Posted in Celebration, Family, Motherhood, Thanks

A Recycled Candle Jar

A recycled candle jar.

But not just any recycled candle jar.
 
One turned into a gift for a mom.
 
100 little notes (“+ a few bonuses”) nestled inside the glass.
 
With butterfly stickers to boot.
 
From her littlest big kid.
 
A mom who fought fiercely to love this kid.
 
All of her kids, in fact.
 
Not perfectly by any means.
 
Kind of messy.
 
Kind of mixed-up.
 
Kind of all-over-the-place.
 
But with her whole heart for sure.
 
A mom who made up family traditions as she went along.
 
Valentine’s Day indoor picnics on the floor.
 
Ice cream every night on summer vacation.
 
Money egg hunts on Easter from middle school on.
 
Traditions that were just what the mom needed maybe even more than the kids.
 
A mom who created memories from moments big and small.
 
Ones that never seem to fade a teensy iota.
 
Others that echo all the mom’s unending and tireless (and tiring) effort.
 
Even more that call timeless past treasures right into the present.
 
Memories that speak to the truth that the love of a mom does not change.
 
EVER.
 
A recycled candle jar.
 
But not just any recycled candle jar.
 
One turned into a gift for a mom.
 
All those memories…
 
All those traditions…
 
All those gifts of love…
 
Have now just returned to her ten, twenty, even hundred-fold.
 
She can assure you of this: it was all worth it and then some.
 
And then some more. And more. And more.
Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Faith, Family, Grief, Motherhood

Long. Slow. Deep.

Breathe.

Just breathe.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

Breathe.

Words said to me over and over again with every single contraction I had as I labored with each of my four kids.

Breathe.

Just breathe.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

Breathe.

Words I say to myself whenever my heart starts to race, my palms get sweaty and my brain is off to the races, filled with anxiety and dread.

Breathe.

Just breathe.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

Breathe.

Words the Tender Lover of my soul speaks to me when the heartache both within and around me feels unbearable.

Breathe.

Just breathe.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

Breathe.

Words that I imagine were spoken to Mary by the women in her caravan coaxing her through the laboring pushes and birth of Jesus and the comfort and joy that prevailed in the afterbirth.

It’s past midnight.

Someone I love was in much pain earlier.

Most days, I would push it aside and go to sleep.

Not tonight.

I’m sitting at my table just breathing.

In and out.

Breathing in her pain.  Long.  Slow.  Deep.

INHALE.

Holding my breath for just a few seconds as I hold her before the God who is with us in the middle of our pain, our heartache.

Breathing out the love of God to her.   Long.  Slow.  Deep.

EXHALE.

I’m not in the physical room with this one I love.  I can’t be right now.

I can’t take away her pain.

I can’t make it magically all better.

But I can breathe for her.

I can breathe with her.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

In the story of creation, God took the dust, the dirt, the ground and breathed life into it.  His powerful, beautiful, love-filled life.

What sprang forth in all its beauty was us.  You and me.

We were glorious.
We were sacred.

But we were also fragile.

But God didn’t and doesn’t stop there.  He didn’t and doesn’t create us and then leave us alone.

We are still glorious.
We are still sacred.

And we are still fragile.

We need Him, His breath of life, every single day.

In our pain.
In our fear.
In our sadness.
Even in our joy.

We need His powerful, beautiful, love-filled life.

That’s why I breathe.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

For those I love.

For myself.

Often for those I don’t even really know, but can love because they are glorious, sacred and fragile just like me.

Each of us takes about 20,000 breaths per day.

20,000 chances to inhale our individual and collective suffering.

20,000 chances to hold each other and bring each other to the One who holds us in the palm of His hand and in the recesses of His heart.

20,000 chances to exhale His unending and unfailing love to one another.

But most of our breaths are rushed, fast, and shallow.

We move at a pace that requires this.  Rushed.  Fast.  Shallow.

It’s no wonder we miss out on the powerful, beautiful, love-filled life that God has to offer us and we have to offer each other.

So tonight, at this dark and quiet hour, I don’t want to miss out.  I want to be present.  I want to soak in the power, the beauty and the love that is ready at the waiting.

