Posted in Beautiful Mess, Emotions, Faith, Family, God, Guest, Hope, Love, Marriage, Parenthood, Sacred

The Dirty Mirror at the End of the Hallway

Welcome to my guest blogger, Grace Hufschmid!  Grace is a wife to one (Eric), mom to two (Marley and Presley) and a friend to many (including me).  Grace is a regional manager for Operation Christmas Child, the people who bring shoeboxes filled with goodies to the poorest of the poor.  Grace’s heart is kind, authentic and fierce!  YOU ARE IN FOR A TREAT!  Enjoy!

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Call me crazy but one of my favorite things to do is to clean my house. It is a feeling of instant gratification to see a mess and then wield the power to clean it up… bonus points if I find some random piece of dirt that has somehow eluded prior cleaning efforts. For me, it is an almost euphoric feeling to walk into a room and look around knowing that every nook and cranny has been cleaned and organized.

Over the past few months, as aspects of my life have felt somewhat out of my control, I have poured every ounce of effort into taking control of the one thing I can… my clean home.

Except for the mirror at the end of the upstairs hallway. That mirror is dirty. It has smudges and grime and fingerprints all over it. It’s so bad that you can see that it’s dirty from a pretty good distance. Now it’s not dirty because I haven’t noticed it (obviously I have by the above description) and it’s not that I haven’t had the time to clean it. Believe me! I have walked up to that mirror many, many times with Windex and paper towel in hand with a very determined look on my face. The real issue is that when I get close, close enough to clean it, I see it… little tiny fingerprints all over it. For as long as I can remember, my husband has walked my two little daughters up to that mirror and let them look at themselves. They bang on the mirror, poke dirty little fingers at their reflections, laugh and yell all while my husband tells them how beautiful they are… all in that mirror. From a distance, it just seems like random smudges and dirt, but up close I can see the work of tiny happy little hands and I can’t wipe it away.

Enter the dilemma: last week we were hosting a first birthday party for my daughter. I wanted everyone coming to my house for the party to walk away believing that I am the cleanest, neatest, most on-top-of-my-game mother around. My already cleaning-obsessed mind became increasingly fixed on that mirror. What would my guests think if they walked by a dirty, grimy mirror? Oh the horror. They might not think I am so perfect after all. I actually thought about taking the mirror down and shoving it in a closet until after the party so that no one would see or judge it or me.

Fortunately, I was able to let it go and keep my messy fingerprint-ridden mirror intact without losing too much sleep. The party went on with the mirror left in its place. However, I did start thinking about life and the never-ending struggle to present the most perfect picture of our life, our family, our faith and so on… “of course I have it all together… just check out my Facebook newsfeed.”

Reality struck. When we do just that, we miss the opportunity to show people what happens when you get up close and look at the messes in our lives… we might just witness the not-clearly-visible fingerprints of God.

One particular messy area has been my marriage. About five years ago, my husband and I hit a really rough patch. From the outside, everything looked perfect. We were both working in ministry. We had a cute daughter. We even wrote lovely things about each other on social media. But hidden from Instagram and Facebook were the nights I cried myself to sleep and the times we talked about what it would look like if we walked away. It was an absolute mess, but in a way that only He can, God amazingly healed and restored our marriage. He brought us to a stronger place than we had ever been. It wasn’t easy and boy was it complicated, but it was something only God could do.

I am amazed that in these years that have followed, He used what we went through to give hope to other couples that were struggling. He is still doing that to this day. You see, when you get up close and stick your nose in our mess, you can see God’s fingerprints all over it. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul says “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

We have seen that truth come alive in our own lives and marriage. As we hand over our weaknesses, our shame, our doubts, and our insecurities to God, they become opportunities for others to see His power, His fingerprints. As Paul says, we can actually be excited “boasting” about our weaknesses because they are opportunities for God’s perfect grace to be seen.

These are the questions I have to keep asking myself: Do I see my weakness and struggle as something to be fixed, minimized or hidden or an opportunity for God to show up? Do I let people in to get close enough to my mess to reveal God’s fingerprints? Or do I try to tuck failure and insecurity in the closet to preserve my perfect image?  Those are questions I battle with almost every day.  Answering them the way I know can bring me to the best place sure isn’t easy, and sometimes I make the “not-so-good” choice, but when I do, it’s worth it.

 

How great was this!  What a huge treat!  Check out some of my other recent posts!  Some of my favorites are on marriage (click here for the most recent one).

As always, please feel free to like it on social media (huge hit with me) and share it with your friends and family!  Spread the hope!

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

WE ALL NEED THIS LOVING TRAVELING COMPANION!

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

The Tale of Our Three Marriages (THE BIG REVEAL)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are links to my other posts about Marriage:

Family of Origin

Fidelity

Fallibility

Faithfulness

Forecast

Friendship

 

 

 

 

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

A Grief (and Celebration) Observed…A Thin Place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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