Posted in Celebration, Clean Water, Faith, Family, Homeless, Marriage, Thanks

Happy Birthday Allen!

“The work an unknown good man has done is like a vein of water flowing hidden underground, secretly making the ground green.”  (Thomas Carlyle)

Allen.  A word that comes off my lips probably twenty times a day.  A word that sometimes is surrounded by love and other times by frustration.  A word like no other in my life.  A word that encompasses kindness unlike I’ve known before, integrity that quietly makes a profound statement, humility that lifts others up and spirituality that is deep and genuine.

I’ve struck gold in the landscape of life.  This man, who I’ve known for almost 30 years just keeps getting better and better.  He’s the best gift I’ve ever been given.  And he gave me four more gifts in our incredible children, as qualities I see growing in them reflect who their dad is.

Allen embodies the spirit of “being kind over being right” (and thank God for that, because I like being right just a little too much).  I watch it play out in quiet moments with close friends and strangers alike.  He is considerate to both immediate family and the homeless that wander the streets of New York City.  Co-workers who spend every day with him and the poor who don’t have access to clean water benefit from his heart of benevolence.   His gracious spirit permeates his times with his partners in ministry and the engaged couples we minister to together.  As you can see, his kindness is genuine, often and without boundaries.

Integrity is the suit of armor Allen puts on every single day.  He does “the right thing even when no one is watching.”  I would know.  I live with the guy.  He doesn’t cheat on his taxes, on his expense sheet at work, or me.  He is the same person in the morning at work, in a board meeting at our church, on a weekend with the guys, and our family at home.  I trust him completely and utterly.  What a gift!

I struggle with thinking I’m better than everyone else (#notabigsurprise).  I know.  I’m working on it.  And one of the reasons I’m working on it is because of this man named Allen who shows genuine humility.  I want to be seen and heard.  He wants others to be seen and heard, including me.  He’s the biggest reason why I started this blog.  He wants my voice out there.  He actually, deep-down-inside, believes that others are valuable and takes the role of a servant much of the time even though he is a highly successful business man with mad skills.  You can find him washing the dishes, folding the laundry, performing menial, unseen tasks no one else wants to do and never expecting the notice and applause of others.  I am so blessed!

My favorite thing about Allen, and probably why he’s all those other things, is that he is deeply spiritual.  His inner life matters more to him than his outward persona.  He seeks God with ferocity.  He spends time in prayerful solitude in all kinds of places (the woods, his favorite chair in our family room, the airport as he’s waiting for a flight).  He seeks wise counsel with me as we work to have a better marriage and partnership for this journey.  He has a group of male friends called the Muckmeisters who meet every other week to encourage and be encouraged along their inner journeys.  We share our lives with a group of couples where Allen is vulnerable and open with his struggles and successes.   He voraciously reads anything he can get his hands on (at our local library because he is an accountant and keeps our money under control) that will help him on his path to becoming spiritually and emotionally whole.  He is the real deal!!

Allen is not perfect by any means.  No one is.  That’s what makes this post even more precious to me!  I spend a lot of time thinking about and dwelling on all the things he is not, the ways I wish he was different.  But today, on his 57th birthday, I am shouting for all to hear the things that HE IS, the parts of him that are his truest self.

To my boys:  you have a great father.  I don’t want you to be him.  I want you to be yourselves.  I want you to see, by Dad’s example, that you can be your truest, best selves in all that God made you to be.  You are already great men and a lot of the reason you are is because of the amazing dad that you have.

To my girls:  you have a great father.  He has been more than enough for you and shown you what a good man is. Sarah, you have chosen wisely and have two good men (one big and one little) yourself.  How blessed they both are to have you as their wife and mom.  Rachel, you are still to choose.  I know you will choose well.  Dad will be a blubbering mess when he walks you down the aisle!

To Allen today: you are amazing!  You are to be celebrated!   I am so grateful to share my life with you!  Keep doing what you are doing! Don’t change who you are (even though at times I’m shouting otherwise)! You make the world, and especially mine, a better place just because you are in it! I see you!  I salute you! Happy Birthday! I hope we have 57 more of them together!!! And even that won’t be long enough!!

Posted in Faith, Family, Motherhood, Sabbath

God, Weird Mom Agendas, Fixing Stuff and a Resting Heart

One of my favorite parts of being a mom is when all my children are in the same room, sleeping under the same roof and sitting around the same table. I can see their huge bodies curled up in a ball on the couch, hear their voices singing in the shower, and give them hugs like I never want to let them go. I am with them and my heart is happy. Right now, in this season of momhood, sadness comes knowing it’s temporary and that I stay here and they go there.

