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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The morning of the viewing:

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

The day of the funeral:

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

More grief as her cat Ollie dies on September 12:

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

September 14, 2017

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

September 17, 2017  Cathy spoke:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Friday, March 30, 2018:

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

Same day, right before bed:

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

 

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

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

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

 Her reply:

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

 

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

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

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

How’s My WOTY? (And Yours? Even Your WOTQ?)

A Word of the Year is “intended to be a kind guide that walks along side of you during the year, not a harsh master that dictates a set of “to-do’s” (God knows we don’t need any more of those voices in our heads).  It’s a friend that accompanies you during your journey.”  (The Dolly Mama)

Three months have gone by.  Winter is moving out like a sloth, but 2018 is barreling down the tracks like a freight-train.  My Word of the Year (referred to lovingly as WOTY from here on out), “TEND,” silently shouts from my computer screen each time I sit down to send an email, check Facebook or do paperwork (the picture above is my background).  There are some days when I stop and listen and others where I just glance and shut it out of my mind and move on with my day.

Because I am an avid to-do list follower (okay sometimes I am a slave to it), “WRITE UPDATE POST ABOUT WOTY” appeared on my iPhone reminders about a week ago.  Inside, I sighed a little and thought, “Nah.  Not happening.  After all, what would I even talk about?  It’s not like this “gentle friend” has been happily guiding me and I have this awesome relationship with said friend.

But here it is, my Sabbath, the day I make “room” on my plate to ponder things like this and allow restoration and creativity to enter my soul.   And today, I am spending on this word “TEND” once again.  Come with me on this journey over the next few hours.  Take a peak into my probably not-going-to-be-perfect day.

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9:56 am  Check out my piece of paper that I scribbled all over on January 1, 2018 in order to find my WOTY.  First question at the top.  WHAT DO I NEED?  Get out another piece of paper.  Write “WOTY Update April 2018” at the top.  Ask myself the same question.  Scribble some things down.

Peace.  Wisdom.  A house that’s in order.  More connection with Allen.  Clear direction on next steps with this whole blog/writing/communicating thing.  Support from others.  The sun.  My kids to be okay.  To “TEND” to the right things – to find the balance between others and self. Compare notes.  Many are the same.  Some are different already.   I wonder why.

(Take a break and make first cup of tea with cream and sugar in 46 days.  (It’d better be all I dreamed it would be.)  Be back at around 11.  Need to go sit and stare and drink for a while.)

(Tea is okay and I am distracted by phone call from insurance company and FaceTime with Sarah and Broden.  Flip on TV and watch CSI for 15 minutes.  Tell myself this isn’t what I want to be doing right now.  Turn off TV and come back to paper.  After all, I am going to write this down and share with world.)

10:43 am  See next question.  WHO DO I WANT TO BECOME?  Add this:  WHAT DO I WANT TO BECOME?

WHAT?  Wise, gentle, tender-hearted, less judgmental and more gracious.  Integrated.  Free.

WHO?  A better wife.  An influential communicator.

(Rachel walks in the door after breakfast with Allen.  Have a sweet heart-to-heart for a few minutes.  Insurance company calls back.  Sabbath is hard to come by.)

Compare notes again.  Notice that tender-hearted, wife and communicator are on both lists.  They must be important this year.  How does “TEND” fit in to them?  Hmmm.  Let me think on that.  No rushing.

(Pee and send a “happy birthday” message to my sweet friend Annie!  Make myself a smoothie.  Watch more CSI while I drink my smoothie.)

(Didn’t work out so great watching CSI.  Sarah needed me for a few minutes. #babiesarehard)

12:26 pm  Look at definition of “TEND” again.  “To apply oneself to the care of, watch over, cultivate.  To stand by something.  To take charge of as a caretaker, overseer.”  Those three words:  tenderhearted.  wife.  communicator.  Am I to tend to these God?  Oversee them?  Take charge of them?

The phrase, “GO DEEPER BEFORE YOU GO WIDER” keeps coming into my mind and heart.  I can’t seem to shake it.  How does that play in?  Half-thought:  Roots of plants need to go deep into the rich and nourishing soil (see pic above) before they go wide and bear fruit.  I want so desperately to bear fruit, but I probably need to “tend” to receiving the rich nourishment from God Himself in the deep places of my soul first.  Sarah had that whole phrase in college from Colossians 2:7 about this very thing.  “BE ROOTED (in Christ).”  More hmmm.

(Call insurance company back.  Check in on Sarah again.  All is well there.  Lay down and finish this one dang episode of CSI.)

(A friend texts.  Ask her if she can wait a little while before I call her back.  Head back to process.)

