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 of Origin

Fidelity

Fallibility

Faithfulness

Forecast

Friendship

 

 

 

 

Posted in Beautiful Mess, Celebration, Childhood, Emotions, Faith, Family, Freedom, God, Grief, Hope, Love, Sacred, Taboo

A Grief (and Celebration) Observed…A Thin Place

“525,600 minutes.  How can you measure the life of a man?  It’s time now to sing out, though the story never ends.  Let’s celebrate.  Remember.  Remember the love!  Measure in love! Seasons of love!”  (Rent)

Last weekend, I had the honor of speaking at a Celebration of Life for a remarkable man named Stephen Friars, who passed away suddenly.  For his family and those who loved him, shock came first.  Confusion quickly followed, along with anger and heartbreak.  Overwhelming grief, yet glimmers of joy, memories filled with laughter, and the desire for a celebration of a man utterly-loved and a life well-lived followed.  Plans were made to invite coworkers, family, and friends to a beautiful backyard to pay tribute to and honor a “too-soon-taken” brother, husband, boss, co-worker, and friend.  Here are my words:

Today, we engage in one of the most complicated and sacred acts that we participate in as humans. We gather to both grieve AND celebrate the death and life of Stephen Friars, beloved brother to Gail and Gary.   It might look to anyone driving by or peeking out their curious neighbor window like a typical spring barbecue, where friends are gathering to eat some grub and celebrate the latest Yankees win. But as we here know, it’s definitely not that yet it is. No, we are not celebrating the Yankees, or the Rangers, or even the Giants, but we actually are in a way, because the one we are celebrating loved those teams and we are cheering (and obviously wearing) what he loved. Go red, white and blue! (And this is a big deal for this Pittsburgh fan!)

Viewings, funerals, memorial services and celebrations of life are, like I said, one of the most complex and difficult things we take part in as humans, but also one of the most beautiful and sacred. It’s one of the times, and it’s happened today already, where we are laughing AND crying, devastated AND hopeful, and confused AND yet have the greatest clarity about what life is truly about in the same few moments. It’s one of the “thin places” the Celtic speak of, where heaven AND earth touch, even ever so briefly. It’s the place where the boundary between the divine AND human worlds becomes almost non-existent, and the two can, for a moment, dance together uninterrupted. I felt it when I held my new grandson in the early morning light that first week he was born. I felt it when I listened to Dooey sing God Bless America on the cusp of the New Year in the darkness gathered with friends on our front stoop (but I was secretly freaking out about what our neighbors thought). I feel it every year on Christmas morning.  It happens when I catch a glimpse of a rainbow or listen to the guitar solo during Hotel California.  You know what I’m talking about. You have your own thin places. Today, it is happening in spades. It’s these times where we listen with our souls, not just our ears, dive deeply into those parts of us that are kept quiet during the hustle and bustle of our lives, and maybe, just for a moment, feel God’s presence in a very palpable way.

Stay with me in this moment and enter into the sacred of both grief AND joy, heartache AND hope, confusion AND clarity. Why do we have all these seemingly contradictory emotions at the same time during times like this?  Just like all of us, Stephen is complicated. Both his life and death are a tangled, intricate weaving of both good AND bad. And who can attest to that better than Gail and Gary, his siblings? Just take a minute and think about your own. We each know all too well both the light AND dark sides of those we shared our home with. Siblings are the people who you would kill in one moment AND die for in the next. For Gail and Gary, this tragedy has made this all come front and center. During his life, Stephen kept mostly to himself and struggled with letting others in. On the other hand, there were glimpses when he would just let himself go and have fun in the moment (WATCH THIS “Best Holiday Party Performance” if you don’t believe me). He did not have many close friends, but he was very friendly. He didn’t seem to need others, but was there when they needed him. He had a hard time expressing his love at times, but his dogs made his heart come alive. He loved them unconditionally and they loved him the same way.  He struggled to be completely himself at times with his family, but he shone as a bright light and went above and beyond the call of duty both to care for and nurture his co-workers.

