Posted in Celebration, Charity, Emotions, Freedom, God, Hope, jesus, Joy, Missionary, Rwanda, Sacred, Third Culture Kid, Travel

From the Fantastic to the Ordinary (#iwanttobuildashrine #rwanda)

“Honeymoon experiences cannot be sustained.  We must always return to the ordinary.” (Richard Rohr)

I am still trying to wrap my head and my heart around the fantastic, incredible, extra-ordinary, unbelievable, “other-worldly” experience I had in Rwanda.  There really are no words in our English language able to capture it in its fullness.  You know what I’m talking about.  You’ve had these times as well where it feels like it’s too almost too sacred to share.

I go from energy to exhaustion within the same moment.  I am energized because a new village has clean water to drink.  I can see and hear the girls jumping rope with their new gift from America and dancing as water pours out from the brand new pump.  However, I am exhausted because people are still wearing their same dirty clothes day after day and school girls don’t have access to feminine hygiene products, much less a private place at school when it’s their “time of the month.”  They have to stay home for the week, thwarting their learning and the prospect of a better life.

My heart wants to go back and stay here all at once.  Here in New Jersey, I have people I love, conveniences (like wifi that actually works consistently), and a bed that welcomes me (without a mosquito net).  But in Rwanda, there are new friends that I love and already miss, the simplicities of a slower pace without the constant dinging of cell phones, and a night sky filled with unhindered stars shining brightly.

I miss the excitement of my team and our trip yet I am happy for the silence of my kitchen in this moment.   There couldn’t have been a better group of people to travel with.  Our persons varied widely:  silly and serious, introverts and extroverts (#meandnatalie), newbies to world travel and those who have lived all over the globe, young parents to grandparents, singles and married.  We laughed at ourselves in all our Americanness and shed tears for and with each other, sharing how our hearts had been changed forever because of this precious time spent.  We danced in the afternoon and sat bleary-eyed at the early breakfast table,   We played soccer and sang praise songs, gave hygiene lessons and carried pipes.  We did our best to be utterly flexible while our “used-to-being-in-control” selves took a much-needed break.  Yet, now, I am happy for the normal, everyday life where I can take stock of these moments and process how I have been shaken on the inside, never to be the same.  It’s just my computer and me in my kitchen in my home, all activity quieted for the moment.

I met some of the brightest and kindest people serving their local community with Living Water International.  Graciously, they allowed us the opportunity to actually hold the drill rig in our own non-calloused hands.  I  danced with local church leaders who care day-in and day-out for the poorest members of their villages.   I stood in awed silence as one woman prayed for me as she squeezed my hand intermittently during the time given to the task.  I spoke with a government sanitation minister about her efforts to have working toilets in the schools (the funny thing being that the toilet in her government building actually over-flowed after I used it).  Tears flowed as I left them behind, yet hope sprang because they continue to do the work after I am gone.  We are connected not in body anymore, but still in vision and heart.

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I want to do something more, not waste my experience, make it count.  I don’t want to go back to my ordinary life of sending emails, brushing my teeth and getting my car fixed.   I want to buy a cow for three people that I met.  I want to write blog posts that the world will read.  I want to make a slide show, a scrapbook, something so that I won’t forget, and neither will others.  I want to capture it and hold on tightly.

But when it comes down to it, I am probably not buying a cow for anyone.  It might be not the wisest thing to do.  I also have had a really hard time writing down exactly what I experienced even though I have tried many moments.  Even looking at my pics and videos (and I know some of them are here in this post), they just don’t do the trip justice.  I’ve tried to share them, but they don’t really capture the beauty of the rolling hills or the sheer joy of the people met.  You know.  You get it.  You’ve had these experiences too.

Processing some of it out (at least for now), I realized that I just want to build a shrine out of this mountaintop experience like the three disciples did when they saw Jesus being transfigured during their literal mountaintop experience (READ IT HERE) . After all, they had just encountered something fantastic, incredible, extra-ordinary, unbelievable, “other-worldly.”  I’m with Peter.  Why not build at least some tents, something more permanent, so everyone could live there?  Why not have at least a blog post, a video documentary, something concrete to hold on to so that no one would ever forget?

