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

A Grief (and Celebration) Observed…A Thin Place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

Ten (Short and Sweet) Padre Snapshots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel’s FIVE:

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

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

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Current Puzzle Table Look

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Rough Sketch of Future Tattoo

 

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

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

Posted in Anxiety, Childhood, Faith, Family, Freedom, God, Health, Sacred

4.0 Prison

“Worthiness doesn’t have prerequisites.”  (Brene Brown)

Undefeated season.  Rachel’s middle school basketball team’s final record was 21-0.  The crowds came to every game and cheered wildly (I mean the parents and a few random middle schoolers came to some games, but yes, the cheers were wild). The team hugged and jumped up and down at the final buzzer of the championship game. A large trophy was given as the girls gathered center court . The parents beamed and frantic videos and photos were taken.  The team picture went in the newspaper with a long article praising the efforts of the coach.  Once in a lifetime.  Perfection.

Sarah’s freshman fall semester at college.  Worked extremely hard.  No crowds cheered.  Didn’t miss a class. No trophies were given. Read every assignment thoroughly. No photos were taken.  Studied until the wee hours.  No articles in the newspaper.  End result:  four A’s and one A-.  Imperfection.  Not 4.0.  3.95.  (Even this paragraph is shorter.)

I was part of the crowd who cheered and took pictures and congratulated the coach and  girls on a job well-done that winter of 2012.  I was a proud parent.  But underneath, I cringed before each game, knowing that the team was held captive by their continuing undefeated and perfect record.  As the season marched on, it became worse.  What would happen if they lost a game?  Would they fall apart?  What seemed amazing on the outside could have the potential of “messing” them up on the inside.  I continually asked myself the question:  is this actually a good thing?  Thankfully, Rachel was second-string, being a mere seventh grader and the pressure was not on her directly.  She had played in many games, but no one was counting on her skill set to accomplish this far-reaching, never-accomplished goal in the life of Central Middle School.  She could enjoy success without the pressure of failure.  But as I thought about those first-stringers, my heart went out to them, understanding the potential stress and perfection prison that just might be holding their hearts and minds captive.  What some would call a good thing might just not be so.  Call me crazy, but I secretly began to wish for at least one loss.  As you read, it didn’t happen and life marched on.  But at what cost?

I was also the comforting voice to an 18-year-old daughter as she received the news of her 3.95 right before Christmas of 2010.  If anyone deserved all A’s and a 4.0, this girl did.  By her nature, she poured effort upon effort into her studies, working when others were playing and getting up for early classes when others were sleeping in and skipping (yes, that was me in college).  But inside and actually pretty vocally and loudly, I cheered her release from 4.0 PRISON.  She could now move on throughout the rest of her college days without the underlying duress of perfection.   Might sound strange to you, but it was an amazing relief to us both.

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“4.0 PRISON” became a mantra in our house.  A-‘s and B+’s (and sometimes even D’s – this is true.  Ask Sarah.) were high-fived.  Game losses were a normal part of sports.  The “gift of imperfection,” as Brene Brown has coined it, was something we, with much trepidation, received with both confusion and gladness, fearing and embracing it at the same time our hearts were disappointed and frustrated with each loss or bad grade (some of my kids even failed tests and had to drop classes in college – imagine that).  I was on a mission that my kids understand that their worth is NOT based on their performance (a new concept in our family and particularly myself), that life is full of successes and failures and neither of those define them and that I love and accept them no matter what. I took very small and shaky steps to embrace and share this newly-discovered message with them (neither an easy task):

LIVING FOR A PLACE OF LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE IS SLAVERY!  LIVING FROM A PLACE OF LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE IS FREEDOM!

Fast-forward to last Sunday, one week before this Dolly Mama blog marks it’s one-year anniversary (cue balloons and congrats and trophies and loud cheers and pics).  We were spending the weekend as a family on our beloved Long Beach Island when I spoke out loud for all to hear, “Oh no!  I don’t have ANY views today.  I have had a view EVERY SINGLE DAY for this whole year and I’m only one week away from accomplishing my goal of exactly that.  Ugh.  I didn’t post today since we are away and that usually produces my needed views for the week.”  Remarks from audience:  “Oh mom, I can go on your site today.”  (Daughter) “That doesn’t count.” (Me) . “I will like one of your posts on Facebook and get it back up to the top.  Someone will click on it.” (Husband)   “It doesn’t work that way.”  (Me)  And the one that got me right in the heart:  “4.0 prison, Mom.”  (Son)  “Ugh.  You’re right.”  (Me)

