Posted in Childhood, Family, Freedom, God, Health, Love, Parenthood

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

“Have a heart soft enough to give love and mercy, but wise enough to know boundaries.”  (Kayil Crow)

It has started:  Sarah and Cody’s battle whether or not to put Broden down (cry it out) or pick him up when he is fussy.  Believe me, both have been tried.  (Don’t let the pics of the happy baby fool you.)  The truth is holding him tends to calm him.  He sleeps better.  He stops crying.  He is basically happier.

It continues:  Esther and Allen’s daily battle about how much to help our adult children (pick them up when they are “fussy”) or let them figure things out on their own (many times painful and uncomfortable).  Believe me, both have been tried.  For decades.  The truth is helping them tends to calm them.  They sleep better.  They stop “fussing.”  They are basically happier.

It never stops:  My mom and dad’s battle about how much to help their youngest son with the care of his children while my mom goes through radiation treatment during the next several weeks.  This is a big one:  he lost his wife about 18 months ago and the situation is complicated.   They are 84.  He is 56.  It never ends.  The truth is helping him calms the situation.  Everyone sleeps better.  The “fussing” is abated.  He is basically happier.

If you are a parent, you can completely relate, no matter how old your child is.  It can be teaching a baby to sleep by themselves, driving a forgotten homework assignment to school for your elementary daughter, purchasing a car for your new driver, allowing an adult child to live at home rent-free for a season, watching grandchildren for your middle-aged son, the list goes on and on.  I’m sure you can add your own.  The questions are basic:  how much do I “pick up,” help, console, “save the day,” when my child has a need or even a want?  How much do I let them “ride out the storm,” figure it out on their own, “put them down” so to speak?  Where is that line drawn?  When is that line drawn?  How is that line drawn?  What choice should we make so that we are promoting emotional health and good boundaries, yet making sure the other feels safe and completely loved?

I am becoming keenly aware of how daily of a battle this is, no matter how old the parent or child is.   I am also highly in tune right now with how many opinions everyone has about this and how strong those opinions are.  I also realize how often I go to others to ask this very basic question:  what should I do in “X” situation with “such-and-such” child?  Do I pick them up or put them down?

For many years, I went back and forth, always unsure if what I was doing in any given situation was right.  I felt trapped.  If I “picked them up,” I heard the voices that shouted, “You are doing too much.  Your boundaries are too lax.  They need to learn for themselves.  This is unhealthy.  This is bad.”  If I didn’t help, I heard opposing voices, “You aren’t doing enough.  Your boundaries are too rigid.  They need to feel loved and not alone.  This is unhealthy.  This is bad.”  Ugh.  And if the truth is known, I still struggle with this and it is real and it is still almost every day.

Today, I share with you my “half-thoughts” on the subject.  A “half-thought” is something I am still in process about and haven’t completely “landed” anywhere quite yet, but still want to share.  I hope these bring you some freedom for the “back-and-forth,” trapped feeling you may find yourself in today:

  • Even though the questions are easy, the situations are complicated.  No two are the same and rarely is there a quick answer or fix.  Rest in that.
  • This dilemma is part of being a parent, period.  There’s no getting out of it.
  • Other parents are in the same boat.  We all need each other, not to judge and give solutions, but to listen and give grace.
  • Don’t ask yourself if the decision is right or wrong, black or white, good or bad.  Rarely are decisions that we make all one way or the other.  That’s an exhausting treadmill and only promotes fear, guilt and shame.  Either decision will have both difficult and wonderful attached to it.  Usually it’s some combination of beautiful and messy.
  • Ask yourself these questions instead:  What do I really need?  Why do I want to help?  What do they really need?  Take the long-view and dig a little deeper.
  • Change your mind if you need to.  Take the time to re-evaluate and get counsel from others.  There is great freedom here.
  • Show yourself boatloads of grace no matter what you decide.  Remind yourself that God loves both of you and He can come in and provide all that’s lacking no matter what decision is made in the moment.
  • I leave you with my biggest one for this past six months because many days I just don’t know what to do.  This verse comes up every single day on my reminders.  I pray it every morning:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives GENEROUSLY and FREELY to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  (James 1:5)

Here are my not-so-secret questions that I have asked God about recently about my own parenting:

  1. Do I pay for a hotel room for Josh for his Psychology conference?
  2. Do I buy all Jared’s starter supplies for his new apartment this week?
  3. Do I keep making meals and sleeping over at Sarah and Cody’s (with this new baby)?
  4. Do I call the apartment complex where Rachel lives about an unwarranted noise complaint (we are the lease-holders)?

You see, it never ends.  I’m okay with that.  I am growing and being stretched and learning to love in a healthy, hope-filled, very complicated kind of way.  Here’s to our children and here’s to our parenting.

