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 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.)

Rachel head.jpg

 

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:

FOOFidelityFallibilityFaithfulForecast

Posted in Anxiety, Beautiful Mess, Emotions, Faith, Freedom, God, Health, Hope, Sacred, Thanks, Word of the Year

TW – Not TT (Season #01, Episode #07) Why It’s Not Just for Turkey Day

I’ve been fairly crabby this week.  And anxious.  Allen has also been anxious.  Lots going on in our home and family to merit this.  Definite and possible job changes.  Future home changes.  Friends with health and emotional challenges.  College kids coming home for the summer.  The normal stuff that makes up life, but tends to ramp up the crabbiness and the worry.

Last weekend, while meeting with our marriage mentoring couple, I was reminded once again about my strong passion for thankfulness.  Sitting at the table, surrounded by French croissants (brought by our amazing baker bride) and cups of tea, I spoke (okay, preached with passion…in other words, “went on a verbal rampage”) about the merits of thankfulness, spewing phrases like “it’s never a wrong decision,” “we actively see and acknowledge God’s hand in our lives,” “it brings healing,” “I am highly committed to it and it’s changed my life,” and on and on.  They listened to me with open hearts and wide eyes, jotting down notes in their manuals.

After they left, I sat down at my computer to give myself a good “pat on the back” and re-read all my thankful posts.  After all, I am highly committed to it and my blog will prove it to me once again.  Well, my “pat on the back” came to an abrupt halt when I opened my website and realized I hadn’t written a “Thankful Thursday” post since the end of November:  FIVE MONTHS.  Five long months.  I tried another avenue for the pat:  the daily thankful app on my phone.  Surely that would boost my ego and make me feel good about my dedication.   What I saw there was sporadic at best, certainly not daily, heart-felt reflections on how I have been blessed (those red notification circles on my phone are not doing their job – LOL).  So much for my tireless commitment.

Lest you worry about me plunging headlong into despair (that’s not my modus operandi), I forged ahead and re-read my thankful posts, looking for gentle reminders and the encouragement to pick up this best practice again.   Could there be a connection between my crabby and anxious heart and this drop off in thanksgiving?  The answer came to me:  I’m NOT sure.  Life isn’t having the right formula.  It just doesn’t work.  But as I re-read my posts, I AM sure the gratitude is really important.  Here’s why:

  1.  It gives words to the gifts that have been strewn to us by a generous hand and loving heart, treasures from a God who longs to speak His presence into our very souls.  We actively seek and remember those gifts.  We find out we are not alone on this journey and that there is someone who constantly loves and cares for us.  Read more HERE.
  2.  Sharing our thanks with someone opens the door for more relationship.  It provides connection in a world of disconnection.  It speaks love and kindness into someone’s world where these might be lacking.  It is always a good and right decision, something elusive in an ever-changing and complicated world.
  3. It shouts beauty to a world bombarded with the ugly.  It multiplies thanks in my own heart.  It is one of those sure-fire, good things in my life.  And it is simple, super simple (with all of the formulas out there for changing my crazy life for the better, this one doesn’t require a book to be written or a class to be taken).  Read more HERE.
  4. Thankfulness is one of the environments I can provide for myself that brings healing.  No.  It’s not magic or formulaic (believe me, I have lived a lifetime of that destructive line of thinking). But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s GOOD.  Read more HERE.
  5. There are “unwrapped gifts and free surprises” straight from the heart of God, just waiting for us if we open our eyes to see them.  My life tends to be filled with negativity from all kinds of sources, things that consume me about what’s wrong with the world instead of what’s right.  Thankfulness combats that enemy of my soul and soothes it.  Read one of my all-time favorite posts HERE to find out more.
  6. It brings the voices of HOPE and RESTORATION instead of voices of fear, divisiveness and destruction.  Many days, I am those voices of hope and restoration. But I also need those voices from others, the voices that reflect the very heart of the God of unity, truth, healing, encouragement, kindness, love, hope, peace, joy, patience, all that is GOOD.  Read more HERE.
  7. It’s a gift from others to me.  When someone remembers to say thank you, my heart becomes a little less empty and a lot more full, a little less broken and a lot more healed.  It brings unity where there is division, joy in the midst of sorrow, and clarity instead of confusion.  Thanksgiving heals.  Read about this HERE.

This is what I know so far about my endless journey towards this practice of gratitude.  This is why this weekend (note the title TW which stands for Thankful Weekend…I know you were wondering), I am reflecting on my week and sharing these quick thoughts with you.  Speaking aloud again about what gifts God has given me:

  1.  A lunch with a friend who, after I made a snarky comment, said to me, “This is why we’re friends.  I wish I could live across the street from you.”  She validated why she loved me.  HUGE (especially for this “words of affirmation” girl).
  2. A phone call from a long-time friend about what one of my blog posts meant to him.  He encouraged me to continue to write.  STRAIGHT UP GIFT.
  3. Another friend called and asked me for my advice about her teenage son.  For those of you who have the battle scars of parenting, you get this.  All that work is not wasted.  Someone else can benefit from my successes and mistakes as a parent.  YAY!
  4. A sleep-over with one of my “brides” who we mentored several years ago.  A lazy dinner and a chat about boundaries and marriage and friendship and church and good books to read.  BALM TO MY SOUL.
  5. Sharing communion with my Beautiful Mess girls.  Reminding ourselves about the Deep Deep Love of Jesus and the Reckless Love of God.  FAVORITE NEW SONGS!  Take a few minutes to listen.
  6. A heart-to-heart talk about struggles and decisions with another friend.  Her text to me afterwards reminding me she treasures our friendship.  OH MY GOODNESS.  LOVE IT.
  7. Date night with Allen sharing wine and worries over dinner and then taking the time to paint.  SO INCREDIBLY THANKFUL FOR THIS PARTNER IN HOPE AND HEALING.

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As I sit here and take the time to reflect (which I am actually doing as I write this), my heart is gently reminded again why this matters.  People matter.  Loving them matters.  They are some of the greatest gifts I have.  God matters.  Loving Him matters.  Seeing His provision and gifts in my life matters.  He actually is THE greatest gift.

Maybe I have just “TENDED” to the best thing this morning.  (And I can breathe a prayer that I might just be a little less anxious and crabby.)

I hope you can too.

(Let me know if you do and what you are thankful for either in the comment section or privately at this link or connect with me on my social media pages:  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 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.

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