But Jesus surprisingly and gently says to them, “Don’t talk about it right now.”  As Richard Rohr reminded me this week (Check out his whole article HERE), “Jesus knew that talking too soon would only weaken the experience. Silence seems necessary to preserve the sacred and the mysterious.”

Obviously, I have not been completely silent (I am Esther Goetz after all).  Here you are, reading this blog post that I have written.  It’s my third one (here are ONE and TWO).   However, I have found myself fumbling for thoughts, words and images to share here and with family and friends.  And no matter what I’ve tried, I sense that I’m holding back and not really wanting to speak about it very much.  Now I have a small glimpse as to why.  Richard Rohr is wise.  Jesus is even wiser.  He has invited me on a sacred journey meant just for me FOR NOW.   He has lovingly thwarted me from “building a shrine” and living there in the extra-ordinary, mountaintop place.  He has reminded me that yes, the fantastic has its purpose.  It shakes us to the core.  It shouts loudly to our souls.  It changes us forever.  Thank God for the fantastic.

However, we can’t stay there.  Nor should we.  Even though this week, I have really wanted to.  Coming back off the mountaintop back down into the ordinary is just as crucial for us, for me.  It must be.  Most of our time is spent here.  Our hushed, behind-the-scenes, gentle, seemingly dull moments are not wasted.  They are essential.  For it’s in those very ordinary moments that turn into days that form weeks and months and years, that a lifetime of long-lasting redemption takes place.  We are truly changed forever.


Thank you again, Rwanda,  your people and your land are beautiful.  Your redemption story is almost unfathomable.   Because of the light you shine, our world and my heart are much brighter!!  Again, I say, Murakoze Rwanda!!!

**THANKS SO MUCH FOR READING TODAY…WOULD BE THRILLED IF YOU LIKED THE POST HERE OR OUT ON SOCIAL MEDIA.  I WOULD ALSO LOVE AND WELCOME ANY COMMENTS*

Posted in Celebration, Charity, Childhood, Faith, Family, Freedom, God, Grief, Hope, jesus, Joy, Love, Missionary, Peace, Rwanda, Sacred, Thanks, Third Culture Kid, Travel

Dear President Kagame of Rwanda,

“In all my travels, I’ve never seen a country’s population more determined to forgive, and to build and succeed than in Rwanda.”  (Pastor Rick Warren)

Dear Mr. Kagame,

I visited your country this past week.  It was the first time I had ever been to Rwanda.  When I was growing up and then a young mother, your country was constantly in the news, and not for good reasons.  There was strife among your people groups and the politics that surrounded them and then ultimately horrific genocide in the spring of 1994.  Even I, an American child growing up in war-torn Ethiopia during the 1970s, would have been terrified to visit.

That was not the case about a year ago when I was invited to go on a clean water trip to your “Land of a Thousand Hills,” something I learned this past week was more true than I imagined.  I was elated at the idea and said a hearty “yes.”   About three years ago, having heard the basic story of the healing journey your people have embarked on for the past 20+ years, I became intrigued with your country and felt a pull to experience it personally and in detail.   Yes, I wanted to bring clean water, but more so, I longed to learn and know your people and their stories of utter heartache and unexplainable hope.

Your country that is now known for its clean streets and touristy treks to encounter mountain gorillas descended into the dark hole of savagery in 1994, only 24 short years ago.  Your nation was shattered beyond recognition.  Your people turned on their neighbors, their friends, their own families.  They murdered innocent men, women and children, leaving behind a completely decimated economy and environment, destroying themselves from the inside out.    This genocide lasted 100 days and over 1,000,000 (roughly one out of every seven) of your beautiful Rwandans lost their lives.