I would love to hear your feedback.  I would love to know your secret questions.

(Also would you mind liking the post back on out social media if you came from there? It helps me to get the post viewed by the most people.)

Posted in Childhood, Ethiopia, Family, Freedom, God, Missionary, Third Culture Kid, Travel

1,246 Missionary Slides (The Best and the Worst)

“You know you’re a missionary kid when you see a picture of your family on random peoples’ refrigerators.”  (Anonymous)

Two weeks before Thanksgiving, Jared scanned all of my parents’ slides from Africa.  It’s one of those projects that keeps getting put off, but we actually tackled it and got it done.  They were coming here for the holiday and all of my siblings and my parents were going to be together.   So, on Thanksgiving Eve, we spent most of the afternoon viewing them on the large TV screen in our family room and heard stories about each one.  Needless to say, we made a pretty good dent.

That same weekend, in conjunction with the slides, I asked my parents about the “Five Best and Worst Things” about being a missionary in the latter half of the 20th Century.   I seized the opportunity to listen and learn what it was like from their perspective.   I have had my personal kid’s-eye-view and have spent years processing my own experience (good and bad), but I was in the dark about theirs.  Truth be told, I heard stories that corroborated my memories and beliefs and learned many things that were new and unexpected.

Here are their Top Five(ish):

Mom Worst

  1. Deputation. Dragging the kids around to all kinds of churches in the USA trying to raise money. (This seems nuts to me and I remember how we all didn’t like it either.)
  2. No converts.  Questioning what they were doing there.
  3. Terrible food.
  4. Leaving her kids at boarding school.  It was a heartbreak.
  5. Not getting along with other missionaries.

Mom Best (she only had Four)

  1. Freedom not to be encumbered with constant schedules.
  2. Teaching in the school.
  3. Experiences that you were exposed to that were “out of the norm.”
  4. Getting to know people from all over the world.  The friendships they developed.

Dad Worst (he only had Three)

  1. So few converts.  Asked himself, “what are we doing here?”
  2. Deputation.  (see above crazy-making)
  3. Not getting along with other missionaries (I’m seeing a pattern).

Dad Best 

  1. Learning another language.
  2. Traveling to new places.
  3. Seeing kids learn in the school where they were teaching.
  4. The experience with the death of a close friend who was gunned down in front of his wife by an extremist and how God protected him and my mom. (sounds like a best and worst to me)
  5. Meeting people from other countries (missionaries and nationals) and all the friendships they made.

I learned a lot about my parents over Thanksgiving and continue to.  This past week, we plowed ahead through more slides during a visit as my mom is recovering from surgery after being diagnosed with cancer.  It makes our time even more precious and the learning and gleaning even more pressing.  So far, here are my top five takeaways which are for all of us, missionary kid or not (sorry, the new correct phrase is third culture kid).

My Takeaways

  1. There were a lot of slides of animals I only now see in zoos.  Growing up in another country meant having a different experience than your average American kid (like my husband).  Attending boarding school, living as a minority and foreigner, knowing people from all over the world, being surrounded by war and poverty, vacationing in exotic places, and eating strange food is not your average American childhood.  But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  I’m sure you wouldn’t trade yours either, no matter how or where you grew up.  It makes us into the people we are today, both broken and beautiful.
  2. Those 18 years my parents spent serving God in a far-away country was exciting, hard, beautiful and complicated all at the same time.  Like all of our lives, my parents’ lives were filled with struggles and triumphs, joys and sorrows.  I draw comfort in knowing this.  My “normal” adult life has looked very different from theirs on the outside.  But my own life has been filled with the exciting, hard, beautiful and complicated as well.  It’s not what’s happening on the outside that matters most.  It’s what’s happening on the inside.
  3. They matter and all their experiences matter.  It was really good for me to take a peek from their point-of-view, to understand all of this effected them, as well as us four kids, for both good and bad.  I have been so wrapped up in my own “how this effected me” for a long time.  It was helpful to step out of that for a moment to see the view through another lens.  I want to do this more often with all those I know.  My life will be richer when I do.
  4. Our family mattered to my parents.  My mom wants to delete every slide that doesn’t have one of us in it.  She keeps saying, “What does that matter to our family?”  I love this.  For a long time, I had a warped perspective on this.  My view was that “God’s work” was more important than our family.  It’s just not true for the Marets at the very core.  It’s so good for me to know that.  It brings great healing to me.  Yes.  They made mistakes.  Yes.  It was very hard and unusual.  BUT.  Yes.  They did their best.  Yes.  They loved us.  (Doesn’t sound very different from my own family and my own children.)  This is where grace comes in and wins!
  5. Life comes down to people.  People are the hardest parts of our lives.  People are the best parts of our lives.  It doesn’t matter where we are in the world, what cultural differences we have, or what we are trying to accomplish together, it all boils down to people and the relationships we build with them.   People bring the most frustration and hurt, but they also bring the most joy and healing.  We can try to avoid people and all the “bad” stuff they bring, but in doing so, we miss out on all the hope and healing and love that they bring to us.  People are worth it!

