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 Anxiety, Faith, Health, Uncategorized

Redeeming Hypnopompia

“This is my Son, Whom I love.  In Him I am well-pleased.”  (God the Father)

How do you wake up each morning? Slowly, stunned and disoriented? In a panic, your heart racing? Do you set an alarm and jump out of bed or hit the snooze button over and over? Do your thoughts feel dull or does your mind immediately race to all that you have to accomplish? No matter how it happens, there seems to be a tiny window between being fully asleep and fully awake, those brief moments (or even seconds) when it’s somewhat in the middle of the two.   Experts call it hypnopompia (which roughly means “to lead out of sleep”) or liminal space. It’s the precious time before you’ve accomplished anything.

To be honest, the very first thing I’ve done for a long time is reach for my phone.  After all, the “EstherGizer Bunny” has much to achieve and I can check my emails, weather, social media, to-do list and FitBit sleep status right away (I actually have to sleep correctly too…what are we coming to?).  I can start my day on the right foot, alert and organized.  I can even check off some of those pressing tasks on my to-do list with my pillow still under my head.  I have no time for this liminal space.  It’s no wonder I wake up with heart racing and in a panic.  Who wouldn’t?

Until about a month ago.  I started to read Tish Harrison Warren’s book, Liturgy of the OrdinaryShe speaks of these fleeting, fuzzy moments upon waking.  “Whether we’re children or heads of state, we sit in our pajamas for a moment, yawning, with messy hair and bad breath, unproductive, groping toward the day.”  We have yet to do anything.  Who are we in those moments?  Who am I in that space, without my never-ending to-do list and my hope to “get-‘er-done?”

Tish brings me back to the story of Jesus Himself.  A gentle reminder.  He lived 30 years as a regular guy in a regular town in a regular job.  No one would say His life was earth-shattering.  10/11ths of His life on our spinning globe are barely recorded.  Certainly not much of any import.  And at the end of three decades and before his “big three years,” as He was being baptized, a simple dove flew over Him…DON’T MISS THIS…and the voice of His Father shouted words of APPROVAL over Him, “This is my Son, Whom I love. With Him, I am well-pleased.”  This was all before what many would deem “world-changing.”

He was APPROVED of and loved before He ACCOMPLISHED anything. 

This beautiful and hard-to-soak-in new idea is redeeming my hypnopompic time.  I spoke with a friend who sets an alarm clock 20 minutes before the “real” one goes off so that she can spend that cozy, quiet space resting in the notion that she is completely loved and approved of by God before she earns anything.  Amazing!  It’s all the same for Jesus, my friend and FOR ME!

I am APPROVED of and loved before I ACCOMPLISH anything!

So tomorrow morning (and hopefully all the mornings after that…or at least more of them) before you get your head together, before you check your phone and respond to some urgent request, before you shower and primp, and before you head into your day’s activities where you will accomplish many things, take those fleeting, fuzzy moments (and hopefully I will too) receiving God’s unending and unchanging love and APPROVAL for you.

Soon enough, you will be about your morning.  Brushing your teeth.  Checking your phone.  Helping loved ones out the door.  Putting a load of endless laundry in.  Heading off to your endeavors.  Your day will be filled with all kinds of earning: your paycheck, your friends’ approval, your spot in the grocery store line, your promotion, even your own standards.

As we wake with messy hair and bad breath, let’s “lead ourselves out of sleep” with the gentle, loving approval God wants to pour over us as we start our day.

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have placed my trust in you. Show me the way to go, for to you I entrust my life.” (Psalm 143:8)

From my heart to yours.


As always, feel free to like, comment or share! Especially out on social media (or here)!

Posted in Faith, Family, Marriage, Uncategorized

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

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

The first marriage story ever told goes something like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Girl acts from that place of disconnection from God.

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

BOY: “Okay. Sounds great to me.”

Boy acts from the same place of disconnection from God.

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

GOD: “Where are you boy and girl?”

BOY: “I am hiding from you.”

GOD: “Why?”

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

GOD: “Why girl?”