It’s true. I am still with them. I cheer for them in their triumphs, am sad for their struggles and pain, and plop my mom heart down next to theirs during the every day stuff of life. I want them to know in the depths of their souls that they are not alone.

But this is also true. I am not with them the way I used to or even want to be. This is the hard part, the letting go part, the budding adult part, the “trusting God” part.

God is with them even more than I could ever be. He’s not limited physically like me. That calms my heart when I can’t be there in bodily mom form. He reaches them in places that I will never be able to touch. He is the only One who can do that. I rest there.

He also doesn’t have weird mom agendas for them like I do. He doesn’t lecture them to “get their act together” like I might. He doesn’t have fear when they don’t like I might. He is just with them. I rest there.

He doesn’t try to fix everything for them like I’ve been known to do (cough cough). He lets them be right where they are, in all their good and bad choices, and sits beside them in all of them, holding them close to His heart. He loves them no matter what.  I rest there.

He believes in them even when they might not believe in themselves. When they can’t see their own goodness and value, He reminds them gently. He is fiercely committed to them for their whole life, actually forever. He isn’t going anywhere. I rest there.

Deuteronomy 31:8
The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

I’m soaking this into my soul today:  God goes before me.  He goes before them.  He’s with me.  He’s with them.  God will never leave me.  He will never leave them.  Take courage, sweet heart of mine.  REST. RIGHT. THERE.

 

Please don’t forget to “LIKE” the post on social media!  I know it means you have to “go back out and click on something,” but it would mean the world to me!!!

Posted in Faith, Family, Health, Motherhood

Ungrace (#NOT living from this place)

√ TELL ME SOMETHING YOU LIKE ABOUT ME
√ LIKE MY POSTS (AND COMMENT)…SERIOUSLY
√ SEND ME A THANK YOU TEXT OR NOTE
√ SAY “I GET WHY YOU FEEL THIS WAY” WHEN I’M SPEWING THE LATEST “UGH” LIFE MOMENT
√ CELEBRATE MY BIRTHDAY WITH SPEECHES, POEMS, CHEESY SONGS ABOUT WHY YOU LOVE ME
√ LET ME BE THE CENTER OF ATTENTION

Thinking back on my early memories, I loved being cheered for, clapped for, told I was doing a good job.  It spoke to my soul that what I was good, approved of, and I should do more of the same.  It fed the very normal parts of me that longed to be liked and enjoyed by others.  It saturated this “words of affirmation” girl with a bucket full of love.

However, somehow this beautiful, God-given love language of mine twisted very quickly into something called “ungrace,” the view that I HAD to perform in order to be accepted, wanted and loved.  Praise for accomplishing morphed into earning the approval and love of those in my path.  Scarily, I also believed if I did not do these things, I deserved nothing and should actually be punished.  No wonder I strived so hard.   Many times, I wanted to just give up because it was too hard.  It seemed never enough.  The bar was too high, always just beyond my reach!

Being a mom threw a major wrench in the works for me.  No one cheered when I was up in the middle of the night with my newborn.  No one clapped when I painstakingly folded the laundry every single day.  No one praised me for driving to (78,453) after-school activities.  I wasn’t sure if I was doing a good job, approved of, or even liked by those I served.  Believe it or not, sometimes I was even told (hold your breath) that I wasn’t doing a good job by the wonderful children I bore from my very loins (insert sarcastic emoji here).  I wondered if anyone knew what I was doing at all, or even cared.  I felt unnoticed and underappreciated.  Said love bucket barely had enough water in it to wash my face . 

Other times, I completely blew it as a mom.  I yelled in frustration when I knew it only made things worse.  I argued back to a very strong-willed teenager (imagine that!), escalating the problem instead of bringing calm.   I used lots and lots of words that produced guilt and fear in my children.   It was not a pretty picture.   During these moments, I didn’t even like or approve of myself, let alone what others might think if they knew.  Aforementioned love bucket drained to the place of “I still think I might see faded wet stains on the bottom.”

The scariest part is I believed that God, who I couldn’t hide any of the good or bad from, wasn’t quite happy with me when I was doing good and He was angry with me when I was failing.  What did I do?  I began a cycle of trying harder.  I carried the system of “ungrace” with me everywhere. 

Be the classroom mom.  Get a “thank you” from the teacher.  Have an “over-the-top” Victorian Tea birthday party for my 13 year-old.  Receive a “hug” from my teen.  Make cookies for every high school basketball game.  Get acknowledged at the end-of-the-year awards banquet by my 6’5″ son. 

DO.  GET LOVE.  DO MORE.  GET LOVE.  OUTDO MYSELF AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN.  The loop viciously perpetuated and I was an absolute slave to it.