I do nothing else but breathe.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

For the one I love.

For me.

And for you.

Posted in Celebration, Family, Motherhood

What Matters

I had to set my alarm for the first time in nine months.

I left my home in the cold cover of darkness to pick you up after five whole months of being apart.

I spent my whole entire day “getting your room ready” (since it had become where we “store” everything).

Our grocery bill is going to be quite a bit higher for the next three weeks.

We both had to quarantine to the best of our ability for the last bunch of days.

I had to fill my pantry with all your favorites and drove back out to the store because I forgot something.

There will be more dirty dishes and meals I haven’t made in months.

ALL of that just doesn’t matter. Seriously.

WHAT DOES MATTER IS ALL OF THIS:

I watched you embrace the dad you have had wrapped around your finger since you burst forth on the scene in that sterile hospital room.

I heard your particular footsteps scampering to the bathroom this morning.

I soaked in the smell of your perfume you’ve been wearing since you were 13.

You sat with me eating your favorite cereal and we just had time to talk face-to-face.

The puzzle board is back out with pieces scattered in very neatly arranged areas.

We are going to decorate the Christmas tree together.

I am hearing your laughter right now as you chat with your brother.

We went on a walk today in the freshly fallen snow.

You are here if I want to see your face, be in the same room with you, and hold your hand on the couch while we binge watch our favorite mom/daughter show.

WHAT REALLY MATTERS IS THAT YOU ARE HOME.

With me.

For Christmas.

Best mom present ever.

E.V.E.R.

Posted in Celebration, Faith, Grief

Kitchens and the Howl of the Not-Yet

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The past months have been marked by much suffering.
 
The pain can be overwhelming.
 
Substance abuse by those we love.
Every kind of loss imaginable from the dang virus.
A very scary diagnosis.
Betrayal.
Unkindness.
A debilitating disease that prevents normal life-function.
Mental illness that doctors are having trouble treating.
The excruciating long and threatening unknown.
 
We find ourselves overwhelmed in the most ordinary of places.
For me, it’s often the kitchen (even when I’m not cutting onions).
 
We cry…
 
How long?
How much?
Why?
Why right now?”
 
I love the holiday season.
 
It’s FULL (even this very strange year).
 
My tree is FULL of ornaments.
My tummy is FULL of food (way too much of it, as my current waistline is showing).
My neighborhood is FULL of lights (it seems even moreso in 2020).
My garage is FULL of empty Amazon boxes, gifts waiting to be wrapped and opened on Christmas morning in the family room.
 
And especially this year…
 
My heart is FULL of
 
gratitude
wonder
hope
love
 
I’m desperate for them. I’m holding onto them with all my might.
 
I like living in the FULL of good things part, not the CRYING part.
 
The period leading up to Christmas morning is commonly known as Advent. It’s Advent right now.
 
Advent speaks to the “howl of the not-yet,” the pleading, the waiting, the yearning, the “crying in the kitchen” part.
 
Advent is NOT Christmas morning.
 
Advent speaks about and grieves broken places that are yet to be healed, questions that have no answer today, and yearning that is unfulfilled.
 
Advent gives a glimpse of fruition at the end of a long season of waiting.
 
Advent says there is suffering and it is real, palpable. But advent also says there is hope, just as real and palpable.
 
Advent says “don’t skip over the suffering. Don’t minimize the heartache. Sit in it, acknowledge it, and feel it.”
 
This is not an easy place.
 
I struggle with Advent.
I do not sit with the grief, acknowledge and feel it.
 
I skip right to Christmas morning, the happy place, where the answer is here and salvation has come, the “FULL in the family room” part.
 
Skipping right to Christmas doesn’t work.
 
It doesn’t take away the pain.
It doesn’t make bad things not happen.
It doesn’t bring true healing.
 
Advent brings healing.
 
It’s the place of truth that speaks to both heartache AND hope, both suffering AND a savior.
 
Right now, there is more than a week until Christmas morning.
 
I think I have some more “kitchen” work to do.
 
Howling.
Waiting.
Questioning.
Grieving.
The Not-Yet.
 
Christmas morning will come soon enough.
 
