Posted in Anxiety, Faith, Family, Friendship, Grief

Comfort, Comfort My People

US: We’re all a little afraid, God? Ok, some of us a lot afraid. Most of us are somewhere between freaking out and totally Zen, depending on the day, the hour, the moment. What are we supposed to do?

GOD: COMFORT, COMFORT MY PEOPLE.

US: You mean we’re not supposed to tell them not to be afraid?

GOD: COMFORT, COMFORT MY PEOPLE.

Don’t tell them not to be afraid. HELP them not to be afraid!

US: How should we do that?

GOD: You already are in so many ways, and I’m so grateful for that.

When you answer the phone and cry with a friend who has lost her job, YOU ARE.

When you drop a roll of paper towels off in mailbox for someone who is running short, YOU ARE.

When you hold your kids close who are now having nightmares, YOU ARE.

When you order a pizza from a restaurant who wonders if they are going to make it (and add a few dinners to go), YOU ARE.

When you pray for your coworker whose mom is in the hospital (and tell them that over and over and over), YOU ARE.

When you put stuffed bears in your windows for kids to see as they walk by, YOU ARE.

When you drop a note for your elderly neighbor, asking if they need anything, YOU ARE.

When you keep your distance if you’re out and about, yet greet people kindly, YOU ARE.

When you have a video conference call with your family to celebrate your son’s birthday, YOU ARE.

When you listen to your spouse’s rant about all the scary things that are going on inside her, YOU ARE.

When you collectively gather on the internet with your faith community and remind each other of God’s tender care, YOU ARE.

When you hold another’s heart carefully and tenderly, allowing for all the feels, YOU ARE.

US: Really? That will HELP them? That will HELP me? Not to be so afraid?

GOD: Yes. Yes. COMFORT, COMFORT MY PEOPLE.

Posted in Faith, Grief

What am I Doing About My Grief? And Yours?

In these unprecedented times, I have been asked over and over again, “What are you doing about ______________?”

I’ve been asked about food prep, my mental health, my routine, church, etc.

Because of this, I want to offer short videos answering those questions over the next several days, weeks, etc.

I plan to give you practical HELP and glimmers of HOPE as we navigate our new normal together.  I promise to sprinkle lots of HUMOR throughout as well.

Today, I am answering the question, “What am I doing about my grief?  And yours?”

JOIN ME AND FIND OUT.  (I know you have the time hahaha)

CLICK HERE!!!

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Faith, Family, Friendship, Grief

Sheer, Terrible Beauty

One very ordinary Thursday, a precious friend poured out her heart to me about her son’s death by suicide.

******

“She’s gone,” I heard my brother say on the other end of the line. “We sang and prayed with her.” His wife had succumbed to cancer on that fall Saturday morning.

******

I received a terrible phone call that my best friend from high school’s two daughters were killed in a wrong-way crash by a drunk driver. It was Good Friday.

******

“Do you want me to come over?” I asked my close friend as soon as she spilled the ugly news that her brother had taken his own life.

******

I could go on and on and on. Loss. Death. Unstoppable grief.

So much sadness. So little understanding.

Each person loved so fiercely.
Each tender one lost too early.
Each story shared bravely with me.

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Nothing is more sacred than to share another’s pain. It brings both great sorrow and surprising healing. Each time I enter into this very “holy ground” space, I count it as one of the greatest gifts I will ever know in this lifetime, the gift of another in their most vulnerable and real and raw place. Sheer, terrible beauty.

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

We share every part of this life together, including the great sorrows we face, arms and hearts wrapped around each other, each one of us helping the other hobble along toward redemption.

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Please feel free to share the first name of someone you have loved and lost in the comments. I would just like to hold the space for them today.

#grief #healing #hope

Posted in Childhood, Faith, Family, Grief, Motherhood

Mommy has canser (#leapday2016)

“Mommy has canser.”

“I went to the Turtle Back Zoo.”

“I like ice cream.”

Leap Day 2016.

Three short thoughts written as part of a letter I had my nine-year-old niece write in a letter to her future Leap Day 2020 self.

My eight-year-old nephew wrote one too.

Four years ago, these two every-day kids came to stay with me for several weeks while their mom was undergoing intensive treatment for “canser.”

Four years ago, they didn’t know if their mom would be here for Leap Day 2020.

Four years ago, they were kids whose favorite movies were Frozen and Star Wars (like every other tween girl and boy).

It’s now Leap Day 2020.

I sent my now twelve- and thirteen-year old nephew and niece their letters 500 miles away.