GIRL: “Someone else made me do it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

 

Family of Origin

Fidelity

Flaws

Faithfulness

Forecast

Friendship

Fighting

Posted in Family, Health, Marriage, Uncategorized

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

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

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

Allen is kind and gracious. I am sarcastic and I like to say, discerning (others may call me a bit judgmental). Allen is a hard-worker, quiet and reserved. I am quick-witted and loud. He is methodical and analytical.  I am passionate and decisive. Allen is a supporter and a peacemaker. I am a leader and aggressive. As you can see, blending our personalities lends itself to conflict.  It is inevitable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


CHECK OUT THE FIRST SIX “Fs”

Family

Fidelity

Flaws

Faithfulness

Forecast

Friendship

Posted in Family, Marriage, Uncategorized

The Tale of Our Three Marriages (THE BIG REVEAL)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank God He didn’t leave us there.  It all “hit the fan” at the end of those 10 years.  Our first marriage came to an abrupt end.  With the help of some friends, Allen took a huge risk and shared some of his “not-so-perfect” stuff with me.   I would love to tell you that I returned his risk with the reward of kindness, understanding and grace.  Not so much.  His reward was judgment and anger.  After all, I liked my perfect, cookie-cutter world, where we were “godly” people and had a picture-perfect marriage and family.

Over the next months, my heart began to slowly change.  Allen’s risk affected me.  I was free to explore the ways I was hiding, the “not-so-perfect” parts of me.  For the first time in our marriage I felt safe and free to share those things with him.  If he wasn’t perfect, then I didn’t have to be either.  What a relief!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are links to my other posts about Marriage:

Family

Fidelity

Flaws

Faithfulness

Forecast

Friendship

 

 

 

 

Posted in Family, Friendship, Marriage, Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FOOFidelityFlawsFaithfulnessForecast

Posted in Childhood, Family, Motherhood, Uncategorized

My “Top 10” Epic Mom Fails (With Help from My Kids)

“Some days I amaze myself.  Other days, I put laundry in the oven.”  (Moms Everywhere)

I am not sure if you will be horrified or happy when you read these.  I mostly hope you feel like you aren’t the only one.  HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!  Here goes nothing (make sure you read with snarky voice in your head):

  1. Letting nine-month-old “cry it out” during nap for 45 minutes only to find both legs stuck between crib rails after “giving in” and checking on baby (this was the olden days when this could actually happen).
  2. Allowing (almost encouraging) 21-month-old to give “propped up” three-month-old sibling a ride in walker, smashing infant into kitchen cabinets, laughing hysterically and doing it again and again.  (I hope I am remembering this wrong, but I doubt it.)
  3. Forgetting about “RED DAY” in child’s kindergarten class.  Only kid not wearing any red (except for a tiny spot on sneaker that child very sadly pointed to in desperation when the teacher asked what red they were wearing).
  4. Leaving eight-year-old eating chips and watching movie in van with engine running, while watching freshman field hockey (van was kind of visible from side-line locationChecked on child at half-time).
  5. Finding that our fourth child made own “memory verse chart” complete with stickers.  (Believe this:  there were numerous charts for the older three.  One of the “OhMyGoodnessThisIsCrazy” moments of parenting!)
  6. Forgetting to inform “pet sitter” about two tree frogs for week-long, very hot, summer vacation.  End result:  crispy critters.
  7. Making 12-year-old babysit for 14 (yes, you heard that right) younger kids in basement while five couples have “Bible Study” upstairs for 2 hours every other week.   (Reminded this week that 10- and 11-year-olds were hot-gluing sequins to their heads in said basement and forcing the 4- and 5-year-olds to be their servants.)
  8. Leaving two middle school boys home alone with all the necessary equipment to make a blow torch in garage (think water gun, gasoline, and a BIC multi-purpose lighter).
  9. Picking up tipsy teenager from a party and driving at midnight to Walmart to get a breathalyzer to no avail.  Driving around until 1 am searching and finding a police officer, asking him to give test (NOTE:  police officer did not comply).  Driving home making threats of grounding for life.
  10. Standing in driveway holding on to the hood of college student’s car, supposedly preventing college student (in mild – okay not so mild – argument with) from leaving.  Doesn’t work (shocker).  College student gets out and leisurely walks down street to awaiting friend’s car, while yours truly is screaming “don’t come back.”  Topping it off, our neighbor most likely sees the insanity unfold in all its glory.

I hope this has brought you much laughter and grace for yourself and all the other moms you know (especially me).  I need grace and kindness and love and to be told it will all be okay and we are all just a little desperate and nuts sometimes!  Happy Mother’s Day to those of you who love your little, or not-so-little-anymore, kids and grownups.  You are doing a great job (and if you aren’t today or weren’t yesterday or might not tomorrow, take a moment to laugh at yourself just a little).  

