to my house for the party to walk away believing that I am the cleanest, neatest, most on-top-of-my-game mother around. My already cleaning-obsessed mind became increasingly fixed on that mirror. What would my guests think if they walked by a dirty, grimy mirror? Oh the horror. They might not think I am so perfect after all. I actually thought about taking the mirror down and shoving it in a closet until after the party so that no one would see or judge it or me.

Fortunately, I was able to let it go and keep my messy fingerprint-ridden mirror intact without losing too much sleep. The party went on with the mirror left in its place. However, I did start thinking about life and the never-ending struggle to present the most perfect picture of our life, our family, our faith and so on… “of course I have it all together… just check out my Facebook newsfeed.”

Reality struck. When we do just that, we miss the opportunity to show people what happens when you get up close and look at the messes in our lives… we might just witness the not-clearly-visible fingerprints of God.

One particular messy area has been my marriage. About five years ago, my husband and I hit a really rough patch. From the outside, everything looked perfect. We were both working in ministry. We had a cute daughter. We even wrote lovely things about each other on social media. But hidden from Instagram and Facebook were the nights I cried myself to sleep and the times we talked about what it would look like if we walked away. It was an absolute mess, but in a way that only He can, God amazingly healed and restored our marriage. He brought us to a stronger place than we had ever been. It wasn’t easy and boy was it complicated, but it was something only God could do.

I am amazed that in these years that have followed, He used what we went through to give hope to other couples that were struggling. He is still doing that to this day. You see, when you get up close and stick your nose in our mess, you can see God’s fingerprints all over it. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul says “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

We have seen that truth come alive in our own lives and marriage. As we hand over our weaknesses, our shame, our doubts, and our insecurities to God, they become opportunities for others to see His power, His fingerprints. As Paul says, we can actually be excited “boasting” about our weaknesses because they are opportunities for God’s perfect grace to be seen.

These are the questions I have to keep asking myself: Do I see my weakness and struggle as something to be fixed, minimized or hidden or an opportunity for God to show up? Do I let people in to get close enough to my mess to reveal God’s fingerprints? Or do I try to tuck failure and insecurity in the closet to preserve my perfect image?  Those are questions I battle with almost every day.  Answering them the way I know can bring me to the best place sure isn’t easy, and sometimes I make the “not-so-good” choice, but when I do, it’s worth it.

 

How great was this!  What a huge treat!  Check out some of my other recent posts!  Some of my favorites are on marriage (click here for the most recent one).

As always, please feel free to like it on social media (huge hit with me) and share it with your friends and family!  Spread the hope!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Celebration, Emotions, Faith, Freedom, God, Holiday, Hope, Word of the Year

Halfway Through (My Word of the Year and maybe your WOTSHOTY)

Kind words are like honey.  They are sweet to the spirit and healing to the body.”  (Proverbs 16:24) 

Last Saturday night, as I was playing cards with Rachel and Allen’s mom during a girls’ weekend in Pittsburgh, suddenly I blurted out, “WOW!  We are halfway done with 2018.”  Someone half-heartedly responded with, “Yeah.  Life goes so quickly.”  HALFWAY.  Really?!?  HALFWAY?  It seems such a short time ago that I was toiling away on the cusp of the New Year, working through the process to find my Word of the Year for 2018.   And here it is, July something and suddenly, on an ordinary Saturday night, I was jolted back to my Word of the Year (WOTY).

I am just like the rest of you, having huge aspirations at the beginning of January for so many things: getting more exercise, spending more time with God, eating healthier, and the lists go on and on.  There is something invigorating about a fresh start filled with hope for something new, better.  Yet life keeps happening at break-neck speed, the mundane and extraordinary of our journeys keep permeating each day and suddenly, we stop (like I am right now) and the balloon filled with dreams and desires is suddenly sitting in the corner, crumpled and limp.

What normally permeates my thoughts during the first week of July are things like vacations and fireworks and freedom and family.  But having been thrust back into the reminder of my word, “TEND,” I spent a fair amount of time wondering where it had taken me so far, what I am learning about and what the rest of 2018 might look like with this “gentle friend,” this “kind companion,” as I like to refer to it.  Those phrases keep me away from disappointment with myself for “not doing a better job” with it or fear that I haven’t “done enough” to make the word worthy of the work I put into finding it.  Basically, they keep the guilt and shame monsters tucked neatly away in a very locked closet where they should stay.

As this gentle friend nudged me once again this week, I spent my shower time, my time weeding and dead-heading my deck plants, and the “awake-in-the-middle-of the-night-for-no-reason” (UGH!) time pondering  what she had to say to me.  Two huge revelations came to me that I am thankful to carry into the rest of 2018, one a tender prod and one a kind reminder.  I like this traveling partner.

