Posted in Celebration, Emotions, God, Health, Joy, Love, Marriage, Travel

Ciao Italia! (Due cose che ho imparato)

“In Italy, they add work and life onto food and wine.”  (Robin Leach)

I spent the past 10(ish) days in Italy (with a one-day jaunt to Switzerland) with my wonderful husband.  It was our 25th anniversary trip 18 months late (somehow we couldn’t stop Sarah from getting married, Josh from needing surgery, Jared from graduating college, and Rachel having high school and no license yet so that we could take our trip on time).

We had two days in Rome, one day in Pisa with Daniella, Josh’s girlfriend, two+ days in Cinque Terre (the Five Lands) on the west coast, two days in Milan (part of which was our day in Switzerland) with our good friends and missionaries, and then two days in Venice.  It was a whirlwind.

We found out that in order to get by as an English speaker, you basically need 5 words:  ciao (hello and goodbye), grazie (thank you)prego (you are welcome, please come, after you, have a seat)allora (total filler word, like “um”, “well”) and toilette? (I’ll let you figure that one out all on your own).  We became pretty good at fudging our way through and made it home in one piece with our passports and luggage.  Of course, I am up at 3 am writing this blog post because it’s full-blown day-time there.  I should already be finished with breakfast and have logged about 5,000 steps!

If you haven’t looked it up yet on Google Translate, “due cose che ho imparato” (the subtitle above) means “two things I learned.”  Amid all the incredible eating of pasta, pizza and gelati (I had it for 10 straight days and sometimes even twice.  It was my goal!), touring breath-taking architecture and landscapes, endless shopping in fantastic local boutiques, and traveling on boats, trains and planes, my mind kept meandering to two central “take-aways” from the trip, having nothing to do with any of the above.

1.  I took myself with me.  I would love to tell you that it was 10 completely magical days, that I was immediately changed into an always thankful, patient, kind, loving and joyful human, but the truth is, I brought my real self (the broken and the beautiful) along with me.  There were times where my eyes and heart leapt with the adventure of it all and I was filled with sheer gratitude and awe, but there were other times where I immediately lost patience over train schedules and people cutting in line.  There were times where Allen and I were like two young honeymooners, selfless and in love, but there were other times where we were unkind and hurtful to each other.  It hit home once again that it’s not the quick-fix, external circumstances that heal us in the internal places of our hearts, but the slow and sometimes day-to-day inner work we do in cooperation with a God who is in it with us for the long-haul.  Phew!

2.  I didn’t belong.  Not being able to fully communicate (to understand and be understood) was the first clue to realizing this was not my place and these were not my people.  I felt lost and confused and at times, didn’t seem to even know how to get the help I needed.  Cars and trucks (albeit miniature-sized) darting in and out of pedestrians without many traffic laws, militia standing on street corners with machine guns, currency that looked like monopoly money, and strange food (okay, I got you there…it felt like New Jersey with the pizza, pasta and ice cream shops on every corner) assured me that I was “no longer in Kansas” as the saying goes.  I was drawn into the adventure, the “otherness,” and am truly grateful.  I was changed a bit.  My eyes were opened a little more.  It was really fun and I needed that.  However, being with Allen (my person) was the best part of the whole trip.  And now I know why.   Deep within me, my soul aches for belonging, community, understanding, being understood, my place and my people.  This is most often where healing and the journey towards wholeness takes place, within the belonging to a kind and gracious God and a loving community of others.  My biggest “inner reaction” surprise of the whole trip was when we were standing in line waiting for our passports to be checked upon our return to Newark and the agent said, “Welcome home!”  I could feel my heart let out a sigh.  I belong here.  (A huge shout-out to those of you who are on this life journey with me!  I have missed you!)

