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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Launch Sequence (I thought it would be easier)

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.09.10 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mom

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

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

Posted in Celebration, Holiday, Hope, Word of the Year

Choose One Word for 2018 (simple reasons, reminders and steps)…and Find Out Mine

“One word you can focus on every day, all year long… One word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live.”  (oneword365.com)

When I was a young girl, I had the New Year’s resolution every year of reading through the Bible.  On January 1, I would read 40 chapters of the book of Genesis and then by January 8, I would be on Genesis chapter 43.  I’ve made that same resolution about 20 more times at points in my life and guess what, I have never read through the whole Bible no matter what I’ve tried.  It’s been the same for me with exercise plans, diets, organizational goals, etc.  You know what I mean.  You feel the same pain.  Bottom line.  Resolutions don’t work.

On the flip side, I’m all about HOPE.  I love a fresh start.  A new day.  A new week.  A new month.  And especially a NEW YEAR.  Hope is what “rocks my socks.”  And God knows this about us.  That’s why we have fresh starts every morning, even every moment.  I don’t know what I would do without the place where I can begin again, take a first step toward change, growth and healing, and then come to that same redemptive position again and again.  HOPE.

Hope, my first Word of the Year (hereafter known as WOTY) in 2015, is the main reason why I opted to throw away all New Year’s resolutions and choose a WOTY.  I need hope.  Hope is an inner, gracious guide that allows room for us to change and grow.  Resolutions are harsh external masters that heap shame on us when we “fail” to keep them.  Here’s why:

  • A resolution concentrates on “DOING.”  A WOTY values “BEING.”
  • A resolution instructs.  A WOTY inspires.
  • A resolution is mandatory (“work out three days a week”).  A WOTY allows for room to go at your own pace (taking the next baby step).
  • A resolution is limited in possibility (“lose 10 lbs”).  A WOTY is expansive and limitless.
  • A resolution can be “broken.”  A WOTY cannot (it is a gentle friend).

I am so thankful that my husband stumbled upon the idea.  It has been life-changing as we approach the end of an old year and the beginning of a new one.  (One major caveat here.  We spoke yesterday and realized that 2017 has been a tough one on this exact note.  We don’t even remember our words for the year.  But there is hope for a fresh start again in 2018…YAY for hope.)

If you’ve never done this, it’s a lot of fun.  Today, New Year’s Eve, might be a good day to spend the time.  Or any time in the next couple of weeks.  I know people who spend an hour (me) and some who spend a weekend (Allen).  (Click on my second post to understand why that’s the case.)  It’s not a race.  I woke up today at 3:30 am (not planned BTW) and decided to write this post and spend some time in the wee hours of this morning before the hustle and bustle of the day to come up with my WOTY.   All that to say, it doesn’t matter when.  But it might matter if.  It might seem overwhelming.  It’s not.  It’s just fun.   Give yourself the treat.

Helpful reminders:

  • Concentrate on who you want to BE(come) this year, not what you want to DO.
  • Be true to yourself.  You want your  word to represent your unique needs and desires.
  • Remind yourself that it doesn’t have to be perfect. This isn’t traditional goal-setting.  This is grace-filled friendship-making. There is plenty of room to change your mind.
  • It’s intended to be a kind guide that walks along side of you during the year, not a harsh master that dictates a set of “to-do’s” (God knows we don’t need any more of those voices in our heads).  It’s a friend that accompanies you during your journey.

Simple steps:

  1.  Ask yourself a simple question:  What do you need?  Many times, we concentrate on improving ourselves instead of being kind to ourselves.  This is a huge starting place.  Don’t skip this step.  Write down all the random things that come to your mind.
  2. The next question can be (after you haven’t skipped the first one) who do you want to be(come)?  Write down a few of the most important things that jump into your head.
  3. Make a list of words that come to mind.  Write as many as you want.  It can be a noun, verb or adjective.  If you need help, click here for some ideas.
  4. Cross out the words that don’t work for you.  Narrow it down to at the most 10.
  5. Check out the definition of each of the words, it’s origin, synonyms and antonyms.  You might just be surprised at what you find out!
  6. Give yourself some time to process the list.  Allow yourself to “try each one on for size.”
  7. Take a deep breath and choose your word.  Take a few minutes to write your thoughts about how you hope it might play out in different areas of your life and relationships.
  8. Write your word down on something and post it on your mirror, your car, your computer, wherever you will see it every day.  You can even by a customizable bracelet by clicking here (I don’t get anything from this.  Just thought it was a cool idea.)  Look at it each morning and remind yourself about this friend who is with you today.
  9. Give yourself permission to change your mind.  If you want to, take the time to reflect and re-evaluate your word at any point in the year.

