Posted in Faith, Family, Marriage, Motherhood

Happy Birthday 33-Year-Old Younger Self!

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.

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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.

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From my heart to yours,

Esther Joy

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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!

 

 

Posted in Clean Water, Faith, Family, Friendship, Health, Marriage, Motherhood, Prison, Thanks, Uncategorized

What’s Your Panera? #giftsalreadyopened #littlesurpriseattheend

“Every good and perfect gift is from above.”  (James 1:17)

I walked into Panera this past Wednesday and there was a gift waiting for me.

I climbed 20 flights of stairs last January and another gift was waiting for me.

I went to my normal chiropractor appointment at the end of the summer and a third gift was waiting for me.

I went to church on a regular Sunday and a fourth gift was waiting for me.

All the talk right now is what do I want for Christmas.  What do you want?  What gifts are we going to get come nine days from now (yes, I know, it’s the final countdown…9…8…7)?  

Walking into Panera a few days ago stopped me in my tracks.  Right there on Route 22 in Watchung, NJ was a gift I had already been given in 2018:  my new friend Jackie!  Her bright eyes and cheerful smile greeted me before we even reached each other for a hug!  Our conversation unfolded in authenticity and grace.  We didn’t really want to leave at the end of two hours, but other things beckoned us to pack up our plates and give a quick hug goodbye.  As I pulled out of the parking lot, filled to the brim with joy over this wondrous gift of a budding friendship, I was overwhelmed with thoughts of all the gifts I have already opened in 2018, gifts strewn lovingly by God’s hand to my heart.

Maybe it’s just me (and somehow I would hazard a guess that it might not be), but with all the struggles that come from my average, every-day life, my mind tends to swirl around all the gifts I’m NOT getting on any given day.  They range from the minuscule (I forgot something at the store and now I have to go back and I just lost a half-hour of time) to the grandiose (some of the prayers I fasted for during Lent on my Hosanna List have not been answered yet).  I become discouraged and disheartened, wondering where God is in all of it and if He sees me and even cares.

Enter Panera.  My 2018 AHA moment.  “Take stock, Esther, of the gifts you’ve already received and opened and enjoyed this year,” a Voice inside my heart nudged, or more like prodded, “You don’t have to wait until December 25.”  So on this ordinary Sunday, December 16, 2018, I am doing just that…one for each month of the year!

  • The beauty of Allen’s apartment in the Strip district in Pittsburgh.  Yes, it’s 20 flights up (there is an elevator for the faint of heart), but the view of the river and the sheer “one-of-a-kindness” of it takes my breath away each time I turn my key and open the door.  And can I just say, Jared moving to this land of Allen’s birth is the icing on the cake!

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  • My solo visits to my friend Kim in prison.  Who knew prison could be a place of restoration and joy?  I didn’t.  Who knew a long-lost friendship could be rekindled in such an unlikely place?  I didn’t.  And now, my women’s group penned individual notes to her for Christmas!  I am undone with gratitude.
  • Fellow writers, editors and podcasters like Afton, Janis, Gail, Annie, Sarah, DebbieTracy and so many others who are encouraging me on this new-found and scary, but exciting journey of blogging, and book-writing.  (check out some of the links by clicking on their names…you won’t regret it).  AND YOU READERS who this would be useless without!!!  Huge thanks and shout out to those of you who read and share and encourage!  You have no idea how my heart leaps with each “like,” “share” and “comment.”  It means what I’m doing matters.  Thank you.
  • Authors who share their hearts with a waiting and skeptical world and the books that come out of them.   My two favorite this year and who I am determined to meet one day soon (one moved to NYC and one moved to Pittsburgh, so I have a good chance!!!  One knows a friend of mine and already emailed me back and I have a couple of friends who know the other personally…if you know them, hook me up!):  Shauna Niequist and Tish Harrison Warren!
  • Our cozy beach house that provides a place of respite and restoration for our family, my women’s group, our friends and even the renters who call it “our house” year after year.  Memories are forged, love is shared, the salt air heals and each one leaves better than when they came.  There aren’t enough words.

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  • Sharing at church about marriage mentoring and all the wonderful couples who came forward to be mentored and especially to mentor!  This makes my heart so happy.  Not only do we get to share about our own marriage journey (filled with struggles and strengths), but that others willingly come to receive and give themselves.  #yayformarriage #yayforvulnerability #yayforredemption
  • Budding friendships with those I didn’t even know existed a year ago.  Jackie isn’t the only one, even though she’s pretty AMAZING as I’ve already told you.  How about Susan, Stacey, and Tatiana, girls who jumped into my small groups and opened their hearts wide, sharing their very selves (BTW my small groups are unbelievable…don’t live without one)?!  WOW!   What about Liz, a young wife who loves Jesus and whose heart matches mine on this wholeness and healing journey (she’s the one who was waiting at the chiropractor, a very unlikely place)?  How about Natalie, my cohort in mischief and joy on my trip to Rwanda?  As a pastor’s kid,  she gets the “growing up in ministry” part of me very few understand.  Plus, she’s a great match for this Esthergizer Bunny.What other surprise people are in store for me?  I never want to say it’s enough.  As I’ve told Sarah so many times in her life, “the best friend you’ll ever make might be waiting just around the corner.”

