It can feel like HATE is winning. Fear creeps into our skin and buries deep within us, tearing our souls in shreds. Despair tangles her knots around our spirits, attempting to blow out the tiny flickers of hope we carry inside.
Hate is NOT winning. It will never win.
LOVE is winning. LOVE will always win.
LOVE WINS WHEN A…
…mommy and daddy hold their newborn and shout, “We are so in love!” on social media and then take 1,345,428 pictures for the next year.
…married couple look deep into each other’s hurting eyes and say, “We will fight for each other. Let’s go to a counselor.”
…toddler giggles at the sight of their aunt coming in the door, arms filled with gifts that only she can get away with giving.
…friend texts in the middle of the day and says, “I’m here. Call me day or night.”
…teacher pulls her “spicy” student aside, and says, “I believe in you.”
…top executive makes his way to an inner city soup kitchen on a Friday night in the pouring rain.
…garbage collector rings your doorbell to remind you it’s Tuesday because your trash cans are still in your garage and then waits until you go running downing the driveway in your jammies with said cans flailing behind (#personalstory)
…gangly middle-schooler takes a risk to befriend the new kid who moved into the neighborhood.
…hospice worker cares tirelessly, going many extra miles, for the victim of a dreaded disease.
…person on the “other side” shares these words, “I hear you. I see your point of view.”
…boss reminds a new and confused worker that failure is part of eventual success.
…grandpa plays “peek-a-boo” for the 48th time in the last 10 minutes.
…customer in the grocery store line steps aside and says, “Go ahead of me.”
…Savior sends a gorgeous rainbow to remind us of his promise never to leave us or forsake us.
…mechanic takes the time to help a stranger in need in the middle of Kansas on a cross-country trek (#anotherpersonalstory CLICK HERE)
…victim chooses forgiveness over revenge
…knowing smile that says, “me too,” sneaks to the lips of a stranger across the room.
…doctor takes the extra minute in the room and says, “I’m here to help. You will not fight this alone.”
…roommate utters the precious words, “I’ll do the dishes tonight.”
Overwhelming peace quiets our desperate souls. Hope is lit brightly again far down in our fledgling spirits.
“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?
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)
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?
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?
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!
“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
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
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,
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.
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!
“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!
Fellow writers, editors and podcasters like Afton, Janis, Gail, Annie, Sarah, Debbie, Tracy 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.
Sharing at church about marriage mentoringand 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.”
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!!
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!
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.
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“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.
“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!
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!