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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, Pennies, 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 college, 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.

 

Posted in Emotions, grief, love, sacred, suicide, taboo

Grief – A Friend’s Story (Railroaded)

“There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.” (Aeschylus)

I sat in the car on a long trip, asking questions and listening.  Hard questions.  Painful questions.  The friend I was traveling with had lost her teen son to suicide only 14 months earlier.  The sacred beauty that poured out was mesmerizing and heart-changing.

Most of my life, I avoided all things about death.  One of my close friends in high school lost her battle to depression and died by suicide when we were in our 20s.  After that excruciating pain, I vowed to avoid all suffering, especially death.  It worked for many years.  I was not confronted with the horror until last summer.  And as you read in my first grief post, it came on full-force.  So much loss.  To so many.  People I loved.  People I could not avoid.

I decided to go deeper.  Lean in.  Experience pain.  Go to the hard places with those I cared for.  Seek to understand and learn and change and grow and plunge into the depths of all that it means to be human (including profound loss).

During our car ride, I asked this friend to share her thoughts in written form.  I wanted to pour over, pray over, learn from and understand this shadowy part of life.   Two days later, I received a Facebook message from her, sharing her current grief and continued suffering, trying to make sense of what had happened to her.

I encourage you not to click away and avoid, but listen with your heart and share her sorrow with your soul.  Come into the shadows, where hardship is, but where beauty lies, where suffering is, but the sacred is revealed.  I warn you.  Grief is beautiful and terrible and wonderful and necessary all at the same time.  Here is some of her heart.  

Nothing about my life is the same since my son died. Nothing. Yes, he is gone, but it is much more than that. My friend asked me one day if I felt “railroaded.” Yes, that’s it. Railroaded.

Before my son’s death, I had two kids who attended school and played sports. I hopped from here to there providing taxi service as well as being a spectator of those sports. I spent my weekends on a soccer field or at a cheer competition or sang at church. A free weekend was rare. I was a business owner who worked 4-5 days a week. I worked out five days a week and watched what I ate. I had just lost about 35 pounds and felt great. I spent evenings on the couch with my kids watching our favorite shows. I organized a charity Christmas party every year that we as a family participated in and Dad was Santa. We vacationed one week a year in the tropics and one week at the Jersey Shore. I planned girls’ nights. I went out with friends. All summer long, friends would be over for BBQs and the pool.  I was the life of the party.

After.  I don’t even know where to begin. My daughter got one too many concussions and had to quit her sport. I do not have to taxi anymore. I am not on a soccer field or at a cheer competition on the weekends (unless we go to watch friends). I do still sing at church. That’s one thing that IS the same.

Work is tough. Feeling like I can’t function and am just not up to doing things, it falls through the cracks. I do what I absolutely have to, but my regular work schedule is thwarted.

I work out as much as I can, but often not the five days I would like. If I feel bad mentally, I push through and go, but if I feel bad physically, I often don’t make it.

I feel, like my friend said, railroaded.

Eating. Another area that has been railroaded. Food. It’s what people bring when someone passes. Food. For months after. Food. Please don’t get me wrong. I greatly needed and appreciated all the food. If it weren’t for those friends who brought meals, I’m not sure any of us would have eaten. It is just much harder to eat the way you know you need to. Days turned into months and months into more than a year.

Railroaded. There are still shows that I watch with my daughter. But it just isn’t the same watching things without my son. Sometimes during Survivor I still get teary-eyed.

The Christmas party lives on. It was just different this past year. It felt railroaded as well. It was hard to plan because my son’s birthday is in December and I couldn’t do it that day. We struggled for the right day, but we did it because the kids would miss it. Dad was still Santa.

Vacations. Another victim of the railroad. We all did go to Florida last year. My husband and I were tourists, and our daughter spent her time at a cheer competition. Even though we were all there, it didn’t seem like a family vacation. There was the trip to Costa Rica that wasn’t. Cancelled at the last minute. It was just too hard to go without our son and brother. There was the attempt at Vegas for Christmas. We were there less than 24 hours. Too much anxiety and pain. We ended up coming home and blessing some homeless people in the midst of our pain. The Jersey Shore. I miss it so. I spent one weekend in early June and have not been there since. I miss a beach house and boardwalks with our family and friends. No more boardwalks, just railroads. I miss true family vacations.

My social life. Railroaded. I don’t want to be Julie the cruise director any more, planning a fun night for friends. Sometimes I turn down invitations because I don’t feel good. I miss being carefree and going out with friends. I miss feeling good.

As I contemplated my friend’s word, I realized it meant even more than she intended. This all started the night my son died on train tracks. My life has been, in more ways than one, railroaded. I hope that some day I won’t feel so lost and off kilter. I know that through all of this, God has held me in his hand and He has not let me go. That is the only thing that is keeping me on the tracks.

My response to her:

This is a good start to getting your feelings out there.  It makes so much sense to me.  It’s good to speak of losses and to say them out loud.  It gives a beautiful glimpse at the real stuff that makes up grief.   It is so good for me to hear and learn from you and share your pain.  It brings me both sorrow and healing.  I pray your sharing would bring you some measure of healing.

For those of you who have loved fiercely and lost someone precious to you, I pray that you would find a safe space to share your true heart, the one that might be hurting.  I pray that those who listen would dive deep and sit still and share some measure of your grief and suffering.  I pray that in God’s vast wisdom, compassion, kindness, mercy and love, He brings unfathomable healing to each of us in the places only He can reach.