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  • Our monthly couple’s massage.  Best birthday present ever given by my awesome husband.  Somehow, though, he benefits from this.  He’s a sneaky, but cute one.
  • An invitation into the redemption story of Rwanda!  To see this dream fulfilled after 10 years of our family’s “clean water obsession,” was absolutely incredible.  Not only to be a small part of it on the ground, but sharing with our team, meeting the people who do this day in and day out, and being completely invigorated by the ways God is bringing true restoration to a county so broken and devastated.  Even the Rwandan woman who prayed for me one day!  What a gift!  We cannot wait to go back with our family!
  • Long, deep and abiding friendships that are too many to count! (I can’t even begin the list because I so don’t want to miss anyone.  You know who you are!  Some of you are even my family members!)  Friendships that stand the test of time and love all the fabulous and flawed parts of me.  Friendships that remind me never to give up hope and speak grace over me when I’m hurting.  Friendships that keep me on course as we “limp our way together to redemption” (Tish Harrison Warren).
  • The latest Podcast I listen to and online book club I am carefully venturing  into with the Bible for Normal People.   This is the place I get all my mental feels and my brain gets stretched and I can discuss and argue and be free to express all my doubts and questions about God and the Bible.  For this girl who grew up thinking she (and a few other chosen ones) had all the answers to the big questions nailed down, it’s a huge, precarious step into the largeness of God!  On a very silly note:  I even got to record my voice giving a shout-out in one of their upcoming podcasts!  #90secondsoffame
  • Allen, Sarah, Cody, Broden, Jared, Lady, Josh, Daniella, and Rachel.  Heart of my very own heart!  Can you even believe that I have permission from them to share about them?!  Can you believe a husband and a bunch of mostly Millennials let their stories be known?  Who has that?  Believe me!  I don’t take it lightly!  This gift of them and from them allows my voice to be heard and there is nothing I treasure more!  They are even willing to go further!  How about that??  Here’s the LITTLE SURPRISE: you will begin to hear more from them and from me in the New Year on my new podcast called “The Dolly Mama and the Millennials.”   So excited!!

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So what’s your Panera today?  What gifts have you already opened this year?  Take stock, my friend!  And please please share at least one!  Or two, or twelve!  You can comment here, but even better out on social media!  Or BOTH!

 

Posted in Faith, Family, Marriage, Uncategorized

Make a Marriage Great Again (Part Eight of Ten) – Have a Little Faith

“The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib He had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man and his wife were naked and they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2:7, 22, 25)

The first marriage story ever told goes something like this:

God makes a bunch of creatures, including a boy and a bunch of animals.

Boy checks out all the animals, but there is no one that “floats his boat.”

GOD: “It’s not good for the boy to be by himself. I’ll make the best fit for him”.

God makes a girl from the very flesh and bones of the boy. God sets up a not-so-blind date for the two of them.

BOY (after seeing girl for first time): “At last! She is all that I’ve been looking for!   Thank you God! She is beautiful! She is part of me!”

Boy and girl are naked and they feel no shame. Boy and girl become one.

Time goes by and after working in a beautiful garden and enjoying companionship with each other and with God, girl meets up with a destroyer of all the goodness.   Girl is convinced that God is holding out on her and not giving her what she needs.

GIRL: “I don’t need God. I’ve got this. He’s not to be trusted.”

Girl acts from that place of disconnection from God.

GIRL: “Come boy! Do what I do. We really only need each other.”

BOY: “Okay. Sounds great to me.”

Boy acts from the same place of disconnection from God.

Boy and girl now realize they are naked and they feel shame. Boy and girl cover up and hide.

GOD: “Where are you boy and girl?”

BOY: “I am hiding from you.”

GOD: “Why?”

BOY (blames the girl): “She made me do it.”

GOD: “Why girl?”

GIRL: “Someone else made me do it.”

Disconnection → hiding → shame → blame. This is how Allen and I lived for many years. The cycle repeated endlessly. We lived how Albert Einstein defines insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” It wasn’t like we weren’t trying hard. Believe me. We were. We just didn’t know how to get off the hamster wheel.