My heart is for greater healing for each of us.  This project is bringing me much.  It brings me back to what matters most:  being fully-known and loved, but with a twist.  This time was not about me being known, but getting to know another.  That’s my unexpected surprise.  I hope this will prompt you to take on a project (person) of your own.  Who knows what will happen?

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Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Family, God, Hope, Joy, Love, Sacred

SURPRISE! A Super Kid and an “Up Sydrome” Adult…TT (Season #01, Episode #07)

Sometimes, someone comes into your life so unexpectedly, takes your heart by surprise and changes your life forever.  (viacuriano.com)

The past two Tuesday evenings, I “cheated” on my husband and went on two dates.  The first was with a little beacon of light, my five-year old friend named Olivia.  We went and got ice cream FIRST, poked into a pet store and checked out the fish and the hamsters, went to Staples and spun around on chairs and bought Silly Putty, ate pizza while we bowled, and ended our night playing arcade games.  The second one was with my friend Robby, a man who thinks he should have something called “Up Syndrome.”  He is right.  We ate hamburgers and french fries (only pickle, ketchup and a bun for him), enjoyed ice cream (see a running theme here), played a matching game that he handily beat me 12-8 and sat and watched a couple of episodes of Full House while we waited for his dad to pick him up.

 Of course, I made these “dates” to bring help to my friends who are the caregivers of these precious souls.  I mean, what parent wouldn’t want someone to come along and love on their child while they get a much-needed break?  But as usual, God seems to have had something else up His sleeve.

God is wise and knows what He is doing.  He knows exactly how to reach deep into our hearts and souls and bless us, heal us.  Many times, when we think we are helping others, we are being helped.

These two people I spent time with couldn’t appear more different.  One is a typical little girl who is navigating Kindergarten (learning her ABCs with the Super Kids reading program – anyone heard of Cass who loves to Cook Casseroles in the kitchen with her Cat, Coconut). The other is an adult male with Down Syndrome (and I totally agree with him, why isn’t it called Up Syndrome?) who goes to Pride College (as he calls it), a school for adults with special needs.

They are so dissimilar at first glance.  Olivia is 5.  Robby is 30.  Olivia is a fireball.  Robby is chatty.  Olivia likes soccer.  Robby likes swimming.  Plain, straight-up different.  But, as you know, God is filled with surprises and likes us to repent (all that means is THINK A NEW THOUGHT) for our own journey of healing and wholeness.  These two beautiful souls are alike in so many ways that really matter, thus bringing me to tears filled with gratitude (hence the Thankful Thursday post).

  • They BOTH see the world through fresh eyes.  Everything is exciting to them.  The simple things I take for granted and go through the motions doing are seen with a new vision.  Spinning around on chairs at Staples (don’t judge me) and imitating Joey imitating Popeye while watching Full House are enjoyed to the full (check out the video below).

 

  • They BOTH are very smart and want to learn and grow.  Olivia is able to tell me all the rules in her classroom along with counting in both English and Spanish to 20.  Robby is able to tell me all about his family (who is still alive and who has passed on and what towns they live in and how they are all related to him) and also actually spelled out words for me when I had a hard time figuring out what he was trying to tell me (he has a speech impediment).
  • They BOTH are free with their love.  And I mean FREE!  No holds barred.  When I look at how closed off and closed up I am, it is such a beautiful thing to watch and then experience personally.  Their complete, uninhibited love for me frees my own heart just a little bit more.  I don’t have to hold back either and I am free to love them in return (this is not a lesson to be learned, but a heart to be changed and healed).

This all sounds so magical.  But to be honest, this is how it really played out.   The first date was super easy and I was looking forward to it.  I have spent the better part of the past 30 years immersed in children:  children’s ministry and having my own children.  I love children.  They are easy for me to figure out.  I actually play a little game with them to see if I can get each one to open up and light up when I interact with them.  My goal is connection and I like the hardest and most closed off ones the most.  It’s an adventure that I embrace fully.   And I am usually successful.

Leading up to the second date was hard for me.  I knew I wanted to stretch myself and go outside my comfort zone, but I was very nervous.  What would we talk about?  Would there be awkward silences?  How much do I have to keep him occupied?  How long should it be?  Will he be bored or afraid?  What happens if something goes terribly wrong?  It’s sad to say that I have never spent time with anyone with special needs other than in passing during child ministry.  I feel downright confused and uncomfortable, and there is probably some “special needs phobia” I struggle with.  But this is a man I kiss every Sunday (he’s the only other man in my life I kiss right on the lips other than Allen) when I grab my church bulletin from him.  A date was certainly the next logical step (I hear you.  Kissing usually comes after you’ve had a date or two).

