Posted in Childhood, Faith, Family, Friendship, Marriage, Motherhood, Thanks

Did you Know (it wasn’t just a house)?

“She was an adventurer at heart.  But oh how she loved drinking this tea in this mug in this chair.  Oh how she loved to be home.”  (Google Images)

When you hurriedly trekked up the sidewalk with your then 10-year-old in a whirlwind house-hunting trip in August of 2002 and opened the door at 23 Cedar Hollow Drive, DID YOU KNOW?

Did you know…

the neighbor boy that walked through the door the day you moved in would become one of your son’s life-long friends and your son would share the weight of pall-bearer at his dad’s funeral eight years later?

music would fill the living room and your baby would fall in love with the guitar and piano and her playing and singing would be a gift to your soul and you miss these moments terribly?

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23 Cedar Hollow Drive would be brimming with boatloads of love for and from almost every species of animal, from snakes, to dogs, to cats, to hamsters, to fish (that wouldn’t die), to every assortment of lizard and now there is only one left?

your marriage, faltering at best, would become a place of hope and healing for dozens and dozens of young couples on the verge of their own life-long journey of marriage?  (in fact, you are spending time with one of them again this morning)

your nervous decision to construct a pool granted a space for family, friends, teammates, youth groups, classmates, neighbors and even strangers to rejuvenate and be refreshed?  (water gun fights and subsequent peals of laughter did just the trick)

 first days of school and dance pictures and phone conversations filled with both laughter and tears would mark your front stoop (and who knows, maybe some goodnight kisses by young lovers)?

extended family would gather for holidays and normal days, where sports teams would be cheered for, good food would be eaten, games (and some arguments over those games) would be played, and most significantly, unbreakable bonds would be formed?

your young daughter, struggling with severe OCD and the inability to go away even for a week would receive help through counselors and would now be a flourishing wife, teacher and mom?

an actual wedding ceremony would be performed in your living room because the bride and groom thought the church was located in your town and got their marriage license in the wrong place?

annual Easter Egg hunts (or should I say money hunts) created a place for teens and budding adults to still be kids in all the best ways?

endless art supplies and crafts from your artist would be haphazardly strewn over all available surfaces and one of those works would be still hanging proudly in your family room for your prospective buyers to see and admire?

birthdays would be celebrated in all their simplicity and sometimes complexity, giving room for sharing reasons why the one whose day it was to be honored was loved (and even liked)?

every kind of sport uniform would be thrown in heaps on your kitchen floor and not-so-carefully cleaned in your laundry room, providing a place of community and friendship for your kids?  (even as you write this, two of your son’s high school teammates are asleep with your 23-year-old in the basement)

your finished basement would be filled with sleep-overs and left-overs and hang-overs and do-overs and make-overs and probably thousands of humans entered those doors?

your outdoorsy son, content to spread mulch, carefully prune bushes and chop wood with his dad, would be happiest at his job doing the same?  (and he would embrace your sports teams to the full)

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your family room couch would become the healing place for illnesses too numerous to count, unforeseen and planned surgeries, along with the comforting spot to take a mental health recovery day and that you let your kids skip school for only this reason (oh how far you’ve come)?

small groups filled with lasting and abiding friendships would meet, pouring over books and videos, praying through heartache, celebrating joys, living the ups and downs of life and kids and marriage and…and…and.. (one of them still met last night right in your family room)? 

the pony-tailed 10-year-old around the corner and school-bus seat mate would become one of your firstborn’s closest friends, bridesmaid fourteen years later and Auntie Taylor to your grandson?

a baby in your womb would be lost yet your heart would be born anew?

your game-boy playing first-grader would help you to create your new podcast and be a regular and wise guest?

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early Christmas mornings would be filled with children (and even now adults) sitting on your bed opening surprises (and not-surprises) through sleepy, yet curious and excited eyes?

a nervous breakdown would seek to destroy you but a life-long journey toward healing and wholeness would begin and continue today and that a writer’s quest would result?

homework would be finished (or not-so-much), college applications would be filled out, but most important, hearts would be taught to love and hope and apologize and respect and give and continue to learn?

your basement would be the place for a barely sprouting church youth group of eight teens and three leaders that is now hundreds strong?

warm fires would be built inside and out, where stories were shared, sleep was encouraged, s’mores were eaten, and life-giving memories were created?

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fights would break out, doors would be slammed, harsh words would be spoken, yet subsequent apologies would be made and forgiveness would be granted?  Love and trust would be painstakingly built brick by brick?

your two-year old would happen upon a friend in first grade and after endless sleepovers, birthday parties and bring-a-friend vacations, their college hearts would be knit together even though hundreds of miles separate them?

your glass kitchen door would be filled with chore charts and yearly memorabilia, bird-feeder and deck-flower views, and sun-soaked floors for pets to relax and sleep blissfully?

seventeen New Year’s Eves would be celebrated, some quiet with tired bodies barely making it until midnight and others loud with friends singing God Bless America on the stoop after a long-night of Bunco?

a new love would come bearing another new love?

religion would be shed over and over and Jesus would rise in its place to become the healer of your heart and the lover of your soul?

you and Allen would be more in love than you thought was even possible?

Did you know…

Thankful tears would flow because this house is a true haven of healing and that as you leave it, your prayer is the same for the next set of feet that trek up the sidewalk and open your front door and make this their home?

Yes.  This you now know.  You know ALL of it.

 

If you’ve made it this far and you like this, I am asking if you could go back out on social media where you came from and “Like” it!  Makes a huge difference in how much it gets read and/or shared.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Faith, Friendship, Thanks

A Letter to My Friends #youhavenoidea

“Friendship is so weird.  You just pick a human you’ve met and you’re like, ‘Yup.  I like this one’ and you just do stuff with them.” (Google Search On Funny Friends Quote)

Dear Friends of Little Old Me,

Today marks the Dolly Mama “tell your friends how great they are” blog post.   I can’t believe I haven’t done it sooner.  I am a little embarrassed (and if you know me at all, that’s a load of hooey…I wouldn’t know embarrassment if it smacked me right in the behind).  Sorry.  Back to the letter.

Right off the bat, I have to just be super honest and tell you I am feeling a little snarky right now and you might just sense it when you read this.  Bear with me.  I’m planning to be serious and sappy and smooshy and sentimental as well by the time this letter is over.  Sorry.  Back to the letter.

It’s true.  You really are great!  Like wearing a superhero cape great!  Like standing behind a mic and getting an award great!  You get the point!  I think you are great!