God designed us for the opposite of the above cycle. His original design for marriage is connection → vulnerability → responsibility → grace → intimacy.  It’s the same as His perfect plan for His relationship with us, our journeys of FAITH in Him (there it finally is…the F you were waiting for…see the rest at the end of the post).

God longs for each of us to be “naked and unashamed” (fully-known and fully-loved) with Him. But why does it matter?

The vicious cycle of disconnection → hiding → shame → blame is a destroyer of souls, hearts, minds, even bodies.  That’s why it matters.  It does NOT work for good.  It does NOT bring wholeness or healing.  God wants something better for us.  He has actually created us to have the same relationship with Him that He does with Jesus, the “I and the Father are One” kind of relationship Jesus speaks so freely of.  He wants us to be One, naked and unashamed.  How can this happen?

CONNECTION: It starts here.  God wants us to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are loved by Him no matter what. This is not an easy undertaking. We have had voices of fear, guilt and shame that have permeated our lives and many times, we have associated them with God. Repenting (which just means “changing your mind or thinking a new thought”) is the first step. The truth about God, not what you’ve heard and assumed all your life is that He loves you. No matter what. His great desire for you is that you live from the place of this unconditional loving connection with Him.

VULNERABILITY: When we struggle and fail, he wants to deepen that connection without hiding, but with vulnerability, putting ourselves in the place of trusting Him and His love for us. Vulnerability is when we make ourselves susceptible to the judgment of others, when we let our guards down and relinquish control. It’s scary. It involves risk. We might be rejected. The good news is that God will never reject us. He is safe because He can be completely trusted with our struggles and our strengths, our trials and our triumphs. He isn’t going anywhere. He will never leave us or forsake us.

RESPONSIBILITY: This safe place with God allows us to be free to take responsibility for our lives, our actions and our emotions, instead of playing the blame game. Taking ownership of our own brokenness, without the self-deprecating place of blame and/or shame is a tricky path to walk. Recognizing our own humanness and frailties and then bringing that out into the light with God is a wonderful giant leap on this journey towards intimacy with Him.

GRACE: God responds to this out of His own complete goodness. He responds to us with grace, which simply means unearned favor. Instead of shaming us, He is kind to us. Instead of cursing us, He blesses us.   Instead of turning His back on us, He turns His face towards us. Instead of sending us away, He pulls us close.

INTIMACY: Naked and unashamed. My favorite phrase in the English language. Fully-known and fully-loved. The definition of intimacy. What we all long for at the depths of our being. This is the end result of all the hard work. Completely worth it. It is the healer of souls, hearts, minds and even bodies.

As you can see, our marriages are designed to reflect this beautiful cycle of intimacy, the oneness we all long for, with God and with each other. Marriage is unique, the only human place where this can take place in all of its fullness. We are designed to know and be known, fully without shame: spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. How amazing of God to have invited us to experience this with another human being in the covenant of marriage. I have been given the gift of Allen. He has been given the gift of me. We both have been given the gift of this life-long union. Here’s to opening our gifts every day for the rest of our lives.♥

Thank you for reading today!  Please feel free to “like” out on social media or here!  Thank you again!


 

For the rest of the “F’s” in the series on marriage, click on the following links:

 

Family of Origin

Fidelity

Flaws

Faithfulness

Forecast

Friendship

Fighting

Posted in Family, Health, Marriage, Uncategorized

Make a Marriage Great Again (Part Seven of Ten) – Fight Fire with Fire

“Conflict creates the fire of affects and emotions; and like every fire it has two aspects:  that of burning and that of giving light.”  (Carl Jung)

Allen and I have our fair share of FIGHTS (the seventh F in the series).  We are certainly NOT the couple who can say, “We never argue.  We agree on everything.”  Nor do we want to be (well, Allen wants to be secretly).

Allen is kind and gracious. I am sarcastic and I like to say, discerning (others may call me a bit judgmental). 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. As you can see, blending our personalities lends itself to conflict.  It is inevitable.

We bicker about (super important things like) how to pack the car, load the dishwasher, and fold the laundry.   I hear myself saying just last night, “I’ve told you not to fold my dresses.  They just go on a hanger.  You are wasting your time.”  (I know, ladies.  The man was folding the laundry and I still had something to say about it.)

We argue about more serious things like where to spend our money, how to handle the latest “children issue” and what to fill our calendars with, the things of life that have big implications.  There’s just no way around it.

