Posted in freedom, God, hope, love, murder, prison, taboo

A Letter from Prison and a Journey to Freedom

“Inner slavery is even worse than outward slavery.  Inner freedom is even better than outward freedom.”  (Kathryn Lindskoog)

By the amount of sheer clicks and views on my post about my friend Kim who killed her husband, I know many of you read her story a few weeks ago.  (If you didn’t, check it out here first before going ahead, but don’t forget to come back.)  I was thrilled that I received views, but somewhere inside me I knew that it was partly because of the mind-boggling nature of the post.  I would have clicked as well just out of curiosity.  Today, however, I hope that even if you did come again to quench the thirst of an inquisitive mind, you will find a greater satisfaction for your spirit.

My friend Kim and I have become pen pals.  Snail mail is a slow process, especially with prisoners, because all mail is opened and read before reaching the other person.  It can take about two weeks from penning the letter to the opening and reading of it on the other end.  In a world where immediate communication is just a text, email or phone call away, this has been an exercise for me in carefully thought-out words on paper and eager anticipation of a reply as I wait patiently for up to a month to hear back.

My second letter came about two weeks ago.  It was the first since visiting her in prison.  I had written her a long letter and sent her a copy of the blog post I had written about her.  She was responding.  As I read the letter, I began to weep with joy over the words that came flowing off the paper.  It was as if I was perusing something straight out of the best book I had ever read, where wrong is made right and goodness wins over evil, something my soul longs for at the very core of it.

Two girls in a dorm room, sharing secrets and dreams late at night while the campus goes to sleep.  Two massively different external stories.  One girl goes on to raise a “normal” family and live a typical American life.  The other kills her husband and heads to prison for 20+ years.  What could we possibly have in common 30+ years later?

Kim writes…  (Get a cup of coffee.  Sit back.  Don’t skim.  Go slowly.  Breathe her deep wisdom into your soul.)

“Your blog entry was poignant.  Wow.  I never thought of my story as inspirational.  I’m not talking about the salacious, media version of my crime.  I mean my story, the one that had yet to be told.  I believe that those truths needed to be told so that my victims would no longer have questions.  I owed truth to them, to my family, to my friends and to the larger community.  I believe that keeping the truth inside of me all that time was in essence a kind of theft.  The truth is all I have to give and I needed to give it.

Telling the truth is hard.  Especially to someone who is out of practice like me.  I kept many secrets for many years and it made me hollow and dead on my inside.  I lived like that while looking perfectly normal on my outside.  Telling those truths was beyond scary to me.  I thought I would lose every single person that loved me, family included.  But God moved in my life and opened doors for me, giving me a safe place and way to finally speak.  Yes, there was real risk of rejection, but I knew it was the right thing to do.  It was the only thing to do.

In prison, there aren’t many safe places to tell the truth.  Information that can be used to hurt someone is power.  So we hold our power inside as a kind of protection.  Sometimes, we don’t even admit the truth to ourselves because we can’t bear to look directly at what we’ve done.  That was definitely true for me.  I wanted to speak, but how?  To whom?  Where should I start?

My objective was to find a way to reach out to my husband’s family.  I was not seeking forgiveness.  I would not dare to ask that.  I have no right to it.  Forgiveness is a gift that heals and releases the giver.  The decision to forgive (or not) is sacred.  I wanted to give them the opportunity to hear truth and to respond however they want.  My hope was that my acceptance of responsibility might help them heal.  I knew I had to try.

My father died and I inherited money.  I hired an attorney.  He found something called DIVO (Defense Initiated Victim Outreach).  It is part of the restorative justice movement.  We hired a psychological expert to create an “in-depth profile of me.”  The woman we hired was patient and smart and kind.  She helped me speak out loud not only what I did the night of my crime, but how I got to the point where I believed that killing my husband was the only answer.  She helped me understand what I could not understand on my own.  She peeled off the layers of self-hate to uncover the complicated mess underneath.  It was painful and horrible and a blessing.

