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

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

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

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

Did you know…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a new love would come bearing another new love?

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

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

Did you know…

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Family, Motherhood

Is IT All Worth It?

Licked a dark smear off my finger and then thought, “Phew.  It’s chocolate.” (Moms Everywhere)

You’re up in the middle of the night for the second or third time rocking your colicky newborn to sleep (and this is the 28th night in a row).  You are walking zombie during the day at this point and can’t remember how to tie your shoes or even where your shoes are.

You’re carrying out a screaming preschooler from the grocery store because you won’t let them have a second lollipop.  They are a sticky mess from the first and now they are hitting you and pulling your hair.  You are beyond embarrassed as you feel the burning eyes of others on your frame.

You’re breaking up the 27th fight today between your two youngest children (and they only got home from school two hours ago).  You lose it and yell at them, angry with yourself for not having enough patience.  Your brain runs to that verse in Isaiah and you plead with God:  “WOE IS ME!  I AM RUINED.  I AM A (WO)MAN OF UNCLEAN LIPS AND LIVE AMONG A PEOPLE OF UNCLEAN LIPS.”

You’re watching your daughter roll her eyes at you and go “huffing and puffing” out of the room all because you said no to that middle school sleepover.   It doesn’t seem to matter to her that tomorrow is your mom’s birthday and the whole family is coming over and she told you she would help you get ready.

You’re waiting for sound of the garage door opening for the 10th Saturday in a row.  It’s now 11:30 pm and your new driver’s curfew is later than you’ve been awake in 20 years.   Your mind races ahead to worst-case scenarios as to why they are not answering your texts.  Sleep is futile.

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You’re waiting for your child to bounce in the door for spring break, picturing puzzle-making and long talks about her future, only to be met with a quick hug and “Can I have the car keys?  I’m headed out with my friends.”  Your heart takes a dive as you realize it’s never going to be the same.

You’re talking on the phone with your daughter, a new mother.  She informs you that they are NOT coming home for Mother’s Day this year.   Images of years gone by and the tradition of the “whole family” being together are wiped out in a moment.   You choke out the words as best you can, “It’s okay.  I understand.”  Tears flow uncontrollably as soon as you hang up the phone.

IS IT ALL WORTH IT?  The question circles around in your head, haunting you as you wonder if taking the giant leap into parenting was the worst choice you ever made.  What were you thinking?

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You’re gathering your baby from the church nursery and the moment they notice you, their eyes light up, their two-toothed smile fills the room, and their little arms reach for you as if to shout, “You are mine!  I am yours!  All is right again!”

You’re coming back from being at the grocery store, having only been gone for 30 minutes while your spouse watches your preschooler.  You are met with “look what I made for you” and handed a Froot Loop necklace that you proudly display for the next week or two around your neck.

You’re at back-to-school night, sitting at your fourth grader’s desk, listening to the teacher drone on and on about the expectations of the classroom and what is hoped to be learned.  You peak inside your child’s folder and they’ve scrawled a note to you, “Surprise ahead.  Check under the chair.”  You reach down and pull out a green paper heart (at least that’s what you think it is)!  A smile creeps to your lips.

You’re sleeping and it’s Christmas morning!  Your 13 year-old (who has to be bribed out of bed every morning for school with promises of her favorite bagel) comes bounding into the room at 6:00 am, leaping on you and wrapping her arms around your neck, squeezing tightly.  “Can we get our stockings and come onto your bed like we always do?  Can I wake everyone else up?”  Her child-like, unfiltered excitement tugs your heart strings and you feel full inside.

You’re making dinner and you have forgotten to buy one of the most important ingredients.  Your teenager plays video games in the family room.  Without realizing it, you berate yourself aloud, “How could you not remember to get this?”  A voice shouts from the other room, “I can go get whatever you need from the store.  I can drive now.”  You send your budding adult on his way, money in hand.  You beam inside, thankfulness rising.

You’re reading the book for your woman’s group.  Your college daughter left two days ago.  You open to the page where you left off and there is a note doodled at the top.  “I love you mom.”  Happy tears spring to your eyes and you send a text to your two daughters, asking which one of them wrote it (which makes it even happier).

