Posted in Anxiety, Beautiful Mess, Emotions, Faith, Freedom, God, Health, Hope, jesus, Love, Sacred

Redeeming Hypnopompia

“This is my Son, Whom I love.  In Him I am well-pleased.”  (God the Father)

How do you wake up each morning? Slowly, stunned and disoriented? In a panic, your heart racing? Do you set an alarm and jump out of bed or hit the snooze button over and over? Do your thoughts feel dull or does your mind immediately race to all that you have to accomplish? No matter how it happens, there seems to be a tiny window between being fully asleep and fully awake, those brief moments (or even seconds) when it’s somewhat in the middle of the two.   Experts call it hypnopompia (which roughly means “to lead out of sleep”) or liminal space. It’s the precious time before you’ve accomplished anything.

To be honest, the very first thing I’ve done for a long time is reach for my phone.  After all, the “EstherGizer Bunny” has much to achieve and I can check my emails, weather, social media, to-do list and FitBit sleep status right away (I actually have to sleep correctly too…what are we coming to?).  I can start my day on the right foot, alert and organized.  I can even check off some of those pressing tasks on my to-do list with my pillow still under my head.  I have no time for this liminal space.  It’s no wonder I wake up with heart racing and in a panic.  Who wouldn’t?

Until about a month ago.  I started to read Tish Harrison Warren’s book, Liturgy of the OrdinaryShe speaks of these fleeting, fuzzy moments upon waking.  “Whether we’re children or heads of state, we sit in our pajamas for a moment, yawning, with messy hair and bad breath, unproductive, groping toward the day.”  We have yet to do anything.  Who are we in those moments?  Who am I in that space, without my never-ending to-do list and my hope to “get-‘er-done?”

Tish brings me back to the story of Jesus Himself.  A gentle reminder.  He lived 30 years as a regular guy in a regular town in a regular job.  No one would say His life was earth-shattering.  10/11ths of His life on our spinning globe are barely recorded.  Certainly not much of any import.  And at the end of three decades and before his “big three years,” as He was being baptized, a simple dove flew over Him…DON’T MISS THIS…and the voice of His Father shouted words of APPROVAL over Him, “This is my Son, Whom I love. With Him, I am well-pleased.”  This was all before what many would deem “world-changing.”

He was APPROVED of and loved before He ACCOMPLISHED anything. 

This beautiful and hard-to-soak-in new idea is redeeming my hypnopompic time.  I spoke with a friend who sets an alarm clock 20 minutes before the “real” one goes off so that she can spend that cozy, quiet space resting in the notion that she is completely loved and approved of by God before she earns anything.  Amazing!  It’s all the same for Jesus, my friend and FOR ME!

I am APPROVED of and loved before I ACCOMPLISH anything!

So tomorrow morning (and hopefully all the mornings after that…or at least more of them) before you get your head together, before you check your phone and respond to some urgent request, before you shower and primp, and before you head into your day’s activities where you will accomplish many things, take those fleeting, fuzzy moments (and hopefully I will too) receiving God’s unending and unchanging love and APPROVAL for you.

Soon enough, you will be about your morning.  Brushing your teeth.  Checking your phone.  Helping loved ones out the door.  Putting a load of endless laundry in.  Heading off to your endeavors.  Your day will be filled with all kinds of earning: your paycheck, your friends’ approval, your spot in the grocery store line, your promotion, even your own standards.

As we wake with messy hair and bad breath, let’s “lead ourselves out of sleep” with the gentle, loving approval God wants to pour over us as we start our day.

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have placed my trust in you. Show me the way to go, for to you I entrust my life.” (Psalm 143:8)

From my heart to yours.


As always, feel free to like, comment or share! Especially out on social media (or here)!

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

Make a Marriage Great Again (Part Eight of Ten) – Have a Little Faith

“The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib He had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man and his wife were naked and they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2:7, 22, 25)

The first marriage story ever told goes something like this:

God makes a bunch of creatures, including a boy and a bunch of animals.

Boy checks out all the animals, but there is no one that “floats his boat.”

GOD: “It’s not good for the boy to be by himself. I’ll make the best fit for him”.

God makes a girl from the very flesh and bones of the boy. God sets up a not-so-blind date for the two of them.

BOY (after seeing girl for first time): “At last! She is all that I’ve been looking for!   Thank you God! She is beautiful! She is part of me!”