A baby will be here.
A Savior will come.
What is empty will be filled.
Heartache will be healed.
Yearning will be fulfilled.
What is broken will be repaired.
What we’ve lost will be found.
 
It will be time for the “family room.”
 
But right now, I’m headed to make breakfast.
 
(P.S. I lit my third candle this morning – this time the pink one)
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**thanks to Shauna Niequist, who penned the idea of the “howl of the not-yet.”**
Posted in Celebration, Faith

🎶All we are saying is…

GIVE PEACE A CHANCE.

The mantra sung and chanted and begged for in 1969.

1969.

War rages and protests break out all over.
Charles Manson cult members murder 5 people.
Hurricane kills 248 people.
Chappaquiddick (look it up).
Police raid a gay club in New York City.  The Stonewall Riot ensues.

1969 sounds like a year I would want to AVOID with all my might.

GIVE PEACE A CHANCE.

What the messenger asked of a young, brown-skinned, oppressed, poor girl named Mary.

4 BCish.

Herod the Great kills his own family to hold onto his reign of brutality.
Taxation of the poor is almost 50-60%.
The main feature of life is gender separation except for sex.
Revolts and uprisings are commonplace.
Politics and religion intertwine and hatred for the “other” rules.

4 BCish sounds like a year I would want to AVOID with all my might.

GIVE PEACE A CHANCE.

What our collective, modern-day hearts continue to yearn and plead for.

2020

COVID threatens everything we have worked so hard for.
Politics and religion intertwine and hatred for the “other” rules.
Sex-trafficking is at an all-time high.
Natural disasters are some of the most destructive ever.
Racial tension sparks protests and riots and looting.

2020 is a year I want to AVOID with all my might (I bet you do too).

GIVE PEACE A CHANCE.

PEACE.

The idea that ALL IS WELL.

inside and outside
individually and collectively
mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally

for EVERYONE.

Not just for some.
Not just for the rich.
Not just for the healthy.
Not just for the insiders.
Not just for the free.

BUT for everyone.
The rich and the poor.
The healthy and the sick.
The insiders and the marginalized.
The free and the prisoner.

GIVE PEACE A CHANCE.

PEACE.

HOW?  HOW?  HOW?

Begged for in 1969.
Asked for in 4 BC (ish).
Yearned for STILL in 2020.

Something so elusive.  So difficult.  So needed.

HOW?  HOW?  HOW?

HOW DO WE MAKE PEACE?

[not how do we KEEP peace – the want to AVOID with all my might]

1969.
4 BCish.
2020.

We MAKE PEACE by embracing that “ALL are created equal.”  ALL.
Not just the ones who look, believe and act like us.

We MAKE PEACE by being willing to resolve turmoil.
Both what rages on the outside and on the inside of us.

We MAKE PEACE by standing up for it.  Saying “NO MORE!”
Both for others and ourselves.

We MAKE PEACE by fighting for it.
In our own hearts and homes first, but NOT stopping there.

We MAKE PEACE by making room (just like Mary in 4 BCish) for the Prince of Peace.

The One who embraces that ALL are created equal.
The One who resolves the turmoil that rages inside and out.
The One who stands up and says “NO MORE!”
The One who fights for our hearts and our homes, but does not stop there!

The One who shows up every moment of every day of every single year (even 2020)…and tenderly says…

GIVE PEACE A CHANCE.

**I lit the peace candle this morning for Advent week TWO**

Posted in Celebration, Faith, Grief

I Lit a Candle

I lit a candle this morning.

For the first time.

Not just any candle.

The candle of “Hope” on this first day, this first Sunday of Advent.

It’s a new thing I’m doing this year, the year of all years.
 
The candle of Hope.

Hope.

A simple word.  But not a simple word.

A complex and intricate word.  A pregnant word.

Pregnant?

Yes, pregnant.  The “full of meaning” kind of pregnant.

I’ve been pregnant six times.  Two ended way too soon, loss and grief and confusion permeating my heart.  Four ended at just the right time, joy and life and expectation bursting onto the scene.

Pregnant.

This word.  Hope.  What I felt every single time those two lines appeared on my bathroom counter.

This word.  Hope.

