Dear Esther Joy,
It’s February 18, 1999 and it’s your 33rd birthday today. You stand on the edge of a year that marks the beginning of the best part of your life!
You have been married just shy of eight years to Allen and you already have three children: Sarah (6), Jared (5) and Joshua (almost “free”). You just found out in the last week that you are expecting your fourth in the fall. WOW! Just WOW! I’m not sure how you are doing it. I am exhausted just at the thought of it all!
Allen works in New York City for Pfizer. He commutes three hours a day on a train from your home in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. You stay at home, trying to corral all the kiddos and make some money on the side, typing for anyone who needs it. You both fall into bed exhausted at the end of long and blurry days.
You are both highly involved at church. Allen is an elder (yes, he’s only 36 years old…I see the irony here). You are in charge of the church nursery (your main and silly goal to keep it germ-free). Both of you oversee the busy Sunday School as its superintendents. Allen goes to Bible study each Tuesday night and prayer meeting every Saturday morning. You attend Bible study for young moms on Wednesdays. Sundays are spent going to church, give or take a few hours in the afternoon (when many times you have the speaker over for lunch),. The rest of your week is filled with all the other social events that are part of this community of kind souls.
You have lots of friends from your church and a neighborhood filled with young families who you enjoy tremendously. Your life is extremely busy and full and looks picture-perfect from the outside. You are the quintessential Christian woman, wife, and mom, or so it seems.
Little do you know what I, your 53-year-old self, know about you. I love you, younger version of me, but I never want to be you again. I say that tenderly, knowing that you are just stuck and don’t know better and are trying your hardest with what you know and believe right now.
Your marriage to Allen is filled with hiding, from each other and even from yourselves. Both of you long to be exemplary Christians and have the ideal “Christ-like” marriage, but you are missing the forest for the trees. You don’t have a lot of conflict (after all, fighting is wrong and ungodly), but you DO NOT have a lot of closeness. Your desire to hang on to this external image prevents the two of you from sharing your mutual brokenness and meeting each other in that place, extending compassion and grace, and ultimately healing. You will eventually find that what scared you greatly, being fully-known, flaws and all, is actually the safest place of all, fully-loved by each other. Twenty years from now, you will spend a weekend away with Allen, reminding each other of how grateful you are to know and love each other more deeply than you could have ever imagined. Your continuously growing, although still bumpy marriage, once filled with pretense is now a source of restoration for others.
You want your kids to behave above all else. You believe that getting them to keep all the rules at school, church and home, is the answer to the giant question of whether or not you are a good mom. You use guilt and fear more often than not, those being two readily available resources in your tool chest. You genuinely do love your kids, the good news being that this love wins out over the long haul. Fear and guilt slowly begin to step aside when your fourth, Rachel, is born later this year. In 20 years time, you will have growing relationships with each of your four, and they all will speak words of kindness and understanding as you discuss all your strengths and struggles in raising them on your new-found podcast, something that doesn’t even exist today. What a gift this will be to you, as you turn 53. One of them will even send you a note on Facebook (something else that doesn’t exist yet) that “you are the greatest of all time” as you head to bed that night. It doesn’t get any better than that. LOVE WINS!
Your desire to be good and look good makes my heart sad. You believe that God’s ultimate goal is to get you to behave (hence your goal for your kids). You set rules for yourself that keep you in check and when they don’t, you fall into the shame and blame cycle with yourself and others. You are trapped in the crazy formulaic thinking that following all the rules makes for a good and happy life, but when it all falls apart a few years from now, thankfully bigger life-changing things like grace and mercy come flooding in from a BIG GOD like a tsunami. He gently picks up the pieces of your broken and confused heart and puts you back together in a way that’s better than if you had never fallen apart. He is a GOOD GOD and worthy to be trusted each and every day, in all the beautiful and messy moments that make up your incredible life’s journey.
I repeat, I love you, younger version of me. It’s all going to be okay. What you see now is but a dim shadow of the beauty that’s to come. I promise you a few things: you don’t do it all right. In fact, you make some mistakes that cost you greatly. You are afraid sometimes, very afraid. Your faith is tested to the shattering point. Your heart is broken into a million pieces. BUT, you do not give up HOPE, even in the middle of your fear. The One who is the source of all HOPE does not give up on you. You do not give up FAITH, even though the waves swirl around you, and it’s hard for you to see the Object of your FAITH. He keeps his eye unwaveringly on you. Though your heart splinters into fragments, you do not give up LOVE. LOVE HIMSELF slowly shows you that you are LOVED beyond measure and this LOVE is freeing and healing. It’s from this LOVE that you will begin to love others. You have a long way to go, and so do I. I wonder what our 73-year-old wiser self will say to us. It’s just good to be on this journey together!
Your mom (and mine) chose this verse when you (and I) were born. It’s true today and it will be for the rest of your life. Take heart, younger Esther Joy. All will be well.
From my heart to yours,
SHAMELESS BEG…PLEASE LIKE THIS (AND COMMENT) ON SOCIAL MEDIA OR HERE SO THAT OTHERS HAVE THE BEST CHANCE TO READ (the social media algorithms have us all a little baffled) …IT WILL BE THE BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT YOU CAN GIVE THIS GIRL!