Boy and girl are naked and they feel no shame. Boy and girl become one.

Time goes by and after working in a beautiful garden and enjoying companionship with each other and with God, girl meets up with a destroyer of all the goodness.   Girl is convinced that God is holding out on her and not giving her what she needs.

GIRL: “I don’t need God. I’ve got this. He’s not to be trusted.”

Girl acts from that place of disconnection from God.

GIRL: “Come boy! Do what I do. We really only need each other.”

BOY: “Okay. Sounds great to me.”

Boy acts from the same place of disconnection from God.

Boy and girl now realize they are naked and they feel shame. Boy and girl cover up and hide.

GOD: “Where are you boy and girl?”

BOY: “I am hiding from you.”

GOD: “Why?”

BOY (blames the girl): “She made me do it.”

GOD: “Why girl?”

GIRL: “Someone else made me do it.”

Disconnection → hiding → shame → blame. This is how Allen and I lived for many years. The cycle repeated endlessly. We lived how Albert Einstein defines insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” It wasn’t like we weren’t trying hard. Believe me. We were. We just didn’t know how to get off the hamster wheel.

God designed us for the opposite of the above cycle. His original design for marriage is connection → vulnerability → responsibility → grace → intimacy.  It’s the same as His perfect plan for His relationship with us, our journeys of FAITH in Him (there it finally is…the F you were waiting for…see the rest at the end of the post).

God longs for each of us to be “naked and unashamed” (fully-known and fully-loved) with Him. But why does it matter?

The vicious cycle of disconnection → hiding → shame → blame is a destroyer of souls, hearts, minds, even bodies.  That’s why it matters.  It does NOT work for good.  It does NOT bring wholeness or healing.  God wants something better for us.  He has actually created us to have the same relationship with Him that He does with Jesus, the “I and the Father are One” kind of relationship Jesus speaks so freely of.  He wants us to be One, naked and unashamed.  How can this happen?

CONNECTION: It starts here.  God wants us to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are loved by Him no matter what. This is not an easy undertaking. We have had voices of fear, guilt and shame that have permeated our lives and many times, we have associated them with God. Repenting (which just means “changing your mind or thinking a new thought”) is the first step. The truth about God, not what you’ve heard and assumed all your life is that He loves you. No matter what. His great desire for you is that you live from the place of this unconditional loving connection with Him.

VULNERABILITY: When we struggle and fail, he wants to deepen that connection without hiding, but with vulnerability, putting ourselves in the place of trusting Him and His love for us. Vulnerability is when we make ourselves susceptible to the judgment of others, when we let our guards down and relinquish control. It’s scary. It involves risk. We might be rejected. The good news is that God will never reject us. He is safe because He can be completely trusted with our struggles and our strengths, our trials and our triumphs. He isn’t going anywhere. He will never leave us or forsake us.

RESPONSIBILITY: This safe place with God allows us to be free to take responsibility for our lives, our actions and our emotions, instead of playing the blame game. Taking ownership of our own brokenness, without the self-deprecating place of blame and/or shame is a tricky path to walk. Recognizing our own humanness and frailties and then bringing that out into the light with God is a wonderful giant leap on this journey towards intimacy with Him.

GRACE: God responds to this out of His own complete goodness. He responds to us with grace, which simply means unearned favor. Instead of shaming us, He is kind to us. Instead of cursing us, He blesses us.   Instead of turning His back on us, He turns His face towards us. Instead of sending us away, He pulls us close.

INTIMACY: Naked and unashamed. My favorite phrase in the English language. Fully-known and fully-loved. The definition of intimacy. What we all long for at the depths of our being. This is the end result of all the hard work. Completely worth it. It is the healer of souls, hearts, minds and even bodies.

As you can see, our marriages are designed to reflect this beautiful cycle of intimacy, the oneness we all long for, with God and with each other. Marriage is unique, the only human place where this can take place in all of its fullness. We are designed to know and be known, fully without shame: spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. How amazing of God to have invited us to experience this with another human being in the covenant of marriage. I have been given the gift of Allen. He has been given the gift of me. We both have been given the gift of this life-long union. Here’s to opening our gifts every day for the rest of our lives.♥

Thank you for reading today!  Please feel free to “like” out on social media or here!  Thank you again!