In 2010, I took a class called VOICE (Victim Offender Impact Class Education).  In that class, we heard many stories of victims and how the crimes impacted their lives.  At the end, we were encouraged to write a letter to our own victims.  These letters are kept in a file that victims can access.  They told us that a letter would be sent to our victims telling them the letter was on file.  So I wrote.  I do not know if the letter ever reached Steve’s family.

There was still a pull in my heart to do something, anything to express my remorse, to tell my ugly truth to the the people I had harmed.  I joined a group called “Building Bridges.”  The work we do is transformational.  We speak openly to each other about our crimes and our lives that lead up to them.  It was rough, hideous and shocking to say those things and hear them from others.  We then meet with outside guests to tell them those same truths and allow them to ask questions.  The questions are hard to answer, but I do.  I know that doing the uncomfortable thing is good, that God wants to bless the truth.  And He does.

I have alienated people with my truth.  Especially when the truth exposes something awful that was done to me.  One of those secrets I mentioned.  In the end, I have been loved unconditionally, maybe for the first time in my life.  I am lucky in a way that the only kind of love I can get is unconditional.  Only unconditional love can penetrate barbed wire.

Telling the truth has healed me.  I was without the burden of a thousand lies on my back.  I can accept my incarceration with grace and the acknowledgement that I do belong in prison.  I do not believe I will be here for life and God is working.  He has put blessings and opportunities in my path that could have only come from Him.  That is how I know I am on the right path because He is restoring me.  He promises to give back what the moths and locusts have eaten.

Your visit was part of that restoration.  He gave you back to me.  Your friendship is both a blessing and confirmation.  I love you for it and I give all my thanks to God.  He has loved me even when I was unable to love myself.  He never gave up, even when I did.  It is people like you and Rachelle who exemplify Christ when you love someone who is less than perfect, someone who has destroyed her own life, someone who is lonely and in prison.  Someone just like me.”

What do we have in common?  Nothing on the outside, but everything on the inside.

When I first found out about Kim in January, I believed that God had brought her into my life to restore her.  I would be the one ministering to her, loving her.  God is an upside-down God sometimes.  He’s the God of surprises.  He’s the God whose “thoughts and ways are much higher than ours.”  He’s proving it once again.  Kim’s story is redeeming me.  Her wisdom is freeing me.  She believes that God is restoring her through my love.  And she is probably right.  But I can’t help but come to the conclusion that this God of redemption and mercy and unconditional love is bringing further hope and healing to both of us at the same time.  (And now, hopefully to you as well.)

The story of Kim’s crime is interesting and may satisfy your curiosity, but the story of her heart is redemptive and may just satiate a much deeper, needy place in your soul, one that longs for truth and freedom on the inside.  It has mine.

Two girls and two paths that from the outside, look utterly different.  One God.  Two girls and two paths that are wonderfully similar on the inside.  From lying to truth.  From hiding to freedom.  Her story is all of our stories.   The stories of redemption.   May the stories continue.

 

Posted in beautiful mess, Emotions, freedom, God, hope, sacred, thanks

I Needed Hope Today…TT (Season #01, Episode #05)

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”  (the book of Hebrews)

After almost a year of navigating the tumultuous polarization and division that is running rampant on social and regular media from every possible side, and then more recently following both the natural and man-made disasters, last night, I was done in emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  I felt as if I was living in a place and time where there is no hope.  No hope.  Not a good place for this Dolly Mama, the one whose fierce passion is to bring the message of hope and healing.  It’s what I normally shout from the mountaintops.  There’s always hope.  But last night, I was mired in a place believing I might be wrong.   There actually might not be any hope.

My thoughts swirled.  Who is going to fix this?  Why do people hate each other?  What’s with all the natural disasters?  Why do people keep vilifying those they are not in agreement with?  Where is the love?  Doesn’t anyone see that divisiveness will destroy each valuable person?  I was pretty much on a rampage to convince myself that I am wrong to think that there is redemption and hope and healing.  Hopeless might just be a more true place.  Right in the middle of my thoughts running amok, there was a song that kept running through my mind as I turned in for the night and rang loudly again in my head as I woke this morning.  It was one of those catchy tunes you wish you could get rid of but just keeps going around and around and around in your brain.  The words eventually caught hold of my heart as I was trying to tune them out.