Like I voiced earlier, God is a God of surprises.  The first date was not a surprise, but filled with all the goodness I expected.  Olivia was a bundle of light, joy and curiosity that touched the depths of my heart with exactly what I needed that evening.  However, the second date was one of the happiest surprises of 2018 so far.  Robby made it easy to connect.  He answered all the questions I asked.  He shared his likes and dislikes without fanfare.  He embraced each activity I had planned for him.  He even put his feet up on our coffee table and relaxed in his socks while we watched his all-time favorite show.  He was happy and made it so easy to be with him.  It was one of the best first dates I’ve ever had, filled with all the goodness I did not expect.

These will not be the only dates I have with these two.  Next time, Olivia and I might paint together (I learned that about her on our first date) and Robby and I will go bowling, but still eat hamburgers and have Diet Coke (I learned that about him on our first date).  I want to get to know both of them better so our time together is even more to their liking.

Isn’t this what so much of our journeys are all about?  Meeting others, getting to know them and loving them right where they are.   Connection.  Relationship.  Intimacy.  Freedom.

I don’t do this often, but today I will ask this question:  how about you?  What surprise can you be on the lookout for, that God has up His sleeve just for you, possibly a person that might bring more healing to your heart?  It might be a typical individual or someone with special needs.  It might be someone in your family or a complete stranger.  It might be someone similar to you or a person completely and utterly different.   It might be someone you already know or a brand new person you’ve never met.  Expect the unexpected!  Right now, I just envision God crouching down behind His heavenly “couch” and jumping up when you come in the door and shouting “SURPRISE!”

Posted in Anxiety, Beautiful Mess, Childhood, Emotions, Family, Freedom, God, Grief, Hope, Joy, Love, Parenthood

Launch Sequence (I thought it would be easier)

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”  (Frederick Beuchner)

Jared moved to Pittsburgh five days ago.  Since graduating last December, he’s been living in our basement apartment, working with his business partner to launch a web-based company, while doing odd jobs and serving at a restaurant.  As a nervous “millennial” mom, I asked him every so often if he was okay and was he going to be living in our basement when he was 30.  I don’t want to be that parent, the one everyone talks about, that does not “launch” her adult children properly (if there even is such a thing, but I can assure you, there are tons of articles about this very thing that make me a little crazy).

About a month ago, I got the phone call.  “Hey Mom, what do you think if I move to Pittsburgh with Joe?” (see business partner above)  Shortened version of my response:  “Sounds great, Jared.  You could live in Dad’s apartment while you get one of your own (for those of you who don’t know, Allen commutes there three days a week and has a one-bedroom apartment).   You could work for Uncle Charley while finding a job (Charley has a large landscaping company).  I think you will love it.”  Inside my head, I was doing a little cheer, because it would be the beginning of the launch sequence.  I could even hear the countdown in my head.   After all, Pittsburgh is the perfect place.  Allen grew up there.  His parents are there.  His brother is there.  His other brother just bought a farm and moved there with his wife and seven children.  Even his sister is moving to Pittsburgh one week a month.  And most importantly, Jared is a huge Steelers and Penguins fan and his favorite part would be that there would be no more game black-outs.  All the ducks would line up in a perfect row.  YAY!  But of course, part of me believed it wouldn’t come true (negative thoughts rearing their head).

As the month marched on, I was proven more and more wrong.  All the pieces kept falling into place.  Joe got a good job and Charley said yes to Jared.  Everyone in Allen’s family did a jump for joy when they heard the news.  Jared in Pittsburgh.  What a treat!  Even Charley, when he heard the news, said to him, “You finally came to your senses.”  So, on January 2, 2018, Jared packed up his car and moved to “Da ‘Burgh” as it’s known to the locals.  He started work for Charley just two days later on January 4.  All seemed super happy and positive.

Here’s where it gets a little sticky!  I thought I would be elated.  Doing my own jump for joy.  Proud of myself for getting another one out of the house, “launched” as I frequently say to friends (we even use the rocket ship emoji every time this happens to someone).   No more extra food-making.   No more dishes from the basement to wash.  No more feelings of being tied down.  Although those things did happen, other emotions flew in unannounced.   Sadness.  Worry.   Sentimentality.  No more “do you want a smoothie” texts with a reply “Would love one.  Thanks Mom.”  No more “where are you?” texts from him as he pulls in the driveway and my car is gone, causing me to feel needed and loved.  No more hugs as he comes up the stairs to get his laundry.  On New Years, the night before he was to leave, tears flowed unprovoked.  We shared the following texts.

