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!

As always, please feel free to comment below, share this post on your social media or via email and please go back and like it on the social media site that brought you here and even make a comment there as well.

Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Family, God, Hope, Joy, Love, Parenthood, Sacred

Letter to Baby Bear

As soon as I saw you, I knew a grand adventure was about to happen.  (Winnie the Pooh)

Dearest Broden Andrew Meassick,

You are already one week old!  Last Saturday, I was nervously sitting in the waiting room after a long night of helping your mommy get ready to bring you into the world.  My cell phone buzzed.  It was a picture of you from your daddy.  There you were, all pink and healthy.  Tears of relief, gratitude and joy sprang from my eyes.  Your grand adventure was officially beginning.  Born on 11/18/2017 at 7:03 am, you were 7 pounds, 6 ounces and 20 1/2 inches long.  We had been waiting for you, the Baby Bear (as your mom and dad nicknamed you), to come and change our worlds forever!

After a short time, I was told I could meet you in person.  My heart did a little (okay, a HUGE) leap for joy.  I walked quickly to your room where your mommy was holding you against her skin, a sight I will never forget:  my baby holding her baby.  Feelings I hadn’t known before flooded my soul.  After a few moments, I brought you into my own arms and as I gazed into your very alert and big eyes (thank God you got your daddy’s eyes…this was a specific prayer we all had based on the small-eyed relatives on your mommy’s side) for the first time, I thought to myself, “What will you be like?  What adventures will life bring you and you bring it?”

Adventure awaits you, sweet Broden!  Those words are written on the sheets in your crib.  Great adventure.  Hazardous adventure.  Wonderful adventure.  Terrible adventure.  Quiet adventure.  Exciting adventure.  Sweet adventure.  Sad adventure.  Unique adventure.  Hard adventure.  Joyous adventure.  Helen Keller writes, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”  That’s one thing I can promise you, Broden:  it will be an adventure and it will be all of those things at one time or another.

The very best and first thing about your adventure is that you are extremely loved.  The God who formed you has absolute and unconditional love for you.  Nothing you can ever do will make Him love you less or love you more.  He loves you just because you are you.  You will find rest for your soul in that place.

Your creative, smart, kind, hard-working, compassionate mommy and your free-spirited, adventurous, wise, level-headed, willing-to-grow daddy are absolutely head-over-heels in love with you.  They will love you no matter what and nothing you can do will change that.  You will find rest for your soul in that place.

You also have grandparents, aunts, uncles, first-cousins once-removed (or maybe they are second cousins…it’s been a debate since you were born and Google has not been a help at all) and friends who have loved you from the first moment of hearing about you.  You will never find yourself in a place that you won’t be loved.   You will find rest for your soul in that place.

Rest for your soul matters because the adventure that awaits you matters.  It’s yours and yours alone.  Your inner soul anchored in unconditional love will be of immense value for living your outer adventure to the fullest.  All kinds of small and large experiences will come your way, some good and some hard, some easy and some terrifying, but never forget that you have a safe place deep down inside that no one can take from you.  You have a God, parents, family and friends who love you.  Nothing can touch that!  No one can take that away!  Live in and from that place!

You are nicknamed the Baby Bear.  You even have a stuffed “bear head” hanging on your wall in your room (kind of like your dad’s “party buck” head hanging in your family room).  Bears are incredible animals.  They have four characteristics that I find intriguing.  They are extremely intelligent, strong, protective and affectionate.  I’m sure you will be all of these and much more.   But there is a fifth that is most important:  every bear is an individual with a completely unique personality.   You, Broden, are an individual with a completely unique personality.   I want you to know that I will do all that I can to foster and encourage your very unique self and what aspects of life you find interesting.  I don’t care if you love sports or music, if you are an introvert or an extrovert, if you can count to ten by age two or it takes you until two to take your first step.  I promise to love you and love what you love.  I have shared this with your mommy many times and I’m sure you will hear it from me every year on your birthday when I read you “Happy Birthday” by Dr. Seuss:  “Today you are you, that is truer than true.  There is no one alive that is youer than you.”  Be you, Broden.  Be you.