There is hope for the helpless
Rest for the weary
Love for the broken heart
There is grace and forgiveness
Mercy and healing
He’ll meet you wherever you are
Cry out to Jesus.

(Click here for the full version but come back and read.)

Having nowhere else to turn and not really liking the place I was in, I made a bold move.  I actually took the song up on the challenge and cried out to God.   I asked Him to bring voices of HOPE, RESTORATION AND HEALING today to my heart instead of voices of fear, divisiveness and destruction.  I needed those voices today.  I needed that healing and restoration.  Many days, I am that voice.  But not today.  I was desperate for those voices from others, those that reflect the very heart of the God of unity, truth, healing, encouragement, kindness, love, hope, peace, joy, patience, all that is GOOD.  I promised Him I would keep track of them if He would just send them to me.

I quickly went right back to a “not-so-good” place and asked myself if I was just purposefully trying to avoid the bad stuff.  Shut it out.  Not deal with it.  Pretend it’s not there.  Go on in my “nice little world” and not have it be shaken up.   That thought deeply troubled me.   I am not sure that my answer was purely 100% “no.”  Life is hard.  Terrible things happen that shake me up.  I get caught up in the drama and the opinions and the tragedies.  The world is suffering and struggling.  I do want to avoid it.  However, a louder voice and a deeper, truer message broke through the darkness of my soul.  God sent those voices today.

On this,  my “Thankful Thursday,” I share them with you.

  • A beautiful sunrise on my walk and talk with wise daughter, Sarah.  She shared her heart for the poverty-stricken children she has in her second-grade classroom day after day.  She loves these kids with every cell in her body.  A voice of HOPE.
  • A text from my dear friend, Cindy, about her love and thankfulness for me and our friendship.  A voice of HOPE.
  • A quick word with my mom about my dad coming through his surgery with flying colors.  I think this man may outlive me.  A voice of HEALING.
  • A letter from my friend Kim in prison pouring out words of truth, grace, mercy, and wisdom far beyond anything I have personally known.  A voice of RESTORATION.
  • A blog post from my online friend Shelby.  A voice of HEALING.
  • A walk and talk with my pastor friend Tracy.  We shared our differences and our similarities with kindness, love and grace, with humility and reason.   A voice of RESTORATION.
  • A hard phone call with my patient husband working through a disagreement that we’ve been struggling with since Monday night.  A voice of HEALING.

I will end with an excerpt from Shelby’s blog post.  She speaks truth, the deeper truth of HOPE, HEALING AND RESTORATION!

“Wherever the Spirit of the Lord is present, He gives freedom. And the Spirit is EVERYWHERE.

God knows we long for freedom—freedom to live and love and laugh and experience the grandeur and beauty of this precious life He’s given us. Freedom from evil, discord, scarcity, oppression, shame.

If we would only look longer into the eyes of every person we meet, friends and foes, perhaps the God in them would have a better chance of connecting with the God in us. Together is the only way we press forward through these moments of suffering. Arm in arm, heart to heart, breath to breath.

Let’s make sure we love…with every fiber of our being.

Love binds, love sustains, love endures, love heals, LOVE WINS.”

(Read her entire post here)

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in celebration, Emotions, God, health, joy, love, marriage, travel

Ciao Italia! (Due cose che ho imparato)

“In Italy, they add work and life onto food and wine.”  (Robin Leach)

I spent the past 10(ish) days in Italy (with a one-day jaunt to Switzerland) with my wonderful husband.  It was our 25th anniversary trip 18 months late (somehow we couldn’t stop Sarah from getting married, Josh from needing surgery, Jared from graduating college, and Rachel having high school and no license yet so that we could take our trip on time).

