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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

WE ALL NEED THIS LOVING TRAVELING COMPANION!

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

The Tale of Our Three Marriages (THE BIG REVEAL)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Thank God He didn’t leave us there.  It all “hit the fan” at the end of those 10 years.  Our first marriage came to an abrupt end.  With the help of some friends, Allen took a huge risk and shared some of his “not-so-perfect” stuff with me.   I would love to tell you that I returned his risk with the reward of kindness, understanding and grace.  Not so much.  His reward was judgment and anger.  After all, I liked my perfect, cookie-cutter world, where we were “godly” people and had a picture-perfect marriage and family.

Over the next months, my heart began to slowly change.  Allen’s risk affected me.  I was free to explore the ways I was hiding, the “not-so-perfect” parts of me.  For the first time in our marriage I felt safe and free to share those things with him.  If he wasn’t perfect, then I didn’t have to be either.  What a relief!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are links to my other posts about Marriage:

Family of Origin

Fidelity

Fallibility

Faithfulness

Forecast

Friendship

 

 

 

 

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 Celebration, Childhood, Family, God, Holiday, Love, Parenthood

Ten (Short and Sweet) Padre Snapshots

“My father didn’t tell me how to live.  He lived and let me watch him do it.”  (Clarence Buddington Kelland)

I am privileged today to be spending time with three dads:  two “oldish” ones (Allen and my brother Stephen) and one first-timer (my son-in-law Cody).  As I scrolled through Facebook and Instagram this morning, images and pictures of fathers near and far, alive or passed on, silly and serious, coupled with lots of writing or just a plain image, my heart became full.

Dads get a pretty bad wrap in our culture.  Their absence or abuse seems to be the downfall of our families and ultimately our society.  Dads are to blame for the ills that befall our hearts.  In the media, they are painted with a large brushstroke of incompetence, ill-will, and ignorance.  For many today, this image is more true than you’d like it to be.  It fits with your experience.  This day is actually one of the hardest of the year.  I am sorry.

But as social media reminded me this morning, it’s not a complete picture of all dads.  Some dads, like the three I am with today, are good men: kind-hearted and loyal, fun-loving and humble, gentle and strong, present and loving.  Enjoy these snapshots of some of the best dads I know.

1. My husband Allen getting into the baby pool with our four-month old.

Summer 1992_0003

2.  My brother Stephen taking long fishing trips with his son to the remote regions of Canada and New York State.

3.  My father telling the story of the “Wide-Mouth Frog” to a bright-eyed grandchild the same way he did with me so many years ago.

4.  Allen patiently hooking up many a worm on fishing poles for our not-able-to-do-it-yet boys. (key word:  patiently)  And as you can see, braving the dangers of taking our young wiggly boys on a much-longed for boat ride.

Family Camp_0032

5.  My son-in-law Cody playing peek-a-boo with his six-month-old and producing cackles of laughter.

6.  My friend Glenn walking his daughter down the aisle and then performing her wedding ceremony with tears in his eyes and love in his heart.

7.  My brother Tim holding his kids close at the graveside of their mom.

8.  My father-in-law giving the toast at our wedding after agreeing to be Allen’s best man.

9.  My brother David attending concert after concert with his daughter.

10.  Allen and Rachel holding hands while walking into their favorite coffee shop in the wee morning hours before high school.

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These are the pictures (and so many more about so many of you or the men that you love) that are etched into my memory from men who have decided to be present, to be intentional, to bring healing, to love their children well.  Thank you.  Thank you.  I salute you!  Keep up the good work!  You are the reason that I can remotely understand the love of my Heavenly Father.  No one else does it better!  Happy Father’s Day!

 

WOULD LOVE TO HEAR ABOUT YOUR SNAPSHOTS OF THE GREAT DADS YOU KNOW!  Feel free to comment and share (especially out on social media)! 

 

 

Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Emotions, Faith, Family, God, Health, Hope, Joy, Love, Parenthood

“I Want Five Tattoos!” (My 13 Year Old)

“Being the best is great.  You’re the number one.  Being unique is greater.  You are the ONLY one.”  (Wilson Kanadi)

I couldn’t tell you when it happened but when Rachel, our youngest (read more about her HERE), was about 13 or 14 years old, she told me she wanted to get a tattoo, actually FIVE tattoos.  After my initial internal “yikes” response and my “not-so-hidden” external gasp, I drummed up the courage to ask her what these FIVE tattoos were and why she was in desperate need to mark up her sacred body (as I so lovingly reminded her which was responded to by some eye-rolling).