(SINCE I’VE PUT MYSELF OUT THERE AND FEEL BASICALLY LIKE I SHED SOME OF MY CLOTHES IN PUBLIC, I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR ONE OF FUNNY EPIC FAILS!  PLEASE COMMENT HERE OR GO BACK OUT TO SOCIAL MEDIA AND COMMENT THERE.  I NEED SOME GOOD LAUGHS TODAY!)

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Posted in Uncategorized, Word of the Year

How’s My WOTY? (And Yours? Even Your WOTQ?)

A Word of the Year is “intended to be a kind guide that walks along side of you during the year, not a harsh master that dictates a set of “to-do’s” (God knows we don’t need any more of those voices in our heads).  It’s a friend that accompanies you during your journey.”  (The Dolly Mama)

Three months have gone by.  Winter is moving out like a sloth, but 2018 is barreling down the tracks like a freight-train.  My Word of the Year (referred to lovingly as WOTY from here on out), “TEND,” silently shouts from my computer screen each time I sit down to send an email, check Facebook or do paperwork (the picture above is my background).  There are some days when I stop and listen and others where I just glance and shut it out of my mind and move on with my day.

Because I am an avid to-do list follower (okay sometimes I am a slave to it), “WRITE UPDATE POST ABOUT WOTY” appeared on my iPhone reminders about a week ago.  Inside, I sighed a little and thought, “Nah.  Not happening.  After all, what would I even talk about?  It’s not like this “gentle friend” has been happily guiding me and I have this awesome relationship with said friend.

But here it is, my Sabbath, the day I make “room” on my plate to ponder things like this and allow restoration and creativity to enter my soul.   And today, I am spending on this word “TEND” once again.  Come with me on this journey over the next few hours.  Take a peak into my probably not-going-to-be-perfect day.

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9:56 am  Check out my piece of paper that I scribbled all over on January 1, 2018 in order to find my WOTY.  First question at the top.  WHAT DO I NEED?  Get out another piece of paper.  Write “WOTY Update April 2018” at the top.  Ask myself the same question.  Scribble some things down.

Peace.  Wisdom.  A house that’s in order.  More connection with Allen.  Clear direction on next steps with this whole blog/writing/communicating thing.  Support from others.  The sun.  My kids to be okay.  To “TEND” to the right things – to find the balance between others and self. Compare notes.  Many are the same.  Some are different already.   I wonder why.

(Take a break and make first cup of tea with cream and sugar in 46 days.  (It’d better be all I dreamed it would be.)  Be back at around 11.  Need to go sit and stare and drink for a while.)

(Tea is okay and I am distracted by phone call from insurance company and FaceTime with Sarah and Broden.  Flip on TV and watch CSI for 15 minutes.  Tell myself this isn’t what I want to be doing right now.  Turn off TV and come back to paper.  After all, I am going to write this down and share with world.)

10:43 am  See next question.  WHO DO I WANT TO BECOME?  Add this:  WHAT DO I WANT TO BECOME?

WHAT?  Wise, gentle, tender-hearted, less judgmental and more gracious.  Integrated.  Free.

WHO?  A better wife.  An influential communicator.

(Rachel walks in the door after breakfast with Allen.  Have a sweet heart-to-heart for a few minutes.  Insurance company calls back.  Sabbath is hard to come by.)

Compare notes again.  Notice that tender-hearted, wife and communicator are on both lists.  They must be important this year.  How does “TEND” fit in to them?  Hmmm.  Let me think on that.  No rushing.

(Pee and send a “happy birthday” message to my sweet friend Annie!  Make myself a smoothie.  Watch more CSI while I drink my smoothie.)

(Didn’t work out so great watching CSI.  Sarah needed me for a few minutes. #babiesarehard)

12:26 pm  Look at definition of “TEND” again.  “To apply oneself to the care of, watch over, cultivate.  To stand by something.  To take charge of as a caretaker, overseer.”  Those three words:  tenderhearted.  wife.  communicator.  Am I to tend to these God?  Oversee them?  Take charge of them?

The phrase, “GO DEEPER BEFORE YOU GO WIDER” keeps coming into my mind and heart.  I can’t seem to shake it.  How does that play in?  Half-thought:  Roots of plants need to go deep into the rich and nourishing soil (see pic above) before they go wide and bear fruit.  I want so desperately to bear fruit, but I probably need to “tend” to receiving the rich nourishment from God Himself in the deep places of my soul first.  Sarah had that whole phrase in college from Colossians 2:7 about this very thing.  “BE ROOTED (in Christ).”  More hmmm.