Some of you are great because you don’t let me stay my “less than the true Esther Goetz” self.  You believe in me.  You motivate me.  You encourage me.  You kick me in that not-embarrassed behind when I need it.  You believe in the best version of me and you build me up one brick at a time.  I love you and need you.  #youhavenoidea

Some of you are great because you are my cheerleader.  You sing your praises to my words-of-affirmation-is-my-happy-place heart.  You root for me and would have poms poms shouting “Esther Goetz is ‘da bomb'” if I would let you (don’t tempt me…I might have to make that happen in real life).  You make me feel like a champion even when I’m just an average New Jersey housewife.  I love you and need you.  #youhavenoidea

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Some of you are great because you love what I love.  We can take a walk or a hike and talk heady stuff like Christian doctrine.  We can take a bike ride on LBI and get our favorite kind of ice cream.  We can meet for lunch (on time may I add) and share silly stories of our week and our latest caper.  We can watch the Bachelor together (no judgment please) and laugh at the screen and ourselves in the process (“Do we seriously watch this show?”).  I love you and need you.  #youhavenoidea

Some of you are great because you are just “WITH ME.”  You sit with me in the dark times.  You laugh with me in the hilarious comedy that is my life.  You stick with me when I’m screwing up.  You talk me down off the ledge when I want to jump.  You calm my heart when the monster of anxiety rears her ugly head.  You have no judgment for me (take note, you who judged my Bachelor watching).  I tell you all my secrets.  I love you and need you.  #youhavenoidea

Some of you are great because you make me feel connected to you in all the best ways…emotional, spiritual, mental and even physical.  You wave at me across a crowded room, save a seat for me at an event, send me a card on my birthday, grab my hand when we are together, and remind me that we are “two peas in a pod.”   I belong to you and you belong to me.  I love you and need you.  #youhavenoidea

Some of you are great because you are just fun!  You make me belly laugh.  You always have an adventure for us to go on!  You are super okay with my snarky nature and “give it back” to me when I’m dishing it out to you!  You light up when you see me!  You’re not afraid to say all that’s good about our lives and our days!  You give energy when this “Esthergizer Bunny” is about done.  I love you and need you.  #youhavenoidea

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Some of you are great because you open my mind and heart to new things.  You don’t let me get stuck.  You ask me great questions, challenging me to rethink the way I always have and help me to change “just a little bit” at a time (even though I might fight you in the moment).  You make my view of life (and many times GOD HIMSELF) bigger and enlarge my whole heart at the same time!  I love you and need you.  #youhavenoidea

Some of you are great because you are wise.  You keep me headed in the right direction.  You’re like the GPS of my life.  You help me navigate all the beautiful and messy parts of my journey with understanding, grace and kindness.  You straight-up give me advice (even when I’m being stubborn and a know-it-all).  My goals and dreams matter to you and you help me to keeping working toward them.  I love you and need you.  #youhavenoidea

ALL OF YOU ARE GREAT because you love me.  You really love me.  For who I am.  Plain and simple.  What more could I ever ask for or want from a friend?  Nothing!  Whether we text each other every day, talk to each other once every six months on the phone, are only able to connect on social media platforms, or see each other once in a blue moon at reunions, I count you forever as my friend, one that I will treasure in my heart until I take my last breath.

Somehow, my snarky voice has quieted and all is right in my very sappy world as I think of you and all that you mean to me!  I love you, my GREAT friend!

From my heart to yours,

Esther

P.S.  Please let me know three things – that you received this and maybe even read it (since I wrote it just for you), which kind of great friend you think you are and also what kind of friend you believe I’ve been for you (why I’m great…sorry, back to the snarky).  You can text me, call me, email me, snail mail me, comment on this blog or my current favorite, post it on social media.

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TODAY, I challenge you to maybe write a text or a letter or pick up the phone and tell one friend you love them and why they are great.  And then share this with them.  How amazing would it be if each one of us spoke our love with just one and then encouraged them to tell one.  The ripple effect would be wonderful!  January 20th, 2019, would be just a little more hopeful and beautiful!  TELL JUST ONE!

ALSO PLEASE FOLLOW ME VIA EMAIL!  JUST A QUICK CLICK AWAY!

 

 

 

 

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 Celebration, Faith, Friendship, Guest

What if God is Waiting for Me? #holyadvent

Advent is the “Howl of the Not-Yet,” the WAITING for wrong to be made right, hopes to be made sight, broken places to be healed and questions to be answered.  We wait for God to come.  We wait for Christmas morning!

Our journeys are bumpy, filled with twists and turns, steps forward and slides backward, confusion and clarity, the messy and the beautiful.  It can seem like Advent never ends.  We cry out!  We howl!  We plead!  “How long?  How long?”  We wait.

But is waiting only reserved for us?  Are we the only ones who cry and long and plead?  What if God has His own Advent, His own howl, His own waiting.  What if God is waiting for us?  


Join with my friend Annie Ellerbusch as she uncovers this.

I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about waiting (the Season we have upon us).  What am I waiting for?  What have I been waiting for all my life?  Maybe it’s more like what am I missing?  I know I am missing something, but what is it?   

As I persisted in thinking, I realized I had been focused on my waiting, MY waiting.  But I was not the only one waiting.  God was waiting for me.  God had been for a long time.

God was waiting in the most intimate places of my being, in the parts that only the two of us could visit, the memories that only the two of us shared, the places where I pushed down all that I could not accept, understand, or live with

…all the parts that I had ignored, dismissed, disowned, outgrown, left behind, rejected, abandoned, hid away or hid from 

…all the parts that I could not expose or share, that needed to be locked away for their own protection, or to protect myself and others

…all the parts that were either too bad or too dangerous to be set free, or too good and precious to risk losing

 God was there waiting for me, waiting IN me.

God was keeping all the parts safe, every one of them.  God valued and treasured all of them, all of me.  The words that came to me were intense, even insistent.

“It is your JOB and your JOY to take care of all of your parts, to take care of your self.  Only you can do it.  No one else will do it for you.  No one else CAN do it for you.  Not even ME.  This is your job, your responsibility.  

This is also your gift.  You are a GIFT.  You are My gift to Me.  You are My gift to you.  You are My gift to the world.

Take your self.  Love your self.  Own your self.  Care for your self.

Trust me.  You will see.  You will see what good will come from this.”

God was waiting for me to come and claim all my parts, to look at them and learn about them, to see them and hear them, to understand them, to accept and love them, to learn to care about them and for them, to welcome them back, to gather them up into the whole, my whole

. . . to inhabit my own wholeness , wholly known, wholly loved, and wholly free. 