I thought I would be suddenly freed from this “blog-view jailhouse,” I had made for myself but I continued to check the blog throughout the day and was hugely relieved to see a visit to my charity:water post late in the evening, along with the confessed views of some of my children (I made them promise none of them had viewed the charity:water post which they pinky swore they hadn’t).  4.0 prison is right.  Perfection.  I am stuck there again.  I have been checking all week and continue to have views every day.  I am writing this on Saturday morning and currently, have no views today so far.  Maybe I will be released.  Or maybe I will have an “undefeated season” after all.  It’s only 7:41 am.  The battle rages on inside of me.  I know that the “gift of imperfection” is what’s best for me.  God accepts and loves me regardless.  I am His one way or the other.  Yet I hang on to perfection like it’s my life’s blood.  I pray that I am released from this internal 4.0 prison no matter what happens today externally, whether on day 363 I have a view or not.  I need that strong and good and beautiful and true voice to shout loudly and cheer me on as I listen (albeit reluctantly) once again:

LIVING FOR A PLACE OF LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE IS SLAVERY!  LIVING FROM A PLACE OF LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE IS FREEDOM!

Let this freedom ring on in all of our hearts today!

(((UPDATE:  I got views today, Saturday.  I was kind of bummed in a weird way.  I guess my freedom will have to come from the inside out, not the outside in.  Imagine that!)))

Posted in Childhood, Family, Holiday, Love, Parenthood

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

“Some days I amaze myself.  Other days, I put laundry in the oven.”  (Moms Everywhere)

I am not sure if you will be horrified or happy when you read these.  I mostly hope you feel like you aren’t the only one.  HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!  Here goes nothing (make sure you read with snarky voice in your head):

  1. Letting nine-month-old “cry it out” during nap for 45 minutes only to find both legs stuck between crib rails after “giving in” and checking on baby (this was the olden days when this could actually happen).
  2. Allowing (almost encouraging) 21-month-old to give “propped up” three-month-old sibling a ride in walker, smashing infant into kitchen cabinets, laughing hysterically and doing it again and again.  (I hope I am remembering this wrong, but I doubt it.)
  3. Forgetting about “RED DAY” in child’s kindergarten class.  Only kid not wearing any red (except for a tiny spot on sneaker that child very sadly pointed to in desperation when the teacher asked what red they were wearing).
  4. Leaving eight-year-old eating chips and watching movie in van with engine running, while watching freshman field hockey (van was kind of visible from side-line locationChecked on child at half-time).
  5. Finding that our fourth child made own “memory verse chart” complete with stickers.  (Believe this:  there were numerous charts for the older three.  One of the “OhMyGoodnessThisIsCrazy” moments of parenting!)
  6. Forgetting to inform “pet sitter” about two tree frogs for week-long, very hot, summer vacation.  End result:  crispy critters.
  7. Making 12-year-old babysit for 14 (yes, you heard that right) younger kids in basement while five couples have “Bible Study” upstairs for 2 hours every other week.   (Reminded this week that 10- and 11-year-olds were hot-gluing sequins to their heads in said basement and forcing the 4- and 5-year-olds to be their servants.)
  8. Leaving two middle school boys home alone with all the necessary equipment to make a blow torch in garage (think water gun, gasoline, and a BIC multi-purpose lighter).
  9. Picking up tipsy teenager from a party and driving at midnight to Walmart to get a breathalyzer to no avail.  Driving around until 1 am searching and finding a police officer, asking him to give test (NOTE:  police officer did not comply).  Driving home making threats of grounding for life.
  10. Standing in driveway holding on to the hood of college student’s car, supposedly preventing college student (in mild – okay not so mild – argument with) from leaving.  Doesn’t work (shocker).  College student gets out and leisurely walks down street to awaiting friend’s car, while yours truly is screaming “don’t come back.”  Topping it off, our neighbor most likely sees the insanity unfold in all its glory.

I hope this has brought you much laughter and grace for yourself and all the other moms you know (especially me).  I need grace and kindness and love and to be told it will all be okay and we are all just a little desperate and nuts sometimes!  Happy Mother’s Day to those of you who love your little, or not-so-little-anymore, kids and grownups.  You are doing a great job (and if you aren’t today or weren’t yesterday or might not tomorrow, take a moment to laugh at yourself just a little).  

(SINCE I’VE PUT MYSELF OUT THERE AND FEEL BASICALLY LIKE I SHED SOME OF MY CLOTHES IN PUBLIC, I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR ONE OF FUNNY EPIC FAILS!  PLEASE COMMENT HERE OR GO BACK OUT TO SOCIAL MEDIA AND COMMENT THERE.  I NEED SOME GOOD LAUGHS TODAY!)

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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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