Four years have passed since those words were penciled on loose-leaf paper.

Four years, where they have endured the worst: the loss of their mom.

Four years, where my brother picked up the pieces and entered in a new normal without his wife to help him navigate the journey without her.

Four years, where my then 17-year-old niece (the “older sister”) gathered her own heart together and plugged away at her future as a nurse one painful and healing day at a time.

Four years, where this little family laughed and cried, played and worked, fought and made-up, just like the rest of us.

Leap Day 2016 feels like yesterday, those two kids sitting at my kitchen counter, their future unknown, penning words to themselves.

I didn’t know if heartache or hope would come before those letters were read four years later.

Yes, heartache came in like an untamed beast, threatening to rip this family to shreds.

BUT that is not the end of the story.

Four years later, I can say HOPE reached in louder as God took extra, tender care of this little family without their wife and mom.

Four years later, there are two budding teens who are smart and kind and full of life, with friends and pets and who still secretly like Frozen and Star Wars. HOPE.

Four years later, there is a man who has fought hard to help his family take their next right steps and love each other no matter what comes their way. He rocks as a dad! HOPE.

Four years later, there is a Registered Nurse, who trusted God and got up every morning to go to school, putting one foot in front of the other. She started her first job this month. HOPE.

Leap Day 2024.

Four years from now. What will life bring?

To my brother and his family?

To me and mine?

Frozen 3? Ten more Star Wars movies?

Laughter? Tears?

Work? Play?

Fights? Forgiveness?

Heartache?

Yes.

But, that will not be the end of the story.

HOPE will reach in louder.

God will take extra, tender care of us all.

#thereisgreathope #leapday2020 #herviewfromhome #hopewriters #dollymamanj

Posted in Anxiety, Faith, Family, Friendship, Grief

Fear Keeps Me…

Fear keeps me from loving deeply.

Fear of rejection.
Fear of losing myself.
Fear of embarrassment.
Fear of pain.
Fear of not being enough.
Fear of abandonment.
Fear of grief.
Fear of failure.
Fear of being swallowed up.
Fear of loss.

If I love deeply, every last one of those fears might come true. Many of them already have.

But, it’s a risk I am trying very hard to take every single day, no matter how afraid I am, because…

If I love deeply, I will also find ALL of these along the way:

Grace.
Life.
Kindness.
Intimacy.
Acceptance.
Tenderness.
Joy.
Goodness.
Empathy.
Peace.
Belonging.
Mercy.
Trust.
Healing.
And ultimately, LOVE.

Fear may win a few skirmishes here and there on the battlefield of my heart, but deep LOVE will win the war. That’s a guarantee from LOVE HIMSELF.

Posted in Family, Grief, Marriage

Broken Together

THIS HUSBAND OF MINE…

A man who with impeccable integrity.

A man who wants to be liked by all.

A man who gives his all until the end.

A man who wants peace (sometimes at all costs).

A man who keeps getting help.

A man who struggles to stay engaged.

A man who is kind.

A man who wrestles with anxiety.

A man who keeps fighting for healing.

A man who is broken in many ways.

 

THIS WIFE OF HIS…

A woman who loves fiercely.

A woman whose self-worth is often based on her performance.

A woman who wants others to have undeniable hope.

A woman who judges harshly (at times).

A woman who keeps getting help.

A woman who struggles with maintaining good boundaries.

A woman who is generous.

A woman who wrestles with anxiety.

A woman who keeps fighting for healing.

A woman who is broken in many ways.

 

THIS MARRIAGE OF OURS…

Two who love when it’s especially hard.

Two who hurt the other (even on purpose).

Two who muster up grace and forgiveness.

Two who judge and criticize little things even when we’ve vowed not to.

Two who voice our deepest fears to the other’s listening heart.

Two who keep trying to change the other.

Two who make space for the beautiful and the messy.

Two who share an unshakable faith in the Lover of their souls.

Two who keep fighting for healing.

Two who are broken in many ways.

 

BUT…

WE ARE NOT BROKEN ALONE.  THAT WOULD BE OUR UNDOING.

WE ARE BROKEN TOGETHER. 

STAYING TOGETHER. 

HEALING TOGETHER.

 


(Inspired by my friends at I Do Part Two and the song, BROKEN TOGETHER, by Casting Crowns.

 

Posted in Childhood, Faith, Family, Grief, Guest, Motherhood, Thanks

Reflections on the Bittersweet of Motherhood (from a Mom of a Dozen)

As the year ends…..and the New Year begins.