For your mommy and your aunt and uncles, I asked God to give me one verse from the Bible (my mom had a verse for me and it has been a light for my heart and soul).  I have been asking God for the same thing for you.  And guess what, Broden.  God didn’t just give me one verse.  He gave me a whole bunch.  You must be extra special.  They actually came because your grandpa was reading through the book of Colossians and I was prompted to check it out.  These verses right at the beginning of the book struck me as those God would have from my heart to yours.

From the day I heard about you, I have not stopped praying and making special requests for you. 

I pray that…

you will be filled with a deep and clear understanding of His will for you, that you will have insight into the ways and purposes of God. 

you would live how God designed you to live, from a fully-known and fully-loved place and that you would have complete trust in Him.  This brings Him the most pleasure.

your life would bear much fruit from all your hard work. 

you would have a full, deep and clear knowledge of God. 

you will be invigorated and strengthened with all power from God so that you will have much patience and joy.

I thank God because He has made you fit to share in all that is His.  He has brought you into His Kingdom, one that is filled with love.

(Colossians 1:9-14 – EJGV – “Esther Joy Goetz Version”)

Broden, how fun that you are here!  I am absolutely thrilled!  I can’t wait to get to know you and go on some of your adventures with you.  I just bet I will love you even more than I do today!  I can’t imagine how that is even possible.  But it is!

From one very excited person in your life who loves you like crazy,

G-ma

(If you enjoyed this, please head back to your social media account and like it for me so we can spread the world of hope and healing.)

 

Posted in Anxiety, Emotions, Freedom, God, Hope, Love

The Cure for Fear

“We stopped checking for monsters under the bed, when we realized they were inside of us.”  (The Joker from Batman)

For years, I struggled with a horrible disease.  It hurt my family.  As I sit here in the wee hours under cover of darkness waiting for my first grandbaby to be born, one of my greatest desires is that he won’t ever succumb or even have to fight this monster.  No, it’s not cancer.  It’s not heart disease.  It’s not anything that modern medicine in the traditional sense can address.   The disease is fear.  What is the cure?

One of the “not-so-good” things I do when I don’t feel well or have some kind of physical symptom (I know at least two or three of you reading this do this exact same thing) is check WebMD.   There is a handy symptom checker, and most of the time, many deadly diseases come up as a possibility when I have a headache, my left-side hurts, and I have a funny mark under my chin (you get it…you’ve had those weird symptoms too).  Needless to say, it sends me to a “not-so-good” place (if you are taking notes and you have medical-related anxiety, NEVER USE THE SYMPTOM CHECKER ON WEBMD!).

I don’t need a symptom-checker for fear.  The manifestations have been evident in abundance for as long as I can remember in my own life, the lives of those I love, acquaintances, and even strangers.  It doesn’t take long to spot them.  They include: striving, hating, arguing, comparing, performing, blaming, controlling, bragging, shaming, judging, pretending, slandering, and hiding, among others.  I’m sure you have your own list to add.   It’s a little more tricky to understand the driver behind these behaviors:  fear.

What is our greatest collective fear?  I would venture to say it might just be the fear of being unloved, not belonging and ultimately rejection.  No wonder there are so many symptoms.  It makes so much sense.

Left unchecked, fear increases.  Hope diminishes.  The above symptoms get worse.  Sometimes, addictions develop.  Relationships with ourselves and others suffer.

So what is the cure?  I can confidently shout from the top of my roof that the cure is LOVE, plain and simple love.  “Perfect love casts out fear.”  (John)

“Love is an experience that is given and received.”  If we had a symptom-checker for love, it would include: safety, connecting, trusting, humility, vulnerability, harmony, encouragement, openness, and resting.  These certainly sound like the very opposite of fear.

One of the things that fear does to us is isolate us from others, from what our hearts long for:  love, belonging and acceptance.  We believe that we can protect ourselves through isolation and lack of trust.  The result is the contrary: fear grows and multiplies.  Can this true debilitation be treated?  Yes.   True treatment is not in protection, but in vulnerability, scary as that is.  It happens on walks, around tables, in homes, all kinds of places, anywhere that hearts connect.