We also have more tender “discussions” about how we’ve been hurt, misunderstood, and disrespected by the other.  These stem from places of abandonment and shame, and our lack of the ability to “stay with the uncomfortable” parts of ourselves.  Allen has an especially hard time with this, deeply desiring the absence of conflict.  It does not make him feel safe inside or out.  On the other hand, I love exposing all our shadowy parts (or maybe just his if I’m truthful) and bringing them out into the open for the gaping wound to sometimes fester and other times heal.  Allen tends to be the avoider.  I am the chaser.  I fight and he flees when we feel threatened.

For many years, we had no idea that all this conflict CAN actually lead to intimacy (being fully-known and fully-loved).  But it CAN also lead to disconnection.  The trick is knowing HOW to argue, how to fight fair.  Allen’s calm and quiet during our times of conflict appears like marital harmony, but without resolution, the problem just brews beneath the surface.  My love of “getting it out into the open” many times degenerates into insults and harm.  This breeds the perfect environment for disconnection.

Dr. Gottman, the expert marriage researcher, says that how a couple handles conflict is directly related to how likely they are to have a happy marriage.  There are four disastrous ways of interacting that will cripple attempts to resolve conflict, one feeding into the next (he calls them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse):  criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.  They are the FIRE that destroys.

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Complaining (not to be confused with endless nagging – Allen likes the idea of challenging the status quo) is a healthy marital activity.  It’s not pleasant, but it brings things into the light.  Many times, and this is where I personally struggle, it crosses the line to CRITICISM.  Criticism involves attacking someone’s person, rather than their behavior.  Complaints usually start with the word “I” and criticism with the word “you.”  For example, “I wish we spent more time together” is a complaint.  “You never spend time with me” is a criticism.  Criticism produces blame and multiplies shame, never resulting in closeness.

CONTEMPT brings criticism to a whole new level.  Many times, criticism, as bad as it is, is born from a place of frustration.  It tends to be a “crime” of passion.  Contempt is a clear “premeditated” attempt to harm your partner.  Its aim is to cause pain.  No matter if you have been married for four days or forty years, this monster sucks away every positive feeling spouses have for one another.  It appears in the form of name-calling, hostile humor (sarcasm) and straight up mockery.  I always associate it with the “rolling of the eyes.”  This is the most dangerous “horseman.”

Once contempt has entered the picture, each of us has a natural inclination to defend ourselves.  In fact, DEFENSIVENESS can result even from proper forms of communication like complaining, especially if there is unresolved shame in either party.  However, it is completely natural to resort to this place when there is CRITICISM and especially when CONTEMPT has taken hold.   This being said, defensiveness only escalates a conflict instead of resolving it.  Denying responsibility and making excuses only separates a couple further.

The last horseman is STONEWALLING.  Allen struggles with this.  Overwhelmed by emotions, his natural inclination is to withdraw, protect himself.  Even though it might look on the surface like “peace-making,” it actually is a very powerful act, conveying disapproval.  The example that comes to mind is when one of us “stops talking” to the other.  When this happens, the ability to connect is seriously thwarted and intimacy is beyond reach.

All this sounds so horrible and hard and probably completely relatable.  Even writing this is making me a little discouraged.  I need a little good news, how about you?

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There is great HOPE!  All of those horseman come into every marriage, even happy ones at some point or another, especially when there is intense marital conflict.  But they don’t have to be the norm.   Just like fires can bring harm and destruction, they can also produce light and warmth.

Conflict in marriage can be the fire that produces light and warmth.  It can bring life and vitality into a relationship.  It is the price you pay to have deeper intimacy.  WE CAN FIGHT FIRE WITH FIRE!  Here are basic “rules” (not a huge fan of that word) that govern how to move from harm to healing:

  1. DON’T RUN
    Bottling things up and burying them just makes the “cork pop” at some point.  The problem hasn’t gone away.  Instead, take some time away if you need to with the promise that you will come back together when cooler heads prevail over heated emotions.  This has been huge for us.  When Allen says “Let’s come back later,” I am able to “let things go for now” knowing there will be resolution.
  2. CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES
    This goes back to probably 85% of our arguments about how to squeeze the toothpaste tube, mow the lawn, etc.  Allen and I have wasted a lot of time and energy here.
  3. GET TO THE HEART OF THE MATTER
    Drs. Les and Leslie Parrot, marriage counselors, teach couples the X, Y, Z formula to help them state their true feelings,  “In situation X, when you do Y, I feel Z.”  This gives room for you to state how your partner’s behavior affects your feelings.  This is when “I” statements, instead of “you” statements, come into play.  This helps to diffuse defensiveness and provide a place of safety.
  4. NO LOW-BLOWS
    Never “throw back in their face” something your spouse has shared with you in a place of vulnerability and confidentiality.  In the heat of an argument, this is a quick “go-to,” but will break trust and humiliate the other.  Nothing enhances feelings of shame more than this.
  5. IS IT THE RIGHT TIME?
    This is especially helpful when working through the bigger things that may need to be sorted out over the long-haul.  I have had to learn this the hard way.  I want to rush through and fix things right away (like the minute it pops into my head).  Allen has taught me to be patient and gracious here.  Instead of my normal MO (mode of operation), I ask instead, “I have something bothering me.  When is a good time to talk about it?”
  6. AVOID MIND-READING
    Be careful to believe the best about the other’s intentions and be open to learning whether or not you are right or wrong.  Mind-reading assumes the worst about someone and can be a strategy of self-protection.  If I have Allen “all figured out” (and I’m not usually thinking the best), what room is there for him to share his heart?  This shuts down communication and blocks intimacy.
  7. STAY ON TOPIC
    Stick to the relevant issue that you are discussing.  Don’t veer off course, bringing up everything the person has done wrong in the last five years.  Refocus when things get off course.  Be careful of this slippery slope.
  8. TWO EARS, ONE MOUTH
    Listen.  Plain and simple.  But not that easy.  Have the goal of understanding where the other person is coming from.  This is so hard.  I’m not sure why.  We want so desperately to be understood.  Give the gift you long for to the other.  Hear with your heart.  Be careful not to fix.  Sometimes, silence is your spouse’s best friend (something super hard for this chatterbox).  “I hear you” have been three of the most powerful words I’ve ever said or heard.
  9. ADMIT YOUR PART
    I have a huge barrier when it comes to saying I am wrong.  I can see so clearly how Allen is “completely in the wrong about everything” (note sarcastic tone here).   This comes for me from a place of pride (“I’m better than you”).  For Allen, it comes from a place of shame (“You’re better than me”).  We both struggle here for different reasons, neither one of them good.  Understanding the back story of our own reactions is HUGE here.  When we understand that we both have infinite value and worth,  “I’m sorry” becomes much easier because we can take responsibility for our actions without blame and shame.
  10. FORGIVE
    Feeding off the compassion we now have for ourselves (and our spouses) that comes straight from God’s heart for us provides real room for forgiveness, “giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me.”  We all fail.  We all need forgiveness.  Giving to the other what we will eventually need brings true healing.  (This is a huge topic, one to be talked about at a later date.)

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I keep coming back to the image of fire.  “Keep the fires burning” and “Keep the flame alive” are mantras for good marriage.  Fire destroys or gives light.  Conflict is the same.  Fighting harms or heals, brings intimacy or disconnection.  I’m sure another “discussion” is right around the corner for Allen and me.  May we fight the FIRES of destruction and harm with the FIRES that bring light and healing!

If you’ve made it this far, can you go back to Social Media and “like” it (but only if you do like it…LOL)!


CHECK OUT THE FIRST SIX “Fs”

Family

Fidelity

Flaws

Faithfulness

Forecast

Friendship

Posted in Family, Guest, Marriage, Motherhood

The Dirty Mirror at the End of the Hallway

Welcome to my guest blogger, Grace Hufschmid!  Grace is a wife to one (Eric), mom to two (Marley and Presley) and a friend to many (including me).  Grace is a regional manager for Operation Christmas Child, the people who bring shoeboxes filled with goodies to the poorest of the poor.  Grace’s heart is kind, authentic and fierce!  YOU ARE IN FOR A TREAT!  Enjoy!

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Call me crazy but one of my favorite things to do is to clean my house. It is a feeling of instant gratification to see a mess and then wield the power to clean it up… bonus points if I find some random piece of dirt that has somehow eluded prior cleaning efforts. For me, it is an almost euphoric feeling to walk into a room and look around knowing that every nook and cranny has been cleaned and organized.

Over the past few months, as aspects of my life have felt somewhat out of my control, I have poured every ounce of effort into taking control of the one thing I can… my clean home.

Except for the mirror at the end of the upstairs hallway. That mirror is dirty. It has smudges and grime and fingerprints all over it. It’s so bad that you can see that it’s dirty from a pretty good distance. Now it’s not dirty because I haven’t noticed it (obviously I have by the above description) and it’s not that I haven’t had the time to clean it. Believe me! I have walked up to that mirror many, many times with Windex and paper towel in hand with a very determined look on my face. The real issue is that when I get close, close enough to clean it, I see it… little tiny fingerprints all over it. For as long as I can remember, my husband has walked my two little daughters up to that mirror and let them look at themselves. They bang on the mirror, poke dirty little fingers at their reflections, laugh and yell all while my husband tells them how beautiful they are… all in that mirror. From a distance, it just seems like random smudges and dirt, but up close I can see the work of tiny happy little hands and I can’t wipe it away.