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When it was all over, there was a crucial decision that had to be made.  What do you do with a nation where 70% of your children personally witnessed the killing or injuring of a family member, 80% lost somebody in their household and 90% were afraid they were the next to die?  What do you do with a country where so many were perpetrators and even more were victims?  What do you do when all the light goes out and darkness appears to have definitively prevailed?

Only the most ludicrous options remained for your countrymen:  the excruciating, very personal and communal passage towards repentance, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration.   Under your humble and wise leadership, your brave people began their continuing journey towards hope and healing.  This incredible and very rare approach to this cruel tragedy provided the essential environment where each man, woman and child who remained could experience life and love again, in all their fullness.  Children could go to school.  Parents could raise their crops and their families.   Rwandan’s businesses could thrive.  Your country could move from tragedy to triumph.

You have come a long way in just these 24 years.  Your country is beautiful, the rolling hills once stained with blood, now dotted with crops and livestock.  Your streets are exceptionally clean, unlike anything I’ve seen.  Your people, adults and children alike, are filled with joy.  Your neighborhoods are safe.  Your unity and respect for each other, from the highest nobleman to the lowest pauper, abounds.  Your visible equality among men and women in places of authority and leadership is highly telling of the mutual, inner esteem you have for each other.  Your desire to become the first African nation where 100% of your people have access to clean water reveals the spirit of hope and excitement that I witnessed in spades.  From your bustling capital of Kigali to the poorest, remote village where we dug our well, positivity and hope-filled energy permeated each person we met.

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We were welcomed with bright smiles, waves and shouts of “Muzungu” (look that up on Google, you readers) as we rode past adults and children performing their daily tasks of fetching clean water, transacting business in the marketplace and taxiing their neighbors on the backs of bicycles and motorbikes.  Never for a moment did I feel as if I was not wanted there.  As I very sadly pondered your blood-stained streets only a few short years ago, I witnessed first-hand the miracle of this very “other-worldly” and one-of-a-kind route you and your people have taken.

Instead of revenge, you have given each other forgiveness.  Instead of continuing hatred, you have learned to “love your  neighbor as yourself.”  Instead of war, you have an authentic peace that surpasses all human understanding.  Instead of continuous destruction, there is marked restoration.  I do not say this lightly.  It’s palpable.

It’s as close as my eyes that saw church and political leaders working together, diligently creating plans to help the least of their countrymen.  It’s as close as my ears that heard joyful singing of villagers as we watched together the water spurt out of the dry ground.  It’s as close as my mouth that tasted the delicious fruits of your harvest, from bananas to coffee, sweet potatoes to cassava.  It’s as close as my nose that relished the unique smells of the bustling city of Kigali to the rural countryside of the Ruhango District.   It’s as close as my arms that received hugs and high-fives from soccer players and church goers, government workers and school children, the wise elders and the curious children.  More completely, it’s as close as my deeply-transformed soul that I carry with me out of your beloved land.

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From the bottom of my heart, I salute you and your people.  You have courage beyond my comprehension.  You have chosen great love in the face of extreme difficulty.  Each one of you shines like a bright beacon in our dark world.  Thank you.  My heart has captured your dream to bring clean water to every Rwandan father, mother and child and wish to make your vision a reality:  “hope for the hopeless, rest for the weary and love for a broken heart.”  Godspeed, Mr. Kagame!

Esther Goetz

 

PLEASE CLICK HERE FOR OTHER THOUGHTS ON MY TRIP TO RWANDA!

 

*If you liked this, please go onto social media and give me a thumbs up or a like.  This one especially shares my heart and it would mean a lot to me.*

 

 

 

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

A Blessing for My Fellow Moms (#refreshmentforyoursoul)

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

To my Fellow Sweet Moms,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From my heart to yours,

Esther #fourkidsisfun

 

 

 

 

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

Leaving

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

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Guess Which One is Susan?

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

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

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

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

“Yeah.”  I exhaled and sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

The Goetz Family Law

Ending Well (and a surprise beginning)

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

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

 

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

PHOTO CREDS TO JASON AT WWW.AWAKENEDFILMS.COM

 

Posted in 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

Fidelity

Flaws

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!