1:41 pm  Review my final notes in the process of choosing my WOTY.  Rewrite all the “tend” things that I don’t want:

preTEND – ingenuine
conTEND – try harder 
(doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know this just does not work)
disTEND – enlarge from internal pressure (this goes along with try harder…ugh!)
hyperexTEND – expand beyond a safe point (this is the hardest for me)

Also, rewrite the things I do want:

atTEND – be present
exTEND – make wider 
(Be careful on this one.  Deeper before wider.)
inTEND – direct mind on

I think I am done for this quarterly check-in.  My heart is directed to these three:  tenderhearted (oh my goodness, that even has the word TEND inside it), wife (be present, go deeper and direct mind on this one), and communicator (write to “express not to impress”).  I believe I might just be friends again with my WOTY.  I need to take a nap now (but first, that phone call with a friend who needs some tending…I know it’s my Sabbath, but I’m not the most perfect at keeping it as you’ve all just witnessed).  Then a much-needed nap.

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UPDATE SAT 7:38 am

I am glad that my iPhone reminder app did its job this week.  I needed the little kick in the pants to stop avoiding my WOTY and check in (as scattered as it was).  I want this to be your kick in the pants (I mean tender push) to do the same.   Some of you are thinking, “I never chose one.”  It’s not too late for this kind of friendship.  With winter slowly fading into the background (please God, let it be so), there’s never a better time than spring for new thoughts and renewed hope!  You could do a WOTM (word of the month) or even a WOTQ (word of the quarter).  Just follow the steps I outlined for myself in January by clicking HERE.  And if you are renewing your relationship with the one you’ve already chosen, I hope this post is your gentle guide as to a super realistic and very “not-so-perfect” way to approach it.  I would love to hear from you what happens, from your heart to mine!

Do me a huge favor and go back and “Like” my post if you came from social media!  It’s one of the ways I can get more views (I guess only do that if you actually like it…LOL)!

 

 

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

Best Friday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

Hey Kim,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much much love,

Esther

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**Please feel free to comment or share or follow me via email**

Posted in Emotions, Faith, Freedom, God, Hope

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes (Help!)

“I believe that faith is less like following a GPS through a precise grid of city blocks and more like being out at sea, a tricky journey, nonlinear and winding, the wind kicking up and then stalling.”   (Shauna Niequist)

Our town had a snow day this past week and I didn’t even know it until I saw it on Facebook in our town’s moms’ group site.  Oh my goodness.  The thought roared into my brain, “You are not one of those moms anymore.”  I remember having the same feeling this past fall when I realized I would have no more school year in my life.  I didn’t even know when the first day of school was until I saw pictures being posted by young moms with their adorable children in cute “first day of school” outfits.  After 22 years of first days of school and snow days, I felt clueless.  Huge change.  No more pics on the porch with Allen.  No more “you have a snow day” surprise visits into bedrooms with sleepy “awesome” replies.  Huge change.

These past few years have brought change after change for our family.  Each child slowly left the nest for college.  Allen took a new job commuting to Pittsburgh three days a week.  I started this blog which has brought a host of new and old friends into my life.  Grandchild #1 was born.  Close friends experienced horrific tragedies and loss and I didn’t avoid them (huge change for me).  And just this past Wednesday night, Allen and I slept with no one else in the house for the first time in 26 years  (that doesn’t count the 5 nights all four kids were at camp one summer…best week of my mom life).   There are many days, where I can’t get my bearing and feel tossed around by the “sea of life.”

As a young child of missionary parents, I embraced change.  I moved 21 times in my first 19 years.  I got a kick out of it all.  I constantly adjusted and readjusted to new normals and enjoyed it as much as I can remember.  Change kept happening, as it does throughout our lives no matter how much we try to stop it, and it took its toll on me.  Horrible anxiety came over me one summer with such a force that I couldn’t even leave my house.  At that point, I believed with all my might that change was the villain and I was the victim.  Uncertainty was the culprit and I was the casualty.

Those beliefs are just not true or helpful.  They shout loudly that the external things in life have control over my internal world.  I feel powerless and without hope.  No wonder anxiety comes right along side.  Thankfully, I’ve been slowly discovering a few new and very helpful ways to approach the changes that are sure to come (after all, I am only 51…oh, that kind of rhymes).