Enter the dilemma: last week we were hosting a first birthday party for my daughter. I wanted everyone coming to my house for the party to walk away believing that I am the cleanest, neatest, most on-top-of-my-game mother around. My already cleaning-obsessed mind became increasingly fixed on that mirror. What would my guests think if they walked by a dirty, grimy mirror? Oh the horror. They might not think I am so perfect after all. I actually thought about taking the mirror down and shoving it in a closet until after the party so that no one would see or judge it or me.

Fortunately, I was able to let it go and keep my messy fingerprint-ridden mirror intact without losing too much sleep. The party went on with the mirror left in its place. However, I did start thinking about life and the never-ending struggle to present the most perfect picture of our life, our family, our faith and so on… “of course I have it all together… just check out my Facebook newsfeed.”

Reality struck. When we do just that, we miss the opportunity to show people what happens when you get up close and look at the messes in our lives… we might just witness the not-clearly-visible fingerprints of God.

One particular messy area has been my marriage. About five years ago, my husband and I hit a really rough patch. From the outside, everything looked perfect. We were both working in ministry. We had a cute daughter. We even wrote lovely things about each other on social media. But hidden from Instagram and Facebook were the nights I cried myself to sleep and the times we talked about what it would look like if we walked away. It was an absolute mess, but in a way that only He can, God amazingly healed and restored our marriage. He brought us to a stronger place than we had ever been. It wasn’t easy and boy was it complicated, but it was something only God could do.

I am amazed that in these years that have followed, He used what we went through to give hope to other couples that were struggling. He is still doing that to this day. You see, when you get up close and stick your nose in our mess, you can see God’s fingerprints all over it. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul says “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

We have seen that truth come alive in our own lives and marriage. As we hand over our weaknesses, our shame, our doubts, and our insecurities to God, they become opportunities for others to see His power, His fingerprints. As Paul says, we can actually be excited “boasting” about our weaknesses because they are opportunities for God’s perfect grace to be seen.

These are the questions I have to keep asking myself: Do I see my weakness and struggle as something to be fixed, minimized or hidden or an opportunity for God to show up? Do I let people in to get close enough to my mess to reveal God’s fingerprints? Or do I try to tuck failure and insecurity in the closet to preserve my perfect image?  Those are questions I battle with almost every day.  Answering them the way I know can bring me to the best place sure isn’t easy, and sometimes I make the “not-so-good” choice, but when I do, it’s worth it.

 

How great was this!  What a huge treat!  Check out some of my other recent posts!  Some of my favorites are on marriage (click here for the most recent one).

As always, please feel free to like it on social media (huge hit with me) and share it with your friends and family!  Spread the hope!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Family, Marriage, Uncategorized

The Tale of Our Three Marriages (THE BIG REVEAL)

If in the dark we lose sight of love,
Hold my hand, and have no fear
Cause I will be here.
(STEVEN CURTIS CHAPMAN)

When we stood at the altar over 27 years ago, and my friend Marcy sang those haunting words, I had no idea in my 25-year-old head how true they would ring this many years later.  I didn’t know we were embarking on a journey of Three Marriages (and that’s so far…who knows how many more we have in us).

When we meet couples who are on their second marriage, sometimes we feel like we can’t relate.  After all, what do we have in common with them?  But as Allen and I joke, we aren’t only on our second marriage, we are on our third…it just happens to be with the same person.  Very different and also somewhat the same.

Our “Three Marriages” have been loosely marked by the decades we’ve been together.  This past weekend, questions were posed to us by our Pastor when we were interviewed on stage at our church, “Tell us about the early years of your marriage.   What came naturally… and what was a challenge for you?  Any Points of Conflict?”

My answer to him was hard for me to say and even harder for me to hear out loud and share with the audience.   However, it was worth telling because vulnerability breaks strongholds and provides undeniable freedom.  (Sorry.  I have kept you in suspense long enough with how I answered, so here goes.)

Our first Marriage was characterized by HIDING.   We so longed to be the perfect Christians, the right kind of wife and/or husband, the ones everyone would look at and say, “We wish we could be just like them.  They have it all together.”  Needless to say, with this kind of pressure to perform, we hid from ourselves, our families, our church and mostly, from each other.   We had lots of manners, not a lot of meaning.  Lots of talk, not a lot of truth.  Lots of outer, not a lot of inner.  During that time, we actually did NOT have a lot of CONFLICT (which probably made my conflict-avoiding, peace-loving husband a happy camper), but we also did NOT have a lot of CLOSENESS.  And to be honest, it felt good.