The tender prod came to me as I was dead-heading my barely-alive deck plants, hoping to draw them back to life before our big party next weekend.  I was obviously “tending” to my home and especially these dying petunias.  I had been away for nearly a week and despite my children’s best efforts, they were wilting under the heat of the July sun.  It took me an hour and a half, so I had plenty of pondering moments.  My WOTY spoke ever so quietly:  So many things in your life need “tending,” Esther.  If you don’t “tend” them, they will die.  What are you choosing to “tend?”  Are they your “deeper yesses” (as my friend Roey likes to call them)?”

I was suddenly brought back to the thought of what happens many times when Allen and I are in an argument.  Invariably, one or both of us, right in the middle of the heated debate, starts organizing a kitchen drawer or pruning our plants.  It amazes me every time.  I believe psychologists would agree with me that because the other person or the situation seems, in the moment, out of our control, we quickly move to fixing what we have power over.  It’s much harder to do the work of relationship which has no easy formula or guarantee, than cut off some shoots to restore life to the greenery or get the rubber bands back into a neat ball.

So much of life is tending to the things we can control and they are all necessary.  No guilt there.  I just don’t want that to be my whole life.  I don’t want to miss the “forest for the trees” as they say, the beauty of the hard work of my relationships with God and others for the easier “to-do list” items that get easily checked off (or not so easily if you are calling your insurance company).  I don’t want to neglect the former for the latter.  I want to tend to my own heart, mind, and spirit along with those of others.  These are my deeper “yesses.”

The kind reminder came to me from my beautiful friend, Annie.  She speaks to me of my WOTY every so often.  She is a careful “tender” of my heart.  We spoke of the huge garden of our lives and how it’s not all and only up to me to keep my personal nursery alive and flourishing.  You see, I tend (haha, no pun inTENDed.  Continued haha!) to be a “get-it-all-done,” super-hero, “I’ve got this” kind of person.  I like the feeling of accomplishment all by myself.  In fact, I pride myself on not getting help.  After all, I am capable and strong and yada yada yada.  But that gets me in quite the bind where I am depleted and exhausted and have no room for joy, peace, and all those other good fruits of the Spirit (look them up HERE). I get kind of grouchy and resentful.

Needless to say, I found myself there once again (big surprise) at the end of June.  So the word from Annie was just what I needed to hear once again (I am a slow learner).  I am not alone in the process.  First of all, God tends to me, lovingly caring for me especially when I am not able.  He is the ultimate gardener!  Secondly, I am surrounded by others.  I tend their gardens and they tend mine.  We cultivate the ground, fertilize the soil, water the tender shoots, pull out the weeds, and ultimately enjoy the beauty created and the fruit produced in the hearts and souls of each other.  BIG SIGH!  WHEW!  If I try to go it alone, it just “ain’t going to work.”  I need God.  I also need you and you need me.  One small step again toward freedom.

 

I know many of you have your own Words of the Year.  It might just be a good time to spend some much-needed time with this gentle friend, this kind companion.  What does yours want to say to you?  Take an hour in the next few days and ask him or her!

If you don’t have a word for the year, it doesn’t matter.  It’s never too late.  You can have a WOTSHOTY (Word of the Second Half of the Year).  If you don’t know how to choose one, check out my original blog post HERE and my first quarter update HERE.

WE ALL NEED THIS LOVING TRAVELING COMPANION!

Posted in Beautiful Mess, Celebration, Emotions, Faith, Family, Freedom, God, Grief, Health, Hope, Love, Marriage, Sacred

The Tale of Our Three Marriages (THE BIG REVEAL)

If in the dark we lose sight of love,
Hold my hand, and have no fear
Cause I will be here.
(STEVEN CURTIS CHAPMAN)

 

When we stood at the altar over 27 years ago, and my friend Marcy sang those haunting words, I had no idea in my 25-year-old head how true they would ring this many years later.  I didn’t know we were embarking on a journey of Three Marriages (and that’s so far…who knows how many more we have in us).

When we meet couples who are on their second marriage, sometimes we feel like we can’t relate.  After all, what do we have in common with them?  But as Allen and I joke, we aren’t only on our second marriage, we are on our third…it just happens to be with the same person.  Very different and also somewhat the same.

Our “Three Marriages” have been loosely marked by the decades we’ve been together.  This past weekend, questions were posed to us by our Pastor when we were interviewed on stage at our church, “Tell us about the early years of your marriage.   What came naturally… and what was a challenge for you?  Any Points of Conflict?”

My answer to him was hard for me to say and even harder for me to hear out loud and share with the audience.   However, it was worth telling because vulnerability breaks strongholds and provides undeniable freedom.  (Sorry.  I have kept you in suspense long enough with how I answered, so here goes.)