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You’re texting your 25 year old what they want for their birthday.  They say all they want is a puppy.  You work your butt off the next couple of months and find just the right one.  You arrive with her and your man-child greets you with hugs and laughter and a stream of “thank yous.”  You watch as this giant, tough, bearded landscaper cuddles in the grass with his new baby, letting her crawl all over him, giving gentle words of kindness and love.  Your heart swells with pride and joy!

IS IT ALL WORTH IT?  The question again circles around in your head, this time sparking renewed hope that taking the giant leap into parenting was the ABSOLUTE BEST choice you ever made.  What were you thinking is right!

IT IS ALL WORTH IT (AND THEN SOME)!

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(PS:  ALL OF THESE ARE TRUE STORIES FROM YOURS TRULY.  YOU HAVE A WHOLE BUNCH OF YOUR OWN!  I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR JUST ONE!)

ALSO CAN I SHAMELESSLY ASK YOU TO LIKE THIS POST OUT ON SOCIAL MEDIA IF YOU READ IT AND LIKED IT!  IT HELPS IT TO MOVE UP IN THE RANKS INSTEAD OF GET LOST IN THE GIANT SOCIAL MEDIA POT.  MEANS THE WORLD TO ME!!!

 

 

Posted in Anxiety, Celebration, Faith, Grief, Health

Merriment and Melancholy

Voices of carols play everywhere I go.  Joy to the world…Children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile…Tis the season to be jolly…It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Merriment.

Texts, posts and phone calls crowd my screens.   First-born and hubby not coming with baby…Government shutdown…Family and friends navigate divorce and children and Christmas…Anxiety creeps in and sleep is hard to be found.

Melancholy.

The two sit side-by-side.  One NOT more important or legitimate than the other.  One NOT pushed aside to make room for the other.   The shout of one NOT drowning out the cry of the other.  No choice has to be made.  The two lay beautifully intertwined.

Merriment AND melancholy.

BOTH AND.  Wholeness.  Completeness.  Integration.

Christmas.


Suffering AND Savior.

Non-violent AND Warrior.

Servant AND Leader.

Poor AND Rich.

Grace AND Truth.

Man AND God.

Wholeness.  Completeness.  Integration.

Jesus.

 

 

 

Posted in Celebration, Faith, Guest, Health

Planned For

I saw this today on Facebook from my fellow-blogger, Janet Newberry.   I’m not sure what you are waiting for, frustrated by, questioning, or can’t see the “plan for” today, especially with Tuesday looming on the horizon.

Sometimes Christmas cheer “being sung for all to hear” leaves us staring at the reality of our own lives and wondering, “Can anything good come out of all of this?”  Janet’s reminder to my heart today was too GOOD not to share here with you readers!  You can read more about her at the end!


Anyone else need to be reminded today?

God has a plan.

These words were a gift to me in prayer several weeks ago:

“PLANNED FOR”

And I forget.

I forget because, with eyes of sight, I don’t see the plan. We’re spending this Christmas season in an ugly RV park. This morning we wake up crowded with the laundry we hung to dry yesterday and the Christmas presents that need to be wrapped–all sharing our tiny space.

There’s no place to sit in here.
There’s no place to invite friends–or enjoy family.
The booth you see in the pic is our dining table, office space, my writing desk—and gift wrapping center.

As beautiful as it is to travel in Freedom (our Airstream)—it is not our home away from home. It is our 365 days a year home. 19 months into this adventure, we are feeling all the feels of a small space on a rented spot—where we plug in, but don’t belong.

RV parks are functional—not beautiful.

I get frustrated pretty easily when functional gets to take precedence…and beautiful seems to be forgotten.

So, today, I am writing these words—and making them public, because they are the beautiful I am holding onto with all my heart:

“PLANNED FOR”

And I am remembering that the manger was not a revision to the nativity story. Mary and Joseph were not cursed with “no room in the inn.” They were entrusted with the ordinary—and given eyes to see the extraordinary.

In the middle of the not beautiful—and honestly ugly, and simply functional—Mary and Joseph held the extraordinary in their arms and in their hearts.

The manger didn’t interrupt God’s story. It was His story.

God didn’t look for someone more able to care for His Son when Mary and Joseph failed to create a social media applaudable baby nursery.

Christ was born into the chaos—and into the tiny space of the manger—because this was God’s plan.

Love fits perfectly in tiny spaces. Perfect love casts out fear—when we trust Him.