Italy was a dream-come true and a big check mark on our bucket list!  And the travel bug has been tickled in my soul!  I am already making plans for a family trip to Alaska.  But today, on a mundane Monday morning, it’s really really okay for me to say Caio Italia and HELLO LONG HILL!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Childhood, Family, Joy, Love, Parenthood

Ending Well (and a surprise beginning)

“I’m so tired, I’ve forgotten how to spell the word tried.”  (Google search of “parenting” + “tired” + “quote”)

I am tired.  I am counting down the hours to ending my active parenting.  It’s been 25++ years.  I am sitting on the floor, covered in empty boxes, and about to sleep on a futon that has been through three other college students.

When I think back to active parenting, I have:

  • used q-tips covered in alcohol carefully for 10 days on each of four babies’ umbilical cords until that gross thing turned black and fell off
  • grocery shopped with four children under seven (it was like taking four goats to the store…I “kid” you not…get it?  get it?  I “kid” you not)
  • sorted legos into bags by color, size and type at least 52 times (to be exact)
  • played Ms. PacMan on Nintendo 64 surrounded by eight excited eyes until I beat all the levels and killed the witch
  • kept Pokemon cards carefully in plastic sleeves inside of books and monitored whose cards were whose
  • filled out back-to-school forms until my eyes twitched and my hands curled up in agony (can’t this be computerized people?)
  • packed 180 (# of days in a school year) X 4 (# of kids in this house) X 13 (# of school years in the life of an average child) lunches (for you math heads, that’s 9,360)
  • created chore charts, memory verse charts, learn-to-pee-and-poop-on-the-potty charts, and behavior charts, all complete with stickers and prizes
  • watched (or at least heard from the kitchen) ad nauseum reruns from the Disney Channel, Nick Jr., PBS, Cartoon Network and now Netflix
  • coached and watched basketball, soccer, baseball, lacrosse, wrestling, field hockey, swimming, track, volleyball, and softball (I’m pretty sure our records for all of those sports combined was .500 exactly)
  • listened to piano, clarinet, bassoon, guitar, and recorders (some of it, shall I say, “more pleasing to the ear” than others)
  • gone to the doctor, dentist, oral surgeon, voice therapist, orthodontist, counselor, ENT, orthopedic surgeon and emergency room enough that I felt like I should have “frequent shopper cards” (buy 10 visits, get one free)
  • planned themed birthday parties each year complete with specialized decorations and games (Pin the Tail on Pikachu anyone?)
  • endured graduations from preschool to middle school to high school to college (best memory is Josh and I rolling our eyes across the gym at Rachel during her 8th grade graduation…don’t judge me)
  • driven at least 5 or 6 times the distance of the globe to practices, lessons, youth groups, parties, play dates, school, and girl/boyfriend’s houses (you parents out there feel my pain as you read this)
  • broken up 3,247 fights over paper-cup lids, halloween candy, bathroom etiquette (or lack thereof), and on and on and on
  • taught (or I should say freaked out in the passenger’s seat) four teens how to drive
  • moved four kids in and out of college dorms and college apartments (one night I actually slept on bath mats…it was the softest thing I could find in Jared’s apartment)

You can see why I’m tired.  25++ active years of this.

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About six months ago, I felt done.  Yes.  Done.  After all, Rachel was independent, easy, and didn’t really need me anymore.  Could I get out of this parenting thing early?  Loved that thought for a moment.  Relished it.  And then some force within me rose up and put a stop to that thinking (it had to because it was running amok).  

I made this promise to myself (and made the same one for Allen, whether he liked it or not): “I am going to end my parenting well.  Rachel deserves the same parent the other kids got until the day they skipped out the door to their dorm rooms.”   I can’t say that it was perfectly executed by any means after that or that I just had all the exact amount of love and energy I needed to do this every moment of every day.  But you know what, I did do it.  And it was good.

Good.  That is all that was needed.  Not perfect, but good.  I have no idea and I am super grateful for whatever rose up inside of me to keep fighting the good fight until the very last picture was hung, Walmart kitchen table built (complete with chairs) and Bed Bath and Beyond order picked up.  And I do have the proof:  I am sitting on the floor, covered in boxes, about to sleep on a very well-worn futon.  I have ended well.