Drum roll please!!!  My word for the year in 2018 is TEND and here’s why (but a cool pic first of my process…by the way, that alphabetical list was helpful to me):

IMG_9029

Tend means to “apply oneself to the care of, watch over, cultivate.”  I want to:

  • TEND to myself and others in their bodies, minds, souls and spirits.
  • become a TENDer of  my relationships, health, home, and work.
  • atTEND to peoples’ hearts and my own.
  • exTEND myself to other people, my own dreams and what new things life brings this year
  • inTEND or direct my mind on what really matters (which is the above)

I don’t want to:

  • conTEND (strive)
  • disTEND (enlarge because of pressure)
  • overexTEND (to expand beyond a safe point)
  • preTEND (not be genuine)

My mantra is “hope for healing and wholeness (with a little humor along the way).”  I pray that your Word of the Year would provide just that!  It’s fun to be on this journey together!  Let’s have some extra today!

Would love to know your Word of the Year once you’ve chosen it.  Write it in the comments section (if you remember to come back here after you’ve done the process) or even more fun, a comment on Facebook or Instagram!  I like those more!

 

 

Posted in Celebration, Freedom, God, Holiday, Hope, Joy, Love, Sacred

We are the Gift

Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.  (Hamilton Wright Mabie)

As I sit here listening to needles fall from my Spruce, I am not sure if our tree will survive until tomorrow.  It’s one of those minor stressors that come about because we bring something that’s alive from the outdoors into an environment where it is not designed to thrive.  The tradition seems silly at times, but it’s one of my favorite parts of Christmas.

Tonight and tomorrow, many of us head into environments where, like my tree, we are in survival mode.  There are so many reasons why it might be the case.  Thriving is not even on the agenda.  We are just going to “make it through.”

From the thousands of Christmas movies, books, and shows, we know in our heads that “Christmas cannot be bought from a store.  Christmas is just a little bit more.” (The Grinch)  But our actions speak otherwise.  We rush around buying gifts and would never be caught dead without one in hand for those on our list.  Part of the survival of Christmas.  Get a gift.  Bring a gift.

I don’t really want to just survive until Tuesday.  My thoughts swirl as I think about how to “make that happen, keep my needles from falling off.”  And then my heart is quieted.  It’s not the outer world:  other people, the food, the dying Spruce, the gifts, and even the Steelers game that are going to do it for me.  It’s a gentle reminder from my friend Annie that she has hammered into my head for the past ten years (obviously I am a slow learner):  We don’t just HAVE gifts to offer.  We ARE the gifts.

As you go into today, tonight and tomorrow, be encouraged.  You ARE the gift for those who spend any moments of precious time with you.  Open yourself up.  Unwrap yourself.  Let others in.  Help them to know you.  At the same time, view others as the gifts that they ARE.  Seek to unwrap their hearts.  Get to know them.  It’s scary and vulnerable and you might just be hurt and rejected, but you will be giving the best gift of all:  YOU.

I long for one thing in this life and just perhaps you do too (whether you know it or not):  being fully-known and fully-loved.  I am so thankful that Jesus paved the way for us and showed us how this works.  He opened His heart fully for us, taking a huge chance on being vulnerable and rejected, giving Himself without pause.  He knew beyond a doubt that He IS the best gift for us and that you and I ARE the greatest presents He could ever receive.  All of the scary rejection paled in comparison to the JOY that this union of hearts would bring.  We were worth the risk.

I don’t know what’s going to happen today, tonight, or tomorrow when you risk your hearts for the chance of knowing and being known, loving and being loved.  I can’t promise you that it might not end up painful.  I can’t promise you that you might not be rejected.  But I can promise that your heart will be more open, and in turn, more healed. And you might just be a little closer to getting what you really want this Christmas!

(Check out this fun video – What If We Saw Everything as a Gift?)