Two times, it ended in a bloody mess.  A bloody mess that brought the end of possibility, the death of the little life that had stopped growing, and abject heartache.

In this particular season of Advent, in all things 2020, it sure seems like I’m sitting in the middle of a bloody mess on my bathroom floor crying.

All I did was open my newspaper this morning.

[One-third of small businesses closed.]

[Numbers in hospitals highest they’ve ever been.]

[Two teenagers dead after Black Friday mall shooting.]

That was just the front page.

In this particular season of Advent, in all things 2020, it’s really okay to be sitting in the middle of a bloody mess on my bathroom floor crying.

It’s why I lit a candle this morning.

NOT because there is nothing to grieve.

NOT because everything is as it should be.

BUT exactly because there is lots to grieve.

BUT exactly because everything is NOT as it should be.

This word.  Hope.  What I felt every single time those two lines appeared on my bathroom counter.

BUT this word.  Hope.

Four times, it also ended in a bloody mess.  But those times, the bloody mess brought the beginning of possibility, the birth of the little life that had grown just enough, and undeniable joy.

Mary.  My favorite pregnant woman.

Young, poor, single.  A nobody.

In a world where her headlines read just like mine.

In a world where there was a lot to grieve.

In a world where everything was NOT as it should be.

BUT in her womb, a baby grew.

Just enough.

AND yes, her pregnancy ended in a bloody mess.

But hope tells me what her Baby tells me as He bursts on the scene.

[I’m right here with you in the middle of your grief.]

[I will put things right and things will be as they should.]

[Take courage, my child.  Prepare your heart for Me.]

It’s why I lit a candle this morning.

HOPE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Family, Friendship, Grandparenthood, Marriage, Motherhood, Thanks

14 Straight Days

After 14 straight days, the Holiday Hoopla has come to an end. The annual “Goetz Games” have had their closing ceremony.
It’s been…
14 straight days of guests in the form of adult kids, significant others, a super busy toddler, cousins, uncles, and friends.
14 straight days of mayhem in the form of playing games, opening presents, chopping wood, dirty dishes, scattered toys, endless grocery store runs, sleepless nights (with said toddler), and trying to keep the puppy from escaping with all the doors opening and closing.
14 straight days of meals in the form of take-out, home-cooked, half-baked, childhood favorites, too many carbs, cookies for breakfast, and New Jersey Taylor ham, egg and cheese on everything bagels no matter what time of day.
14 straight days of skirmishes in the form of toddlers kicking puppies and puppies nipping at toddlers, couples struggling to find time to connect and getting a little annoyed with each other, family feuds about past Christmas traditions (“did we always go to the movies on Christmas Eve?”), and fun-loving, game-playing conflict about rules and all the lovely that comes along with playing Code Names.
ALL THIS TO SAY, I’M EXHAUSTED.
BUT, it’s ALSO been…
14 straight days of hugs.
14 straight days of “I love you’s.”
14 straight days of laughter.
14 straight days of “thank you’s.”
14 straight days of connection.
14 straight days of memories.
ALL THIS TO SAY, I’M BEYOND GRATEFUL.
#bothand #exhaustedandgrateful #holidayhoopla #ineedanap
Posted in Celebration, Faith, Family

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.

Second-born not able to come…Over-the-top difficult family dynamics for many…Terrible government news…Health scares…Anxiety creeps in and a settled spirit 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.

Peacemaker AND Warrior.

Servant AND Leader.

Poor AND Rich.

Grace AND Truth.

Man AND God.

Both AND.

Wholeness.  Completeness.  Integration.

Jesus.



Thank you so much for being part of the Dolly Mama Family! It means the world to me! I pray that your week will be filled with a beautiful explosion of God’s goodness! A true Merry Christmas from My Heart to Yours!

Much Love, Esther

Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Faith, Third Culture Kid

“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. I am just nine years old. 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. I hope you can 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, my dorm mother reading us another chapter in the story of Narnia. The image of Aslan, a loving lion who makes everything good and right in a strange land, and seems to adore children and even play with them, floods my mind. “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.” My friend “prayed to Santa” all year and confessed her sins, much like I did to God as a young girl.

It makes a lot of sense. “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.”