The story of the coming Messiah had been written very differently in the minds of those who longed for Him to come.

We write our own stories in our waiting.

Christ was going to come as a King! A new ruler! “Us” instead of “them” was finally going to win!

God’s story was love.  God’s plan is for “us” and “them.”  When Love rules, we all win.

And the manger was not Mary and Joseph’s permanent home. God kept speaking. The angels kept leading. And the story of Jesus’ life continued.

Out of Bethlehem. To Jerusalem. Back to Galilee. Nazareth.

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)

That may be your question today, too. “Can anything good come out of this?”

Today’s place in your story may not be what you’ve “planned for.” And it’s not the place you want to stay. You can’t yet see the words on the next page. Me, neither.

Will you remind me, too, friends?

Together, let’s trust the One who’s holding the pen. He’s “PLANNED FOR” you.

He’s “PLANNED FOR” me, too.

Today’s setting and circumstances—in your story, and ours—don’t come as a surprise to our Father. He knows.

He knows our hurts and our hopes—and He has a plan to touch both—with beautiful.

THERE IS GREAT HOPE!


Janet Newberry is an educational consultant– and an unshakeable believer in the transforming power of love.  Janet and her husband Doug have sold their home and travel America in an Airstream named Freedom.

Janet and Doug help families have real conversations without shame, so children have the freedom to ask for help in relationships of trust.

Janet coaches families in personal relationships as they connect with her in online classes that help people untangle fear and trust love. 

Read more on her website https://janetnewberry.com/ and join them on their weekly BRAVE LOVE podcast.  https://janetnewberry.com/podcast/ 

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

What’s Your Panera? #giftsalreadyopened #littlesurpriseattheend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Posted in Celebration, Faith, Friendship, Guest

What if God is Waiting for Me? #holyadvent

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

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

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


Join with my friend Annie Ellerbusch as she uncovers this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 God was there waiting for me, waiting IN me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Parenthood (The Constant Return to Advent)

Advent (The Howl of the Not-Yet)

The “You Better Watch Out”…God

You are the Gift


Posted in Faith, Guest

The Pots in My Head

I am so excited about my guest this week, Sandi Piazza!  You are in for a treat!  Sandi is married to Gerry, and is currently on her third career as a stay-at-home homeschooling mom to Emilio (10) and Ana (8).  She is passionate, strong, wise and gentle.  Her heart comes alive when fighting for equality and social justice, diving into literature of all kinds, and providing the much-needed love and care for her foster dogs.  Welcome, Sandi!

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A few years ago, I heard someone preach that men’s brains are like waffles (compartmentalized) and women’s brains are more like spaghetti (highly intertwined).  For many in the audience, this really resonated.  Not for me.  I have pots in my head.

As a perfectionist.  I always have a lot going on AND never really learned how to outline and organize big projects, I tend to procrastinate until I must focus fully on the task at hand and get it done.  To juggle several divergent tasks, I developed a system where I envision my brain as a cooktop covered with pots during a large holiday meal.  Those who know me well may have heard me say, “OK. I need to get a new pot going in my head.” (In fact, that proclamation to my curious friend Esther is the origin of this post!)

When any project comes up, I add a pot on my brain’s stovetop.  I carefully consider the core (main ingredient) of that task?  What else needs to be added (some side elements) in order to accomplish this?  How long do I have to complete (cook) this undertaking?  Each item on my “to do” list gets a dedicated pot–something akin to the discrete little compartments in waffles, but oftentimes things are related and work together and it’s not quite the jumbled mess of spaghetti.  Every so often, I sit down and think, “OK, POT CHECK!  Let’s give things a stir.”

This process was crucial to my success as an undergraduate student.  I was pursuing a degree in English Literature, which meant multiple books and essays assigned at any given moment.  I was an officer in a club.  I had an almost-full-time job.  I was active in a church community (and most of us know what that means for good and bad).  I was fortunate enough to have scholarships covering a huge chunk of my tuition, but room and board simply weren’t in the budget for the Rodriguez family. This meant LOTS of time spent in transit on the subway, commuting from the northernmost tip of Manhattan all the way down to Greenwich Village, in the days before internet, laptops, and smartphones. What was a student to do?  CHECK MY POTS!