 

 

 

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

The “You Better Watch Out”…God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****************************************

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

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

Posted in Beautiful Mess, Celebration, Emotions, God, Grief, Holiday, Hope, Sacred

Advent (The Howl of the Not-Yet)

O ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow…

The past few weeks have been marked by much suffering for those I love.  The pain seems overwhelming: substance abuse in adult children, the possibility of a very scary diagnosis, a seemingly unfair and senseless job loss, a sibling carted off to jail in the middle of the night, an impending divorce and the unnerving future of being alone, a debilitating disease that prevents normal life-function, and mental illness that doctors are having trouble treating.  You get it.  You are hearing that kind of news as well.  And like me, your thoughts might be shouting, “How long?  How much?  Why?  Why right now?”

I love the holiday season.  From November 1 to January 1, like many of yours, our house is filled with decorations, food (and way too much of it, as my waistline is currently showing), family, friends, celebration, and traditions.  Along with these external manifestations of the season, there are also the underlying inner emotional expectations of gratitude, wonder, joy, peace, love, hope and generosity, to name just a few.  A quick confession:  I like this paragraph more than the first one.  I want to live here.  I want all good things, happy thoughts.

The period leading up to Christmas morning is commonly known as Advent.  It’s Advent right now.  Shauna Niequist reminds us that “advent is about waiting, anticipating, yearning.  Advent is the question, the pleading and Christmas is the answer to that question, the response to the howl.  There are moments in this season when I don’t feel a lot like Christmas, but I do feel a lot like Advent.”

For many weeks now, as you read above, I agree with Shauna.  I feel a lot like Advent.  Advent is NOT Christmas morning.  Advent speaks about and grieves broken places that are yet to be healed, questions that have no answer today, and yearning that is unfulfilled.  Advent gives a glimpse of hope at the end of a long season of waiting.  Advent is “both and.”  Advent says there is suffering and it is real, palpable.  But advent also says there is hope, just as real and palpable.  Advent says “don’t skip over the suffering.  Don’t minimize the heartache.  Sit in it, acknowledge it, and feel it.”  This is not an easy place.  And if the truth is told, I struggle with Advent.  I do not sit with the grief, acknowledge and feel it.  I skip right to Christmas morning, the happy place, where the answer is here and salvation has come.

I am slowly learning that skipping right to Christmas doesn’t work.  It doesn’t take away the pain.  It doesn’t make bad things not happen.  It doesn’t bring true healing.  Advent brings healing.  It is the place of real truth that speaks both heartache and hope, both suffering and a savior.

Sometimes God does His best work during the seasons of advent in our lives, the waiting periods, the not-yet times.  And that hard work usually takes the form of those who “sit with us in the dark,” when we can’t see the light, those who go to the not-so-pretty places with us and remind us of who God is and His undying love for us, for as long as it takes until we can see “Christmas” on the horizon.

There are more than two weeks until Christmas.   Let’s not skip to that place.  Let’s live in the not-yet, the place of anticipation.  Let’s dive into the questions, the grief, the “howl,” the yearning of both ourselves and those we love.  Let’s be okay in the waiting.  Christmas will come soon enough.  A baby will be here.  A Savior will come.  What is empty will be filled.  Heartache will be healed.  Yearning will be fulfilled.  What is broken will be repaired.  What we’ve lost will be found.  But in the meantime, we will wait together, not forgetting the howl of our hearts.

Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing!

(It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Fourth Verse)

Posted in Celebration, Family, God, Hope, Love, Marriage, Parenthood, Sacred

A Shoutout to the #Goodguys (And Mine in Particular)

“The work an unknown good man has done is like a vein of water flowing hidden underground, secretly making the ground green.”  (Thomas Carlyle)

Allen.  A word that comes off my lips probably twenty times a day.  A word that sometimes is surrounded by love and other times by frustration.  A word like no other in my life.  A word that encompasses kindness unlike I’ve known before, integrity that quietly makes a profound statement, humility that lifts others up and spirituality that is deep and genuine.

This morning I was reminded that “we could use a hefty dose of uplifting stuff when it comes to men during this very important #metoo revolution.” (Shelby Spear)  I was encouraged to share the story of fine men in my life.

I have one of the #goodguys as my partner for this journey.  I’ve struck gold in the landscape of life.  This man, who I’ve known for 28+ years just keeps getting better and better.  He’s the best gift I’ve ever been given.  And he gave me four more gifts in our incredible children, as qualities I see growing in them reflect who their dad is.