To my friend who was willing to put her heart out there today, thank you.  You have given me the gift of yourself and there is nothing greater.  I am asking God to give you many good gifts straight from His heart to you today.

 

 

Posted in Emotions, Family, love, marriage, wtf

Make A Marriage Great Again (Part Three of Ten)

Everybody’s got a dark side
Do you love me?
Can you love mine?
Nobody’s a picture perfect
But we’re worth it
You know that we’re worth it
Will you love me?
Even with my dark side?

(Kelly Clarkson)

We had a fight this weekend.  It was over boundaries and adult children.  And no, the next WTF (refer to joke in first MAMGA post) is not the word fight (sorry to disappoint…we will get to that F), but the word fallibility.  Back to our fight.  It was mostly about how we don’t believe the other person is doing a good job in these areas (and certainly not doing what we would do).  Remember, Allen is kind and gracious. I am sarcastic and discerning. Allen is a hard-worker, quiet and reserved. I am quick-witted and loud. He is methodical and analytical. I am passionate and decisive. Allen is a supporter and a peacemaker. I am a leader and aggressive.  Now just imagine (if you dare) how we might approach everything just a tad (ha-ha) differently and we strongly wish the other person would change and think and do what we think and do.

After a day of shutting down, processing by ourselves, apologizing, going to counseling, and then processing together, we came to the same conclusion we always come to:  we both want the other to accept us for our complete selves, flaws and all, even if change never comes.

As in many marriages, we started off seeing only the good in each other.  Believe it or not, we actually kept that up for about 10 years.  It meant a lot of hiding and dodging and pretending, and I must say it felt kind of good.  No hard talks.  No hard work.  We strived to believe the best.  After all, who wouldn’t want a kind, gracious, hard-working, supportive, peace-making husband.  I was sure for a long time that I did, or at least should.  And believe it or not, many times  I would ask Allen, “Isn’t there something that you don’t like about me?  What ways do I drive you crazy?”  And he would return with the answer, “Can’t really think of anything off-hand.”

Until it all “hit the fan.”  About 10 years into our marriage, and with help from some friends, Allen took a huge risk and shared some of his “not-so-perfect” stuff with me.   I would love to tell you that I returned his risk with the reward of kindness, understanding and grace.  Not so much.  His reward was judgment and anger.  After all, I liked my perfect, cookie-cutter world, where we were “godly” people and had a picture-perfect marriage and family.  It was really easy to live there.

Over the next months, things began to slowly change in my heart.  Allen’s risk effected me.  I was free to explore the “dark side” of my own life, the ways I was hiding and pretending, the parts of me that are fallible.  And you know what happened?  For the first time in our marriage I felt safe and free to share those things with him.  If he wasn’t perfect, then I didn’t have to be either.  What a relief!

(For you curious folks, I will share one example that might seem silly.  When Allen was at work and my littles were down for a nap, I would sneak and watch “Days of our Lives,” a soap opera I believed a Christian wife and mother should not do.   You might even be chuckling, and on the surface, it seems trite and “no big deal,” but it reveals the deeper hiding and lack of safety that permeated our lives and our marriage.)  

This was the beginning of a very different marriage (we say we have the tale of two marriages), one where transparency and authenticity came to the forefront, and hiding was over (or mostly over).  I would love to say it went swimmingly and that now, it is all easy sailing.  But that “ain’t the truth,” as they say.

Without the hiding came truth (sometimes hard-to-bear truth), and hard work, long examinations of ourselves, counseling and not-very-easy talks, which continue to this day.  We began to believe what we now know beyond a shadow of a doubt:  real intimacy can’t happen without knowing each other’s deepest selves (fallibility, or dark sides, and all) and loving and accepting those deepest selves.  This came along with another truth:  this is something worth fighting for.  It will bring healing and wholeness to places only God and His unconditional love can reach.

It’s been a full-of-hard-work, wonderful, tough, worth-it 16+ years since this “AHA” moment in our marriage.  And as you read at the beginning, the fighting continues, both with each other and FOR each other.  We continue to face the battle for grace, mercy, acceptance, kindness, and unconditional love, both for ourselves and for each other.  It’s tough going many days.

I watched Scott Harrison (the charity:water guy) on Sunday after my last post.  He said something in his message about the fight for clean water, but it struck me in a completely different way:  “Don’t be afraid of the work that has no end.”  There are days when I want go back to the pretending and hiding marriage where it’s easier and less complicated, where the work does have an end or seem to.  But as I know in the deepest part of me, the best thing in my life is that I am fully known (super risky STEP ONE) and fully loved (super hard STEP TWO) by another.  This reveals the very heart of God to me, something my soul craves and is designed to know.  This work has no end, but it’s worth every ounce of effort we put into it.  Allen and I are determined not to leave but to love.   We reminded each other of that very thing last night (and I promise, we weren’t in a good place at the time).  That changes everything.

There’s a place that I know
It’s not pretty there and few have ever gone
If I show it to you now
Will it make you run away?

Or will you stay
Even if it hurts
Even if I try to push you out

Will you return?
And remind me who I really am,
Please remind me who I really am.

(Kelly Clarkson)

***Watch the video of the song before you sign off by clicking HERE***

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Next Friday:  FINANCES…yikes!