(Call insurance company back.  Check in on Sarah again.  All is well there.  Lay down and finish this one dang episode of CSI.)

(A friend texts.  Ask her if she can wait a little while before I call her back.  Head back to process.)

1:41 pm  Review my final notes in the process of choosing my WOTY.  Rewrite all the “tend” things that I don’t want:

preTEND – ingenuine
conTEND – try harder 
(doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know this just does not work)
disTEND – enlarge from internal pressure (this goes along with try harder…ugh!)
hyperexTEND – expand beyond a safe point (this is the hardest for me)

Also, rewrite the things I do want:

atTEND – be present
exTEND – make wider 
(Be careful on this one.  Deeper before wider.)
inTEND – direct mind on

I think I am done for this quarterly check-in.  My heart is directed to these three:  tenderhearted (oh my goodness, that even has the word TEND inside it), wife (be present, go deeper and direct mind on this one), and communicator (write to “express not to impress”).  I believe I might just be friends again with my WOTY.  I need to take a nap now (but first, that phone call with a friend who needs some tending…I know it’s my Sabbath, but I’m not the most perfect at keeping it as you’ve all just witnessed).  Then a much-needed nap.

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UPDATE SAT 7:38 am

I am glad that my iPhone reminder app did its job this week.  I needed the little kick in the pants to stop avoiding my WOTY and check in (as scattered as it was).  I want this to be your kick in the pants (I mean tender push) to do the same.   Some of you are thinking, “I never chose one.”  It’s not too late for this kind of friendship.  With winter slowly fading into the background (please God, let it be so), there’s never a better time than spring for new thoughts and renewed hope!  You could do a WOTM (word of the month) or even a WOTQ (word of the quarter).  Just follow the steps I outlined for myself in January by clicking HERE.  And if you are renewing your relationship with the one you’ve already chosen, I hope this post is your gentle guide as to a super realistic and very “not-so-perfect” way to approach it.  I would love to hear from you what happens, from your heart to mine!

Do me a huge favor and go back and “Like” my post if you came from social media!  It’s one of the ways I can get more views (I guess only do that if you actually like it…LOL)!

 

 

Posted in Faith, Friendship, Prison, Uncategorized

A Letter from Prison and a Journey to Freedom

“Inner slavery is even worse than outward slavery.  Inner freedom is even better than outward freedom.”  (Kathryn Lindskoog)

By the amount of sheer clicks and views on my post about my friend Kim who killed her husband, I know many of you read her story a few weeks ago.  (If you didn’t, check it out here first before going ahead, but don’t forget to come back.)  I was thrilled that I received views, but somewhere inside me I knew that it was partly because of the mind-boggling nature of the post.  I would have clicked as well just out of curiosity.  Today, however, I hope that even if you did come again to quench the thirst of an inquisitive mind, you will find a greater satisfaction for your spirit.

My friend Kim and I have become pen pals.  Snail mail is a slow process, especially with prisoners, because all mail is opened and read before reaching the other person.  It can take about two weeks from penning the letter to the opening and reading of it on the other end.  In a world where immediate communication is just a text, email or phone call away, this has been an exercise for me in carefully thought-out words on paper and eager anticipation of a reply as I wait patiently for up to a month to hear back.

My second letter came about two weeks ago.  It was the first since visiting her in prison.  I had written her a long letter and sent her a copy of the blog post I had written about her.  She was responding.  As I read the letter, I began to weep with joy over the words that came flowing off the paper.  It was as if I was perusing something straight out of the best book I had ever read, where wrong is made right and goodness wins over evil, something my soul longs for at the very core of it.

Two girls in a dorm room, sharing secrets and dreams late at night while the campus goes to sleep.  Two massively different external stories.  One girl goes on to raise a “normal” family and live a typical American life.  The other kills her husband and heads to prison for 20+ years.  What could we possibly have in common 30+ years later?

Kim writes…  (Get a cup of coffee.  Sit back.  Don’t skim.  Go slowly.  Breathe her deep wisdom into your soul.)

“Your blog entry was poignant.  Wow.  I never thought of my story as inspirational.  I’m not talking about the salacious, media version of my crime.  I mean my story, the one that had yet to be told.  I believe that those truths needed to be told so that my victims would no longer have questions.  I owed truth to them, to my family, to my friends and to the larger community.  I believe that keeping the truth inside of me all that time was in essence a kind of theft.  The truth is all I have to give and I needed to give it.