We had two days in Rome, one day in Pisa with Daniella, Josh’s girlfriend, two+ days in Cinque Terre (the Five Lands) on the west coast, two days in Milan (part of which was our day in Switzerland) with our good friends and missionaries, and then two days in Venice.  It was a whirlwind.

We found out that in order to get by as an English speaker, you basically need 5 words:  ciao (hello and goodbye), grazie (thank you)prego (you are welcome, please come, after you, have a seat)allora (total filler word, like “um”, “well”) and toilette? (I’ll let you figure that one out all on your own).  We became pretty good at fudging our way through and made it home in one piece with our passports and luggage.  Of course, I am up at 3 am writing this blog post because it’s full-blown day-time there.  I should already be finished with breakfast and have logged about 5,000 steps!

If you haven’t looked it up yet on Google Translate, “due cose che ho imparato” (the subtitle above) means “two things I learned.”  Amid all the incredible eating of pasta, pizza and gelati (I had it for 10 straight days and sometimes even twice.  It was my goal!), touring breath-taking architecture and landscapes, endless shopping in fantastic local boutiques, and traveling on boats, trains and planes, my mind kept meandering to two central “take-aways” from the trip, having nothing to do with any of the above.

1.  I took myself with me.  I would love to tell you that it was 10 completely magical days, that I was immediately changed into an always thankful, patient, kind, loving and joyful human, but the truth is, I brought my real self (the broken and the beautiful) along with me.  There were times where my eyes and heart leapt with the adventure of it all and I was filled with sheer gratitude and awe, but there were other times where I immediately lost patience over train schedules and people cutting in line.  There were times where Allen and I were like two young honeymooners, selfless and in love, but there were other times where we were unkind and hurtful to each other.  It hit home once again that it’s not the quick-fix, external circumstances that heal us in the internal places of our hearts, but the slow and sometimes day-to-day inner work we do in cooperation with a God who is in it with us for the long-haul.  Phew!

2.  I didn’t belong.  Not being able to fully communicate (to understand and be understood) was the first clue to realizing this was not my place and these were not my people.  I felt lost and confused and at times, didn’t seem to even know how to get the help I needed.  Cars and trucks (albeit miniature-sized) darting in and out of pedestrians without many traffic laws, militia standing on street corners with machine guns, currency that looked like monopoly money, and strange food (okay, I got you there…it felt like New Jersey with the pizza, pasta and ice cream shops on every corner) assured me that I was “no longer in Kansas” as the saying goes.  I was drawn into the adventure, the “otherness,” and am truly grateful.  I was changed a bit.  My eyes were opened a little more.  It was really fun and I needed that.  However, being with Allen (my person) was the best part of the whole trip.  And now I know why.   Deep within me, my soul aches for belonging, community, understanding, being understood, my place and my people.  This is most often where healing and the journey towards wholeness takes place, within the belonging to a kind and gracious God and a loving community of others.  My biggest “inner reaction” surprise of the whole trip was when we were standing in line waiting for our passports to be checked upon our return to Newark and the agent said, “Welcome home!”  I could feel my heart let out a sigh.  I belong here.  (A huge shout-out to those of you who are on this life journey with me!  I have missed you!)

Italy was a dream-come true and a big check mark on our bucket list!  And the travel bug has been tickled in my soul!  I am already making plans for a family trip to Alaska.  But today, on a mundane Monday morning, it’s really really okay for me to say Caio Italia and HELLO LONG HILL!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in anxiety, Emotions, freedom, God, health

What My Dog Taught Me About Anxiety

“I need you to love me a little louder today.”  (Healthyplace.com)

This past year, our dog, Autumn, tore both of her ACLs and we made the very hard decision to put her to sleep.  She was an absolutely beautiful dog, a loving dog, an active dog, a mischievous dog, and a highly-anxious dog.  At our first vet visit when she was just a puppy, we were told that she probably had neurological issues (because we made the lovely decision to buy a pure-breed).  Little did we know then, but soon found out, that this dog was one nervous-nelly.