Mustering my highly uncomfortable “listen-whether-you-like-it-or-not” skills and “don’t-make-any-faces” expertise (Okay.  You got me.  It’s true.  I have absolutely zero expertise in this area), I listened as she surprised me.  All on her own, she had discovered FIVE things that she loved in this life, FIVE parts of our common humanity that made her heart come alive and that she would hold tightly onto no matter how old she became.  She had a symbol for each one that she wanted tattooed on the inside of each of her FIVE fingers.  I listened with bigger ears and a broader heart (good parent award) and breathed a sigh of relief that the tattoos would be so small that no one would probably ever notice them (shallow, worried-about-what-others-might-think parent booby prize).  She had discovered how she was specifically designed and made it her mission to invest in what made her heart flutter as she traveled her unique life’s journey.

Rachel’s FIVE:

HEART – This symbolizes “love.”  Her desire to invest in people and relationships: from family to friends, from those on the fringes to those on the inside, from the easy-to-like to the hard-to-tolerate.  (Mom note:  Rachel is a ball of unconditional love.  Those who meet her feel instantly like they are the only person in the room.  Her smile is contagious and her grace is infectious.)

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PUZZLE PIECE – Since Rachel was a tot, she has loved puzzles.  From 3rd grade on, we have had a puzzle table set up in our family room that is constantly filled with pieces waiting to be gathered into a picture.  She has a special puzzle table at college and is part of the “puzzle-of-the-month” club.  This is no small matter in this girl’s life and it gives her a place to unwind, yet allows her brain a much-loved boost.  Some people run for endorphins.  Rachel does puzzles.  (Mom note:  she gets this from my genes.  She and I are going to have a puzzle contest this summer to see who can get the same puzzle done quicker.  Please pray for me.  I think I might have met my match and most likely, my superior.)

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Current Puzzle Table Look

 

CROSS – Jesus.  This is plainly and simply about her fierce attachment to Her Savior, Confidant, Best-Friend, Provider and Lover of her Soul.  Her pure heart for the spiritual and her complete understanding of the intentional, passionate love of God and His unconditional acceptance of her has given her an unspoken confidence.  (Mom note:  She is unwavering in her own truth, yet never judges another who isn’t quite there yet.  It’s one way that I want to be like her.)

 

WAVE – This one symbolizes all things water, especially her love of the ocean.  She grew up swimming like a fish, always in our pool (in fact, we built it especially for her), and as soon as she got a taste of the sand and the sea, there was no turning back.  Her heart swells for any and all days that she can spend at our beloved Long Beach Island and she braves our Garden State Parkway to get to the ocean any which way she can.  (Mom note:  Thank God we live in NJ and she goes to college in Central Florida.  It’s the perfect place for a one-hour ride to this dream that she consistently makes a reality.)

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MUSIC NOTE:  From the little musical play that she was in as a child TO her fierce commitment to learning the guitar in middle school TO quitting lacrosse to pursue her passion for recording arts, Rachel reminds me that music sets her soul on fire.  Music is one of the truest friends of her creative heart and mind.  It gives her a place to create and connect, to relax and rejuvenate, to express and find refuge.  (Last Mom note:  I couldn’t believe it when she told me she wanted to take voice and piano lessons her senior year.  After only a few short months but a lot of hard work, here was the result:  ENJOY IT HERE!)

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Every so often, I check in with Rachel about her FIVE things and which ones she’s finding easy and or more difficult depending on the season she’s in.  Last week, when she returned home for her summer break and we were riding bikes at the beach, we spoke about this.  She shared that this latest season of intense schooling for her future recording arts career has not allowed her to give attention to some of these FIVE.  She is determined to spend the next eight weeks rediscovering and investing in them.  However, just as in all things, it’s not that simple.  The more complicated part is that it might mean saying “no” to some really good so that she can say a deeper “yes” to the important.  And guess what?  The puzzle table is back up.  She’s reading Love Does by Bob Goff to get to know Jesus just a little bit better.  She’s spending every possible minute either out by our pool or at the beach soaking in the sun and sand.  She’s investing time and energy into her two best friends from home, her closest friend at school and her awesome family (If I say so myself, and I guess I just did, we are awesome!).  And never-to-be-neglected, she is playing piano and guitar until the wee hours (I fell happily asleep last night as I listened to these pierce the quiet of our home) along with becoming better at “ear something or other” that I don’t even understand.