To be honest, Stephen’s death is just as complex. There are not a lot of answers from the doctors and from Stephen himself.   It’s hard to figure out what happened, why it happened, what could have been done to prevent it and why God allowed it. There’s even anger that this is just plain old wrong. And that is the truth. It is just plain old wrong. It would have been better if all the wrongs could have been made right, all the “I love you’s” could have been mutually shared, and there would have been the “happily ever after” ending. Normally, we don’t like to talk about this hard stuff. We want to paint a picture of perfection. But that’s just not true. The truth is that each one of us, just like Stephen, are a mixture of good AND bad, wonderful AND difficult, really, as Gail spoke of, an absolutely beautiful mess.

For years, I spent my life only living (or pretending to live) in the “beautiful,” the “good”, the “happy.” I dismissed the shadowy sides of pain, difficulty, sorrow and loss. After all, that’s the American dream, “up and to the right.” But I was missing out on half of my journey. Today, I understand and try to live in that tension of embracing the thought that my life and yours and Stephen’s is comprised of all of it. That’s what makes it truly a FULL life, one where we haven’t missed out on anything!

That’s why we have grief AND joy today. Grief over the loss of ability to make all things right here and now. Grief because Stephen is gone and there is no longer a physical future to be shared together. It would be strange if there wasn’t this grief.   Yet there is surprising joy at the memories shared, the funny stories that bring laughter even today. Grief AND joy. There is also heartache AND yet hope. Heartache over what might have been and will never be, yet hope at what’s to come as we believe we will see him again in the best possible place. Heartache AND hope. There is confusion AND clarity. As I spoke earlier, there is confusion over what exactly happened, what could have been done to prevent it and why God allowed it. But there is also great clarity today that life is really about love and kindness, joy and mercy, and family and friendship, which causes us to hold those we care for just a little bit tighter, make the wrongs right and speak the “I love you’s” before it’s too late. Lots of confusion AND yet undeniable clarity.

Stephen’s life-long legacy lives on in each of us, forever having changed the footprint of the world for good. He was truly one-of-a-kind, of infinite worth. We who are here and able to enjoy the future that is still with us are also utterly unique and priceless. It’s why this is all so important, this celebration. We don’t want to rush through the grief as it honors Stephen and the flowing tears continue to remind us that he is so loved and now so missed. But we also can embrace the celebration of a life well-lived, a man who, though imperfect, like each of us, was funny and kind and smart and truly and deeply loved.

One of the first questions Gail asked me that terribly sad Monday morning after Stephen passed away was what was it like for him now.  After all, he had his own personal demons (as we all do), but as Dooey stated, “he was such a great guy, Esther, you would have loved him the minute you met him.” His heart for his beloved wife and his furry friends was more than evident at every turn. His coworkers obviously adored him and looked up to him and miss him terribly.  He loved well and was loved in return.  The answer came to me about a week later as I was passing one of those imposing billboards on the Pennsylvania Turnpike that makes me cringe every time. It shouted in bold letters: “After you die, you will meet God.” There was some phone number you could call at the bottom to get the help you need to straighten yourself out before your impending doom. After all, God is angry with you and He’s got a score to settle. It all hit me like a ton of bricks and I asked God, “Is this really what you are like?  Do you want us to be afraid to meet you?  It all sounds like going to the principal’s office.”  In that moment, my heart settled and a gentle voice whispered to my soul. “I AM LOVE, ESTHER.  Change the wording.”   And so I did.   “After you die, you will meet LOVE.”  So different.  So healing.  So inviting.  God longs for and invites us into a relationship filled with love.  We do not have to be afraid to meet Him!