 

TO SEE MORE POSTS RELATED TO THIS, CHECK THESE OUT:

Parenthood (The Constant Return to Advent)

Advent (The Howl of the Not-Yet)

The “You Better Watch Out”…God

You are the Gift


Posted in Faith, Family, Friendship, Grief, Thanks

Dear Mrs. Geiger (#goodgrief),

“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”  (Warren Buffett)

Dear Mrs. Geiger (otherwise known as Grandma to my kids),

This weekend, I was flipping through my beat-up recipe book trying to figure out what to eat with Allen.  I came across an old-fashioned casserole recipe that you had given me. Made with Rice-A-Roni®, cream of mushroom soup, diced chicken, corn and breadcrumbs.  Usually, I am fairly health-conscious, but it didn’t matter one bit.  I was determined to make it just to honor the fact that you gave it to me (and from what I remember, it was yummy).

From the first time I met you, I felt loved.  The year was 1990.  Me:  a twenty-something, red-headed, spicy girl in a new church in the middle of  a budding romance.  You: a sixty-ish, white-haired grandma, with a contagious laugh (I can even hear it now) and a servant’s heart.  You were pretty spicy yourself.  Little did I know what was in store for the next eight years.

Right from the very beginning, you began planting seeds of kindness and goodness into me.  You were unlike anyone I had ever met.  I wasn’t sure why I was chosen, but I was happy about it.  Within months of knowing me, you invited me (and my new love Allen) over for dinner.  As we pulled up to your Cape Cod on a quiet cul-de-sac in the darkness of winter, candles flickered in the window inviting us to the feast you would set before us and the warmth of your love (and Mr. G’s) inside.

As the months and our romance progressed and I struggled to convince Allen that I was the love of his life, you called me to your home once again and said, “Let’s get on our knees and ask God about this.”   Onto our knees we went beside your bed.   I’m not even sure I had a choice.   I found out we weren’t asking God about anything.  You were telling God that He needed to make Allen see what a gift I was and that he should ask me to marry him immediately.  It was crazy bold and I felt loved.  How good and kind you were to me.

It was sooner than later that your bold prayer was answered and Allen asked me to marry him.  You had us over for a celebration complete with an Italian dinner, those candles again flickering in the window inviting us into your home and more importantly, your heart.  That evening, we spoke of our discouragement in finding a reasonably-priced rental.  Immediately, you told us you would phone the widow who owned the empty home next door and ask if she would be willing to rent to us.  We were not only overjoyed at your kindness, but also because our frustrating home search might be over.  You called the next day.

Within a few months, just weeks before our wedding day, I moved in to 23 Edward Court, the little Cape Cod right next door to you and Mr. G, 27 Edward Court.  After our return from honeymooning in the Smokey Mountains, Allen moved in with me and we started our married lives together, happy to know that you were only about 30 feet away, filled with love, goodness, grace, kindness and wisdom.  What a treasure.  The next several years began to unfold.

You were one of the very first people I told when I found out I was pregnant with our first child.  You invited us over several evenings for dinner as I awaited my baby, juggling work, pregnancy and our new home.  You gave me recipes as a new wife that I made without the same ability and patience as you.  You prayed with and for me, listening to all my hopes and fears about these new chapters I was writing.

When Sarah arrived, you immediately called yourself “Grandma” and Mr. G “Poppy.”  You brought the Rice-A-Roni® casserole (the above one I made this weekend) the day I came home from the hospital, providing food and love once again in a time where I was exhausted and didn’t know my right hand from my left.  The seeds of kindness and goodness you sowed in my heart began to bud.

Time marched on and I had more babies.  You were the truest Grandma in every sense of the word, having Sarah over for tea parties and doll-house playing, beckoning Jared into your home to push the button to make the “choo choo train” whistle, poking Josh in the belly button, reminding him that it was his “tortellini” and causing bursts of laughter for all.  You viewed the dirty fingerprints covering your glass door from six little Goetz hands as marks of love.

You celebrated our birthdays, always making my favorite angel food cake in February and serving Allen a London broil on the grill in our backyards in August.  Our kids expected just the right gift from you on their big days and they had no idea you were anything other than their family.  The truth is you weren’t.

Our lives kept moving along in sync with each other, as we attended the same little church, lived on the same little street, and enjoyed the same little moments over and over and over.  Cups of tea, your love for Bermuda and our promise to go there on our 20th anniversary (which we did), visits for missing ingredients in the dishes I was making (too many times, I am embarrassed to say), stroller walks, laughter until our bellies hurt, tools borrowed, meals eaten together, wisdom shared (this was a one-way street), and hearts connected.  The seeds of your kindness and goodness bloomed in my soul.

The winter came when Allen and I felt we had outgrown our small home.  We began looking.  Knowing we would leave you gave us deep sadness.  When we mustered up the nerve to share this with you, you had your own news.  You were ready to move on to your next home as well, an adult community in beautiful Lancaster, PA.  We were relieved yet very sad.  As the months stretched ahead, we had garage sales and goodbye parties.  We shed mutual tears and shared excited hearts.  And as God would have it, our move dates were only days apart.  At the end of August, 1998, we both packed up all our belongings side-by-side and headed out into the next chapters of our lives.  We both said we couldn’t have done it any other way.

Of course, over the next many years, we visited you often and you came to our new home and we shared beautiful moments together.  One more time, you welcomed our last baby, Rachel, with open arms and hearts.  But the plain and simple truth is that it was never quite the same.  The true gift of those eight years living right next door, sharing our tables and our hearts, was once-in-a-lifetime, something I will treasure forever.  But as we know, kindness and goodness are the gifts that keep on giving.  Those seeds that you planted in my life are growing into a beautiful tree filled with abundant harvest and hopefully shade for others, that same shade you provided for me.

Today, I am a kinder and better woman, mom and wife because of you.  Allen is a kinder and better man, husband and father because of you.  My children are kinder and better human beings, budding adults, spouses, friends, sons and daughters because of you.   I don’t know why I was chosen for to receive this grand, beyond-my-imagination gift.  I am eternally grateful.

It’s been about six years since you passed away.  The last time Sarah and I sat with you in your apartment (only three weeks before you were gone), you shared your excitement about going to see Mr. G (Poppy to Sarah) and Jesus very soon.  You planted more seeds of kindness and goodness even that day.  You gave Sarah a special teacup from your collection, a wonderful reminder of all the tea parties you had with her when she was just a little girl.  You gave me, as I looked into your eyes and hugged you fiercely one final time, the greatest gift I could ever receive, the gift of yourself.