As a welcome home surprise, I bought her FIVE rings that have her FIVE things.  The sparkle in her eyes as she opened the gifts told me everything I longed for.  One of the main hopes I have as a parent had come true in this beautiful young woman:  I desire that each of my children learn and then pursue who they uniquely are.  I don’t want my children to be like me.  (In fact, the term “Minnie-Me” gets me all up in my grill.)  I truly want them to be themselves, to be the “one-of-a-kind” God has designed to be.  It goes back to my favorite Dr. Seuss quote of all time, “Today, you are you.  That is truer than true.  There is no one alive that is youer than you.”  I will be me.  You be you!

The other day, Rachel reassured me that she no longer wants those tattoos on her fingers.  I felt great relief for a brief moment until she blurted out, “Meg and I are going to get beach bike tattoos this summer.”  My hope of a small, almost invisible tattoo is fading quickly.  Yet, my hope for this girl to blossom in all her Rachelness is exploding!

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Rough Sketch of Future Tattoo

 

Rachel has caused me to think about my own FIVE things.  What symbols would I choose for what makes me unique, “one-of-a-kind”?  What makes my heart come alive?  What do I want to invest in that speaks of who I am and allows me to leave my very own personal mark on this lovely world that no one else can because they are just not me?  What might I need to say “no” to for my deeper “yes”?  I wrote a few of them down this morning.  Stay tuned to a future blog post!  What are your FIVE, or FOUR, or however many?

(As always, SHARE, comment, AND especially LIKE and comment on my post out on Social Media or here if you are a WordPress friend…this means the world to me!  Plus, I do really want to know!  For real!)

Posted in Celebration, Emotions, Faith, Family, Health, Love, Marriage, WTF

Make a Marriage Great Again (Part 6 of 10 – Anniversary Edition)

It’s not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.  (Friedrich Nietzcsche)

This weekend marks the 27th anniversary of the date Allen and I said “I do,” May 18, 1991 (cute pic, don’t you think??).  The weeks and months leading up to the big event were filled with all the romance human beings can muster:  a promise ring given as the sun rises in the east and George Winston’s “Pachelbel Canon in D” plays in the background, love notes communicating the eager anticipation of our future lifetime together, passionate dates ending with lingering kisses , celebrations of our love in the forms of showers and parties with family and friends, and hearts that long for the knitting together of our bodies and souls.

The day finally arrives and the romance continues in all the typical wedding fare:  songs declaring promises that “I Will Be Here,” vows exclaiming our undying love and commitment to one another, pictures of eyes gazing into each other, a big celebration with family and friends where I was told that the three most important words in a marriage were the following (from Allen’s dad, our very Pittsburghy Best Man): “Pirates, Penguins, Steelers” (okay not so romantic, but I digress), and a wedding night filled with dinner, candles and “you know.”

The romance is prolonged for the next 10 days as we spend our Honeymoon in a cabin nestled in the heart of the Smokey Mountains exploring underground caverns, dining at white-laced tablecloth eateries, white-water rafting, watching “The Hunt for Red October” (again, NOT so romantic and NOT one of Allen’s finer moments), bike-riding, long, lazy talks about our future, hiking to water falls through quiet walkways, spending uninterrupted time together (no cell phones in those olden days), and more “you know.”  Life is just as I imagined it should and would be for the next 50 years:  filled with the excitement and mystery of these things called love and marriage.

Enter reality:  home rental with option to purchase, unexpected pregnancy only two short months in, long work hours, church commitments, and normal, every-day activities like paperwork, food prep, and yard work.  Not sounding too romantic anymore.   My dream is mildly shattered.  Is this really what makes up marriage?  How will we last?  This just seems like a lot of hard work.  And yes, yes it was and still is.

So without all the constant romance (which we still have after 27 years in fits and starts and are committed to), where does the rubber really meet the road?  What is the force that weaves our hearts tightly together?  I would hazard a guess that it finally dawned on us on our 10th anniversary, the first weekend we spent away from our four young children:  FRIENDSHIP (there you have it, the 6th of the 10 “WTF’s” for marriage…see first five at end of post).  I remember it like it was yesterday.  We were hiking the Appalachian Trail, running desperately from a swarm of mosquitoes, hysterically laughing at ourselves and we just looked at each other and one of us said, “This is why we are married.  We actually like each other.”