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.09.10 PM

Life is filled with this.  We experience “BOTH AND” as I like to say.  On many occasions and even at the same time.  BOTH happy AND sad emotions.  BOTH difficult AND easy situations.  BOTH scared AND brave thoughts.  BOTH excited AND anxious feelings.  BOTH joyful AND sorrowful events.  This is one of the times.  I thought (once again, because I am slow learner) that I would only have all the good emotions since this is exactly what I want for Jared (and myself).  But that is not to be.  My heart is filled with a myriad of emotions and a cornucopia of thoughts.  And I am okay with all (okay most) of them (finally).

I lived a lot of my life trying to live in and for ONLY the positive and the good.  I shunned the negative and the bad.  It created much anxiety in anticipation of the “shoe-dropping” moments I dreaded might come true.  I have slowly come to realize that life is filled with it all.  And each part, either negative or positive, can be embraced, lived with and through and then incorporated into who I am and becoming.  It’s a much more whole and integrated place to live and be.  And believe it or not, my anxiety and fear about the dreaded “what bad thing is around the corner” has dissipated.  Bad things will happen.  Good things will happen.  I will be happy and sad.  There will be joy and grief.  It all may happen even in the course of the same event or moment.  BOTH AND.  A much more freeing place to live from.  I keep plugging away toward this place as my life marches on, repeating this mantra, “BOTH AND.”

All that being said,  I am BOTH sad AND happy that Jared has moved out of our little basement apartment into a whole new experience in Pittsburgh.   And Jared, I write this again (even though it’s on a graduation plaque in your bedroom downstairs) to remind you of my heart for you and my dreams for you.

May the Lord bless you, Jared, and grant you His favor FOR:

  • a life filled with knowing and receiving God’s amazing and unconditional love.
  • a wife, children and grandchildren who will love and respect you with passion and fierceness and that you can grow with as you journey through life.
  • success in the work of your hands. 
  • you to find your passion and that your work would bring fulfillment for you.
  • blessing financially so that your generous heart would be able to give freely.
  • a long and health-filled life, unhindered by disease and suffering
  • deep and abiding friendships that will build you up and support you on your life’s journey
  • you to have the peace of God that will guard your heart and your mind.
  • you to have the confidence to be yourself and hold onto who you are in an ever-changing world.
  • purity and integrity in your mind, body and heart.
  • a kind and gentle spirit who will continue to seek out those who need help and offer them yourself.
  • you to entrust yourself to the God who is trustworthy.
  • you to hold fast to God and be unwavering in your loyalty to Him, as He is to you.

I love you Jared!  You are one of the best gifts I have ever known and I will miss you.

Mom

P.S.  I loved your snapchat pic when you were pulling out of the driveway.

By the way, Jared’s web-based company is on the move.  For all of you who are of have up-and-coming college students, you will want to check it out!!  Look for a launch date coming soon!!

Posted in Childhood, Ethiopia, Freedom, God, Holiday, Hope, Love, Missionary, Third Culture Kid

The “You Better Watch Out”…God

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
(Prince Caspian, Chapter 10)

I lay on my bunk bed at boarding school in Ethiopia.  My bunkmate stirs below me.  I wind my musical Raggedy Ann doll over and over, hoping to get some sleep.  Sleep does not come.  I rehash the day.  Thoughts swirl:  “I did a bunch of wrong things.  Maybe that’s why I can’t sleep.  I should confess my sins.  Hey God, I’m sorry for all the bad things I did today.  Please forgive me.”  Still no rest for my eyes and tired body.   I go into a bit of a panic.  “Maybe I didn’t mean it for real when I prayed the magic prayer asking God into my heart.  If I did mean it, I would not be so naughty.”  I whisper the same thing for the umpteenth time, “Please come into my heart.  I really mean it this time. I will be better tomorrow.”  Still nothing.  I lay there wide-awake.  My mind happily drifts to earlier in the evening, when my dorm mother read us another chapter in the story of Narnia and especially Aslan, a loving lion who makes everything good and right in a strange land, and seems to adore children and even play with them.  “I love Aslan.  I wish God was like Aslan.  Why can’t He be?”  As I finally drift off to sleep, resting in the comfort of the lion who loves children, I have a flicker of hope:  “Maybe He is.”

For decades, Santa has flooded the Christmas season.  A jolly man with a jolly heart.  A man who rewards good behavior with toys and naughty behavior with “a lump of coal.”  We all know of him.  Believe it or not, I had a friend who “prayed to Santa” all year and confessed her sins, much like I did with God as a young girl.  After all, how different are they?  “He (Santa) sees you when you’re sleeping.  He knows when you’re awake.  He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.  YOU BETTER WATCH OUT…Santa Claus is coming to town.”  It is eerily similar to the Sunday School song from my childhood:  “Be careful little eyes what you see, for the Father up above is looking down below, so be careful little eyes what you see.”  Both of them are watching.  You better watch out.