I miss you and Mr. G very much.   I can’t wait to eat that casserole today.

With All the Love and Thanks I Can Muster,

Esther

 

Posted in Family, Friendship, Grief

A Grief (and Celebration) Observed…A Thin Place

“525,600 minutes.  How can you measure the life of a man?  It’s time now to sing out, though the story never ends.  Let’s celebrate.  Remember.  Remember the love!  Measure in love! Seasons of love!”  (Rent)

Last weekend, I had the honor of speaking at a Celebration of Life for a remarkable man named Stephen Friars, who passed away suddenly.  For his family and those who loved him, shock came first.  Confusion quickly followed, along with anger and heartbreak.  Overwhelming grief, yet glimmers of joy, memories filled with laughter, and the desire for a celebration of a man utterly-loved and a life well-lived followed.  Plans were made to invite coworkers, family, and friends to a beautiful backyard to pay tribute to and honor a “too-soon-taken” brother, husband, boss, co-worker, and friend.  Here are my words:

Today, we engage in one of the most complicated and sacred acts that we participate in as humans. We gather to both grieve AND celebrate the death and life of Stephen Friars, beloved brother to Gail and Gary.   It might look to anyone driving by or peeking out their curious neighbor window like a typical spring barbecue, where friends are gathering to eat some grub and celebrate the latest Yankees win. But as we here know, it’s definitely not that yet it is. No, we are not celebrating the Yankees, or the Rangers, or even the Giants, but we actually are in a way, because the one we are celebrating loved those teams and we are cheering (and obviously wearing) what he loved. Go red, white and blue! (And this is a big deal for this Pittsburgh fan!)

Viewings, funerals, memorial services and celebrations of life are, like I said, one of the most complex and difficult things we take part in as humans, but also one of the most beautiful and sacred. It’s one of the times, and it’s happened today already, where we are laughing AND crying, devastated AND hopeful, and confused AND yet have the greatest clarity about what life is truly about in the same few moments. It’s one of the “thin places” the Celtic speak of, where heaven AND earth touch, even ever so briefly. It’s the place where the boundary between the divine AND human worlds becomes almost non-existent, and the two can, for a moment, dance together uninterrupted. I felt it when I held my new grandson in the early morning light that first week he was born. I felt it when I listened to Dooey sing God Bless America on the cusp of the New Year in the darkness gathered with friends on our front stoop (but I was secretly freaking out about what our neighbors thought). I feel it every year on Christmas morning.  It happens when I catch a glimpse of a rainbow or listen to the guitar solo during Hotel California.  You know what I’m talking about. You have your own thin places. Today, it is happening in spades. It’s these times where we listen with our souls, not just our ears, dive deeply into those parts of us that are kept quiet during the hustle and bustle of our lives, and maybe, just for a moment, feel God’s presence in a very palpable way.

Stay with me in this moment and enter into the sacred of both grief AND joy, heartache AND hope, confusion AND clarity. Why do we have all these seemingly contradictory emotions at the same time during times like this?  Just like all of us, Stephen is complicated. Both his life and death are a tangled, intricate weaving of both good AND bad. And who can attest to that better than Gail and Gary, his siblings? Just take a minute and think about your own. We each know all too well both the light AND dark sides of those we shared our home with. Siblings are the people who you would kill in one moment AND die for in the next. For Gail and Gary, this tragedy has made this all come front and center. During his life, Stephen kept mostly to himself and struggled with letting others in. On the other hand, there were glimpses when he would just let himself go and have fun in the moment (WATCH THIS “Best Holiday Party Performance” if you don’t believe me). He did not have many close friends, but he was very friendly. He didn’t seem to need others, but was there when they needed him. He had a hard time expressing his love at times, but his dogs made his heart come alive. He loved them unconditionally and they loved him the same way.  He struggled to be completely himself at times with his family, but he shone as a bright light and went above and beyond the call of duty both to care for and nurture his co-workers.

To be honest, Stephen’s death is just as complex. There are not a lot of answers from the doctors and from Stephen himself.   It’s hard to figure out what happened, why it happened, what could have been done to prevent it and why God allowed it. There’s even anger that this is just plain old wrong. And that is the truth. It is just plain old wrong. It would have been better if all the wrongs could have been made right, all the “I love you’s” could have been mutually shared, and there would have been the “happily ever after” ending. Normally, we don’t like to talk about this hard stuff. We want to paint a picture of perfection. But that’s just not true. The truth is that each one of us, just like Stephen, are a mixture of good AND bad, wonderful AND difficult, really, as Gail spoke of, an absolutely beautiful mess.

For years, I spent my life only living (or pretending to live) in the “beautiful,” the “good”, the “happy.” I dismissed the shadowy sides of pain, difficulty, sorrow and loss. After all, that’s the American dream, “up and to the right.” But I was missing out on half of my journey. Today, I understand and try to live in that tension of embracing the thought that my life and yours and Stephen’s is comprised of all of it. That’s what makes it truly a FULL life, one where we haven’t missed out on anything!

That’s why we have grief AND joy today. Grief over the loss of ability to make all things right here and now. Grief because Stephen is gone and there is no longer a physical future to be shared together. It would be strange if there wasn’t this grief.   Yet there is surprising joy at the memories shared, the funny stories that bring laughter even today. Grief AND joy. There is also heartache AND yet hope. Heartache over what might have been and will never be, yet hope at what’s to come as we believe we will see him again in the best possible place. Heartache AND hope. There is confusion AND clarity. As I spoke earlier, there is confusion over what exactly happened, what could have been done to prevent it and why God allowed it. But there is also great clarity today that life is really about love and kindness, joy and mercy, and family and friendship, which causes us to hold those we care for just a little bit tighter, make the wrongs right and speak the “I love you’s” before it’s too late. Lots of confusion AND yet undeniable clarity.

Stephen’s life-long legacy lives on in each of us, forever having changed the footprint of the world for good. He was truly one-of-a-kind, of infinite worth. We who are here and able to enjoy the future that is still with us are also utterly unique and priceless. It’s why this is all so important, this celebration. We don’t want to rush through the grief as it honors Stephen and the flowing tears continue to remind us that he is so loved and now so missed. But we also can embrace the celebration of a life well-lived, a man who, though imperfect, like each of us, was funny and kind and smart and truly and deeply loved.