Without even knowing it, we had spent the first 10 years of our marriage cultivating a long-lasting friendship.  We had, as Elisabeth Foley, describes, forged a relationship that “doubles your joy and divides your grief,” and we encountered the beautiful discovery that “true friends can grow separately without growing apart.”

Friendship is absolutely VITAL to the health of any marriage.  It is forged through mutual trust, unconditional support and selflessness, all things that must be fought for and worked through.  Marriage requires these marks of true and abiding friendship: equality, attachment, honesty, companionship, emotional safety, respect, understanding, vulnerability and closeness.  There’s just no way around it.

To be candid, I am not always a good friend to Allen, nor he to me.  We tend, in our humanness, to find fault, treat each other with contempt, push each other away, become too busy, listen half-heartedly, hide and shut down.   And for these times, just as any true friendship needs, grace and compassion must flow out of our hearts for ourselves and each other.  After all, this is really the stuff that makes up a lifetime of babies and home ownership, job changes and heart-breaking losses, bill paying and love-making.

So on this 27th anniversary (such a weird, random number), I write what I texted a friend this morning:

“I am actually in Pittsburgh spending the weekend with Allen, celebrating our anniversary.  So so so thankful for my long-lasting friendship with him.  That’s what my post will be about this weekend:  our friendship in our marriage.  I can’t even imagine what my life would be like without his constant companionship and friendship.”  😊

I love this man, my husband, from the depths of my soul.  He has all that it takes to make a great friend:  loyalty, kindness, compassion, grace, integrity, respect and understanding.  What a gift he has given me.

One last aside.  There is another piece to this puzzle that our Pittsburghy best man understood about marriage:  entering into and embracing what is important to the other person is paramount to true and abiding friendship!  It is telling the person:  I will love what you love!  As you can see below, I have done my best to make it a reality!

Happy Anniversary, Allen John Goetz!  You have truly “doubled my joy and divided my grief!”  Here’s to 27 (at least) more!

Enjoy the rest of the “WTF?” marriage series:

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Posted in Celebration, Emotions, Family, God, Grief, Hope, Sacred

Cheers to You Cathy! (and your beautiful girls you loved so very very much)

“I am exhausted from trying to be stronger than I feel.” (Whisper Quotes)

April 14, 2017.  Good Friday.  “My beautiful daughters were killed in a head on collision on I-17 by no fault of their own. They died instantly and went home to be with the Lord.”

It’s been one year.  One year.  Hard to believe.  Hard to still fathom what happened and especially why it happened.  Losing one child is hard enough.  But losing both?  Horrible.

Cathy was one of my best and dearest friends in high school.  Our parents worked at the same mission organization and we went to the same church and youth group.  We both grew up in different parts of Africa so we had that in common.  We both had the middle name of Joy and we sang together in competitions under the name of Double Joy.  We had boatloads of fun, dated friends, were on our Bible quiz team, loved one another fiercely, and even got in some mischief together (like the time we were arrested because I pointed a dismantled BB gun out of the window of my car and an undercover policeman happened to see it…long story for another time).  I think my mom made me “break up” with her because of this (little did my mom know that I was really the one to blame and Cathy was the one who should have been breaking up with me).  Needless to say, Double Joy (and maybe Double Trouble) fit us perfectly.

After I left for college, Cathy went on in her career and then moved to North Carolina to become a highly successful mortgage loan officer and then top sales rookie for Aflac Insurance Company her first year.  During that time, she raised two beautiful girls, Karli and Kelsey, into wonderful adult women.  Karli went to Grand Canyon University and was about to graduate at the end of  April 2017 with a BA in Communications with plans to get her masters degree.  Kelsey was a Bio-Medical Premed student at Western Carolina University.  They both loved life, their Savior, their friends, their mom and one another!  Please read more HERE.

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In the early-morning hours of Good Friday, April 14, 2017, the girls were killed in a wrong-way crash.  Please check out the first news story HERE.  There are more links to come.

Photos, videos, condolences, tributes and a GoFundMe fundraiser immediately flooded social media on behalf of Cathy and her girls.  News stories from North Carolina and Arizona went viral.  Check them out HERE and HERE.