I have spent a lifetime trying to get to really know this God who created us, bestowed on each one of us, including Stephen, infinite worth and loves us, not because of who we are, but because of who He is. He can’t help Himself. He actually is LOVE. He really is. So what will it be like when we ultimately meet Him after our physical trappings are taken away? What was it like for Stephen? From what I understand today as I stand here before you, those thin places we enter into here and now will no longer be needed. The boundaries that stand between heaven and earth will be completely torn down.  The place where God is only palpable for a fleeting moment will turn into an eternity of endless moments. Stephen has come face-to-face with pure and unabashed LOVE, what each of us long for at the deepest parts of who we are.   So next time you see that dreaded billboard, hopefully my words will “haunt” you.  Yes, we will each meet God, but the deeper truth (or as CS Lewis calls it, “the deeper magic,”) is that we will meet LOVE, for God is LOVE.

So, Stephen, we salute you. We thank you. We miss you. You are truly, deeply loved. Anything that stood between you and understanding that in the fullest sense is now a temporary bump in the road, a glitch. It’s gone. We hope you are enjoying that love that you longed for all of your life.

ENJOY ONE OF HIS FAVORITE SONGS SUNG BY HIS NEPHEW SAM!

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Anxiety, Beautiful Mess, Emotions, Faith, Freedom, God, Health, Hope, Sacred, Thanks, Word of the Year

TW – Not TT (Season #01, Episode #07) Why It’s Not Just for Turkey Day

I’ve been fairly crabby this week.  And anxious.  Allen has also been anxious.  Lots going on in our home and family to merit this.  Definite and possible job changes.  Future home changes.  Friends with health and emotional challenges.  College kids coming home for the summer.  The normal stuff that makes up life, but tends to ramp up the crabbiness and the worry.

Last weekend, while meeting with our marriage mentoring couple, I was reminded once again about my strong passion for thankfulness.  Sitting at the table, surrounded by French croissants (brought by our amazing baker bride) and cups of tea, I spoke (okay, preached with passion…in other words, “went on a verbal rampage”) about the merits of thankfulness, spewing phrases like “it’s never a wrong decision,” “we actively see and acknowledge God’s hand in our lives,” “it brings healing,” “I am highly committed to it and it’s changed my life,” and on and on.  They listened to me with open hearts and wide eyes, jotting down notes in their manuals.

After they left, I sat down at my computer to give myself a good “pat on the back” and re-read all my thankful posts.  After all, I am highly committed to it and my blog will prove it to me once again.  Well, my “pat on the back” came to an abrupt halt when I opened my website and realized I hadn’t written a “Thankful Thursday” post since the end of November:  FIVE MONTHS.  Five long months.  I tried another avenue for the pat:  the daily thankful app on my phone.  Surely that would boost my ego and make me feel good about my dedication.   What I saw there was sporadic at best, certainly not daily, heart-felt reflections on how I have been blessed (those red notification circles on my phone are not doing their job – LOL).  So much for my tireless commitment.

Lest you worry about me plunging headlong into despair (that’s not my modus operandi), I forged ahead and re-read my thankful posts, looking for gentle reminders and the encouragement to pick up this best practice again.   Could there be a connection between my crabby and anxious heart and this drop off in thanksgiving?  The answer came to me:  I’m NOT sure.  Life isn’t having the right formula.  It just doesn’t work.  But as I re-read my posts, I AM sure the gratitude is really important.  Here’s why:

  1.  It gives words to the gifts that have been strewn to us by a generous hand and loving heart, treasures from a God who longs to speak His presence into our very souls.  We actively seek and remember those gifts.  We find out we are not alone on this journey and that there is someone who constantly loves and cares for us.  Read more HERE.
  2.  Sharing our thanks with someone opens the door for more relationship.  It provides connection in a world of disconnection.  It speaks love and kindness into someone’s world where these might be lacking.  It is always a good and right decision, something elusive in an ever-changing and complicated world.
  3. It shouts beauty to a world bombarded with the ugly.  It multiplies thanks in my own heart.  It is one of those sure-fire, good things in my life.  And it is simple, super simple (with all of the formulas out there for changing my crazy life for the better, this one doesn’t require a book to be written or a class to be taken).  Read more HERE.
  4. Thankfulness is one of the environments I can provide for myself that brings healing.  No.  It’s not magic or formulaic (believe me, I have lived a lifetime of that destructive line of thinking). But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s GOOD.  Read more HERE.
  5. 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.  My life tends to be filled with negativity from all kinds of sources, things that consume me about what’s wrong with the world instead of what’s right.  Thankfulness combats that enemy of my soul and soothes it.  Read one of my all-time favorite posts HERE to find out more.
  6. It brings the voices of HOPE and RESTORATION instead of voices of fear, divisiveness and destruction.  Many days, I am those voices of hope and restoration. But I also need those voices from others, the voices that reflect the very heart of the God of unity, truth, healing, encouragement, kindness, love, hope, peace, joy, patience, all that is GOOD.  Read more HERE.
  7. It’s a gift from others to me.  When someone remembers to say thank you, my heart becomes a little less empty and a lot more full, a little less broken and a lot more healed.  It brings unity where there is division, joy in the midst of sorrow, and clarity instead of confusion.  Thanksgiving heals.  Read about this HERE.

This is what I know so far about my endless journey towards this practice of gratitude.  This is why this weekend (note the title TW which stands for Thankful Weekend…I know you were wondering), I am reflecting on my week and sharing these quick thoughts with you.  Speaking aloud again about what gifts God has given me:

  1.  A lunch with a friend who, after I made a snarky comment, said to me, “This is why we’re friends.  I wish I could live across the street from you.”  She validated why she loved me.  HUGE (especially for this “words of affirmation” girl).
  2. A phone call from a long-time friend about what one of my blog posts meant to him.  He encouraged me to continue to write.  STRAIGHT UP GIFT.
  3. Another friend called and asked me for my advice about her teenage son.  For those of you who have the battle scars of parenting, you get this.  All that work is not wasted.  Someone else can benefit from my successes and mistakes as a parent.  YAY!
  4. A sleep-over with one of my “brides” who we mentored several years ago.  A lazy dinner and a chat about boundaries and marriage and friendship and church and good books to read.  BALM TO MY SOUL.
  5. Sharing communion with my Beautiful Mess girls.  Reminding ourselves about the Deep Deep Love of Jesus and the Reckless Love of God.  FAVORITE NEW SONGS!  Take a few minutes to listen.
  6. A heart-to-heart talk about struggles and decisions with another friend.  Her text to me afterwards reminding me she treasures our friendship.  OH MY GOODNESS.  LOVE IT.
  7. Date night with Allen sharing wine and worries over dinner and then taking the time to paint.  SO INCREDIBLY THANKFUL FOR THIS PARTNER IN HOPE AND HEALING.

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As I sit here and take the time to reflect (which I am actually doing as I write this), my heart is gently reminded again why this matters.  People matter.  Loving them matters.  They are some of the greatest gifts I have.  God matters.  Loving Him matters.  Seeing His provision and gifts in my life matters.  He actually is THE greatest gift.

Maybe I have just “TENDED” to the best thing this morning.  (And I can breathe a prayer that I might just be a little less anxious and crabby.)

I hope you can too.

(Let me know if you do and what you are thankful for either in the comment section or privately at this link or connect with me on my social media pages:  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn).

Posted in Beautiful Mess, Celebration, Emotions, Faith, Freedom, God, Holiday, Hope, Joy, Love, Marriage, Missionary, Sacred

Best Friday!

“Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.” (Song of Songs 2:12)

For months now, the anticipation has been building!  The final countdown came about 10 days ago.  Last night, it came to fruition.  Yes, I know it was Good Friday, the day we Christians reflect on the unconditional love of God as found in the death of Jesus Christ.  But this Good Friday had been named “BEST FRIDAY” by my friend Jody several months ago when she planned her future wedding date.  “Come to my wedding on Best Friday,” was her invitation to her family and friends, Allen and I being among them.  “Can’t wait, Jody!” was my reply and I sent emojis and texts over the past few weeks reminding us both of the imminent celebration!

Jody is one of the members of my women’s group, the Beautiful Mess, that meets every Thursday morning.  She has been with us from the very first day over 11 years ago.  On that day, we found out that her dad and my mom were raised by missionary parents in the same small African country, working for the same small organization and actually had grown up together.  Immediately, we had a connection and an unbreakable bond.  I loved her from the start.  As I spent time with her, I found her bright, sunny smile, gracious heart, and super upbeat, yet laid-back disposition intriguing and delightful.  Her relationship with her four boys wins her the “best mom award” (as I playfully reminded them last night and heard no argument…in fact, they were all very quick to agree).   I am pretty fierce in my love for and desire to protect her.

Thanks to Jody, this phrase “Best Friday” has been reverberating in my head and heart for quite some time.  The excitement of the anticipation of something long-waited for has brought me sheer enjoyment.  Coupled with the fact that this “Best Friday” celebration marked the end of my 40-day fast, Jody would receive “her happily ever after.”  This put a huge smile right on my heart (and my face, I will admit). The fast had started the day after my birthday, one celebration, and was ending it with another.  I couldn’t have asked for better book ends.  And celebrate we did.  Dancing.  Food.  Friends.  Love.

I am so thankful for the fast.  I removed the external, physical pleasure for the sole purpose of internal, soul-level healing.  It brought me better health, both physically and spiritually.  It reminded me that I am much more than JUST the physical.  It’s a mystery to me how it works (even though I am confident that it definitely does) and I’m okay with that.

Richard Foster, in his book, Celebration of Discipline, speaks of all the “serious-side of spiritual growth” practices like prayer, meditation, solitude, fasting, etc.  They are valuable.  They matter.  But one of my favorite chapters is titled the “Discipline of Celebration.”  Wait?  What?  Celebration is a discipline in and of itself?  Why?

After last night, I am again reminded of why.  Why do we dance and cheer and weep for joy along with our friend who finds the love of her life?  Why do we buy balloons and ice cream cakes (which I am doing again today for our son Josh) to celebrate the birth of someone?  Why do we get dressed up, go to church, have egg hunts and gather with family on Easter Sunday?

Celebration says to others, “you are valuable, I choose you today,” not out of convenience, but actually with fierce intentionality.  It says, “I really know you and love you.  You matter.” 

Yes!  There are times for fasting!  The practice is invaluable.  In fact, I want to incorporate it into my week and not just go back to “business as usual.”  I want be reminded often of HOSANNA (God, Come Save Us!).

But yes!  Last night, on Best Friday, the time for fasting was over.  It marked the time for feasting and celebration!  At least for the three days this weekend!  Here goes!

Jody, you are valuable.  I love you.  What matters to you matters to me!  I celebrate with you!  As John said to me last night, “Jody is the best person I have ever met!  I promise you I will take care of her!”  How could I not do a little internal leap for joy  (and some external leaps as well for those of you who saw me dancing the night away) as I know you are fully-known and fully-loved by this man!  Yippee!

Josh, you are valuable!  I love you.  Your birth marks one of the best days in my life!  I hope that you find that we, as a family, celebrate all the facets of who you are.  You are truly one of a kind!  You are loyal, bold, curious, and determined, along with being super quirky!  You one of my favorite people in the whole word!  How could I not have tears welling up in the corner of my eyes as I write this!  Yippee!

Jesus, you are valuable!  I love you.  You matter!  Your fierce pursuit of me by your coming to earth, living among us humans, dying on that cruel cross and then overcoming the worst that humanity could do to you by rising from that death is the reason I have hope for the healing of my heart (and you readers out there by the way)!  I can’t wait to join my family to celebrate you on Easter Sunday!  I choose you!  Yippee!