One of the first questions Gail asked me that terribly sad Monday morning after Stephen passed away was what was it like for him now.  After all, he had his own personal demons (as we all do), but as Dooey stated, “he was such a great guy, Esther, you would have loved him the minute you met him.” His heart for his beloved wife and his furry friends was more than evident at every turn. His coworkers obviously adored him and looked up to him and miss him terribly.  He loved well and was loved in return.  The answer came to me about a week later as I was passing one of those imposing billboards on the Pennsylvania Turnpike that makes me cringe every time. It shouted in bold letters: “After you die, you will meet God.” There was some phone number you could call at the bottom to get the help you need to straighten yourself out before your impending doom. After all, God is angry with you and He’s got a score to settle. It all hit me like a ton of bricks and I asked God, “Is this really what you are like?  Do you want us to be afraid to meet you?  It all sounds like going to the principal’s office.”  In that moment, my heart settled and a gentle voice whispered to my soul. “I AM LOVE, ESTHER.  Change the wording.”   And so I did.   “After you die, you will meet LOVE.”  So different.  So healing.  So inviting.  God longs for and invites us into a relationship filled with love.  We do not have to be afraid to meet Him!

I have spent a lifetime trying to get to really know this God who created us, bestowed on each one of us, including Stephen, infinite worth and loves us, not because of who we are, but because of who He is. He can’t help Himself. He actually is LOVE. He really is. So what will it be like when we ultimately meet Him after our physical trappings are taken away? What was it like for Stephen? From what I understand today as I stand here before you, those thin places we enter into here and now will no longer be needed. The boundaries that stand between heaven and earth will be completely torn down.  The place where God is only palpable for a fleeting moment will turn into an eternity of endless moments. Stephen has come face-to-face with pure and unabashed LOVE, what each of us long for at the deepest parts of who we are.   So next time you see that dreaded billboard, hopefully my words will “haunt” you.  Yes, we will each meet God, but the deeper truth (or as CS Lewis calls it, “the deeper magic,”) is that we will meet LOVE, for God is LOVE.

So, Stephen, we salute you. We thank you. We miss you. You are truly, deeply loved. Anything that stood between you and understanding that in the fullest sense is now a temporary bump in the road, a glitch. It’s gone. We hope you are enjoying that love that you longed for all of your life.

ENJOY ONE OF HIS FAVORITE SONGS SUNG BY HIS NEPHEW SAM!

 

 

 

 

 

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 Family, Friendship, Grief, Motherhood

Cheers to You Cathy! (and your beautiful girls you loved so very very much)

“I am exhausted from trying to be stronger than I feel.” (Whisper Quotes)

April 14, 2017.  Good Friday.  “My beautiful daughters were killed in a head on collision on I-17 by no fault of their own. They died instantly and went home to be with the Lord.”

It’s been one year.  One year.  Hard to believe.  Hard to still fathom what happened and especially why it happened.  Losing one child is hard enough.  But losing both?  Horrible.

Cathy was one of my best and dearest friends in high school.  Our parents worked at the same mission organization and we went to the same church and youth group.  We both grew up in different parts of Africa so we had that in common.  We both had the middle name of Joy and we sang together in competitions under the name of Double Joy.  We had boatloads of fun, dated friends, were on our Bible quiz team, loved one another fiercely, and even got in some mischief together (like the time we were arrested because I pointed a dismantled BB gun out of the window of my car and an undercover policeman happened to see it…long story for another time).  I think my mom made me “break up” with her because of this (little did my mom know that I was really the one to blame and Cathy was the one who should have been breaking up with me).  Needless to say, Double Joy (and maybe Double Trouble) fit us perfectly.

After I left for college, Cathy went on in her career and then moved to North Carolina to become a highly successful mortgage loan officer and then top sales rookie for Aflac Insurance Company her first year.  During that time, she raised two beautiful girls, Karli and Kelsey, into wonderful adult women.  Karli went to Grand Canyon University and was about to graduate at the end of  April 2017 with a BA in Communications with plans to get her masters degree.  Kelsey was a Bio-Medical Premed student at Western Carolina University.  They both loved life, their Savior, their friends, their mom and one another!  Please read more HERE.

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In the early-morning hours of Good Friday, April 14, 2017, the girls were killed in a wrong-way crash.  Please check out the first news story HERE.  There are more links to come.

Photos, videos, condolences, tributes and a GoFundMe fundraiser immediately flooded social media on behalf of Cathy and her girls.  News stories from North Carolina and Arizona went viral.  Check them out HERE and HERE.

Three days later, April 17, 2017, Cathy posted:

“The past 72 hours have been more than I can bear and my sorrow and broken heart I can’t even share. So much I want to say but I still just can’t. My tears are many and my soul and body know no rest.”

The morning of the viewing:

“Tomorrow starts the worst 36 hours of my life.  I’m afraid to even go to bed because it means I have to wake up. I still struggle to breathe and function.  I ask for much prayer as I truly physically and mentally hurt more than I ever thought possible. Smarli and Smelsey, Mommy is here and will love you forever. My heart belongs to you both forever and my life will forever be unhappy because your smiles and laughter will not be seen or heard anymore on this earth. I’m jealous of those in heaven as they get to be near and with you: which is where I want to be. Mommy”

The day of the funeral:

“Today I bury my children, something a mother should never have to do. I ask for prayers every minute as I do the final task for my children today, the one last thing I can do for them as mommy. I will lift them up to the Lord and I will speak on their behalf.”

That afternoon, with the church packed to the gills, Cathy stood on stage for more than an hour, at times reading from notes, but more often speaking freely and telling stories about her girls.  She spoke haunting words to the audience, asking “Are You Listening?,” wanting others to heed the call of her girls’ tragic and undeserved deaths.  You can actually watch the Youtube video HERE.

Fundraisers all across Arizona and North Carolina popped up.  Richard Petty’s iconic #43 race car drove in honor of the girls.  Dutch Brothers Coffee in Arizona raised money.  A GoFund Me page was set up and more money poured in than expected.  Vigils were held.  Benches were dedicated.  Pictures were painted.  Videos were made.  Trees were planted.  Letters of support came from across the globe.

Only 10 days later, Cathy flew to Arizona and walked in Karli’s place at the Grand Canyon University graduation ceremony to receive her daughter’s diploma.  Check out this article and the following very touching interview.

 

 

 

In the painful weeks to follow, Cathy spent time with family, friends, Cathy’s kids (a group of several young adults who call her “Mom” and spent Mother’s Day with her) and her cats, found a plot of land to build K2 Ranch, a home she wants to invite others into in honor of the girls, and went to vigils and fundraisers.  She grieved often and openly, finding some purpose in their deaths.  Read more HERE.