Allen embodies the spirit of “being kind over being right” (and thank God for that, because I like being right just a little too much).  I watch it play out in quiet moments with close friends and strangers alike.  He is considerate to both immediate family and the homeless that wander the streets of New York City.  Co-workers who spend every day with him and the poor who don’t have access to clean water benefit from his heart of benevolence.   His gracious spirit permeates his times with his partners in ministry and the engaged couples we minister to together.  As you can see, his kindness is genuine, often and without boundaries.

Integrity is the suit of armor Allen puts on every single day.  He does “the right thing even when no one is watching.”  I would know.  I live with the guy.  He doesn’t cheat on his taxes, on his expense sheet at work, or me.  He is the same person in the morning at work, in a board meeting at our church, on a weekend with the guys, and our family at home.  I trust him completely and utterly.  What a gift!

I struggle with thinking I’m better than everyone else (#notabigsurprise).  I know.  I’m working on it.  And one of the reasons I’m working on it is because of this man named Allen who shows genuine humility.  He embodies #iamsecond (I think there needs to be a cute video about him).  I want to be seen and heard.  He wants others to be seen and heard, including me.  He’s the biggest reason why I started this blog.  He wants my voice out there.  He actually, deep-down-inside, believes that others are valuable and takes the role of a servant much of the time even though he is a highly successful business man with mad skills.  You can find him washing the dishes, folding the laundry, performing menial, unseen tasks no one else wants to do and never expecting the notice and applause of others.  I am so blessed!

My favorite thing about Allen, and probably why he’s all those other things, is that he is deeply spiritual.  His inner life matters more to him than his outward persona.  He seeks God with ferocity.  He spends time in prayerful solitude in all kinds of places (the woods, his favorite chair in our family room, the airport as he’s waiting for a flight).  He seeks wise counsel with me as we work to have a better marriage and partnership for this journey.  He has a group of male friends called the Muckmeisters who meet every other week to encourage and be encouraged along their inner journeys.  We share our lives with a group of couples where Allen is vulnerable and open with his struggles and successes.   He voraciously reads anything he can get his hands on (at our local library because he is an accountant and keeps our money under control) that will help him on his path to becoming spiritually and emotionally whole.  He is the real deal!!

Allen is not perfect by any means.  No one is.  That’s what makes this post even more precious to me!  I spend a lot of time thinking about and dwelling on all the things he is not, the ways I wish he was different.  But today, I am shouting for all to hear the things that HE IS, the parts of him that are his truest self.

To my boys:  you have a great father.  I don’t want you to be him.  I want you to be yourselves.  I want you to see, by Dad’s example, that you can be your truest, best selves in all that God made you to be.  You are already great men and I can’t wait to post about you too in the not-so-distant future, because you are also two of the #goodguys!  And a lot of the reason you are is because of the amazing dad that you have.

To my girls:  you have a great father.  He has been more than enough for you and taught you what a #goodguy is.  Sarah, you have chosen wisely and have one of the #goodguys yourself.  Maybe you should write a post about him!  And now you have a son who you will raise to be one of those #goodguys!  How blessed they both are to have you as their wife and mom.  Rachel, you are still to choose.  I know you will choose well.  I pray that both of you would be a huge source of light and encouragement to this amazing “other half” of our world.

To the men out there in this tumultuous time, where the foundation of male and female is being rocked to its core, I want to say thank you to the #goodguys, the ones who are fighting against the #metoo atrocity alongside of women, the ones who embody what is right and good about being a man.  There are so many of you!  You are amazing!  You are to be celebrated!   I share my life with three of the best of you!  Keep doing what you are doing, making our worlds better places!  I see you!  I salute you!

To us women:  we are on shaky ground too.  Let’s continue to fight for a firm foundation.  Let’s think about every one of those #goodguys in our lives and give them a big shout-out.  In a time where we are glorifying the bad behavior of a few men, let’s speak the truth about the #goodguys we sojourn with!  Let’s expose them as the light they are!  Let’s share anywhere we possibly can and use the hashtag (if your sharing is on social media) #goodguys!  We’ve got to get the word out together!  And maybe, just maybe, our world and our families will be just a little better because of it!

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