 

For the rest of the “F’s” in the series on marriage, click on the following links:

Family of Origin

Fidelity

Flaws

Faithfulness

Forecast

Friendship

Fighting

Posted in Beautiful Mess, Celebration, Childhood, Emotions, Faith, Family, God, Hope, Joy, Love, Parenthood, Sacred, Word of the Year

A Blessing for My Fellow Moms (#refreshmentforyoursoul)

There ought to be a hall of fame for mamas
Creation’s most unique and precious pearl
And heaven help us always to remember
That the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.
Glen Campbell

To my Fellow Sweet Moms,

Each of our souls need blessing, someone willing something very good for us and asking God to grant it.   As moms, we are constantly blessing those we love and live with.  We give many times more than we receive.  As your kids (whether they’re three or 43) enter another new “school” year, I long to speak this blessing straight into the core of your mom soul.  I pray that God would fill your life and your heart with all the good things that God can give.  One of my favorite words is “HOPE” (It was my WOTY in 2015) . True, authentic, God-breathed hope is the confident expectation of good in your life.  This is my “HOPE” and blessing for you this year:

As you rise each morning, may you awaken refreshed with peace and hope for the new day that has been given to you (in your body, your mind and your spirit).

As you are getting ready, may your heart be excited about what gifts have been prepared by God’s hand, especially designed for you.  May your time be expanded so that you are not hurried and that you are filled with joyful expectation.

If you have a little one, may they have slept peacefully through the night and be waking with a brilliant smile and a warm hug for you.  May they respond with enthusiasm as you help them to dress, eat and be ready for their day ahead.

If you have school-aged children, may God speak words of encouragement to you during the morning flurry.  May peaceful and cooperative spirits reign over the rush.

If your child is now a budding or grown adult, may God fill your heart with peace as you trust Him with their journeys and what they may be experiencing apart from you.  May God comfort you as you wipe away the tears that come from missing them and may you experience joy as thoughts of them flood your mind.

As you walk through your day, may others speak words of kindness to you.  May you also have wisdom to know exactly what God has for you as you pursue the things you love, whether for work or pleasure.  May your labor bring much reward to you no matter what you endeavor. 

May you and those you love have safety throughout the day.  May each of you be protected from disease and harm. May you find yourself in a constant place of contentment and peace, physically, mentally and spiritually.  

May you be filled with laughter and joy as you unpack the special gifts God has designed just for you.  May you have times of seriousness and depth as well that speak to your inner being.  May your friendships blossom, your body flourish, your mind be sharpened and your heart be filled with love.

May your pre-dinner time be filled with peace and joy, kindness and motivation.  May those you live with work diligently to fulfill their responsibilities and be a help to you the best way they can.  May there be times of play and refreshment as well that nourish and strengthen your soul.  

Depending on what your evening’s activities bring you (family, a good meal, continued work, exercise, quiet, or friendship), may those who come in contact with you give you only words of comfort, understanding and support.  May the mouths of others be shut if their words are critical and unkind.  May your exercise (whether physical, emotional, relational or spiritual) be fruitful and bring life to you.  May your loved ones bring you blessing and life.

When you have a break from the daily grind of work (weekends, vacation, Sabbath, etc.), may your time be filled with restoration  of your mind, your spirit and your body.  May you have understanding of what to fill your time with and when to rest, when to be with others and when to be alone.

As you wrap up your day, may your mind turn to thoughts of thanksgiving for the gifts that were so freely given to you that day by God’s hand.  May all thoughts of despair and discouragement be banished from your mind, heart and soul and may they be turned to Christ, who has sustained and provided for you during this past day.

May your night be filled with dreams that bring you joy, recreation, laughter, hope, love, peace, kindness, encouragement, restfulness and even creativity.  May God grant you the full and daily restoration that your body, mind, heart and soul needs during this time.  May your whole being respond with healing and wholeness.  May God richly bless you as you sleep!

Throughout all of your days, may you be able to see, feel and receive the love and grace that God has for you in abundance.  And finally, “May the God of HOPE fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with HOPE by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  (Romans 15:13)

Sweet Fellow Mom, we are on this journey together, one that is filled with the beautiful and messy, the light-hearted and complicated, the bitter and sweet!  We will keep trusting and moving ahead on this journey together!

From my heart to yours,

Esther #fourkidsisfun

 

 

 

 

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 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 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

Fidelity

Flaws

Faithfulness

Forecast

Friendship