Typical POT CHECK, sitting on the subway riding home from school:

POT ONE:  Paper due later this week on William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.

“I loved the book, even though it took me a while to understand the first chapter, with its stream-of-consciousness descriptions and odd details like Cassie’s white underpants as she climbs a tree. WTH is that about? Interesting that the main character of the book never actually gets to speak for herself…her brothers and the family servant do all the talking. Can I emphasize this in my paper somehow? Hmm… OK, I’ll put it aside to revisit later, but it’s due soon so best not to wait too long.”

POT TWO:  Paper two comparing Coriolanus and Titus Andronicus.

“Ugh.  May as well be comparing liver and okra. Blaaah. That one isn’t due for a few weeks. Back burner for sure.”

POT THREE:  Leading Bible study next week.

“What’s the verse again? ‘For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses…’  OK, how can I make this super-familiar verse seem fresh? There’s the whole Iran Contra-gate thing in the news…weapons of warfare… Too much of a stretch?  Should I just read it and leave it hanging there, hoping everyone can apply it to their own life?  Hmm… I have some time on this.  Let it simmer on low.”

POT FOUR:  Choir Christmas service.

“It’s coming up soon.  I have the lyrics and harmonies of the songs memorized.  I have the white shirt I need and I have that black skirt I can wear.  I haven’t worn it in a while.  I hope it fits…I might need to add some girdle-y (is that even a word? girdle-like?) underwear to make it fit better… Stir that pot when I get home.  Wait…”

WEIRD TRANSITION BACK TO POT ONE:

“Underwear, again.  That’s in a couple of my pots.  Back to the paper.  There was that thing in where Benji notices Cassie’s underwear.  Weird for a brother to notice that about his sister.  Wait, now that I think of it, didn’t that happen with more than one narrator?  Where’s that book?”

By the time I got home from school, I had figured out that there were three different characters in The Sound and the Fury who noticed the central character’s underpants, and that the underwear reflected what they thought of her in that.  The paper practically wrote itself, which was a blessing in the pre-word-processor 1980s!

Some 30 years later, my perfectionism has waned, but I still organize my thoughts and projects in this way.  The pots bubbling away in my mind these days tend to be more abstract than project-based, and currently include things like:

  • what walking with Jesus looks like after deconstructing some toxic doctrines from my fundamentalist upbringing
  • having a successful marriage, almost 14 years in, without an example in my life to emulate
  • parenting a child—possibly two—with autism
  • navigating family relationships successfully and in a healthy way when members struggle with mental illness, addiction, & codependency
  • homeschooling
  • building and maintaining a tribe
  • a room decorating project
  • volunteer responsibilities
  • rescue dogs, old dogs, and how to keep them both healthy/calm

You get the idea.  Lysa TerKeurst says, “The mind feasts on what it focuses on.  What consumes my thinking will be the making or the breaking of my identity.”  That rings true.  This is the stuff of my life…the things that nourish me, sustain me, and keep me going.

Doing an occasional pot check helps me to realize what I know a lot about and what I need to research further.  And, much as it did when I was in college, it often allows me to draw parallels and to see how something in one pot relates to another, helping me make sense out of a vexing problem and integrate the various parts of my life.

I also cook a lot more now than I did when I was younger, and something invaluable I’ve come to know is that there is one ingredient that improves every dish I cook.  GARLIC! Just kidding.  It’s SALT!

Salt is amazing. It has so many uses! It preserves.  It melts ice.  It kills weeds, and, relevant to the topic at hand, it seasons food and enhances the flavor of almost everything.

Author and activist Mariama Bâ has said that “The flavor of life is love. The salt of life is also love.”  That rings so true!  Much as every dish I cook improves with a bit of salt, every pot in my head is better when I add some love.

Sound like a stretch?  See for yourself!

Parenting?  Add love.

Marriage?  Add love.

Faith?  Family?  Tribe?  Yes, yes, yes…more love.

Re-examining my faith?  Definitely needs more love.

And so on…

However, unlike salt, I have yet to see a “pot” where too much love ruined it.

Well, if you’ll excuse me, the kids are occupied for the moment, leaving me a few moments to sit and reflect.  Perfect time for a pot check.  No thanks on the waffles and spaghetti, but…can you please pass the salt?