More recently, Santa’s Elf (on the Shelf) has taken off as a new family tradition.  If you’re not familiar, this Elf (which comes in different sizes and even sexes in the form of a cheaply made elf doll that will set you back 30 bucks), is dispatched from the North Pole at the start of Advent.  He or she enters homes to keep a watchful eye on the children, ensuring good behavior during the rough parenting patch when kids are over-sugared and over-excited for Christmas.  His or her “job” is to make sure they belong on Santa’s “nice” list.   You better watch out!

I loved celebrating Santa with my children (we just dug out Rachel’s letter from the North Pole) and might currently have an Elf on the Shelf  if I still had littles.  But as you read above, and this is the point:  I believed in a “you better watch out” God very early and sadly, it continued well into adulthood.  God was no different than Santa or Elf on the Shelf.  He was up there watching my every good and bad behavior, ready to reward or “smite” me for each one, his main goal to get me to behave.  It’s not hard to figure out what my relationship with Him was like because of this.   I was filled with and acted out of fear and guilt.  I hid from Him, or at least (fruitlessly) tried to…who wouldn’t? I struggled to feel close, spending much energy and time on my external, visible behavior, hoping that it would be enough, trying to avoid that proverbial “lump of coal,” God’s disapproval of me.  My internal craving for love and belonging was completely sacrificed on the external “behavior management” altar.

Enter the stories of Narnia and a reunion with Aslan as the mom of four kids.  I found three-hour radio theater dramatic renditions absolutely a must-buy if you have kids) of these stories that I loved as a child.  I could kill two birds with one stone:  share this amazing lion with my own children and at the same time, keep them quiet on long car rides (keeping it real people).  As I came to reconnect with Aslan, I found even more so that he is wise, playful, generous, kind, mysterious, terrifying, magnificent, beautiful and unconditionally loving all at once.  He is the one who I longed for my whole life.  He is too good not to be true.

I had finally found the answer to that hopeful thought I had as a child.  God is not like Santa.  God is not like the Elf on the Shelf.  God is not ultimately concerned with “behavior management.”  God is like Aslan.  God is wise.  God is playful.  God is generous.  God is kind.  God is mysterious.  God is terrifying.  God is magnificent.  God is beautiful.  God unconditionally loves and He unconditionally loves me.  Period.  His agenda is a loving, intimate, close relationship with me.  He loves me because of who He is, not how I behave.  He actually can’t help Himself.  True, lasting change will come, but it will be born FROM of a place of love and acceptance, the inside out, not FOR love and acceptance, the outside in.

What relief!  What freedom!  Even as I write this, “you better watch out” is quieted again and my heart settles down with a big inner sigh.  A long deep breath of safety and belonging.  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  This is what I long for.  This is a line I can get in, a lap I can climb up onto and take pictures of every day for a lifetime!  My flicker of hope so long ago, “Maybe He is,” is a burning light of hope that shouts, “YES.  YES HE IS.”

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P.S.  I have told people that, as a child, I loved Aslan more than I loved Jesus (see Ethiopia Tikdem post).  I found out that a concerned mother once wrote C. S. Lewis on behalf of her son, Laurence, who, having read The Chronicles of Narnia, became concerned that he loved Aslan more than Jesus. In his response, Lewis offered this relief:

“Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before.”

Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Family, God, Hope, Joy, Love, Parenthood, Sacred

Letter to Baby Bear

As soon as I saw you, I knew a grand adventure was about to happen.  (Winnie the Pooh)

Dearest Broden Andrew Meassick,

You are already one week old!  Last Saturday, I was nervously sitting in the waiting room after a long night of helping your mommy get ready to bring you into the world.  My cell phone buzzed.  It was a picture of you from your daddy.  There you were, all pink and healthy.  Tears of relief, gratitude and joy sprang from my eyes.  Your grand adventure was officially beginning.  Born on 11/18/2017 at 7:03 am, you were 7 pounds, 6 ounces and 20 1/2 inches long.  We had been waiting for you, the Baby Bear (as your mom and dad nicknamed you), to come and change our worlds forever!

After a short time, I was told I could meet you in person.  My heart did a little (okay, a HUGE) leap for joy.  I walked quickly to your room where your mommy was holding you against her skin, a sight I will never forget:  my baby holding her baby.  Feelings I hadn’t known before flooded my soul.  After a few moments, I brought you into my own arms and as I gazed into your very alert and big eyes (thank God you got your daddy’s eyes…this was a specific prayer we all had based on the small-eyed relatives on your mommy’s side) for the first time, I thought to myself, “What will you be like?  What adventures will life bring you and you bring it?”