But (SURPRISE!!! you thought this blog post was over) it does not really end.  Love does not end.  It changes, but does not end.  My hands may be less busy (I am seriously praying this is true), but my heart will never be.  My heart is bigger and wider and busier than ever before.  Love does not end.  It multiplies.

And guess what.  Big news.

On or about the beginning of November, a new baby boy will be born to our Sarah and her husband Cody.  And the cycle of love will begin again, and actually, it already has.

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(an aside for those of you still in the thick of it:  you are doing great!  you will make it!  it will be okay! and yes, it is very hard and very worth it!  you are a super hero!)

 

Posted in Childhood, Family, God, Joy, Love, Parenthood, Sacred, Thanks

Pennies

“The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside by a generous hand. But- and this is the point- who gets excited by a mere penny?”  (Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

Allen hatched a plan at dinner one night many moons ago.  He had been reading the above book (worth the read) and was captivated by an anecdote about a game Dillard used to play in her childhood. She tells the story of how she used to hide her own “precious penn(ies)” in nooks or crannies in trees or sidewalks, drawing chalk arrows to them so a stranger would find the surprise penny and pick it up.  Many times, she would lie in wait to catch a glimpse of the excitement in the finder’s eyes.

Allen’s favorite thought, just like Annie Dillard, was that 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.  Thus came Allen’s mission for our family:  find these pennies every day and tell us about them at dinner.

What started as a game ended up changing our lives.  Each one of us searched and found many things each day that we believed were “strewn by the generous hand” of God Himself, “surprises” just for us He had hidden along the path, many times with “big arrows” signaling where we might discover them.  We had things like flowers, actual pennies (those were super fun to find), frogs, the best parking space at the mall on a rainy day, butterflies, a kind word from someone, scoring an unexpected goal on the soccer or field hockey field, etc.  Sometimes, we would joke that what we had been given was a “nickel,” a “dime” or even a “quarter,” depending on the magnitude of what it meant to us.

Maybe I’m the only one here, but I have a confession to make.  My life (and mostly my head) is filled with negativity from the news, struggles in my home, animosity on social media, work-place uncertainty, sickness and even the death of those I love, all things that  consume me by what’s wrong with the world instead of what’s right.  And really, truth be told, it causes me to doubt whether or not there is a God who is alive and who actually loves us people down here on this beautiful, but hurting planet.

As the events of the past week unfolded, my mind traced back (and thankfully did so) to the game we played for a whole year at our dinner table, the one that changed my life and maybe can change it again.  Are there terrible things?  Yes.  Are there sad things?  Yes.  Are there things that are just downright wrong?  Yes.  But are they the only things? NO!

I don’t want to stick my head in the sand, but I also don’t want to be swallowed up either.  I want to wisely navigate that tension between the bitter and the sweet of life, compassion rising within me in the bitter and joy enveloping my heart in the sweet.

One does not negate the other.  They both matter.  They both have their place in my day. I would venture to say, however, that I don’t have to look very far to see the bitter.  I am bombarded from sun up until sun down.  And that’s why I want to open my eyes, like Annie Dillard implores me, to search for the sweet, find it, and name it.  Those “pennies” might be just what I need.  And they just might quiet those doubts and remind me of a God who is alive and loves little old me, a God who has put special pennies all throughout my day, pennies just for me.  This is a soothing and healing balm for my soul.

Will you play this game with me, even if it’s just for today?  Pennies from heaven.  Mine today was a beautiful view of the James River from outside our train window on the way to Florida taking Rachel to college.  What was yours?

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Posted in Emotions, Family, God, Joy, Love, Parenthood

JOY Unspeakable

“Weeping may endure for the night, but JOY comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

9/29/99 was an ordinary Wednesday for most people.  But for me, it was a “line-in-the-sand” kind of day, a day that marked a change in my life that brought unconditional love in the form of a 9 pound 5 ounce baby girl.  Rachel JOY Goetz, our fourth child, was born that morning, at 1:09 am, to be exact.  And now, in just two short days, she is off to embark on her next adventure, taking the “Rachel-only” piece of my heart with her!