Life marched on and she had all kinds of typical dog anxiety related to thunder, strangers, and loud noises (like Allen and I yelling at the TV during Steelers games).  But she also had “not-so-typical” dog anxiety where she panted and paced often for no reason, snapped at the air like she was catching flies even when she was alone (it’s called fly-biting syndrome) and tried to climb out of our home through the fire place.

Needless to say, you get my point.  Like her loving owner, this dog had some serious issues with the dreaded monster of anxiety.  As the years went on, I learned some very valuable lessons from my Autumn, many that I remind myself on the days that anxiety rears its ugly head in my own life and the lives of those I love.

#1  Anxiety can come out of nowhere.
There are times that I find myself in a place that only moments before was nowhere to be found.  I am going along just fine and out of the blue, I have thoughts that are absolutely ridiculous and filled with fear.  (I haven’t heard from Josh today.  I wonder if he’s okay.  He is, Esther.  You are ridiculous.  But he could have fallen in the shower and all his housemates are already at school.  He might be laying there bleeding or worse, he might be dead.  How will we deal with this?  I will be wreck.  Stop it Esther.  This is nuts.)  This may have come on the heels of enjoying a nice breakfast out with a friend while drinking chamomile tea.

#2  Anxiety usually passes.
After years of observing Autumn’s and my own anxiety, I have come to realize that it doesn’t usually last.  The same way it roars into my life, it often makes its way out.  This is a lifeline for me in the throes of it.  On a very bad day, I remind myself that it will eventually pass.  It might take some time, but it won’t be like this forever.  It seems to be cyclical.   Shalom (meaning completeness, soundness, peace) is a life-long journey, with many fits and starts along the way.

#3  Anxiety isn’t about trusting God.
One day, Autumn was just beside herself.  It might have been a thunderstorm.  She was pacing and panting, wide-eyed and whining.  In a moment of clarity, I said to her (very tongue-in-cheek), “Autumn, you just need to trust God more.”  You are probably thinking to yourself, “That’s ridiculous.  She’s a dog.”  And you know what, it is ridiculous.  For years, I added to the shame of my anxiety by berating myself about not trusting God enough.  I memorized verses about fear, the “do not fear” ones especially (and yes, I do know that here are 365 verses about fear, one for every day…I would imagine you might sense the sarcasm).  I promise you.  If memorizing these verses and trying really hard to “trust God more” would have done the trick and that formula could have worked, I would be all over it, preaching it from the mountaintops.  If it were only that easy.  But the hard truth is it’s not.

This is a message for all of us.  Anxiety is a neurological disorder.   Anxiety is when a person’s central nervous system is telling them there is an emergency even when there isn’t one.   Anxiety comes from a place of fright without solution.  Yes, we can feed it and make it worse (learned all about those neurons firing and giant pathways being created in my Physiology class in college).  I am an expert at feeding it.   And yes, new pathways can be formed that bring calm to the nervous system.  I am in the process of feeding those new pathways now and have been for many years (which has helped tremendously).  In the end, it’s all very complicated and I am not an expert in the field.  But that’s not the point.

Here is the point.  For those of you who don’t struggle, please don’t tell the person in the middle of it to “trust God more.”  I promise you it won’t help.  It may just heap more frustration and shame on the person and send them deeper into hiding.  And for those of you, like me, who have this monster hounding them on many days and during many seasons, think about my dog.  Give yourself some grace.  Tell yourself some truth.  It’s just as ridiculous to say “trust God more” to yourself as it is to my dog.

#4  Anxiety dissipates by being “held.”
The best thing we could do for our dog, when she was at her worst and visibly shaking with fear, was to hold or pet her, come close to her, and speak gently and kindly to her.  That’s really what those of us with anxiety need.  We need someone to listen to our fears, be gentle and kind to us and most of all, hold us until it passes (this can be emotional or physical).  My favorite words in the whole world are, “It’s going to be okay.  You (the real you) are going to be okay.”