Is that enough?  Do we just need the venue?  I would plainly say no.  We also need the conduit.  It’s not enough to be with people, side-by-side, together, but alone.  We have had enough of that at big parties or even small family gatherings, to understand that fear can abound in any environment.  What we really need is the language of grace.  Received and given.  My new online friend, Janet Newberry speaks these words:

“Grace is a language, and it’s so much more than a language.

There is real, and supernatural, power in the words we speak, and the words we refuse to speak.  There is power to heal or destroy, to strengthen or weaken, and we hold this power in our words.

When grace is spoken, new life is wooed forth, from our new hearts within.  Good life.  Deep satisfying life.” 

Fear language speakers are filled with the symptoms we noted above.  You don’t have to go too far (just go on social media, watch the news, check out what’s going on in your own home or maybe even passing through your own lips), to see blame, shame, judgment, comparison, slander, arguments, boasting, and the list goes on.

The opposite is also true.  Humility, trust, understanding, kindness, encouragement, and vulnerability permeate the language of the grace speaker.  Connection happens.  Fear is quelled.  Love prevails.

God’s ultimate will for us is that we love and be loved.  He gently reminds us to love others the way He’s loved us.  That’s a love you can trust.  God communicates to us in the language of grace.  He is the ultimate grace-giver.

Yes, the cure is Love.  “Love is a connection that speaks grace.”  Love is not a blog.  Love is not a sermon.  Love is not a book.  Those are good, but they are one-way streets. Love is relationship.  Love is people.  Connection.  Safety.  Vulnerability.  Humility.  The ultimate language of grace is to know another and be known, to accept and be accepted, true and unconditional love.

Will baby Broden’s generation be the one that has the cure for this horrible disease called fear?  I am hoping for that.  I want to be, as Janet reminds me, a “cure carrier,” who speaks grace in safe relationships.  It’s free for you and for me.  I pray that my heart will be on this continuing journey of receiving and giving grace, hope and love.   And that out of that more healed heart, my mouth will speak loudly and often.

“There is no fear in love.”  (John)

(Click HERE to see Janet Newberry’s website, who I follow whole-heartedly because she speaks the language of grace which I need desperately and want to learn more about.  I have taken much of these thoughts from her in this post.  Anything in quotes is from her.)

Posted in Family, Love, Marriage, WTF

Make a Marriage Great Again (Part Four of Ten – Being Committed to Your Marriage is Not the Best Choice)

“No one marries a marriage.  Nobody dates a relationship.  There is another name in the equation.”  (Andy Stanley)

Almost 30 years ago, I met the man who I would spend the rest of my life with (or at least until one of us kicks that bucket we all hope to avoid for as long as possible).  I will never forget that night.  A friend asked me kindly to go with her (okay, she dragged me) to what was known at the time as a “college and career Bible study.”  (I believed it was just a Christian “meat-market,” and I did not want to go with her, but agreed because I loved her and after all, I was newly single, living on my own and there was free food.)

Of course, right after the “Bible study” time, when it was the “mingle” hour, a very tall, dark and handsome man (supposedly every girl’s dream come true) came walking over to me and said, “I know you are going to think this is a line, but did you used to work at Touche Ross?”  In my head, I did agree with him that it was a line, but I was hooked immediately and glad for that line.  Out loud, I said, “Yes.  You must be Allen Goetz.  I had heard that there was someone here that worked there.”  Played it super cool.  But after a long conversation and knowing my friend was waiting for me, I popped in the car and in a not-so-cool voice, giggled to her, “I think I met the man I’m going to marry tonight.”

After a month of waiting, I received the news that a mutual friend had invited us to his house for a pool party.  I was giddy.  This time around, no one had to drag me.  I went more than willingly and could not wait to see this man again.  After another long conversation, another month-long wait,  a couple of phone calls (finally!),  he asked me to come hear him preach and I said “yes.”  The caveat, however, was that first I wanted him to come with me to the Bronx Zoo with my whole family, parents and brother’s family included.  After a change of plans because of rain, we ended up at the Museum of Natural History (dead animals instead of live ones), the Ethiopian restaurant for dinner (talk about trial by fire) and the rest is history.  We dated for about 18 months, got engaged the day after Christmas in 1990 and were married in May of 1991.