A final word from the Dolly Mama.  It’s been a pleasure having Sandi come and share with us.  She’s exceptional.  If you’d like to see some of my favorite blog posts, take a look at these (and please follow me if you like what you read and don’t want to miss another post):

Not the Boss of Me

The Goetz Family Law

“I Just Had to Pee” and other Half-Truths (Fighting the Monster of Anxiety…A Day in the Life…Glimmer of Hope)

To Pick Up or Put Down (Every Parent’s Never-Ending Battle)

Unraveling and Re-raveling (Getting Rid of the Formula)

Shattered Shalom (restoring it in my home and in our world)

Redeeming Hypnopompia

Posted in Celebration, Family, Friendship, Thanks

We are the Gift

Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.  (Hamilton Wright Mabie)

As I sit here listening to needles fall from my Spruce, I am not sure if our tree will survive until tomorrow.  It’s one of those minor stressors that come about because we bring something that’s alive from the outdoors into an environment where it is not designed to thrive.  The tradition seems silly at times, but it’s one of my favorite parts of Christmas.

Tonight and tomorrow, many of us head into environments where, like my tree, we are in survival mode.  There are so many reasons why it might be the case.  Thriving is not even on the agenda.  We are just going to “make it through.”

From the thousands of Christmas movies, books, and shows, we know in our heads that “Christmas cannot be bought from a store.  Christmas is just a little bit more.” (The Grinch)  But our actions speak otherwise.  We rush around buying gifts and would never be caught dead without one in hand for those on our list.  Part of the survival of Christmas.  Get a gift.  Bring a gift.

I don’t really want to just survive until Tuesday.  My thoughts swirl as I think about how to “make that happen, keep my needles from falling off.”  And then my heart is quieted.  It’s not the outer world:  other people, the food, the dying Spruce, the gifts, and even the Steelers game that are going to do it for me.  It’s a gentle reminder from my friend Annie that she has hammered into my head for the past ten years (obviously I am a slow learner):  We don’t just HAVE gifts to offer.  We ARE the gifts.

As you go into today, tonight and tomorrow, be encouraged.  You ARE the gift for those who spend any moments of precious time with you.  Open yourself up.  Unwrap yourself.  Let others in.  Help them to know you.  At the same time, view others as the gifts that they ARE.  Seek to unwrap their hearts.  Get to know them.  It’s scary and vulnerable and you might just be hurt and rejected, but you will be giving the best gift of all:  YOU.

I long for one thing in this life and just perhaps you do too (whether you know it or not):  being fully-known and fully-loved.  I am so thankful that Jesus paved the way for us and showed us how this works.  He opened His heart fully for us, taking a huge chance on being vulnerable and rejected, giving Himself without pause.  He knew beyond a doubt that He IS the best gift for us and that you and I ARE the greatest presents He could ever receive.  All of the scary rejection paled in comparison to the JOY that this union of hearts would bring.  We were worth the risk.

I don’t know what’s going to happen today, tonight, or tomorrow when you risk your hearts for the chance of knowing and being known, loving and being loved.  I can’t promise you that it might not end up painful.  I can’t promise you that you might not be rejected.  But I can promise that your heart will be more open, and in turn, more healed. And you might just be a little closer to getting what you really want this Christmas!

(Check out this fun video – What If We Saw Everything as a Gift?)

 

 

 

Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Faith, Third Culture Kid

The “You Better Watch Out”…God

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
(Prince Caspian, Chapter 10)

I lay on my bunk bed at boarding school in Ethiopia.  My bunkmate stirs below me.  I wind my musical Raggedy Ann doll over and over, hoping to get some sleep.  Sleep does not come.  I rehash the day.  Thoughts swirl:  “I did a bunch of wrong things.  Maybe that’s why I can’t sleep.  I should confess my sins.  Hey God, I’m sorry for all the bad things I did today.  Please forgive me.”  Still no rest for my eyes and tired body.   I go into a bit of a panic.  “Maybe I didn’t mean it for real when I prayed the magic prayer asking God into my heart.  If I did mean it, I would not be so naughty.”  I whisper the same thing for the umpteenth time, “Please come into my heart.  I really mean it this time. I will be better tomorrow.”  Still nothing.  I lay there wide-awake.  My mind happily drifts to earlier in the evening, when my dorm mother read us another chapter in the story of Narnia and especially Aslan, a loving lion who makes everything good and right in a strange land, and seems to adore children and even play with them.  “I love Aslan.  I wish God was like Aslan.  Why can’t He be?”  As I finally drift off to sleep, resting in the comfort of the lion who loves children, I have a flicker of hope:  “Maybe He is.”