Sounds eerily similar to a song from those little girl boarding school days: “Be careful little eyes what you see, for the Father up above is looking down below, so be careful little eyes what you see.” YOU BETTER WATCH OUT.

Recently, Santa’s Elf (on the Shelf) has stepped in to “help Santa.” This Elf 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!

Santa. God. Elf on the Shelf. YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!

*************************************

Fast forward 30+ years. I’m a mom of four littles who loves celebrating Santa (in fact, my seven-year old just opened her letter from the North Pole). We don’t have an Elf on the Shelf (only because he/she is not invented yet). But me, this “desperate-to-please-God” young mom, believes wholeheartedly in a this YOU BETTER WATCH OUT God.

I’m stuck in my grown-up mom body as the little nine-year old girl on her bunk bed. God is no different than Santa or Elf on a Shelf. He’s 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, to be good for goodness sake.

You yelled at your kids today. BAD!

You taught Sunday School. GOOD!

You told that white lie to your best friend! BAD!

You helped your twelve-year-old with their homework. GOOD!

You forgot to pray! BAD!

My relationship with this Santa/Elf on a Shelf/God is a little topsy-turvy. I’m filled with and act from the stranglehold of fear and guilt. Am I good enough today? Is God happy with me?

I hide or at least try to. Why wouldn’t I? I avoid Him. Who wouldn’t? I struggle to feel close, spending all my energy keeping my external, visible behavior under control, hoping it’s enough, trying to avoid that proverbial “lump of coal,” God’s utter disapproval of me. UGH!

My internal craving for love and belonging is completely sacrificed on the external “behavior management” altar. YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!

*************************************

In the middle of all of this, the stories of Narnia reenter my life and I have a reunion with Aslan.  I find three-hour-long radio theater dramatic renditions (absolutely a must-buy if you have kids) of these tales that I loved as a child. I 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 reconnect with Aslan, I find again that he is wise, playful, generous, kind, mysterious, terrifying, magnificent, beautiful and unconditionally loving all at once. He is the one I long for and need so desperately, my grownup heart still fragile from the many years of trying to keep myself in line.

That hopeful thought I had as a child flickers again in the darkness of my soul.

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. End of story.

No more YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!

My soul settles slowly (I’m talking years of retraining my brain) into a place of love and belonging. Yes, God sees me. He really sees me. He sees that little girl in the bunkbed, fearful, yet hopeful. He sees the young mom who longs to be known fully, and loved completely. He still sees me, the real real me. But instead of “setting me straight,” His beautiful, tender, kind heart sets me free!

My flicker so long ago, “Maybe He is,” burns brightly as a fire of hope that shouts, “YES. YES HE IS.”

****************************************

P.S. I have told people that, as a child, I loved Aslan more than I loved Jesus. 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.”

 

***ONE MORE NOTE:  If you liked reading this, please go back out and “like” it on social media.  Means the world to me!***

Posted in Anxiety, Faith, Health, Sabbath

Hello Darkness, My (New) Friend

I jolt awake at 4:40 am.

My husband’s ride for his early morning flight never arrives.

Flying by the seat of his pants (pun intended), he jumps in his car and is off in the darkness.

I lay eyes wide open.

I don’t want to be awake yet. It’s so dark out. I didn’t plan on this.

“Don’t forget. You have decided to heed the call of the darkness this winter,” the Lover of My Soul reminds me.

I stir, don my cozy slippers and venture to the big room with the big dark windows, turn on the Christmas tree and open the wood-burning stove. I leave the rest of the house quiet. Dark.

“Darkness, what do you have for me this morning?”

My Savior greets me softly and the darkness answers.

“You need me this morning, my friend.”

“You need silence to settle your frenzied mind.”

“You need solitude to rest your weary soul.”

“You need stillness to revive your anxious body.”

“You need Shalom (remember your Word of the Year?) to heal your troubled spirit.”

“You need me this morning, my friend.”

Right outside those big, dark windows, the light will dawn in a few moments and display the freshly-fallen snow.

It will be glorious.

BUT for now, I sit in the darkness.

#darkness #beautyinthedark #whatthedarknessknows #hope