The big question that nags is what if there is not someone tangible to hold us?  Can we go to God?  Will He calm our hearts?  It’s not magic and certainly not a quick-fix formula, but I promise you that He cares for you.  He loves you.  He will listen.  He will be kind and tender to you.  He will hold you until your heart and mind calm.  A verse that I reprimanded myself with for many years got flipped on its head one day by our counselor.  I Peter 5:7.  Instead of “cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you,” it is actually the reverse in the Greek.  It really says, “Because He cares for you, you can cast all your anxiety on Him.”  God is the initiator here.  We ARE cared for.  He holds us.  To that truth, I cling with my life.  Shalom.

(By the way, I loved my dog and I miss her very much.  I wouldn’t have traded her for the world, fly-biting and all.)

 

 

 

Posted in anxiety, Emotions, Family, freedom, God, health, Sabbath, sacred

The Myth of Scarcity (and the Hope of Acorns)

“We must confess that the central problem of our lives is that we are torn apart by the conflict between our attraction to the good news of God’s abundance and the power of our belief in scarcity.” (Walter Brueggemann)

It’s happening again.  Acorns are falling from trees.  They are everywhere.

I believe wrong things.  The myth of scarcity is one of them.  It comes pouring into my newsfeed.  My television streams it.  It permeates conversations with family and friends.  My own thoughts teem with it.  Many of my decisions are made because of it.  And it’s downright wrong.  A lie.

The myth of scarcity is the idea that there isn’t enough to go around.  The world (and the God who created it) is lacking the resources to meet our needs.  There’s not enough _______ (you fill in the blank) for me and those I love.  At its root is the monster of fear.   And as we all know probably better than we would like to admit, fear is a slave-making emotion.  My reaction to its demands cause me to hoard, fret, close up and off, control, and protect myself physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Acorns speak something completely different, something that has been true from before the dawn of time.  As I walk down my tree-lined street in these months of the fall, they are strewn everywhere.  They crunch under my feet and get in my way as I try to get my 10,000 steps (see FitBit post).  It’s almost ridiculous how many there are.

One morning, I was fretting over the lack of ________ in our world, and in my own family, and I saw with new eyes these acorns.  They were abundant.  There weren’t enough furry little creatures to gather, store up and eat these acorns in the coming months.  There was a plethora of them.  I was gently reminded again from my loving God about how the world began and how it really works.

The creation account in the beginning of the Bible is the story of God’s generosity.  God’s force of life is loose in the world.  His creation is endowed with fullness of vitality, encouraged to “be fruitful and multiply.”  God’s goodness overflows from His creation.  There is so much abundance and generosity, the time must end in a period of Sabbath rest (my most favorite part).  The myth of scarcity is ultimately debunked.

In the last 24 hours, I went right back to believing the myth.  I became caught up in the lack of personal safety in our world and specifically wondering (okay, looping) whether Rachel will be okay through Hurricane Irma.  I told myself, “my 17 year-old daughter is by herself living in an apartment (well, her two 18 year-old roommates are with her…but that is not helping) 1100 miles away and a big storm is coming.”  At midnight, I went right to “how can I fix this?” and my actions quickly followed.  I scoured the internet for hotels and flights for hours.  Talk about slave-making fear.  I fell back into a fitful sleep hoping for different news in the morning.

The news was the same as I woke, but that didn’t matter to God.  He provided an initial text from a good friend saying Rachel could come to Atlanta and stay with him and his girls.  An acorn.  Another text came from a friend in Sarasota saying their home was open and they have water and a generator.  Another acorn.  A third text came later from the same friend that she went to Costco and loaded up for the weekend with more than enough food and water.   More acorns.  (This was not what I was seeing on the news.)  And now I have come to find out, it’s her husband’s birthday on Saturday.  There will be a celebration in the middle of it all.   A whole oak tree.