For decades, Santa has flooded the Christmas season.  A jolly man with a jolly heart.  A man who rewards good behavior with toys and naughty behavior with “a lump of coal.”  We all know of him.  Believe it or not, I had a friend who “prayed to Santa” all year and confessed her sins, much like I did with God as a young girl.  After all, how different are they?  “He (Santa) sees you when you’re sleeping.  He knows when you’re awake.  He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.  YOU BETTER WATCH OUT…Santa Claus is coming to town.”  It is eerily similar to the Sunday School song from my childhood:  “Be careful little eyes what you see, for the Father up above is looking down below, so be careful little eyes what you see.”  Both of them are watching.  You better watch out.

More recently, Santa’s Elf (on the Shelf) has taken off as a new family tradition.  If you’re not familiar, this Elf (which comes in different sizes and even sexes in the form of a cheaply made elf doll that will set you back 30 bucks), is dispatched from the North Pole at the start of Advent.  He or she enters homes to keep a watchful eye on the children, ensuring good behavior during the rough parenting patch when kids are over-sugared and over-excited for Christmas.  His or her “job” is to make sure they belong on Santa’s “nice” list.   You better watch out!

I loved celebrating Santa with my children (we just dug out Rachel’s letter from the North Pole) and might currently have an Elf on the Shelf  if I still had littles.  But as you read above, and this is the point:  I believed in a “you better watch out” God very early and sadly, it continued well into adulthood.  God was no different than Santa or Elf on the Shelf.  He was up there watching my every good and bad behavior, ready to reward or “smite” me for each one, his main goal to get me to behave.  It’s not hard to figure out what my relationship with Him was like because of this.   I was filled with and acted out of fear and guilt.  I hid from Him, or at least (fruitlessly) tried to…who wouldn’t? I struggled to feel close, spending much energy and time on my external, visible behavior, hoping that it would be enough, trying to avoid that proverbial “lump of coal,” God’s disapproval of me.  My internal craving for love and belonging was completely sacrificed on the external “behavior management” altar.

Enter the stories of Narnia and a reunion with Aslan as the mom of four kids.  I found three-hour radio theater dramatic renditions absolutely a must-buy if you have kids) of these stories that I loved as a child.  I could kill two birds with one stone:  share this amazing lion with my own children and at the same time, keep them quiet on long car rides (keeping it real people).  As I came to reconnect with Aslan, I found even more so that he is wise, playful, generous, kind, mysterious, terrifying, magnificent, beautiful and unconditionally loving all at once.  He is the one who I longed for my whole life.  He is too good not to be true.

I had finally found the answer to that hopeful thought I had as a child.  God is not like Santa.  God is not like the Elf on the Shelf.  God is not ultimately concerned with “behavior management.”  God is like Aslan.  God is wise.  God is playful.  God is generous.  God is kind.  God is mysterious.  God is terrifying.  God is magnificent.  God is beautiful.  God unconditionally loves and He unconditionally loves me.  Period.  His agenda is a loving, intimate, close relationship with me.  He loves me because of who He is, not how I behave.  He actually can’t help Himself.  True, lasting change will come, but it will be born FROM of a place of love and acceptance, the inside out, not FOR love and acceptance, the outside in.

What relief!  What freedom!  Even as I write this, “you better watch out” is quieted again and my heart settles down with a big inner sigh.  A long deep breath of safety and belonging.  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  This is what I long for.  This is a line I can get in, a lap I can climb up onto and take pictures of every day for a lifetime!  My flicker of hope so long ago, “Maybe He is,” is a burning light of hope that shouts, “YES.  YES HE IS.”

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P.S.  I have told people that, as a child, I loved Aslan more than I loved Jesus (see Ethiopia Tikdem post).  I found out that a concerned mother once wrote C. S. Lewis on behalf of her son, Laurence, who, having read The Chronicles of Narnia, became concerned that he loved Aslan more than Jesus. In his response, Lewis offered this relief:

“Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before.”