  • Embrace change itself.  Shauna Niequist reminds me, “If you dig in and fight the change you’re facing, it will indeed smash you to bits.”  Think of the example of a wave.  If you stand in the sand with knees locked as a wave comes in, you will be knocked over, tumbled through the rough sand and probably get pretty banged up.  But if you entrust yourself to the water just a little further out, you will be gently carried above those seemingly scary waves.  My hope is to embrace change.  Wait for the next step.  Stop “locking my knees” and bracing for impact.  Choose the long-view of my story.  “Ride the waves.”  I find it much easier to live there.
  • Embrace BOTH the darkness and the light.  I don’t want to lose touch with the heart of the story, the part where life comes from death (but not skip over the death part).  I spent many years just trying to “go up and to the right” and avoid all the bad stuff.  This past year, I have plunged headlong into grief, murder, anxiety, all the more shadowy sides of life.  I am going deep there.  People are really hurting.  It’s hard.  But there is always a glimmer of hope.  It’s not all bad.  Redemption comes.  Again, I don’t want to skip the death part, the darkness part.  I want to sit still where it’s not okay NOW (where darkness reigns) but still have hope it WILL be okay in the future (where the light shines brightly).  This is huge for me.  It’s been such a tremendous gift.
  • Embrace uncertainty.  Making peace with uncertainty is the hardest of all for me.  I have learned that certainty is not part of life.  The more I demand it, the more it eludes me.  Much of my life is driven by this force of demanding certainty.  “If this, then this.”  Formulas.  They just don’t work.  Because I bring my kids to church and read them stories from the Bible doesn’t mean they will embrace the deep love of God for them.  Because I exercise and eat right doesn’t mean I won’t get cancer.  Because I do all the right things (whatever that even means), doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen.  Certainty.  The insatiable hunger for it that I believed was my friend is actually my enemy.  Desire for certainty enslaves me.  Making peace with uncertainty frees me.

In the end of the day, change is one of God’s greatest gifts and most useful tools.  Change is one of the things that redeems me, brings me into greater freedom.  As Shauna reminds me once again, “It’s not a function of life’s cruelty but of God’s graciousness.”  God longs for me to have freedom from all that would hold me captive.  This hope of freedom helps me to embrace change the way I truly long to (even just a little bit at a time).

I don’t fear change the way I used to.  I’m up for the next round (and to be honest, a little fear crept in as I wrote that).  When I do think of all those changes I mentioned above, I get excited.  I have less constrictions on my time and energy.  God keeps bringing those who need me and who I need.  We are going deep together.  This blog is opening those doors.  I love and long for relationship.  I love and long for wholeness and healing.  I love and long for impact.  That core of who I am actually has not changed even though the world around me has and will continue to.  I am preserved through all of it.  The outside, external world does not have control over my truest self.  I am not without hope.  Change is NOT the villain and I am NOT the victim.  Uncertainty is NOT the culprit and I am NOT the casualty.   I am not losing myself, but marching forward on this journey of finding myself with the gracious, kind and loving help of God and others.  It’s really worth it.

(Please be sure to check out other posts I have shared by clicking HERE!! There’s a lot of good stuff on the site!!)

Posted in Emotions, Family, Freedom, Hope, Love, Marriage, WTF

Make A Marriage Great Again (Part Five of Ten – What’s Your Forecast Like?)

“Every man’s way is right in his own eyes.”  (Proverbs 21:2)

It began right at 5:00 am this morning.  “Can we put the stuff we are moving in the living room?” (Esther)  “I want to put it in the closet.  I don’t want all that out there clogging up the area.” (Allen)  “But if we put it in the living room, we will separate what is going and what is staying.”  (Esther)  Allen gives in.  Half-hour later, another conversation goes like this.  “You keep everything.”  (Esther)  “What do you mean by that?”  (Allen)  “You have every box for what you own and every imaginable bag that you bought stuff in.  I don’t do that.  But you know what?  Sometimes, it’s good.  Now I have all your dry cleaning plastic bags to put over your hanging clothes.”  Esther gives in.  If you are confused as to what is going on, I am here in Pittsburgh helping Allen move from the suburbs to a cute, trendy apartment in the Strip District.  We are packing up his stuff.  Fun times (insert sarcastic tone of voice here).  We both had a “FORECAST”, a what’s-it-gonna-be-like mindset (there’s my fifth “F”  in this WTF series – see first four at these links:  FOO, Fidelity, Fallibility, and Faithful) for how it would play out.  We came into this packing thing with a load of expectations.

When we got married almost 27 years ago, I imagined it all completely different.  I envisioned romance, adventure, emotional closeness, spontaneity, laughter, someone to take care of me, and the embracing of differences.  I believed in and expected the “happily-ever-after marriage.”  After all, isn’t that the point of getting married?  (I can hear some of you chuckling to yourself knowing how silly it all was.)  I certainly didn’t envision to be bickering over how to pack up an apartment.  After all, this apartment is part of a new adventure for us.  It should be magical.  (Yes, you are still chuckling.)  