Three days later, April 17, 2017, Cathy posted:

“The past 72 hours have been more than I can bear and my sorrow and broken heart I can’t even share. So much I want to say but I still just can’t. My tears are many and my soul and body know no rest.”

The morning of the viewing:

“Tomorrow starts the worst 36 hours of my life.  I’m afraid to even go to bed because it means I have to wake up. I still struggle to breathe and function.  I ask for much prayer as I truly physically and mentally hurt more than I ever thought possible. Smarli and Smelsey, Mommy is here and will love you forever. My heart belongs to you both forever and my life will forever be unhappy because your smiles and laughter will not be seen or heard anymore on this earth. I’m jealous of those in heaven as they get to be near and with you: which is where I want to be. Mommy”

The day of the funeral:

“Today I bury my children, something a mother should never have to do. I ask for prayers every minute as I do the final task for my children today, the one last thing I can do for them as mommy. I will lift them up to the Lord and I will speak on their behalf.”

That afternoon, with the church packed to the gills, Cathy stood on stage for more than an hour, at times reading from notes, but more often speaking freely and telling stories about her girls.  She spoke haunting words to the audience, asking “Are You Listening?,” wanting others to heed the call of her girls’ tragic and undeserved deaths.  You can actually watch the Youtube video HERE.

Fundraisers all across Arizona and North Carolina popped up.  Richard Petty’s iconic #43 race car drove in honor of the girls.  Dutch Brothers Coffee in Arizona raised money.  A GoFund Me page was set up and more money poured in than expected.  Vigils were held.  Benches were dedicated.  Pictures were painted.  Videos were made.  Trees were planted.  Letters of support came from across the globe.

Only 10 days later, Cathy flew to Arizona and walked in Karli’s place at the Grand Canyon University graduation ceremony to receive her daughter’s diploma.  Check out this article and the following very touching interview.

 

 

In the painful weeks to follow, Cathy spent time with family, friends, Cathy’s kids (a group of several young adults who call her “Mom” and spent Mother’s Day with her) and her cats, found a plot of land to build K2 Ranch, a home she wants to invite others into in honor of the girls, and went to vigils and fundraisers.  She grieved often and openly, finding some purpose in their deaths.  Read more HERE.

Kelsey’s birthday, July 15, was marked by great grief and incredible joy as friends gathered to celebrate her:

“July 15, 1998.  Kelsey Mae Richardson was born. Intense labor and you entered the world screaming. Full head of hair, the famous eyebrows and the beautiful pouty lips: from day one you had it all. You grew into a incredibly smart, beautiful, full of life, talented loving young woman: only to have it all taken away in the blink of an eye.  From the moment I heard you to the moment I first held you, I loved you! As you grew and got mouthy, then extra sweet, then clingy, then adventurous and even more beautiful than ever, I loved you more. Your incredible mind made you uniquely different and as that developed I became your best friend: the one who really understood you and “got you”. Kelsey, I still “got you”!  You now have a future with the Lord God Almighty, and “He got you” way more than I do. HE is your protector now and your guide: watching you love and laugh as you run around heaven carrying Karli.  I know where you are today on your birthday, you are with Jesus, you are celebrating with the Most High. Tonight look down about dusk, I’m sending presents up to heaven to you tonight. You’ll love it and you’ll think to yourself: “aw, mom still has my back”. I gotcha Smelsey, I love you and miss you and I gotcha! Happy Birthday Kelsey, mommy loves you forever and always”

Eleven days later, the truth came out.  The girls had definitely been killed because of too much alcohol.  Cathy began to share their story anywhere and everywhere people would listen, at Kelsey’s college, on the radio, and through social media.  She desired (and still does) to inform others about the dangers and devastation of drinking and driving.

 

In late August, I had the chance to spend the day with this incredible woman.  We drove around with the top down in her fancy sports car and enjoyed the gentle breeze and the beautiful day.  She showed me her land and her plans to build K2 Ranch.  She shared endless stories about her amazing girls.  She took me to see Memorials that have been made and we even stopped in to visit local veterans at Richards Coffee Shop which houses Welcome Home Veterans Living Military Museum where she and the girls spent so much time and energy honoring those who have served and continue to.  We even stopped to see one of her clients that she “gave a talking to” about how his choices were bad for his health and his family, but that she was still going to try to get whatever money she could for him from the insurance company.  We ended our time with a wonderful dinner on a lake at her favorite local eatery and she still had time to drive me home and have a quick visit with my parents.  I was enamored by her.  Her grief was open.  Her spunk was not destroyed.  Her joy was unhindered.  Her love for others was evident.  Her heart was the same, filled with adventure and kindness.  She was all of those things at the same time and in the same moments.