Happy Easter to each of you!  Let’s celebrate together! (Even if it’s just on our screens!)

 

 

 

 

Posted in Beautiful Mess, Emotions, Faith, Freedom, God, Hope, Murder, Prison, Word of the Year

Dear Kim (my letter to prison about what might really matter),

What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important. (Dwight Eisenhower)

Hey Kim,

Hope you are doing well.  Thank you so much for your letters.  Seems like your life is full of crazy stuff in the prison system, things I have no understanding of, nor comprehend how you tolerate, work through and actually still have peace and joy in the midst of them.  I can’t believe you’ve sent me four letters and I have not responded to any of them yet.  It makes me sad to think about that.  I wonder why I haven’t and why I’m sad.

I could give you the “excuse” that life has been a bit crazy lately and it would be true.  In the past month, I’ve spent time with my mom during her surgery, helped Sarah with the baby, had a power outage for a week from a major winter storm, helped Jared move into his apartment, looked for a new place to call home within the next two years (we need to downsize–our taxes and this big house are killing us), along with the normal things I do like manage our home and rental property at the beach, have some kind of exercise regimen, lead my women’s group and stay committed to our small group (both of which provide grounding and love), spend time in our marriage mentoring ministry while keeping our own marriage from falling apart, make time to write and keep up with my blog (that also keeps me processing and grounded) and try to maintain some kind of close relationship with God (my lenten fast being a huge thing right now – click HERE and HERE to find out more).

Just seeing all of that in print makes my head spin and I’m not surprised that I am a little exhausted and stressed.  My Word of the Year is “TEND” (for those of you reading my blog, I will be having an update right after Easter) and I’m not sure how it’s playing out in my life.  As I perused your latest card this morning, your words struck me right between the eyes of my heart.  I paused and re-read all four of your letters, reflecting on what might really really really matter and what I might need to “tend” to.  As I sit here and process, two huge things jump out.

First, the urgent often takes the place of the important.  The urgent are the things that supposedly need immediate attention:  endless “needs,” work, house stuff, emails, the “fires” of life, etc. etc. etc.  Many times, I have to respond quickly or they don’t get “fixed,” “checked off my list” or I have disappointed someone.  I’m not saying they shouldn’t be taken care of, or they aren’t good things, but oftentimes my focus needs to be shifted.  In all the flurry of the urgent, the truly important gets neglected:  my relationships and heart connection with people (people like you), my dream to bring hope and healing to myself and others and figuring out the avenue to do that best, and most importantly, a vital and deep relationship with God.  I miss what’s best for what’s good.

Sometimes I envy you in prison (click HERE and HERE to read more about Kim).  You take the time to make what genuinely matters matter.  I know you have great loss in not having external “freedom,” and I don’t take that lightly, but you seem to spend your time and energy on the larger things of life, not being encumbered by all the seemingly urgent things it takes to make life keep “humming along,” whatever that even means.  I would imagine you really miss the normal  parts of life and are envious of me at times as well.  As I read your letters and am getting to know you again, it seems like you just “get it” and see life through the lens of the important and not the urgent.  You’ve caused me to pause and listen to the cry of my own heart today.

Second, your encouragement from prison is baffling and beautiful.  Your letters remind me that it’s not our outer circumstances that dictate our inner life.  Nothing can touch our true selves and the hearts God has given us.  He is continually healing and bringing us into closer touch with His own heart, the best place of all (not the Women’s Correctional Institution or Stirling, NJ).  You penned that the SAME God who has consistently “held you in his loving arms as you have suffered the consequences of your own actions also holds” me too in all the things I am journeying through.  I was mildly taken aback.  What kind of person says those things (and more importantly believes them) in your situation?  The answer does not surprise me:  you are someone who understands the deep heart of forgiveness, mercy and grace of God like no one I have ever met before.  Your words today healed my own heart further and placed me right in the palm of God’s most loving and generous hand.  Thank you.  Thank you.