It’s getting close to 27 years since that day.  We have shared a lifetime together, committed to a good choice, but in the end, FAITHFUL, at times, to what we have found might just be second best (there’s my fourth “F”  in this WTF series – see first three at these links:  FOO, Fidelity, Fallibility).  At this point, you may be asking yourself, what is she talking about?  What good, second-best choice have they been committed to?

On the day we said our vows, the audience heard something like this:  “I promise to love YOU, honor YOU, forsake all others for YOU, care for YOU and stay with YOU until death.”  They did not hear this:  “I promise to be committed to the institution of marriage and stay faithful to our relationship.”   Allen chose ME, not marriage.  Marriage was the means to get to ME, not the other way around.  I chose HIM, not a legal or religious construct.  Marriage was the means to the end (the end being ALLEN), not the end in itself.  We made a commitment to each other, the person, not marriage, the institution.

At the time, however, I’m not sure if we really understood what we were vowing and believed it.  If you had asked us when I was in my flowing white gown and Allen in his black tux, we would probably have told you that we were committed to our marriage, you know, “marriage is for life” and all that very good-sounding, Christian speak.  We probably believed then that our commitment to this high and holy state of marriage was what would hold us in the dark and stormy times, the times where we looked across the room at each other and thought, “How did we get into this mess?   How can we get out?”

It was one of those times that we came to deeply understand that we had been committed to something good, but not best.  We had been having one of the circular, round-and-round, never-get-off-the-ride, fundamental marriage-threatening, nothing-will-ever-change discussions (okay arguments), when we stopped in the middle of it and standing in our bedroom, came close, held hands, looked each other in the eye and I said to him, “No matter what, Allen, I choose YOU.  I will fight for YOU.  YOU are the reason I am here and staying for the long haul.”  His response was one of the most healing in our entire marriage:  “I choose YOU, Esther.  YOU matter.  I am committed to YOU.”  Somehow, in that life-altering, marriage-changing moment, we finally felt safe and truly loved.

Commitment to the institution of marriage, while very good and might just keep us legally wed for a lifetime, is NOT what is going to knit our souls together and bring true and lasting intimacy and closeness.  And to be honest, I want more than just “making it to the end.”  I want God’s gift to us of oneness, closeness, companionship, trust, knowing and being known, loving and being loved.  I choose Allen.  He chooses me.  I am committed to Allen.  He is committed to me.  Those words we spoke a several years ago, when we were in that desperate place in our bedroom, gave the answer to what we each had been longing for at the deepest level of our hearts and souls.

I would love to tell you that it’s all been rainbows, ponies and butterflies since that day.  But it hasn’t.  We still have those round-and-round arguments.  We still look at each other at times and wonder “how did we get into this mess?”  Last weekend, we went on our weekly Friday night date to see “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” a play about dating, love and marriage.  In one of the final scenes, a man and his wife of 30 years were sitting reading the newspaper, drinking coffee in their robes and slippers, having an “older married couples” morning and the husband sang a song “Shouldn’t I be Less in Love with You?(SERIOUSLY WATCH IT BEFORE MOVING ON…I cried when I watched it live because it reminded me of those words from Allen not so long ago).  It sums up exactly how I feel about Allen and what I hope you will take away from this blog post.  If you want the best possible marriage, don’t be committed to it.  Don’t be faithful to it.  Choose the person.  Be committed to them.  Be faithful to them.  This change of heart and mind just might be one of the small steps that will take your marriage from being good to being “great again.”

(Huge Favor:  If you came from Facebook, Instagram or Linked In would you mind going back to the post and “liking” it…but only if you did.  You can “heart” it if you’d like as well.  That will help me share with even more people!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Celebration, Emotions, Freedom, God, Health, Hope, Love, Sacred

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

“The gospel…has but one purpose in mind:  to make brand-new creations.  Not to make people with better morals, but to create a community of…professional lovers.”  (Brennan Manning)

One definition of love is this:  connecting with others at a deep level affirming their value.  I believe this.  Each one of us has infinite worth and it needs to be affirmed through deep connection with God and others.  But really, how does this happen in the bones of what makes up each life?  After all, we have a lot going on and are stretched beyond imagination with family, work, household, community, volunteer and personal growth commitments (even the list makes me feel stressed).