Telling the truth is hard.  Especially to someone who is out of practice like me.  I kept many secrets for many years and it made me hollow and dead on my inside.  I lived like that while looking perfectly normal on my outside.  Telling those truths was beyond scary to me.  I thought I would lose every single person that loved me, family included.  But God moved in my life and opened doors for me, giving me a safe place and way to finally speak.  Yes, there was real risk of rejection, but I knew it was the right thing to do.  It was the only thing to do.

In prison, there aren’t many safe places to tell the truth.  Information that can be used to hurt someone is power.  So we hold our power inside as a kind of protection.  Sometimes, we don’t even admit the truth to ourselves because we can’t bear to look directly at what we’ve done.  That was definitely true for me.  I wanted to speak, but how?  To whom?  Where should I start?

My objective was to find a way to reach out to my husband’s family.  I was not seeking forgiveness.  I would not dare to ask that.  I have no right to it.  Forgiveness is a gift that heals and releases the giver.  The decision to forgive (or not) is sacred.  I wanted to give them the opportunity to hear truth and to respond however they want.  My hope was that my acceptance of responsibility might help them heal.  I knew I had to try.

My father died and I inherited money.  I hired an attorney.  He found something called DIVO (Defense Initiated Victim Outreach).  It is part of the restorative justice movement.  We hired a psychological expert to create an “in-depth profile of me.”  The woman we hired was patient and smart and kind.  She helped me speak out loud not only what I did the night of my crime, but how I got to the point where I believed that killing my husband was the only answer.  She helped me understand what I could not understand on my own.  She peeled off the layers of self-hate to uncover the complicated mess underneath.  It was painful and horrible and a blessing.

In 2010, I took a class called VOICE (Victim Offender Impact Class Education).  In that class, we heard many stories of victims and how the crimes impacted their lives.  At the end, we were encouraged to write a letter to our own victims.  These letters are kept in a file that victims can access.  They told us that a letter would be sent to our victims telling them the letter was on file.  So I wrote.  I do not know if the letter ever reached Steve’s family.

There was still a pull in my heart to do something, anything to express my remorse, to tell my ugly truth to the the people I had harmed.  I joined a group called “Building Bridges.”  The work we do is transformational.  We speak openly to each other about our crimes and our lives that lead up to them.  It was rough, hideous and shocking to say those things and hear them from others.  We then meet with outside guests to tell them those same truths and allow them to ask questions.  The questions are hard to answer, but I do.  I know that doing the uncomfortable thing is good, that God wants to bless the truth.  And He does.

I have alienated people with my truth.  Especially when the truth exposes something awful that was done to me.  One of those secrets I mentioned.  In the end, I have been loved unconditionally, maybe for the first time in my life.  I am lucky in a way that the only kind of love I can get is unconditional.  Only unconditional love can penetrate barbed wire.

Telling the truth has healed me.  I was without the burden of a thousand lies on my back.  I can accept my incarceration with grace and the acknowledgement that I do belong in prison.  I do not believe I will be here for life and God is working.  He has put blessings and opportunities in my path that could have only come from Him.  That is how I know I am on the right path because He is restoring me.  He promises to give back what the moths and locusts have eaten.

Your visit was part of that restoration.  He gave you back to me.  Your friendship is both a blessing and confirmation.  I love you for it and I give all my thanks to God.  He has loved me even when I was unable to love myself.  He never gave up, even when I did.  It is people like you and Rachelle who exemplify Christ when you love someone who is less than perfect, someone who has destroyed her own life, someone who is lonely and in prison.  Someone just like me.”

What do we have in common?  Nothing on the outside, but everything on the inside.

When I first found out about Kim in January, I believed that God had brought her into my life to restore her.  I would be the one ministering to her, loving her.  God is an upside-down God sometimes.  He’s the God of surprises.  He’s the God whose “thoughts and ways are much higher than ours.”  He’s proving it once again.  Kim’s story is redeeming me.  Her wisdom is freeing me.  She believes that God is restoring her through my love.  And she is probably right.  But I can’t help but come to the conclusion that this God of redemption and mercy and unconditional love is bringing further hope and healing to both of us at the same time.  (And now, hopefully to you as well.)

The story of Kim’s crime is interesting and may satisfy your curiosity, but the story of her heart is redemptive and may just satiate a much deeper, needy place in your soul, one that longs for truth and freedom on the inside.  It has mine.

Two girls and two paths that from the outside, look utterly different.  One God.  Two girls and two paths that are wonderfully similar on the inside.  From lying to truth.  From hiding to freedom.  Her story is all of our stories.   The stories of redemption.   May the stories continue.