Our first Marriage was characterized by HIDING.   We so longed to be the perfect Christians, the right kind of wife and/or husband, the ones everyone would look at and say, “We wish we could be just like them.  They have it all together.”  Needless to say, with this kind of pressure to perform, we hid from ourselves, our families, our church and mostly, from each other.   We had lots of manners, not a lot of meaning.  Lots of talk, not a lot of truth.  Lots of outer, not a lot of inner.  During that time, we actually did NOT have a lot of CONFLICT (which probably made my conflict-avoiding, peace-loving husband a happy camper), but we also did NOT have a lot of CLOSENESS.  And to be honest, it felt good.

Thank God He didn’t leave us there.  It all “hit the fan” at the end of those 10 years.  Our first marriage came to an abrupt end.  With the help of 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.

Over the next months, my heart began to slowly change.  Allen’s risk affected me.  I was free to explore the ways I was hiding, the “not-so-perfect” parts of me.  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!

This was the beginning of our second marriage, one characterized by a lot of HARD WORK.  Transparency and authenticity came to the forefront, and was mostly met with forgiveness, grace, and compassion, which required long talks and much conflict.  We plunged headlong into books on authenticity, life groups that offered mutual transparency and trust (we have a couples’ group and we each have our own group comprised of just men and just women), and fought for these everywhere in our life:  each other, our kids, and our friends.

As that decade came to a close, and our second marriage felt fairly successful, God called us to another, even deeper level in our relationship with Him and with each other.  With the help of a very safe and close-knit group of friends who regularly meet together and the decision to go to counseling, we found out that we “married the wrong person,” to quote Pastor Tim Lucas’ book on the subject.  We began a slow undertaking towards HEALING, wholeness (I MEAN SLOW), another marriage, our third.  Our small group went on an inner journey together exploring our pasts and how those played into who we are today, for both good and bad.  Counseling revealed to us that we each had core wounds that effect most aspects of our lives and especially each other.   That was tough.  There was even one very scary night that stands out vividly in my memory.  We were lying in bed, seeing very little light at the end of the tunnel, and asked each other, “Will we make it?  Is there any hope for us?”  We actually weren’t sure and this made for a very dark time.

We pushed ahead with our group and with counseling.  This journey for HEALING seemed endless.  One evening during a session, we came right out and asked the question, “Do you see any hope for us?  Is this normal, that it gets much worse before it gets better?”  Thankfully, our counselor answered with a resounding, “YES!”  to both questions.  That gave us the spark we needed to move (albeit slowly) forward.

We have found a few things during this time that have been huge for true HEALING in our marriage:

  1. Working on our marriage without recognizing and working on our own individual brokenness is pointless.  They go hand-in-hand.
  2. Removing blame from each other for our own wounds is huge.  Blame produces shame, shame begets blame and the cycle goes round and round (that might just be why our fights kept going in circles).
  3. Neither of us is changing the basic core of who we are.  We have each had to (and are continuing to) grieve the things about each other that we wish were different.  To give you an example, I am just not a physical person and Allen’s highest love language is physical touch.  Even if I set alarms on my phone to cuddle and hold his hand, it just doesn’t come naturally to me.  It’s really sad for Allen.  It might never change, no matter how hard I try.   He is grieving what might never be.  The hope we cling to is that at the end of the stages of grief lies acceptance and freedom.  YAY!  We’re slowly getting there.  (Believe me, it’s not just one way.  I’m grieving too, but not throwing Allen under the bus this time around.)
  4. The journey is SLOW.  There’s no way around it.  It takes lots of time and needs the “long-view” approach.  None of us can undo years of damage and bad patterns in days, weeks and even months.  The good news is that this perspective calms hearts and gives the much-needed room for long-term growth and change.
  5. The process requires struggle.  It might be painful.  There will probably be some conflict.  It won’t be comfortable.  On Wednesday, Allen reminded me of the image of a butterfly, my all-time favorite creature.  Without the stage of the cocoon, there would be no transformation.  Scientists tell us it looks pretty gruesome deep inside the chrysalis, kind of like caterpillar soup.  Finally, after weeks of this and the butterfly is ready to emerge, it takes hours of struggle to get free and more hours of waiting to fly.  The result is sheer beauty.
  6. The other person is worth fighting for.  Each of us longs to have true intimacy:  being fully-known and fully-loved, naked and unashamed, as Genesis defines it.  We want it for each other and for ourselves.  This is the place where the most transformative healing can happen, inside true transparency and trust.  This is the toughest and yet most rewarding path of all!

We wonder if we will have even another marriage, one where HIDING, HARD WORK AND HEALING are over.   It actually sounds a little bit like HEAVEN to me!

(MANY OF YOU HAVE ASKED FOR THE LINK TO OUR “ON-STAGE” PERFORMANCE WHERE WE SHARE MUCH OF THIS.  HERE IS THE LINK TO THE WHOLE MESSAGE (which was fantastic and so worth watching) AND OUR INTERVIEW IS ABOUT 26 MINUTES IN AND LASTS ABOUT 10 MINUTES)

Here are links to my other posts about Marriage:

Family of Origin

Fidelity

Fallibility

Faithfulness

Forecast

Friendship