Kelsey’s birthday, July 15, was marked by great grief and incredible joy as friends gathered to celebrate her:

“July 15, 1998.  Kelsey Mae Richardson was born. Intense labor and you entered the world screaming. Full head of hair, the famous eyebrows and the beautiful pouty lips: from day one you had it all. You grew into a incredibly smart, beautiful, full of life, talented loving young woman: only to have it all taken away in the blink of an eye.  From the moment I heard you to the moment I first held you, I loved you! As you grew and got mouthy, then extra sweet, then clingy, then adventurous and even more beautiful than ever, I loved you more. Your incredible mind made you uniquely different and as that developed I became your best friend: the one who really understood you and “got you”. Kelsey, I still “got you”!  You now have a future with the Lord God Almighty, and “He got you” way more than I do. HE is your protector now and your guide: watching you love and laugh as you run around heaven carrying Karli.  I know where you are today on your birthday, you are with Jesus, you are celebrating with the Most High. Tonight look down about dusk, I’m sending presents up to heaven to you tonight. You’ll love it and you’ll think to yourself: “aw, mom still has my back”. I gotcha Smelsey, I love you and miss you and I gotcha! Happy Birthday Kelsey, mommy loves you forever and always”

Eleven days later, the truth came out.  The girls had definitely been killed because of too much alcohol.  Cathy began to share their story anywhere and everywhere people would listen, at Kelsey’s college, on the radio, and through social media.  She desired (and still does) to inform others about the dangers and devastation of drinking and driving.

 

In late August, I had the chance to spend the day with this incredible woman.  We drove around with the top down in her fancy sports car and enjoyed the gentle breeze and the beautiful day.  She showed me her land and her plans to build K2 Ranch.  She shared endless stories about her amazing girls.  She took me to see Memorials that have been made and we even stopped in to visit local veterans at Richards Coffee Shop which houses Welcome Home Veterans Living Military Museum where she and the girls spent so much time and energy honoring those who have served and continue to.  We even stopped to see one of her clients that she “gave a talking to” about how his choices were bad for his health and his family, but that she was still going to try to get whatever money she could for him from the insurance company.  We ended our time with a wonderful dinner on a lake at her favorite local eatery and she still had time to drive me home and have a quick visit with my parents.  I was enamored by her.  Her grief was open.  Her spunk was not destroyed.  Her joy was unhindered.  Her love for others was evident.  Her heart was the same, filled with adventure and kindness.  She was all of those things at the same time and in the same moments.

More grief as her cat Ollie dies on September 12:

“I woke up to find the cancer had finally won the battle with my precious little Ollie. A year ago Ollie walked into my yard and rescued me. I didn’t rescue him, he rescued me. God knew this would be the year of my life that would forever change me, and He gave me this little guy to sit on me when I’d cry, sleep with me at night so I wouldn’t be alone, be silly and cause laughter and smiles. To be loved completely and greeted immediately: that’s my Ollie. What he gave was what humans just can’t give me this year.  He helped me to be calm when I was restless and lost. I love you Ollie and I’m so grateful for you saving me this year. Give kisses to Karli and Kelsey and tell them I miss them and love them.”

September 14, 2017

“Five months ago, God took you both home. I still don’t understand why but I’m trying. I struggle daily and some days are good and others unbearable. My heart is heavy but when I close my eyes I can feel your soft skin and smell your hair and feel it run through my fingers as I hug you tight and you hug me back. So brokenhearted today…”

September 17, 2017  Cathy spoke:

“I had the honor to speak at Western Carolina University on behalf of my beautiful daughter about the tragedies of drunk driving. It was a emotional night but I know God is using my beautiful girls for His glory and knowing this I will make it through life until one glorious day I have them both in my arms again.”

Cathy spent Christmas with her elderly mom, but it was an unimaginably hard day:

“1 year ago. Laughing and smiling and loving my life 100%!!! All I love around me. Never again will smiles be the same or a fully happy heart. God let’s me know they are happier than I can imagine but my heart is broken beyond imagination. Thank you for texts calls and emails. Knowing I’m prayed for and my children are not forgotten is one thing that warms my heart and makes me smile. May they never be forgotten. My soul will one day be full again when the Lord takes me home and I will feel them in my arms and hear their laughs and smell their hair and know that my babies are with me and we are together.”

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On New Years’ Eve, the reality of the night ahead pierced Cathy’s heart.  Too much drinking and possible driving tonight.  Other families will grieve as a result.  She warned:

“I pray you all READ and remember: SHARE this especially tonight.

This should never have happened. My incredibly smart, funny, loving and beautiful daughters should be ALIVE today! DRUNK DRIVING caused this, killed them and killed the drunk too! DO NOT DRIVE DRUNK TONIGHT!!! For EVERYONES sake DO NOT DRIVE DRUNK TONIGHT! No mother should get the knock on the door tomorrow morning like I did. If you think it can’t happen to you, it happens. DO NOT DRIVE DRUNK!!!!!!!!!!!”

Cathy’s birthday, January 7, is marked by another day of horror and beauty, brokenness and redemption:

“There was a plan that the girls devised, of how our older years would be and how the girls would take care of me.  Kelsey would work and make all the money.  Karli would watch all the children and clean Kelsey’s house and mine. I was the cook and financial planner. We would all live on 15 acres which Kelsey would buy with her “doctor’s” income.  Today, they are taking care of me but in a way that I wish I could change. I’d rather live in a tent than live without them! But today, they are building me a ranch house in the country to live and retire in. It will be handicap accessible and will protect and care for me.  Beautiful acreage and everything I could possibly ever need and want. They are providing for me and caring for me from above in a way I never thought of. It’s hard and emotional to build this.  I cry almost every time I go out to see it. People ask if I’m angry at God, and the answer is sometimes I am. I cry and I yell and I wonder why everyday. Yet, through all this He made sure I would still be cared for as I was left here on earth: they are caring for me and keeping their word and will forever provide for me till I see them again. My precious babies mommy loves you so much and I can’t wait till the Lord brings us back together again in heaven…”

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In February, we had lunch together as I was back in Charlotte to care for my mom.  She spoke of how she was doing, what was happening with the ranch, and listened to my stories with a kind heart.  Again, she was authentic and vulnerable, not sugar-coating her grief, but also filled with laughter, the same girl I had known my whole life.  It marked a wonderful three hours as we tried to eat healthy, but ended up having some treats, just like two 50-somethings would do when they went out to lunch.  So normal, yet so “not normal.”  It’s never normal to talk about your children’s deaths and all the after effects.