It doesn’t matter what the news is saying in Florida right now.  It’s the myth of scarcity: “Not enough food, not enough water, not enough gas.”  But God has spoken what’s true.  He’s got all the acorns in the world.  He is filled with abundance and generosity.  He is never lacking.   And He will do “exceedingly abundantly above all that I could ever ask or imagine.”  And you know what, because of His generosity,  I might just be able to take my own Sabbath rest in the middle of it all.  I needed these acorns today.  I hope you have some too.

(One caveat.  I know this is not Family Friday worthy.  I’m sure you can forgive me.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Childhood, Family, joy, love, Parenthood

Ending Well (and a surprise beginning)

“I’m so tired, I’ve forgotten how to spell the word tried.”  (Google search of “parenting” + “tired” + “quote”)

I am tired.  I am counting down the hours to ending my active parenting.  It’s been 25++ years.  I am sitting on the floor, covered in empty boxes, and about to sleep on a futon that has been through three other college students.

When I think back to active parenting, I have:

  • used q-tips covered in alcohol carefully for 10 days on each of four babies’ umbilical cords until that gross thing turned black and fell off
  • grocery shopped with four children under seven (it was like taking four goats to the store…I “kid” you not…get it?  get it?  I “kid” you not)
  • sorted legos into bags by color, size and type at least 52 times (to be exact)
  • played Ms. PacMan on Nintendo 64 surrounded by eight excited eyes until I beat all the levels and killed the witch
  • kept Pokemon cards carefully in plastic sleeves inside of books and monitored whose cards were whose
  • filled out back-to-school forms until my eyes twitched and my hands curled up in agony (can’t this be computerized people?)
  • packed 180 (# of days in a school year) X 4 (# of kids in this house) X 13 (# of school years in the life of an average child) lunches (for you math heads, that’s 9,360)
  • created chore charts, memory verse charts, learn-to-pee-and-poop-on-the-potty charts, and behavior charts, all complete with stickers and prizes
  • watched (or at least heard from the kitchen) ad nauseum reruns from the Disney Channel, Nick Jr., PBS, Cartoon Network and now Netflix
  • coached and watched basketball, soccer, baseball, lacrosse, wrestling, field hockey, swimming, track, volleyball, and softball (I’m pretty sure our records for all of those sports combined was .500 exactly)
  • listened to piano, clarinet, bassoon, guitar, and recorders (some of it, shall I say, “more pleasing to the ear” than others)
  • gone to the doctor, dentist, oral surgeon, voice therapist, orthodontist, counselor, ENT, orthopedic surgeon and emergency room enough that I felt like I should have “frequent shopper cards” (buy 10 visits, get one free)
  • planned themed birthday parties each year complete with specialized decorations and games (Pin the Tail on Pikachu anyone?)
  • endured graduations from preschool to middle school to high school to college (best memory is Josh and I rolling our eyes across the gym at Rachel during her 8th grade graduation…don’t judge me)
  • driven at least 5 or 6 times the distance of the globe to practices, lessons, youth groups, parties, play dates, school, and girl/boyfriend’s houses (you parents out there feel my pain as you read this)
  • broken up 3,247 fights over paper-cup lids, halloween candy, bathroom etiquette (or lack thereof), and on and on and on
  • taught (or I should say freaked out in the passenger’s seat) four teens how to drive
  • moved four kids in and out of college dorms and college apartments (one night I actually slept on bath mats…it was the softest thing I could find in Jared’s apartment)

You can see why I’m tired.  25++ active years of this.

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About six months ago, I felt done.  Yes.  Done.  After all, Rachel was independent, easy, and didn’t really need me anymore.  Could I get out of this parenting thing early?  Loved that thought for a moment.  Relished it.  And then some force within me rose up and put a stop to that thinking (it had to because it was running amok).  

I made this promise to myself (and made the same one for Allen, whether he liked it or not): “I am going to end my parenting well.  Rachel deserves the same parent the other kids got until the day they skipped out the door to their dorm rooms.”   I can’t say that it was perfectly executed by any means after that or that I just had all the exact amount of love and energy I needed to do this every moment of every day.  But you know what, I did do it.  And it was good.