…reflections on Kahil Gibran’s “On Children” 31 December 2010 at 20:52 @ Copyright 2010 by my friend and fellow mom, Mary Cypher

I’ve always thought that Janus, the Roman god with two faces was an appropriate metaphor for this time of year.  It is good to look back and then forward at the same time, to take stock, to adjust expectations, establish objectives. This can be a time of celebration, of sadness, a taste of the bittersweet. It is so for me.

My Facebook status early last month was “My youngest greeted me with the words ‘This is your last day with a 6 year old!'”  It struck me that I’ve been a mother for 30 years and I am at the end of a season in my life.

I smiled as she spun and danced celebrating growing older, as only the very young do.  Quickly, a lump formed in my throat as I grasped that she really was quite big!  My baby was no longer so little.

In an age in which most people have 2.5 children, I chose to have a dozen.  I had tots and teens for a long time, and truly reveled in the experience; the delight of their discoveries, the pleasure of their innocence and guilelessness.

It has been my unadulterated joy to give my children love AND to share my love of knowledge, of language, literature, history, art, music, & nature with them.  Because, thank God, they too developed similar passions, we have had wonderful conversations and I am awed by the depth of character and the understanding that they have.

Now, I am forced to acknowledge that part of my life is over. Having shoved that realization to the back of my mind, even though it was still there percolating, Kahil Gibran’s poem,”On Children” came back into my thoughts during a quiet moment.

I smiled wistfully as I remembered how, as a 17 year old, I read these words with such a wash of relief:

“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

I remember feeling justified in pulling away from my immigrant parents and seeking my own identity, indeed, my own nationality.  These words particularly resonated within my 17 year old Self:

“You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”

” Yes!” I thought then.

How little I knew at that time that I would need the traditions, the values (if not the identity) of the heritage for which I had little use.  Little did I realize how sad it must have made my parents.

It’s a painful part of parenting, releasing the son or daughter that your heart still calls “my child”.  As a mother whose children range in age from 7 to 30 now,  I think how true the words from Gibran’s poem really are.

Their souls DO dwell in the house of tomorrow. As much as I love them, they stretch their wings, reaching for the sky, seeking to go forward, upward — to a place I cannot go.

Half of my offspring are young adults now, and I have come nearly full circle as I truly begin to understand the last stanza of Gibran’s poem:

“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

The sheer pleasure of having very little ones in my home is now a thing of yesterday.  A wonderful, special season, that I will always remember, but which belongs to yesterday.  I look at my youngest, who looks so much like me, and think,

“I must still be a stable bow for her and the rest who are still in the nest, that they may grow to be men and women who also will freely bend to the Archer’s Will.”

Posted in Celebration, Faith, Grief

Advent, The Howl of the Not Yet

O ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow…

The past few weeks have been marked by much suffering for those I love.  The pain seems overwhelming: a cheating spouse, soul-crushing anxiety, an ex-husband who seems bent on destruction, an out-of-nowhere heart attack, a teen in the struggle of his life with substance abuse, babies who are stuck in the NICU, my own grief over huge life-changes and financial struggles that seem insurmountable.   You get it.  You might be in the middle of it.  Like me, your thoughts are shouting, “How long?  How much?  Why?  Why especially right now?”

I love the holiday season.  From November 1 to January 1, like many of yours, our house is filled with decorations, food (and way too much of it, as my waistline is currently showing), family, friends, celebration, and traditions.  Along with these external manifestations of the season, there are also the underlying inner emotional expectations of gratitude, wonder, joy, peace, love, hope and generosity, to name just a few.  (A quick confession:  I like this paragraph more than the first one.  I want to live here.  I want all good things, happy thoughts.)

The four-week period leading up to Christmas morning is commonly known as Advent.  It’s Advent right now.  Shauna Niequist says,

“Advent is about waiting, anticipating, yearning.  Advent is the question, the pleading and Christmas is the answer to that question, the response to the howl.  There are moments in this season when I don’t feel a lot like Christmas, but I do feel a lot like Advent.”

Advent speaks about and grieves broken places that are yet to be healed, questions that have no answer today, and yearning that is unfulfilled.  However, Advent ALSO gives a glimpse of hope at the end of a long season of waiting.   Advent says there is suffering and it is real, palpable.  But Advent ALSO reminds us there is promise of healing, just as real and palpable.  Advent says “do NOT skip over the suffering.  Do NOT minimize the heartache.  Sit in it, acknowledge it, and feel it.”  This is not an easy place.  I struggle with Advent.  I have difficulty sitting with the grief, the waiting, acknowledging and feeling it.  I skip right to Christmas morning, the happy place, where the answer is here and salvation has come.  As Emily Freeman says, “I rush to joy.”