Many years ago, the book, Celebration of Discipline, was circling around in the Christian world.  Practices that had primarily laid dormant for the 20th Century were being called to light by the author, Richard Foster.   He created a buzz about subjects like fasting, solitude, meditation, prayer, simplicity, worship and celebration, things related not to the outer, visible life of a person, but rather the inner, intimate life we have with God, self and others.

Having grown up in church, I viewed these disciplines as a bunch of special, super-Christian duties that would make God happy.  They didn’t really even make sense to me.  They were just piled on top of the long list of things to do that would show that I was better than the next Christian (or if I speak what’s true, that they were better than me, because I didn’t practice most of them hardly at all).

Thankfully, over time, and with more of a proper understanding, albeit still limited, I’ve sporadically, with fits and starts, attempted them all at some level, with limited success.  Most of the time, if I am being honest, they are done from a place of downright desperation for change in myself or others, a kind of “okay God, I’m-serious-about-this-and-I-need-an-answer-now” place.  It certainly hasn’t been a life-style, patiently exercising inner life muscles consistently.  It’s been knee-jerk, “help me now Jesus” and short-lived.

We all know from the tagline of my blog that I am all about hope for healing and wholeness (with some snarky humor along the way…I’ve been missing the snarky lately but I’m sure it will come back full force very soon).   I definitely want healing and wholeness for everyone I love, including you, but first I want it for me.  After all, I can’t give something away that I don’t have myself.

In this vein to grab healing and wholeness, I am reading Shauna Niequists’s book, Bittersweet.  This past week, the subject matter reared it’s ugly (I mean beautiful) head again in the chapter I was reading for my life-giving women’s small group.  We meet every Thursday morning, come hell or high water or even content we don’t want to address at the moment (told you the snarky might return in full force)Anyhow, this particular week, she spoke of how these disciplines are an “enduring way of living that has been shaping and reshaping people for thousands of years.”  They do something to the inside of the people who practice them.  They matter.

Being the “leader” of this small group and wanting to be prepared with some deep insight to share (embarrassing truth), I began to ask some questions.  How do the spiritual disciplines (or as my good friend says, “tools”…I also like the word “guides”), these centuries-old practices, this “enduring way of living” bring wholeness and healing to me, to others, to our world?  What is the real, life-changing point?

I began to think that even in the herky-jerky, sporadic times that I have allowed these to be a part of my life, they have changed me on the inside.  They seem to be an outward framework that brings inner healing.  We are actually seeing a resurgence of them all throughout our society.  Even Google has “silence and solitude” retreats for their executives.  What we have been doing for the past 50+ years, in our work-a-holic, 24/7, achievement-based culture hasn’t really worked.  These things must matter and we can’t get away with having a rich and full life without them.

But why do they matter?  What’s the larger story?  What do they provide that the running-around-in-circles, performance, “I-don’t-have-time-for-myself, you-or-God” atmosphere does not?  Here is my half-thought on the subject (that just means I haven’t fully-processed it all yet and landed somewhere completely).  They just might matter because they promote an environment where intimacy flourishes!  Relationship abounds.  Connection proliferates.  True intimacy (being fully-known and fully-loved) happens when there is space made for it and what really doesn’t matter is put aside for what really does matter.

Consider these:

Solitude grants room for intimacy with self, allowing for knowing and loving our complex and wonderful self.

Prayer provides space for connection with God, revealing to Him our private stories, dreams, hopes and heartaches, and receiving His unconditional love in return.

Meditation is a sacred place where it’s just us and God and neither one has an agenda, a quiet place to just “be” and not “do.”

Simplicity declutters the external “I’m-so-busy-I-have-so-many-things-on-my-plate-that -take-up-a-ton-of-time” stuff so that we have room for what truly matters in this life, which is love (see definition above).  There’s no better feeling than to have undistracted connection.