More grief as her cat Ollie dies on September 12:

“I woke up to find the cancer had finally won the battle with my precious little Ollie. A year ago Ollie walked into my yard and rescued me. I didn’t rescue him, he rescued me. God knew this would be the year of my life that would forever change me, and He gave me this little guy to sit on me when I’d cry, sleep with me at night so I wouldn’t be alone, be silly and cause laughter and smiles. To be loved completely and greeted immediately: that’s my Ollie. What he gave was what humans just can’t give me this year.  He helped me to be calm when I was restless and lost. I love you Ollie and I’m so grateful for you saving me this year. Give kisses to Karli and Kelsey and tell them I miss them and love them.”

September 14, 2017

“Five months ago, God took you both home. I still don’t understand why but I’m trying. I struggle daily and some days are good and others unbearable. My heart is heavy but when I close my eyes I can feel your soft skin and smell your hair and feel it run through my fingers as I hug you tight and you hug me back. So brokenhearted today…”

September 17, 2017  Cathy spoke:

“I had the honor to speak at Western Carolina University on behalf of my beautiful daughter about the tragedies of drunk driving. It was a emotional night but I know God is using my beautiful girls for His glory and knowing this I will make it through life until one glorious day I have them both in my arms again.”

Cathy spent Christmas with her elderly mom, but it was an unimaginably hard day:

“1 year ago. Laughing and smiling and loving my life 100%!!! All I love around me. Never again will smiles be the same or a fully happy heart. God let’s me know they are happier than I can imagine but my heart is broken beyond imagination. Thank you for texts calls and emails. Knowing I’m prayed for and my children are not forgotten is one thing that warms my heart and makes me smile. May they never be forgotten. My soul will one day be full again when the Lord takes me home and I will feel them in my arms and hear their laughs and smell their hair and know that my babies are with me and we are together.”

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On New Years’ Eve, the reality of the night ahead pierced Cathy’s heart.  Too much drinking and possible driving tonight.  Other families will grieve as a result.  She warned:

“I pray you all READ and remember: SHARE this especially tonight.

This should never have happened. My incredibly smart, funny, loving and beautiful daughters should be ALIVE today! DRUNK DRIVING caused this, killed them and killed the drunk too! DO NOT DRIVE DRUNK TONIGHT!!! For EVERYONES sake DO NOT DRIVE DRUNK TONIGHT! No mother should get the knock on the door tomorrow morning like I did. If you think it can’t happen to you, it happens. DO NOT DRIVE DRUNK!!!!!!!!!!!”

Cathy’s birthday, January 7, is marked by another day of horror and beauty, brokenness and redemption:

“There was a plan that the girls devised, of how our older years would be and how the girls would take care of me.  Kelsey would work and make all the money.  Karli would watch all the children and clean Kelsey’s house and mine. I was the cook and financial planner. We would all live on 15 acres which Kelsey would buy with her “doctor’s” income.  Today, they are taking care of me but in a way that I wish I could change. I’d rather live in a tent than live without them! But today, they are building me a ranch house in the country to live and retire in. It will be handicap accessible and will protect and care for me.  Beautiful acreage and everything I could possibly ever need and want. They are providing for me and caring for me from above in a way I never thought of. It’s hard and emotional to build this.  I cry almost every time I go out to see it. People ask if I’m angry at God, and the answer is sometimes I am. I cry and I yell and I wonder why everyday. Yet, through all this He made sure I would still be cared for as I was left here on earth: they are caring for me and keeping their word and will forever provide for me till I see them again. My precious babies mommy loves you so much and I can’t wait till the Lord brings us back together again in heaven…”

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In February, we had lunch together as I was back in Charlotte to care for my mom.  She spoke of how she was doing, what was happening with the ranch, and listened to my stories with a kind heart.  Again, she was authentic and vulnerable, not sugar-coating her grief, but also filled with laughter, the same girl I had known my whole life.  It marked a wonderful three hours as we tried to eat healthy, but ended up having some treats, just like two 50-somethings would do when they went out to lunch.  So normal, yet so “not normal.”  It’s never normal to talk about your children’s deaths and all the after effects.