Two years ago, at the age of 16, I gave her a gold-dipped white rose for her birthday.  The thoughts I penned for her that day ring truer in my heart tonight as I sit at my computer.  My initial impulse is to weep (and I’m sure it will come in buckets soon enough), but in the wee hours of a Friday, I am reminded that JOY does come in the morning.  So for now, I celebrate.

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Dearest Rachel,

I love giving you this rose.  It symbolizes so much that I want you to know about yourself and why you have changed my life and the lives of all who meet you.

First of all, the rose is WHITE.  White is a symbol of innocence or purity, but not perfection.  I see in you a pure heart, one that longs to love others with good intentions, treat others kindly with much grace and little judgment and do your personal best without getting caught up in “perfectionism.” Your pure heart is beautiful!

Secondly, the flower is a ROSE.   Roses are heart-stoppingly beautiful to the eye and their smell is equally show-stopping. When I think of you, your outward beauty is heart-stopping for me. Many times, as you know, you take my breath away! You are simply gorgeous on the outside! I can’t get around it. But again, more importantly, your “aroma” is show-stopping. Your infectious smile, caring heart, and love for the “haves” and the “have-nots” is truly incredible.  

ROSES demonstrate the following things and I see them in you:

LOVE – You love unconditionally. We have said this about you from when you were a baby. When others are with you, they can’t help but feel loved and accepted. What a gift that is!

FAITH – You are a trusting soul. You believe the best about others. You easily trust God’s heart toward you.

BEAUTY – Rachel, you are truly beautiful, inside and out.

BALANCE – You understand the delicate balance of life: work, play, others and yourself. I love watching this in you. You are a good teacher to me.

PASSION – What can I say? Your passion for what really matters to you is crazy cool to watch!   Those five things…God, love of family and friends, music, puzzles and the beach!

TIMELESSNESS – I think of you as a timeless person. You enjoy people aged 2 to 102. You love where you are and who you are with. Time seems to slow down when I am around you!

WISDOM – Dad and I used to say that “you got it” even when you were a teeny one. You see so much of the world through wise eyes and a wise heart. You are the best counselor to your friends and you see things that others just can’t see.   My favorite wise saying that you have ever said was, “It is better to be kind than right.”   You were only 10 years old when you spoke that deep truth to my heart (and to our basketball team).  Yes! You just “get it.”

INTRIGUE – No one can say that they have explored the depths of what makes you Rachel. You have a mysteriousness about you that is very interesting and causes me to want to know you more. There is so much to you and it has been fun seeing a beautiful young woman begin to unfold!

DEVOTION – You are one of the most loyal people I know.   You stick by your friends, your beliefs, your love for Jesus, your family and yourself!

SENSUALITY – You love all things…what you can see, hear, smell, taste and touch! You enjoy life to the full. You see all the gifts God has for you in nature, in others, in music, in so many simple things, in all of life!

Lastly, the rose is dipped in GOLD. To me, gold symbolizes long-lasting value. Every time you look at the rose on your bookshelf, I want you to be reminded of how incredibly valuable you are, to God, to us, to yourself and to your future. You have infinite value, much more than any GOLD in the world.  The whole person that makes up Rachel JOY Goetz is so undeniably precious and I pray that you would continue to hold onto that understanding for the rest of your life!

I want to end with the second verse that God gave me when you were born! It has really come true for me! And for anyone who has spent a minute with you!

“My God shall do exceedingly abundantly above all we can ever ask or imagine, according to the power that works within us.” (Ephesians 3:20)

I love you precious daughter!

Mom

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PS  If you aren’t tired of Rachel yet, click HERE to watch my gut-wrenching slide show of her amazing life!

PPS  And if you want to read what it was like to be her sister, check out Sarah’s blog post from May of 2011 about the unconditional love that was 11 year-old Rachel.