Skipping right to Christmas does NOT work in the end.  Rushing to joy does NOT take away the pain.  It does NOT prevent bad things from happening (I was in the ER this past weekend to prove that point…I am fine now).  It does NOT bring true healing.  Advent might be the better place that brings lost-lasting healing.  Advent speaks the deeper truth of heartache and hope, suffering and a savior.  Both are needed in this beautiful, messy life of ours.

God seems to do some of His best work during the seasons of “Advent” in our lives, the waiting periods, the not-yet times.  Especially if we look for those who will “sit with us in the dark,” when we can’t see the light, those who will venture into the not-so-pretty places with us and remind us that we are not alone, Immanuel is coming and has come and will stay with us for as long as it takes until we can see “Christmas” on the horizon.

We still have more than two weeks until Christmas.   Let’s not skip to it.  Let’s stay in the not-yet, the place of anticipation.  Let’s dive into the questions, the grief, the “howl,” the yearning of both ourselves and those we love.  Let’s be okay in the waiting.  Christmas will come soon enough.  A baby will be here.  A Savior will come.  What is empty will be filled.  Heartache will be healed.  Yearning will be fulfilled.  What is broken will be repaired.  What we’ve lost will be found.  But in the meantime, we wait together, not forgetting the howl of our hearts.

Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing!

(It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Fourth Verse)

Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Faith, Family, Grief, Motherhood, Thanks

It’s Strange Here

I sit by my fire alone.

It’s strange here.

A year ago, my third-born was bursting through the door, overstuffed college laundry bag in hand, ready for a week of “rest” in the “best bedroom ever,” along with eating the ultimate “Taylor ham and egg on an everything bagel” sandwich every morning of his time with us.

This afternoon, I was driving him to the airport.  He is off to see his younger sister 2,726 miles away on the left coast.

A year ago, I was picking up my exhausted college baby girl up at the same airport, joy filling my heart as we chit-chatted on the way back to a house filled with family.

Today, my phone buzzes. “Can you send me Josh’s flight info?  Also, can I have the famous jello salad recipe?  I’m going to make it for Thursday.”  She is headed to buy the ingredients to make her favorite Thanksgiving dish at a grocery store I don’t even know the name of.

A year ago, my oldest fed her baby our family-secret sweet potato casserole in the same booster seat we used for her, surrounded by oohs and aahs from cousins and great-grandparents.

On her commute home from teaching second-graders earlier, she chatters away on the phone.  “When do you leave, Mom?  I’m hoping to get my grad school papers done on Friday.  We are just going to eat out with my mother-in-law on Thursday.  I might make the family-secret sweet potato casserole just to have leftovers.  ”  Her two-year-old babbles in the background, “I want to go that way.  I have a raccoon sticker.  I see a tractor.”

A year ago, the second child of my heart was on his way home from a land far away, new puppy in tow, ready to cuddle up on his favorite sofa, eat his favorite NJ pizza, and see his favorite friends.

“Just landed in Florida.  I hope you have a wonderful week” lights up across my laptop screen on Sunday morning.  He’s with his girlfriend spending the holiday with her family.   I can’t even tell you what town he is in.  Maybe somewhere near Palm Beach.  Not sure.

I sit by my fire alone.

It’s strange here.

Feelings bubble to the surface, unlike any I’ve had before.  I’m not sure what to make of them.

Thanksgiving has been together for 27 years.  The three of us.  Then the four of us.  Then the five of us.  Then the six of us.  PLUS, a whole bunch (and I mean a WHOLE BUNCH) of other family and friends and anyone who wanted to join the mayhem.

Pies.  Parade.  Mashed potatoes.  Dog show.  Family-secret sweet potato casserole.  Puzzles.  Turkey.  Football.  Ham for those who hate turkey.  Cousins.  Gravy.  Games.  The famous jello salad.  Beer-tasting.  Pictures (the one at the top of this website being last year’s).

I sit by my fire alone. 

It’s strange here.

No overflowing shopping bags filled with cranberry sauce and giant foil roasting pans.  No beds being prepped for guests.  No Costco runs for last-minute hors d’oeuvres.  Not even one decoration in sight except a pumpkin candle burning slowly behind me.

My husband, away on business, calls in the middle of all the feelings.  “You’re alone.  How are you?”

“I’m okay.”  I say.  “I like it in many ways.  I am glad for tonight.  But I’m glad I will see you soon.”