 

Posted in Celebration, Family, Motherhood, Uncategorized

JOY Unspeakable

“Weeping may endure for the night, but JOY comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

9/29/99 was an ordinary Wednesday for most people.  But for me, it was a “line-in-the-sand” kind of day, a day that marked a change in my life that brought unconditional love in the form of a 9 pound 5 ounce baby girl.  Rachel JOY Goetz, our fourth child, was born that morning, at 1:09 am, to be exact.  And now, in just two short days, she is off to embark on her next adventure, taking the “Rachel-only” piece of my heart with her!

Two years ago, at the age of 16, I gave her a gold-dipped white rose for her birthday.  The thoughts I penned for her that day ring truer in my heart tonight as I sit at my computer.  My initial impulse is to weep (and I’m sure it will come in buckets soon enough), but in the wee hours of a Friday, I am reminded that JOY does come in the morning.  So for now, I celebrate.

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Dearest Rachel,

I love giving you this rose.  It symbolizes so much that I want you to know about yourself and why you have changed my life and the lives of all who meet you.

First of all, the rose is WHITE.  White is a symbol of innocence or purity, but not perfection.  I see in you a pure heart, one that longs to love others with good intentions, treat others kindly with much grace and little judgment and do your personal best without getting caught up in “perfectionism.” Your pure heart is beautiful!

Secondly, the flower is a ROSE.   Roses are heart-stoppingly beautiful to the eye and their smell is equally show-stopping. When I think of you, your outward beauty is heart-stopping for me. Many times, as you know, you take my breath away! You are simply gorgeous on the outside! I can’t get around it. But again, more importantly, your “aroma” is show-stopping. Your infectious smile, caring heart, and love for the “haves” and the “have-nots” is truly incredible.  

ROSES demonstrate the following things and I see them in you:

LOVE – You love unconditionally. We have said this about you from when you were a baby. When others are with you, they can’t help but feel loved and accepted. What a gift that is!

FAITH – You are a trusting soul. You believe the best about others. You easily trust God’s heart toward you.

BEAUTY – Rachel, you are truly beautiful, inside and out.

BALANCE – You understand the delicate balance of life: work, play, others and yourself. I love watching this in you. You are a good teacher to me.

PASSION – What can I say? Your passion for what really matters to you is crazy cool to watch!   Those five things…God, love of family and friends, music, puzzles and the beach!

TIMELESSNESS – I think of you as a timeless person. You enjoy people aged 2 to 102. You love where you are and who you are with. Time seems to slow down when I am around you!

WISDOM – Dad and I used to say that “you got it” even when you were a teeny one. You see so much of the world through wise eyes and a wise heart. You are the best counselor to your friends and you see things that others just can’t see.   My favorite wise saying that you have ever said was, “It is better to be kind than right.”   You were only 10 years old when you spoke that deep truth to my heart (and to our basketball team).  Yes! You just “get it.”

INTRIGUE – No one can say that they have explored the depths of what makes you Rachel. You have a mysteriousness about you that is very interesting and causes me to want to know you more. There is so much to you and it has been fun seeing a beautiful young woman begin to unfold!

DEVOTION – You are one of the most loyal people I know.   You stick by your friends, your beliefs, your love for Jesus, your family and yourself!

SENSUALITY – You love all things…what you can see, hear, smell, taste and touch! You enjoy life to the full. You see all the gifts God has for you in nature, in others, in music, in so many simple things, in all of life!

Lastly, the rose is dipped in GOLD. To me, gold symbolizes long-lasting value. Every time you look at the rose on your bookshelf, I want you to be reminded of how incredibly valuable you are, to God, to us, to yourself and to your future. You have infinite value, much more than any GOLD in the world.  The whole person that makes up Rachel JOY Goetz is so undeniably precious and I pray that you would continue to hold onto that understanding for the rest of your life!

I want to end with the second verse that God gave me when you were born! It has really come true for me! And for anyone who has spent a minute with you!

“My God shall do exceedingly abundantly above all we can ever ask or imagine, according to the power that works within us.” (Ephesians 3:20)

I love you precious daughter!

Mom

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PS  If you aren’t tired of Rachel yet, click HERE to watch my gut-wrenching slide show of her amazing life!

PPS  And if you want to read what it was like to be her sister, check out Sarah’s blog post from May of 2011 about the unconditional love that was 11 year-old Rachel.