March 26, 2018, Karli’s 21st birthday, another speaking engagement and a cake made by a friend.  Another day of grief and beauty.

Good Friday, March 30, 2018:

“A few weeks ago I got permission from the new owners of our old home to remove a 10 year old Pin Oak tree that Karli and I planted when she was in 3rd grade. It was a sprig in a paper cup she brought home from school and insisted we plant. She watched over and watered and protected that sprig, and it actually began to grow.  I will be able to look out my back porch and see the tree that my little big girl and I planted years ago, and as it grows I will remember my little big girl who never gave up and believed that she could do anything she put her mind to.”

Same day, right before bed:

“Many of you have texted, called, messaged and done very kind things for me today: and I truly appreciate it all. It is Good Friday and last year the girls died on this day.  I struggle daily with so much. I remember day one, minute one, second one when each were born. How I long to go back.  April 14 will be the toughest, the actual day when 1 year will have passed without us laughing, hugging, talking, giggling, watching Scooby Doo, going to DQ and Pomodoros, watching movies with Gma, shopping and sharing in the life we had put together and loved so much. Karli I can’t stand it that I don’t get your constant Facetime calls, and Kelsey it’s almost unbearable to sit on the couch on Fridays now and know you aren’t going to walk through the door and surprise me with a weekend visit. God needed you and I don’t know why, but knowing how safe and loved you are up in heaven gives me the comfort I need to know I will see you again: I WILL SEE YOU AGAIN! Good Friday is a important day and when I think about it you both are so special and important it makes sense He would take you home on that day: you had to go and you both were so good and how honored to go home on the day the Lord did too. He will rise on Sunday, and because of that you rose out of your grave and are with Him: and someday I will be up there also and again we will laugh and hug and be together again, only this time forever. Nothing will ever again separate us once God brings us back together again. Pain and suffering, forever down here I will have, but Praise God for Easter as one day all suffering will end.”

 

April 7, 2018 “In one week it’s been a year. Breakdown today. I can’t take it.”

Sunday night, April 8, I sent her a message.

“I have felt so compelled to write a tribute to YOU this week on my blog. For a year, your heart has been laid out for all to see and especially the excruciating pain you have gone through. I have admired from near and far. I just want to give you a huge shout out, but wanted to get your permission first.  It will be a way to honor you, your heart, what you want to come of this and also your girls and their legacy. You are one beautiful soul, Cathy, and I want to honor you.”

 Her reply:

“Oh thank you Esther. How kind. I’d be honored and humbled.”

 

April 9, 2018  “Karli’s tree is doing beautifully if you look closely there are full buds on every branch of the tree is living just like Karli and Kelsey are living in heaven above mommy loves and misses you both so much.”

April 14, 2018  Cathy is currently in Arizona heading on a hike and a luncheon to honor the girls on the anniversary of their deaths.   A “Come Light a Candle Event” is taking place in North Carolina.  These girls were so loved and they are very missed.  This morning, her heart poured out again.

“I was reminded last week that Paul told us in Philippians that we all should run the race to receive the prize for the mark of the high calling. It hit me, it really hit me. God puts us here to run the race for Him and we are to run for Him and when we have won the race He put us on earth for, He takes us home.  God gave me two incredibly and wonderfully-made girls and by the age of 18 and 20, they had finished the race TOGETHER that God intended for them.  I sat there looking up to heaven with tears streaming down my face and all I could think of was ‘I get it!.’  They ran the race for the mark of the high calling and they won!  My children ran and they won!” 
So Cathy, here’s to you, sweet Mama, and to your beautiful and broken heart.  Your girls won their race and you are winning yours!  So many times, we wait until a funeral (really until it’s too late) to tell people how valuable they are and what they mean to us.  You did not do that with your girls.  You told them every day how much you loved them and what they meant to you.  I am learning that from you.  So today, I choose to tell you this:  YOU are the one left here and standing and sad and YOU are beautiful and important and wonderful.  I see you.  I hear you.  You matter.  You haven’t given up. You’ve been authentic and real in the heartache and struggle of it. You have questioned and trusted God through it all.  You’ve honored your girls in such a profound way. You’ve loved those around you.  I love you.  Cheers to you Cathy!
Posted in Celebration, Family, Friendship, Thanks

Best Friday!

“Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.” (Song of Songs 2:12)

For months now, the anticipation has been building!  The final countdown came about 10 days ago.  Last night, it came to fruition.  Yes, I know it was Good Friday, the day we Christians reflect on the unconditional love of God as found in the death of Jesus Christ.  But this Good Friday had been named “BEST FRIDAY” by my friend Jody several months ago when she planned her future wedding date.  “Come to my wedding on Best Friday,” was her invitation to her family and friends, Allen and I being among them.  “Can’t wait, Jody!” was my reply and I sent emojis and texts over the past few weeks reminding us both of the imminent celebration!

Jody is one of the members of my women’s group, the Beautiful Mess, that meets every Thursday morning.  She has been with us from the very first day over 11 years ago.  On that day, we found out that her dad and my mom were raised by missionary parents in the same small African country, working for the same small organization and actually had grown up together.  Immediately, we had a connection and an unbreakable bond.  I loved her from the start.  As I spent time with her, I found her bright, sunny smile, gracious heart, and super upbeat, yet laid-back disposition intriguing and delightful.  Her relationship with her four boys wins her the “best mom award” (as I playfully reminded them last night and heard no argument…in fact, they were all very quick to agree).   I am pretty fierce in my love for and desire to protect her.

Thanks to Jody, this phrase “Best Friday” has been reverberating in my head and heart for quite some time.  The excitement of the anticipation of something long-waited for has brought me sheer enjoyment.  Coupled with the fact that this “Best Friday” celebration marked the end of my 40-day fast, Jody would receive “her happily ever after.”  This put a huge smile right on my heart (and my face, I will admit). The fast had started the day after my birthday, one celebration, and was ending it with another.  I couldn’t have asked for better book ends.  And celebrate we did.  Dancing.  Food.  Friends.  Love.

I am so thankful for the fast.  I removed the external, physical pleasure for the sole purpose of internal, soul-level healing.  It brought me better health, both physically and spiritually.  It reminded me that I am much more than JUST the physical.  It’s a mystery to me how it works (even though I am confident that it definitely does) and I’m okay with that.