I am making plans to visit you (I am sorry they were thwarted this past time by your illness) because I want to take some time to set aside the urgent for the important and continue the path of relationship with you, one that we both believe has been one of the most redemptive and healing of the past year!  I miss you and can’t wait to see you again.

Much much love,

Esther

P.S.  To answer your question about being a grandma, it’s truly amazing!  Broden Bear is a fun little guy!   I love that your daughter sent you 265 pictures of your sweet granddaughter!  Yay for us!

 

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

One/Fifth of the Way (What the Heck is in My Pot?)

Spiritual hunger and spiritual thirst
But you got to change it
On the inside first
To be satisfied
(Van Morrison)

Last night, I had an epic “fast” fail.  I was supposedly making a mango curry over quinoa recipe and I must have purchased chia seeds instead of quinoa (thanks Shoprite for having them in bins right next to each other).  Needless to say, I cooked this supposed quinoa according to the directions and I ended up with a black pile of very broth-soaked chia seeds.  The best part of all is that Allen did say “aren’t those chia seeds?” as we were purchasing them and I assured him, “No, they’re quinoa.”  Thankfully, this was one of those moments (and it could have gone either way) that I just laughed and we made some actual quinoa I had in the pantry.

It’s a little over one week into Hummus and Hosanna.  I believe I am starting Day 9 of 40.  I am out of sorts.  I started off with a great attitude and was really excited for all that God was going to do, the great breakthroughs and the weight I was going to lose (don’t judge me.  I know it’s not supposed to be about weight loss).  But reality struck pretty quickly.   The comfort foods I eat that hold me emotionally and physically have been stripped away and I am left with an internal hunger for something all the time.   It’s a low-lying buzz in my body and in my mind, an unsettledness in my spirit.

You might be reading this and thinking, “not a lot of hope and healing here.”  This sounds like despair and dis-ease.  I hear you.  It sure does.  When I have all these sensations (which is also quite often) on my regular “non-fast” days, I reach for the fridge or pantry door.  Potato chips and milk (I know, it’s really weird, but it’s seriously my favorite snack ever).  Slices of Jarlsberg cheese.  An Almond Joy from the candy jar.  It works.  I am temporarily satisfied and that interior craving seems quieted.  It happens all over again the next day and the next day and the day after that until the voice inside is minimized to a whisper that cannot be heard.  I go about my business as usual believing all is right and well with my world.

Until it’s not.  Until the “tools” (quick fixes) I normally have are not available anymore.  What now?  I have two choices:  reach for the cheese, chocolate and chips or sit, listen and explore the noisiness in my spirit, the cry of my heart, the jitters in my body.  I probably won’t reach for those foods because I am a “line-in-the-sand” kind of girl and a rule follower for the most part (plus I shouted to the world on my blog that I am doing this).  I also know that this is what is best for me, even if it feels not so good right this second.  I choose to trust the process, and the God who is the orchestrator of that process.  I explore parts that are usually shut down by physical satiation.  I ask myself these questions:  What do I really need?  What am I hungry for?  What will truly make me satisfied, at peace, filled with the “long-view” kind of good?

I want to quickly jump ahead and repeat some Bible verses or inspirational quotes to myself, but that becomes just another form of “food,” a way of quieting the noise.  The real truth is I am not sure.  I don’t know yet.  I am waiting with hopeful expectation.  This is where I am and this is what’s true.  I don’t have to be sure or know quite yet.   I’m really okay.

You might be waiting too.  You might have a noisiness in your own spirit, a cry of your own heart, jitters in your own body.  I imagine there are times that you do.  What if we listened and explored together?

If so, I see a glimmer of hope on the horizon for both of us.

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