Worship makes a time and place that we can tell God we love Him. Celebrate Him.  Tell Him he matters to us and all the reasons why.

Fasting removes external, physical pleasure for internal, soul-level healing. I don’t know how this works. I just know that it does. Maybe it’s an “in-the-face, can’t-avoid-it” reminder that we are much more than just the physical.  It is a mystery to me, and I’m really okay with that.

Celebration says to others “you are valuable, I choose you today,” not out of convenience, but actually with fierce intentionality.  It’s why we have birthdays, weddings, showers, and even funerals.  It says, “I really know you and love you.  You matter.”  

I’m not one, being the cynical person that I am, to do things just because someone else tells me to do them.  Not my parents (much to their chagrin in raising me), not my husband, not my friends, not even my church.  I have a mild (okay a spicy) reaction to this.  If I can understand the larger backdrop, the bigger reason why it’s right and good and best, it’s much easier for me to get on board.

I am seeing something I just might have been missing.  Each of these disciplines are designed by God to promote true intimacy with self, Him and others.  They provide a good environment for my mission to become, as Manning reminds me, a “professional lover.”  I look forward to the continued changing and healing of my heart and soul.  This might just be one reason why they work and why they matter.

 

Posted in Freedom, God, Hope, Love, Murder, Prison, Taboo

A Letter from Prison and a Journey to Freedom

“Inner slavery is even worse than outward slavery.  Inner freedom is even better than outward freedom.”  (Kathryn Lindskoog)

By the amount of sheer clicks and views on my post about my friend Kim who killed her husband, I know many of you read her story a few weeks ago.  (If you didn’t, check it out here first before going ahead, but don’t forget to come back.)  I was thrilled that I received views, but somewhere inside me I knew that it was partly because of the mind-boggling nature of the post.  I would have clicked as well just out of curiosity.  Today, however, I hope that even if you did come again to quench the thirst of an inquisitive mind, you will find a greater satisfaction for your spirit.

My friend Kim and I have become pen pals.  Snail mail is a slow process, especially with prisoners, because all mail is opened and read before reaching the other person.  It can take about two weeks from penning the letter to the opening and reading of it on the other end.  In a world where immediate communication is just a text, email or phone call away, this has been an exercise for me in carefully thought-out words on paper and eager anticipation of a reply as I wait patiently for up to a month to hear back.

My second letter came about two weeks ago.  It was the first since visiting her in prison.  I had written her a long letter and sent her a copy of the blog post I had written about her.  She was responding.  As I read the letter, I began to weep with joy over the words that came flowing off the paper.  It was as if I was perusing something straight out of the best book I had ever read, where wrong is made right and goodness wins over evil, something my soul longs for at the very core of it.

Two girls in a dorm room, sharing secrets and dreams late at night while the campus goes to sleep.  Two massively different external stories.  One girl goes on to raise a “normal” family and live a typical American life.  The other kills her husband and heads to prison for 20+ years.  What could we possibly have in common 30+ years later?

Kim writes…  (Get a cup of coffee.  Sit back.  Don’t skim.  Go slowly.  Breathe her deep wisdom into your soul.)

“Your blog entry was poignant.  Wow.  I never thought of my story as inspirational.  I’m not talking about the salacious, media version of my crime.  I mean my story, the one that had yet to be told.  I believe that those truths needed to be told so that my victims would no longer have questions.  I owed truth to them, to my family, to my friends and to the larger community.  I believe that keeping the truth inside of me all that time was in essence a kind of theft.  The truth is all I have to give and I needed to give it.

Telling the truth is hard.  Especially to someone who is out of practice like me.  I kept many secrets for many years and it made me hollow and dead on my inside.  I lived like that while looking perfectly normal on my outside.  Telling those truths was beyond scary to me.  I thought I would lose every single person that loved me, family included.  But God moved in my life and opened doors for me, giving me a safe place and way to finally speak.  Yes, there was real risk of rejection, but I knew it was the right thing to do.  It was the only thing to do.