Good.  That is all that was needed.  Not perfect, but good.  I have no idea and I am super grateful for whatever rose up inside of me to keep fighting the good fight until the very last picture was hung, Walmart kitchen table built (complete with chairs) and Bed Bath and Beyond order picked up.  And I do have the proof:  I am sitting on the floor, covered in boxes, about to sleep on a very well-worn futon.  I have ended well.

But (SURPRISE!!! you thought this blog post was over) it does not really end.  Love does not end.  It changes, but does not end.  My hands may be less busy (I am seriously praying this is true), but my heart will never be.  My heart is bigger and wider and busier than ever before.  Love does not end.  It multiplies.

And guess what.  Big news.

On or about the beginning of November, a new baby boy will be born to our Sarah and her husband Cody.  And the cycle of love will begin again, and actually, it already has.

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(an aside for those of you still in the thick of it:  you are doing great!  you will make it!  it will be okay! and yes, it is very hard and very worth it!  you are a super hero!)

 

Posted in Childhood, Family, God, joy, love, Parenthood, Pennies, sacred, thanks

Pennies

“The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside by a generous hand. But- and this is the point- who gets excited by a mere penny?”  (Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

Allen hatched a plan at dinner one night many moons ago.  He had been reading the above book (worth the read) and was captivated by an anecdote about a game Dillard used to play in her childhood. She tells the story of how she used to hide her own “precious penn(ies)” in nooks or crannies in trees or sidewalks, drawing chalk arrows to them so a stranger would find the surprise penny and pick it up.  Many times, she would lie in wait to catch a glimpse of the excitement in the finder’s eyes.

Allen’s favorite thought, just like Annie Dillard, was that there are “unwrapped gifts and free surprises” straight from the heart of God, just waiting for us if we open our eyes to see them.  Thus came Allen’s mission for our family:  find these pennies every day and tell us about them at dinner.

What started as a game ended up changing our lives.  Each one of us searched and found many things each day that we believed were “strewn by the generous hand” of God Himself, “surprises” just for us He had hidden along the path, many times with “big arrows” signaling where we might discover them.  We had things like flowers, actual pennies (those were super fun to find), frogs, the best parking space at the mall on a rainy day, butterflies, a kind word from someone, scoring an unexpected goal on the soccer or field hockey field, etc.  Sometimes, we would joke that what we had been given was a “nickel,” a “dime” or even a “quarter,” depending on the magnitude of what it meant to us.

Maybe I’m the only one here, but I have a confession to make.  My life (and mostly my head) is filled with negativity from the news, struggles in my home, animosity on social media, work-place uncertainty, sickness and even the death of those I love, all things that  consume me by what’s wrong with the world instead of what’s right.  And really, truth be told, it causes me to doubt whether or not there is a God who is alive and who actually loves us people down here on this beautiful, but hurting planet.

As the events of the past week unfolded, my mind traced back (and thankfully did so) to the game we played for a whole year at our dinner table, the one that changed my life and maybe can change it again.  Are there terrible things?  Yes.  Are there sad things?  Yes.  Are there things that are just downright wrong?  Yes.  But are they the only things? NO!

I don’t want to stick my head in the sand, but I also don’t want to be swallowed up either.  I want to wisely navigate that tension between the bitter and the sweet of life, compassion rising within me in the bitter and joy enveloping my heart in the sweet.

One does not negate the other.  They both matter.  They both have their place in my day. I would venture to say, however, that I don’t have to look very far to see the bitter.  I am bombarded from sun up until sun down.  And that’s why I want to open my eyes, like Annie Dillard implores me, to search for the sweet, find it, and name it.  Those “pennies” might be just what I need.  And they just might quiet those doubts and remind me of a God who is alive and loves little old me, a God who has put special pennies all throughout my day, pennies just for me.  This is a soothing and healing balm for my soul.

Will you play this game with me, even if it’s just for today?  Pennies from heaven.  Mine today was a beautiful view of the James River from outside our train window on the way to Florida taking Rachel to college.  What was yours?

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