Adventure awaits you, sweet Broden!  Those words are written on the sheets in your crib.  Great adventure.  Hazardous adventure.  Wonderful adventure.  Terrible adventure.  Quiet adventure.  Exciting adventure.  Sweet adventure.  Sad adventure.  Unique adventure.  Hard adventure.  Joyous adventure.  Helen Keller writes, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”  That’s one thing I can promise you, Broden:  it will be an adventure and it will be all of those things at one time or another.

The very best and first thing about your adventure is that you are extremely loved.  The God who formed you has absolute and unconditional love for you.  Nothing you can ever do will make Him love you less or love you more.  He loves you just because you are you.  You will find rest for your soul in that place.

Your creative, smart, kind, hard-working, compassionate mommy and your free-spirited, adventurous, wise, level-headed, willing-to-grow daddy are absolutely head-over-heels in love with you.  They will love you no matter what and nothing you can do will change that.  You will find rest for your soul in that place.

You also have grandparents, aunts, uncles, first-cousins once-removed (or maybe they are second cousins…it’s been a debate since you were born and Google has not been a help at all) and friends who have loved you from the first moment of hearing about you.  You will never find yourself in a place that you won’t be loved.   You will find rest for your soul in that place.

Rest for your soul matters because the adventure that awaits you matters.  It’s yours and yours alone.  Your inner soul anchored in unconditional love will be of immense value for living your outer adventure to the fullest.  All kinds of small and large experiences will come your way, some good and some hard, some easy and some terrifying, but never forget that you have a safe place deep down inside that no one can take from you.  You have a God, parents, family and friends who love you.  Nothing can touch that!  No one can take that away!  Live in and from that place!

You are nicknamed the Baby Bear.  You even have a stuffed “bear head” hanging on your wall in your room (kind of like your dad’s “party buck” head hanging in your family room).  Bears are incredible animals.  They have four characteristics that I find intriguing.  They are extremely intelligent, strong, protective and affectionate.  I’m sure you will be all of these and much more.   But there is a fifth that is most important:  every bear is an individual with a completely unique personality.   You, Broden, are an individual with a completely unique personality.   I want you to know that I will do all that I can to foster and encourage your very unique self and what aspects of life you find interesting.  I don’t care if you love sports or music, if you are an introvert or an extrovert, if you can count to ten by age two or it takes you until two to take your first step.  I promise to love you and love what you love.  I have shared this with your mommy many times and I’m sure you will hear it from me every year on your birthday when I read you “Happy Birthday” by Dr. Seuss:  “Today you are you, that is truer than true.  There is no one alive that is youer than you.”  Be you, Broden.  Be you.

For your mommy and your aunt and uncles, I asked God to give me one verse from the Bible (my mom had a verse for me and it has been a light for my heart and soul).  I have been asking God for the same thing for you.  And guess what, Broden.  God didn’t just give me one verse.  He gave me a whole bunch.  You must be extra special.  They actually came because your grandpa was reading through the book of Colossians and I was prompted to check it out.  These verses right at the beginning of the book struck me as those God would have from my heart to yours.

From the day I heard about you, I have not stopped praying and making special requests for you. 

I pray that…

you will be filled with a deep and clear understanding of His will for you, that you will have insight into the ways and purposes of God. 

you would live how God designed you to live, from a fully-known and fully-loved place and that you would have complete trust in Him.  This brings Him the most pleasure.

your life would bear much fruit from all your hard work. 

you would have a full, deep and clear knowledge of God. 

you will be invigorated and strengthened with all power from God so that you will have much patience and joy.

I thank God because He has made you fit to share in all that is His.  He has brought you into His Kingdom, one that is filled with love.

(Colossians 1:9-14 – EJGV – “Esther Joy Goetz Version”)

Broden, how fun that you are here!  I am absolutely thrilled!  I can’t wait to get to know you and go on some of your adventures with you.  I just bet I will love you even more than I do today!  I can’t imagine how that is even possible.  But it is!

From one very excited person in your life who loves you like crazy,

Nana

(If you enjoyed this, please head back to your social media account and like it for me so we can spread the world of hope and healing.)

 

Posted in Anxiety, Childhood, Emotions, Freedom, God, Hope

For What It’s (uh…I Mean I’m) Worth

The Lord Your God will take great delight in you.  He will quiet you with His love.  He will rejoice over you with singing.  (The Prophet Zephaniah)

I was a smart, speedy child.  I could read when I was just four.  I skipped kindergarten, went to first grade at five years old, did three grades in two years, moved to the United States and repeated third grade (there was no way the Ventnor school system would have a seven-year old in fourth grade), skipped fourth grade when I went back to Ethiopia and ended up in fifth grade when I was only eight years old.   Sounds exhausting just writing it, much less living it.  After that, I actually did only one grade per year, but it meant I graduated high school at 16, even before I got my New Jersey driver’s license.