Richard Foster, in his book, Celebration of Discipline, speaks of all the “serious-side of spiritual growth” practices like prayer, meditation, solitude, fasting, etc.  They are valuable.  They matter.  But one of my favorite chapters is titled the “Discipline of Celebration.”  Wait?  What?  Celebration is a discipline in and of itself?  Why?

After last night, I am again reminded of why.  Why do we dance and cheer and weep for joy along with our friend who finds the love of her life?  Why do we buy balloons and ice cream cakes (which I am doing again today for our son Josh) to celebrate the birth of someone?  Why do we get dressed up, go to church, have egg hunts and gather with family on Easter Sunday?

Celebration says to others, “you are valuable, I choose you today,” not out of convenience, but actually with fierce intentionality.  It says, “I really know you and love you.  You matter.” 

Yes!  There are times for fasting!  The practice is invaluable.  In fact, I want to incorporate it into my week and not just go back to “business as usual.”  I want be reminded often of HOSANNA (God, Come Save Us!).

But yes!  Last night, on Best Friday, the time for fasting was over.  It marked the time for feasting and celebration!  At least for the three days this weekend!  Here goes!

Jody, you are valuable.  I love you.  What matters to you matters to me!  I celebrate with you!  As John said to me last night, “Jody is the best person I have ever met!  I promise you I will take care of her!”  How could I not do a little internal leap for joy  (and some external leaps as well for those of you who saw me dancing the night away) as I know you are fully-known and fully-loved by this man!  Yippee!

Josh, you are valuable!  I love you.  Your birth marks one of the best days in my life!  I hope that you find that we, as a family, celebrate all the facets of who you are.  You are truly one of a kind!  You are loyal, bold, curious, and determined, along with being super quirky!  You one of my favorite people in the whole word!  How could I not have tears welling up in the corner of my eyes as I write this!  Yippee!

Jesus, you are valuable!  I love you.  You matter!  Your fierce pursuit of me by your coming to earth, living among us humans, dying on that cruel cross and then overcoming the worst that humanity could do to you by rising from that death is the reason I have hope for the healing of my heart (and you readers out there by the way)!  I can’t wait to join my family to celebrate you on Easter Sunday!  I choose you!  Yippee!

Happy Easter to each of you!  Let’s celebrate together! (Even if it’s just on our screens!)

 

 

 

 

Posted in Friendship, Prison

Dear Kim (my letter to prison about what might really matter),

What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important. (Dwight Eisenhower)

Hey Kim,

Hope you are doing well.  Thank you so much for your letters.  Seems like your life is full of crazy stuff in the prison system, things I have no understanding of, nor comprehend how you tolerate, work through and actually still have peace and joy in the midst of them.  I can’t believe you’ve sent me four letters and I have not responded to any of them yet.  It makes me sad to think about that.  I wonder why I haven’t and why I’m sad.

I could give you the “excuse” that life has been a bit crazy lately and it would be true.  In the past month, I’ve spent time with my mom during her surgery, helped Sarah with the baby, had a power outage for a week from a major winter storm, helped Jared move into his apartment, looked for a new place to call home within the next two years (we need to downsize–our taxes and this big house are killing us), along with the normal things I do like manage our home and rental property at the beach, have some kind of exercise regimen, lead my women’s group and stay committed to our small group (both of which provide grounding and love), spend time in our marriage mentoring ministry while keeping our own marriage from falling apart, make time to write and keep up with my blog (that also keeps me processing and grounded) and try to maintain some kind of close relationship with God (my lenten fast being a huge thing right now – click HERE and HERE to find out more).

Just seeing all of that in print makes my head spin and I’m not surprised that I am a little exhausted and stressed.  My Word of the Year is “TEND” (for those of you reading my blog, I will be having an update right after Easter) and I’m not sure how it’s playing out in my life.  As I perused your latest card this morning, your words struck me right between the eyes of my heart.  I paused and re-read all four of your letters, reflecting on what might really really really matter and what I might need to “tend” to.  As I sit here and process, two huge things jump out.

First, the urgent often takes the place of the important.  The urgent are the things that supposedly need immediate attention:  endless “needs,” work, house stuff, emails, the “fires” of life, etc. etc. etc.  Many times, I have to respond quickly or they don’t get “fixed,” “checked off my list” or I have disappointed someone.  I’m not saying they shouldn’t be taken care of, or they aren’t good things, but oftentimes my focus needs to be shifted.  In all the flurry of the urgent, the truly important gets neglected:  my relationships and heart connection with people (people like you), my dream to bring hope and healing to myself and others and figuring out the avenue to do that best, and most importantly, a vital and deep relationship with God.  I miss what’s best for what’s good.

Sometimes I envy you in prison (click HERE and HERE to read more about Kim).  You take the time to make what genuinely matters matter.  I know you have great loss in not having external “freedom,” and I don’t take that lightly, but you seem to spend your time and energy on the larger things of life, not being encumbered by all the seemingly urgent things it takes to make life keep “humming along,” whatever that even means.  I would imagine you really miss the normal  parts of life and are envious of me at times as well.  As I read your letters and am getting to know you again, it seems like you just “get it” and see life through the lens of the important and not the urgent.  You’ve caused me to pause and listen to the cry of my own heart today.

Second, your encouragement from prison is baffling and beautiful.  Your letters remind me that it’s not our outer circumstances that dictate our inner life.  Nothing can touch our true selves and the hearts God has given us.  He is continually healing and bringing us into closer touch with His own heart, the best place of all (not the Women’s Correctional Institution or Stirling, NJ).  You penned that the SAME God who has consistently “held you in his loving arms as you have suffered the consequences of your own actions also holds” me too in all the things I am journeying through.  I was mildly taken aback.  What kind of person says those things (and more importantly believes them) in your situation?  The answer does not surprise me:  you are someone who understands the deep heart of forgiveness, mercy and grace of God like no one I have ever met before.  Your words today healed my own heart further and placed me right in the palm of God’s most loving and generous hand.  Thank you.  Thank you.

I am making plans to visit you (I am sorry they were thwarted this past time by your illness) because I want to take some time to set aside the urgent for the important and continue the path of relationship with you, one that we both believe has been one of the most redemptive and healing of the past year!  I miss you and can’t wait to see you again.

Much much love,

Esther

P.S.  To answer your question about being a grandma, it’s truly amazing!  Broden Bear is a fun little guy!   I love that your daughter sent you 265 pictures of your sweet granddaughter!  Yay for us!