Thank God He didn’t leave us there.  It all “hit the fan” at the end of those 10 years.  Our first marriage came to an abrupt end.  With the help of 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.

Over the next months, my heart began to slowly change.  Allen’s risk affected me.  I was free to explore the ways I was hiding, the “not-so-perfect” parts of me.  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!

This was the beginning of our second marriage, one characterized by a lot of HARD WORK.  Transparency and authenticity came to the forefront, and was mostly met with forgiveness, grace, and compassion, which required long talks and much conflict.  We plunged headlong into books on authenticity, life groups that offered mutual transparency and trust (we have a couples’ group and we each have our own group comprised of just men and just women), and fought for these everywhere in our life:  each other, our kids, and our friends.

As that decade came to a close, and our second marriage felt fairly successful, God called us to another, even deeper level in our relationship with Him and with each other.  With the help of a very safe and close-knit group of friends who regularly meet together and the decision to go to counseling, we found out that we “married the wrong person,” to quote Pastor Tim Lucas’ book on the subject.  We began a slow undertaking towards HEALING, wholeness (I MEAN SLOW), another marriage, our third.  Our small group went on an inner journey together exploring our pasts and how those played into who we are today, for both good and bad.  Counseling revealed to us that we each had core wounds that effect most aspects of our lives and especially each other.   That was tough.  There was even one very scary night that stands out vividly in my memory.  We were lying in bed, seeing very little light at the end of the tunnel, and asked each other, “Will we make it?  Is there any hope for us?”  We actually weren’t sure and this made for a very dark time.

We pushed ahead with our group and with counseling.  This journey for HEALING seemed endless.  One evening during a session, we came right out and asked the question, “Do you see any hope for us?  Is this normal, that it gets much worse before it gets better?”  Thankfully, our counselor answered with a resounding, “YES!”  to both questions.  That gave us the spark we needed to move (albeit slowly) forward.

We have found a few things during this time that have been huge for true HEALING in our marriage:

  1. Working on our marriage without recognizing and working on our own individual brokenness is pointless.  They go hand-in-hand.
  2. Removing blame from each other for our own wounds is huge.  Blame produces shame, shame begets blame and the cycle goes round and round (that might just be why our fights kept going in circles).
  3. Neither of us is changing the basic core of who we are.  We have each had to (and are continuing to) grieve the things about each other that we wish were different.  To give you an example, I am just not a physical person and Allen’s highest love language is physical touch.  Even if I set alarms on my phone to cuddle and hold his hand, it just doesn’t come naturally to me.  It’s really sad for Allen.  It might never change, no matter how hard I try.   He is grieving what might never be.  The hope we cling to is that at the end of the stages of grief lies acceptance and freedom.  YAY!  We’re slowly getting there.  (Believe me, it’s not just one way.  I’m grieving too, but not throwing Allen under the bus this time around.)
  4. The journey is SLOW.  There’s no way around it.  It takes lots of time and needs the “long-view” approach.  None of us can undo years of damage and bad patterns in days, weeks and even months.  The good news is that this perspective calms hearts and gives the much-needed room for long-term growth and change.
  5. The process requires struggle.  It might be painful.  There will probably be some conflict.  It won’t be comfortable.  On Wednesday, Allen reminded me of the image of a butterfly, my all-time favorite creature.  Without the stage of the cocoon, there would be no transformation.  Scientists tell us it looks pretty gruesome deep inside the chrysalis, kind of like caterpillar soup.  Finally, after weeks of this and the butterfly is ready to emerge, it takes hours of struggle to get free and more hours of waiting to fly.  The result is sheer beauty.
  6. The other person is worth fighting for.  Each of us longs to have true intimacy:  being fully-known and fully-loved, naked and unashamed, as Genesis defines it.  We want it for each other and for ourselves.  This is the place where the most transformative healing can happen, inside true transparency and trust.  This is the toughest and yet most rewarding path of all!

We wonder if we will have even another marriage, one where HIDING, HARD WORK AND HEALING are over.   It actually sounds a little bit like HEAVEN to me!

(MANY OF YOU HAVE ASKED FOR THE LINK TO OUR “ON-STAGE” PERFORMANCE WHERE WE SHARE MUCH OF THIS.  HERE IS THE LINK TO THE WHOLE MESSAGE (which was fantastic and so worth watching) AND OUR INTERVIEW IS ABOUT 26 MINUTES IN AND LASTS ABOUT 10 MINUTES)

Here are links to my other posts about Marriage:

Family

Fidelity

Flaws

Faithfulness

Forecast

Friendship

 

 

 

 

Posted in Family, Friendship, Marriage, Uncategorized

Make a Marriage Great Again (Part 6 of 10 – Anniversary Edition)

It’s not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.  (Friedrich Nietzcsche)

This weekend marks the 27th anniversary of the date Allen and I said “I do,” May 18, 1991 (cute pic, don’t you think??).  The weeks and months leading up to the big event were filled with all the romance human beings can muster:  a promise ring given as the sun rises in the east and George Winston’s “Pachelbel Canon in D” plays in the background, love notes communicating the eager anticipation of our future lifetime together, passionate dates ending with lingering kisses , celebrations of our love in the forms of showers and parties with family and friends, and hearts that long for the knitting together of our bodies and souls.