Needless to say, I was praised all the way through for how smart I was.  What a great performer I was.  How “special” I was.  I loved the attention and thought of myself as the “one to beat.”  But to tell you the truth, I actually did not believe you would ever “win” if we had a competition when it came to smarts.

This perpetuated itself in high school when I received the award for the #1 Bible quizzer in the United States for our church’s denomination and was deemed worthy of a spot at the “Harvard of Christian colleges,” Wheaton College in Illinois.  I had performed well and was rewarded for it.

Lest you think that I sailed through with flying colors both outside and inside, there were many times that I struggled with embarrassment.   I did not want to be the “odd man out,” the one who was different, “special.”  I lived with two conflicting emotions:  I loved being the best, the fastest, the smartest, but I also wanted not to HAVE to be that, desiring to be average, normal, the right age and be accepted anyway.  I actually purposefully got a “C” in Physical Science in ninth grade to fit in (not even with others, but just within my own head).  Opposing messages swirled inside of me:  I am worth a lot because I am smart and I wish I was worth a lot because I am me.

I took these two opposite notions with me well into adulthood when one day, I heard the phrase, “Your worth is not based on your performance.”  Really?  Really?  Because my worth certainly was.  As time marched on, I began to entertain this thought and realized much damage had been done to my heart so long ago and still continued.  It began to make sense why I was driven to achieve and worked tirelessly at everything I did and ended up in an adrenaline-overloaded life-style, constantly feeding the “worthy monster.”   It morphed into terrible anxiety in my late 30s as I struggled with the idea that if I wasn’t “pulling my weight” here on earth, God might just deem me unworthy of staying and he would take me to Himself.  Weird thoughts prevailed:  if I wasn’t the perfect mom, God might just give me cancer.  If I don’t make that person dinner or take their kids to soccer practice, they might not want to be my friend.  If my kids misbehave in church, people will judge me.  So I paddled along, hearing that good message faintly echo in my thoughts, but living from the louder opposing voice.  I wanted to believe that I was worthy even if there was no performance, but my actions proved that I still held to the contrary.

It didn’t help that our culture permeates this point of view.  Constant evaluations based on performance in school, community, church, sports, friendship and even marriage flood our lives.  Learning is replaced by good grades, teamwork is replaced by winning games, compassion is replaced with mandatory volunteer hours, Christian community is replaced by behavior-management sermons, long talks on porches are replaced by a “what can I do for you” mentality and intimacy is replaced by well-manicured lawns and magazine-worthy homes.

I spent years combatting this highly destructive-to-the-soul belief, shouted truth from the mountaintops to my children, friends and anyone who would listen, hoping it would penetrate my own soul and that I would finally live within the framework of knowing I was worthy just because I am who I am and God had deemed it so.  Until this past week, I would have told you that I had won the war for my heart.

Not so.  While waiting for Broden, our grandson, to arrive (and yes, we are still waiting not-so-patiently), I was scurrying around cooking meals for home and for the soon-to-be-parents, cleaning out every cabinet in the house, washing every last dish and dirty clothes item, and tackling projects long-laid to the side, when I asked myself the deeper question:  what’s going on?  why do you feel the need to get “all your ducks in a row” before this baby comes?  Of course, there is the natural “nesting” that takes place when a baby comes into the world, and that is all well and good, but I sensed a below-the-surface wound that was oozing out again.  After all, I am making the transition from motherhood to grand-motherhood.  I can justify my worth if I have children and take care of them.  But what about now that they are grown?  I had a huge moment of clarity: once again, I am trying to prove my worth.  This does not come from a deeply-loved place, but from an earning place.  Keep working.  Keep doing.  Get praised.  Be loved for what you do.  Prove.  Prove.  Prove.  YIKES!

As the week progressed, it came to the forefront that I still have ways to go.  I am still surrounded by constant evaluations, some of them coming from inside of me.  The battle is not “one-and-done.”  It’s a daily fight to the place of wholeness and healing.  There is good news:  I believe and live whole-heartedly from the place that YOU are valuable, beyond any measure.  YOU are of infinite worth, whether you ever perform another task again.  I never measure YOUR worth on your performance.  And there is future good news:  I am much closer to living from that same place for myself.  After all, my mantra in this blog is this: wholeness and healing is for all of us.  And finally, there is the best news of all, a spark of hope:  it can start with me.  I am loved and that is enough.

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