In prison, there aren’t many safe places to tell the truth.  Information that can be used to hurt someone is power.  So we hold our power inside as a kind of protection.  Sometimes, we don’t even admit the truth to ourselves because we can’t bear to look directly at what we’ve done.  That was definitely true for me.  I wanted to speak, but how?  To whom?  Where should I start?

My objective was to find a way to reach out to my husband’s family.  I was not seeking forgiveness.  I would not dare to ask that.  I have no right to it.  Forgiveness is a gift that heals and releases the giver.  The decision to forgive (or not) is sacred.  I wanted to give them the opportunity to hear truth and to respond however they want.  My hope was that my acceptance of responsibility might help them heal.  I knew I had to try.

My father died and I inherited money.  I hired an attorney.  He found something called DIVO (Defense Initiated Victim Outreach).  It is part of the restorative justice movement.  We hired a psychological expert to create an “in-depth profile of me.”  The woman we hired was patient and smart and kind.  She helped me speak out loud not only what I did the night of my crime, but how I got to the point where I believed that killing my husband was the only answer.  She helped me understand what I could not understand on my own.  She peeled off the layers of self-hate to uncover the complicated mess underneath.  It was painful and horrible and a blessing.

In 2010, I took a class called VOICE (Victim Offender Impact Class Education).  In that class, we heard many stories of victims and how the crimes impacted their lives.  At the end, we were encouraged to write a letter to our own victims.  These letters are kept in a file that victims can access.  They told us that a letter would be sent to our victims telling them the letter was on file.  So I wrote.  I do not know if the letter ever reached Steve’s family.

There was still a pull in my heart to do something, anything to express my remorse, to tell my ugly truth to the the people I had harmed.  I joined a group called “Building Bridges.”  The work we do is transformational.  We speak openly to each other about our crimes and our lives that lead up to them.  It was rough, hideous and shocking to say those things and hear them from others.  We then meet with outside guests to tell them those same truths and allow them to ask questions.  The questions are hard to answer, but I do.  I know that doing the uncomfortable thing is good, that God wants to bless the truth.  And He does.

I have alienated people with my truth.  Especially when the truth exposes something awful that was done to me.  One of those secrets I mentioned.  In the end, I have been loved unconditionally, maybe for the first time in my life.  I am lucky in a way that the only kind of love I can get is unconditional.  Only unconditional love can penetrate barbed wire.

Telling the truth has healed me.  I was without the burden of a thousand lies on my back.  I can accept my incarceration with grace and the acknowledgement that I do belong in prison.  I do not believe I will be here for life and God is working.  He has put blessings and opportunities in my path that could have only come from Him.  That is how I know I am on the right path because He is restoring me.  He promises to give back what the moths and locusts have eaten.

Your visit was part of that restoration.  He gave you back to me.  Your friendship is both a blessing and confirmation.  I love you for it and I give all my thanks to God.  He has loved me even when I was unable to love myself.  He never gave up, even when I did.  It is people like you and Rachelle who exemplify Christ when you love someone who is less than perfect, someone who has destroyed her own life, someone who is lonely and in prison.  Someone just like me.”

What do we have in common?  Nothing on the outside, but everything on the inside.

When I first found out about Kim in January, I believed that God had brought her into my life to restore her.  I would be the one ministering to her, loving her.  God is an upside-down God sometimes.  He’s the God of surprises.  He’s the God whose “thoughts and ways are much higher than ours.”  He’s proving it once again.  Kim’s story is redeeming me.  Her wisdom is freeing me.  She believes that God is restoring her through my love.  And she is probably right.  But I can’t help but come to the conclusion that this God of redemption and mercy and unconditional love is bringing further hope and healing to both of us at the same time.  (And now, hopefully to you as well.)

The story of Kim’s crime is interesting and may satisfy your curiosity, but the story of her heart is redemptive and may just satiate a much deeper, needy place in your soul, one that longs for truth and freedom on the inside.  It has mine.

Two girls and two paths that from the outside, look utterly different.  One God.  Two girls and two paths that are wonderfully similar on the inside.  From lying to truth.  From hiding to freedom.  Her story is all of our stories.   The stories of redemption.   May the stories continue.

 

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!