The day finally arrives and the romance continues in all the typical wedding fare:  songs declaring promises that “I Will Be Here,” vows exclaiming our undying love and commitment to one another, pictures of eyes gazing into each other, a big celebration with family and friends where I was told that the three most important words in a marriage were the following (from Allen’s dad, our very Pittsburghy Best Man): “Pirates, Penguins, Steelers” (okay not so romantic, but I digress), and a wedding night filled with dinner, candles and “you know.”

The romance is prolonged for the next 10 days as we spend our Honeymoon in a cabin nestled in the heart of the Smokey Mountains exploring underground caverns, dining at white-laced tablecloth eateries, white-water rafting, watching “The Hunt for Red October” (again, NOT so romantic and NOT one of Allen’s finer moments), bike-riding, long, lazy talks about our future, hiking to water falls through quiet walkways, spending uninterrupted time together (no cell phones in those olden days), and more “you know.”  Life is just as I imagined it should and would be for the next 50 years:  filled with the excitement and mystery of these things called love and marriage.

Enter reality:  home rental with option to purchase, unexpected pregnancy only two short months in, long work hours, church commitments, and normal, every-day activities like paperwork, food prep, and yard work.  Not sounding too romantic anymore.   My dream is mildly shattered.  Is this really what makes up marriage?  How will we last?  This just seems like a lot of hard work.  And yes, yes it was and still is.

So without all the constant romance (which we still have after 27 years in fits and starts and are committed to), where does the rubber really meet the road?  What is the force that weaves our hearts tightly together?  I would hazard a guess that it finally dawned on us on our 10th anniversary, the first weekend we spent away from our four young children:  FRIENDSHIP (there you have it, the 6th of the 10 “WTF’s” for marriage…see first five at end of post).  I remember it like it was yesterday.  We were hiking the Appalachian Trail, running desperately from a swarm of mosquitoes, hysterically laughing at ourselves and we just looked at each other and one of us said, “This is why we are married.  We actually like each other.”

Without even knowing it, we had spent the first 10 years of our marriage cultivating a long-lasting friendship.  We had, as Elisabeth Foley, describes, forged a relationship that “doubles your joy and divides your grief,” and we encountered the beautiful discovery that “true friends can grow separately without growing apart.”

Friendship is absolutely VITAL to the health of any marriage.  It is forged through mutual trust, unconditional support and selflessness, all things that must be fought for and worked through.  Marriage requires these marks of true and abiding friendship: equality, attachment, honesty, companionship, emotional safety, respect, understanding, vulnerability and closeness.  There’s just no way around it.

To be candid, I am not always a good friend to Allen, nor he to me.  We tend, in our humanness, to find fault, treat each other with contempt, push each other away, become too busy, listen half-heartedly, hide and shut down.   And for these times, just as any true friendship needs, grace and compassion must flow out of our hearts for ourselves and each other.  After all, this is really the stuff that makes up a lifetime of babies and home ownership, job changes and heart-breaking losses, bill paying and love-making.

So on this 27th anniversary (such a weird, random number), I write what I texted a friend this morning:

“I am actually in Pittsburgh spending the weekend with Allen, celebrating our anniversary.  So so so thankful for my long-lasting friendship with him.  That’s what my post will be about this weekend:  our friendship in our marriage.  I can’t even imagine what my life would be like without his constant companionship and friendship.”  😊

I love this man, my husband, from the depths of my soul.  He has all that it takes to make a great friend:  loyalty, kindness, compassion, grace, integrity, respect and understanding.  What a gift he has given me.

One last aside.  There is another piece to this puzzle that our Pittsburghy best man understood about marriage:  entering into and embracing what is important to the other person is paramount to true and abiding friendship!  It is telling the person:  I will love what you love!  As you can see below, I have done my best to make it a reality!

Happy Anniversary, Allen John Goetz!  You have truly “doubled my joy and divided my grief!”  Here’s to 27 (at least) more!

Enjoy the rest of the “WTF?” marriage series:

FOOFidelityFlawsFaithfulnessForecast

Posted in Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Posted in Family, Marriage, Thanks

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 Marriage

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!)