Allen’s vision for our marriage so long ago had very different hopes and expectations.  He thought it would be filled with peace, physical and emotional closeness, lots of quality time together doing simple things, care for him, stability and harmony.  He also believed in the “happily-ever-after marriage.”  After all, isn’t that the point of getting married?  (At this point, you need to stop chuckling so loud I can even hear you from here.)   He certainly didn’t envision us bickering over how to pack up an apartment.  After all, this apartment is part of the plan for us to have lots of quality time together getting to know his simple home city of Pittsburgh.  It should be easy.

Every marriage is confronted with a vast assortment of expectations from both parties about what marriage and life should look like.  We have been forming these for years before we are married, even from childhood.  We come to believe that certain things are right and good and therefore want and expect them from our marriage partner.  There is nothing wrong with this.  It breaks down when we assume that we both have an identical picture of marriage and life itself.  However, saying “I do” brings with it a host of conscious and unconscious expectations that aren’t always fulfilled.  We see it play out day in and day out: simple things like how to pack an apartment and much more complicated things like how to discipline a teenager.  When we have these sharp contrasts, they lead to unexpected arguments and stresses.  When this happens on a regular basis, we find ourselves with a vast emotional chasm between us, something neither of us want or thought would happen.

This sounds like all bad news.  As you think on your own marriage or marriage-to-be, it could seem overwhelming.  “We fight all the time.  We are so different.  We want such contrary things from each other and from life.”  Yes.  It’s difficult.  Yes.  It takes a lot of work.  But I am here to tell you that there is also really good news.   And all the hard work is worth it.

As many of you know, Allen and I are the marriage mentoring coordinators at our church and we meet with and counsel engaged couples as they prepare for their upcoming marriage.  Allen has a very favorite exercise (developed by our friend Glenn Murphy…BIG SHOUT OUT TO HIM!) that these couples do as part of the curriculum.  Each couple writes a list of his/her own “Ten Commandments” (the unspoken expectations, the “roles and rules” that he or she brings into marriage).  No matter where you are right now on your marriage journey, this might be super helpful to you.  And it can be about any aspect of your life or marriage.  Just this week, I spoke with our daughter, Sarah, as she and her husband are beginning to navigate raising a child and both working, and they sat down and wrote about what they both expect and want to happen in the next few months as it relates to their adorable son, Broden.   And as I am thinking further about it, I need to seriously practice what I preach here and Allen and I need to sit down before we go about the rest of our day and do this about even something as simple as our expectations of the moving weekend before more bickering ensues and we feel disconnected and upset.

Anyhow, here is some “How To Do It” guidelines:

  1. Make intimacy (being fully-known and fully-loved) your over-arching goal.  This will help create an environment of transparency and safety.
  2. Do this exercise separately without your partner’s input.  Be careful not to write what you think your partner would expect or want.  Be as honest as you can and don’t be afraid to have your voice be heard!   (This comment is not for people like me who speak their voice loud and often.)
  3. Compare answers with your partner. Notice what you have in common and where you differ.  You might just be surprised at both!!
  4. Provide a safe environment to discuss them and question each other with the goal of mutual agreement.  This takes each person believing that expectations are not right or wrong, but different.
  5. Create a new, mutual list that where you both feel heard and what matters most is there.  This is a huge opportunity to move from “ME” versus “YOU” to “US.”

***MAJOR CAVEAT***
Sometimes, there are things we cannot comfortably reach agreement with or compromise about.  Here are some more thoughts for that scenario, which I promise will happen at some point in your journey of future expectations and decisions.

  1. Possibly discuss them with someone you trust who will not take sides.  Look for feedback and input from them.  This could be a mentor couple, a friend or even a professional counselor.
  2. Take a moment to pray together and ask God for wisdom as you navigate the conflict.  Ask Him for unity of spirit and heart.
  3. Face the reality that some sacrifices are necessary for the sake of a loving, mutually satisfying marriage. This means that there are some things that are important to you but you will be choosing to give up , hopefully without any residual resentment or hostility.
  4. Realize that letting those things go might be painful depending on how important it is to you.  It may hurt and cause some emotional distress.  You may have to grieve what isn’t going to happen.
  5. Understand that there will be losses and there will be many gains.  What IS going to happen may even be better than what isn’t going to happen.
  6. Trust the process.  There is great hope and true intimacy (being fully-known and fully-loved) may just be the outcome, especially if you’ve made that your goal from the beginning.  That’s what we all want anyway.

What’s it gonna be like for your marriage?  What’s your FORECAST for the future?  No matter where you are on your journey, there is always hope for greater healing and wholeness!  I pray that your FORECAST would be bright!