Tomorrow, I hop on a plane myself to spend a few days with my parents.  My man hops on his own plane the next day to join me.  I won’t be alone for long.

But right now, this alone thing gives me space.  Space to sit with my Savior and sort out this new normal I find myself in.

This new normal filled with sorrow that I am not seeing ANY of my four children.  To shed the tears that need to flow.

This new normal filled with thanks that I am seeing my parents, my groom and a grieving childhood friend.  To allow a warm smile to curl to my lips.

This new normal filled with bewilderment that this is actually where I find myself on the journey (I think Costco might send a search party).  To sit quietly, a questioning “hmmm” filling my thoughts.

This new normal mostly filled with hope that I might have just done this mom thing okay.  To embrace the idea that my kids are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing:  building lives of their own, going on new-found adventures, loving those they are with and best of all, making family-secret sweet potato casseroles and famous jello salads.

I sit by my fire alone. 

It’s strange here.

But it’s really good. 

I am grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Celebration, Family, Grief, Marriage, Motherhood, Thanks

Kitchen Table, I Will Miss You Most of All

Kitchen Table,

Here I sit on one of your chairs, spending some much-needed time with you today.   What a mess you are, strewn with apples just bought at the farm stand, my purse, books I am reading, an open cereal container, a dirty plate filled with the remains of eggs and toast, my phone, some unpaid bills and a piping hot cup of tea.

You couldn’t be more perfect.

I am so sorry that I am not bringing you with me next week when we move.

You have been such a strong, yet inviting friend to me.  Out of everything I am leaving behind, I will miss you most of all.

I will miss choosing you at the furniture shop over 28 years ago, my thoughts of the future with you swirling in my head.

I will miss decorating you for every.single.reason.  From apples to pumpkins to snowflakes to birthdays to easter eggs to whatever tickled my fancy.

Josh 4th Bday_0004

I will miss babies being pulled up in their high chairs next to you, surrounded by faces of those who love them.

I will miss the spinning lazy Susan in your middle that holds napkins, salt and pepper, the standard balsamic vinaigrette, butter and some spicy seasoning I refuse to try.

IMG_1017

I will miss dogs licking up all the crumbs off the floor beneath you.

I will miss spaghetti-faced toddlers “coloring” you with red sauce.

I will miss sheets turning you into a fort for Dad and his little ones.

Making Fort_0001

I will miss the small missing piece on your leaf where one of us dropped something hard and you paid the price.

I will miss your chairs where each one of us sat in our “assigned” places.

I will miss dishes being set on you for large family gatherings where you became the “kid’s table.”

I will miss laughing and crying, listening and talking, whispering and yelling, all of it.

I will miss nails being painted, pumpkins being carved and homework assignments being mostly finished on top of you.

I will miss the dreams shared, the scoldings given, and the “you have to try it” mantra being repeated every single night.

I will miss friends throwing purses on you and coats on your chairs as hearts were shared in another room.

I will miss birthday parties with cupcakes crumbled in your crevices and balloons tied to your chairs.

Jared's 7th Bday_0004IMG_5672

I will miss Thanksgiving soup being prepared as veggies and turkey were chopped into tiny pieces on your very sturdy, formica (but wood-look) top.

I will miss the way you endured beer-sampling, game-playing and appetizer-eating on all those crazy extended family holidays.

I will miss arguments, raised voices and quieter apologies with you right there in the middle of it all, holding us together.

I will miss how you held Easter baskets, babies, fondue sets, games, legos and gingerbread houses, displaying for everyone to see.

I will miss flowers, invitations and decorations scattered all over you as showers and weddings were being prepped.

I will miss normal family dinners when someone got trouble for poking the person next to them.  (NOTE:  It was never Dad.)

I will miss how you watched from afar as silly pictures were being taken on the computer only a few feet from you.

I will miss Friday pizza nights when you were sprinkled with paper plates and plastic cups filled with everyone’s favorite drink of choice.

BUT what I will really miss is the way you stayed with me through six kids, four houses, one marriage, lots of hellos, many goodbyes, and all the celebrations and sadness that made up our family.  You stayed with me.

How good and precious for me to be alone with you right now, just the two of us, saying our goodbye to each other.  Thank you for being with me as tears sneak down my cheek, a lump forms in my throat and I not-so-secretly hate leaving you behind.  I couldn’t be more grateful to you.  Thank you.  Thank you.   You have held my heart well.

You have been a mess in the past.  You are a mess right now.  But you have been perfect.  You couldn’t be more perfect.

I will miss you most of all.

Esther