March 26, 2018, Karli’s 21st birthday, another speaking engagement and a cake made by a friend.  Another day of grief and beauty.

Good Friday, March 30, 2018:

“A few weeks ago I got permission from the new owners of our old home to remove a 10 year old Pin Oak tree that Karli and I planted when she was in 3rd grade. It was a sprig in a paper cup she brought home from school and insisted we plant. She watched over and watered and protected that sprig, and it actually began to grow.  I will be able to look out my back porch and see the tree that my little big girl and I planted years ago, and as it grows I will remember my little big girl who never gave up and believed that she could do anything she put her mind to.”

Same day, right before bed:

“Many of you have texted, called, messaged and done very kind things for me today: and I truly appreciate it all. It is Good Friday and last year the girls died on this day.  I struggle daily with so much. I remember day one, minute one, second one when each were born. How I long to go back.  April 14 will be the toughest, the actual day when 1 year will have passed without us laughing, hugging, talking, giggling, watching Scooby Doo, going to DQ and Pomodoros, watching movies with Gma, shopping and sharing in the life we had put together and loved so much. Karli I can’t stand it that I don’t get your constant Facetime calls, and Kelsey it’s almost unbearable to sit on the couch on Fridays now and know you aren’t going to walk through the door and surprise me with a weekend visit. God needed you and I don’t know why, but knowing how safe and loved you are up in heaven gives me the comfort I need to know I will see you again: I WILL SEE YOU AGAIN! Good Friday is a important day and when I think about it you both are so special and important it makes sense He would take you home on that day: you had to go and you both were so good and how honored to go home on the day the Lord did too. He will rise on Sunday, and because of that you rose out of your grave and are with Him: and someday I will be up there also and again we will laugh and hug and be together again, only this time forever. Nothing will ever again separate us once God brings us back together again. Pain and suffering, forever down here I will have, but Praise God for Easter as one day all suffering will end.”

 

April 7, 2018 “In one week it’s been a year. Breakdown today. I can’t take it.”

Sunday night, April 8, I sent her a message.

“I have felt so compelled to write a tribute to YOU this week on my blog. For a year, your heart has been laid out for all to see and especially the excruciating pain you have gone through. I have admired from near and far. I just want to give you a huge shout out, but wanted to get your permission first.  It will be a way to honor you, your heart, what you want to come of this and also your girls and their legacy. You are one beautiful soul, Cathy, and I want to honor you.”

 Her reply:

“Oh thank you Esther. How kind. I’d be honored and humbled.”

 

April 9, 2018  “Karli’s tree is doing beautifully if you look closely there are full buds on every branch of the tree is living just like Karli and Kelsey are living in heaven above mommy loves and misses you both so much.”

April 14, 2018  Cathy is currently in Arizona heading on a hike and a luncheon to honor the girls on the anniversary of their deaths.   A “Come Light a Candle Event” is taking place in North Carolina.  These girls were so loved and they are very missed.  This morning, her heart poured out again.

“I was reminded last week that Paul told us in Philippians that we all should run the race to receive the prize for the mark of the high calling. It hit me, it really hit me. God puts us here to run the race for Him and we are to run for Him and when we have won the race He put us on earth for, He takes us home.  God gave me two incredibly and wonderfully-made girls and by the age of 18 and 20, they had finished the race TOGETHER that God intended for them.  I sat there looking up to heaven with tears streaming down my face and all I could think of was ‘I get it!.’  They ran the race for the mark of the high calling and they won!  My children ran and they won!” 
So Cathy, here’s to you, sweet Mama, and to your beautiful and broken heart.  Your girls won their race and you are winning yours!  So many times, we wait until a funeral (really until it’s too late) to tell people how valuable they are and what they mean to us.  You did not do that with your girls.  You told them every day how much you loved them and what they meant to you.  I am learning that from you.  So today, I choose to tell you this:  YOU are the one left here and standing and sad and YOU are beautiful and important and wonderful.  I see you.  I hear you.  You matter.  You haven’t given up. You’ve been authentic and real in the heartache and struggle of it. You have questioned and trusted God through it all.  You’ve honored your girls in such a profound way. You’ve loved those around you.  I love you.  Cheers to you Cathy!