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Guess what?

Drum roll please.

Wait for it!

Wait for it!

IT. DID. NOT. WORK. IN. THE. LONG. RUN.

And thankfully it didn’t. If it had, I might have stayed in this never-ending, life-crushing cycle of “ungrace.”

Other, better voices came into my life slowly.  Words of affirmation from authors, friends, scripture, preachers, my husband, counselors, and #EVENMYKIDS slowly began to shatter the lie I was living under.  They revealed the truth of grace to me.  The shackles loosened little bit by little bit.

I found out that grace is fundamentally unfair.  Grace says love does not have to be earned.  Grace tells me I don’t have to gain approval to receive it.  Yes, I could settle for false love, the kind I had manufactured by doing and doing.  But I didn’t have to.  I could receive true love, the kind where I don’t have to do anything to get more or less of it.   Mind-blown and better yet, heart-blown wide open.

I also found out God is the ultimate source of grace.  He gives it willingly.  In fact, He longs to lavish it on me.  There’s nothing I can do to make Him love me more OR less.  HE IS FULL OF GRACE!  OVERFLOWINGLY FULL!  As I receive this grace drop by drop, my love bucket slowly fills.   This time, however, my bucket is not filling with all the temporary “ungrace,” hole-in-the-bottom-of-the-bucket, earning kind of love, but the free, unmerited favor, grace-filled, fill-it-all-the-way-to-the-TOP-of-the-bucket kind of love.

Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more—no amount of spiritual calisthenics and renunciations, no amount of knowledge gained from seminaries and divinity schools, no amount of crusading on behalf of righteous causes. And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less—no amount of racism or pride or pornography or adultery or even murder. Grace means that God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love. (Phillip Yancey)

From My Heart to Yours

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Now that you know how my love language is words of affirmation, you understand why I love having those likes and comments here and on social media!  What’s your love language??  How does your grace-filled bucket get full?  WOULD LOVE FOR YOU TO LIKE OR COMMENT 🙂

Posted in Faith, Family, Marriage, Motherhood

Happy Birthday 33-Year-Old Younger Self!

Dear Esther Joy,

It’s February 18, 1999 and it’s your 33rd birthday today.  You stand on the edge of a year that marks the beginning of the best part of your life!

You have been married just shy of eight years to Allen and you already have three children:  Sarah (6), Jared (5) and Joshua (almost “free”).  You just found out in the last week that you are expecting your fourth in the fall.  WOW!  Just WOW!  I’m not sure how you are doing it.  I am exhausted just at the thought of it all!

Allen works in New York City for Pfizer.  He commutes three hours a day on a train from your home in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey.  You stay at home, trying to corral all the kiddos and make some money on the side, typing for anyone who needs it.  You both fall into bed exhausted at the end of long and blurry days.

You are both highly involved at church.  Allen is an elder (yes, he’s only 36 years old…I see the irony here).   You are in charge of the church nursery (your main and silly goal to keep it germ-free).   Both of you oversee the busy Sunday School as its superintendents.  Allen goes to Bible study each Tuesday night and prayer meeting every Saturday morning.  You attend Bible study for young moms on Wednesdays.  Sundays are spent going to church, give or take a few hours in the afternoon (when many times you have the speaker over for lunch),.  The rest of your week is filled with all the other social events that are part of this community of kind souls.

You have lots of friends from your church and a neighborhood filled with young families who you enjoy tremendously.  Your life is extremely busy and full and looks picture-perfect from the outside.  You are the quintessential Christian woman, wife, and mom, or so it seems.

Little do you know what I, your 53-year-old self, know about you.  I love you, younger version of me, but I never want to be you again.  I say that tenderly, knowing that you are just stuck and don’t know better and are trying your hardest with what you know and believe right now.

Your marriage to Allen is filled with hiding, from each other and even from yourselves.  Both of you long to be exemplary Christians and have the ideal “Christ-like” marriage, but you are missing the forest for the trees.  You don’t have a lot of conflict (after all, fighting is wrong and ungodly), but you DO NOT have a lot of closeness.  Your desire to hang on to this external image prevents the two of you from sharing your mutual brokenness and meeting each other in that place, extending compassion and grace, and ultimately healing.  You will eventually find that what scared you greatly, being fully-known, flaws and all, is actually the safest place of all, fully-loved by each other.  Twenty years from now, you will spend a weekend away with Allen, reminding each other of how grateful you are to know and love each other more deeply than you could have ever imagined.  Your continuously growing, although still bumpy marriage, once filled with pretense is now a source of restoration for others.

Screen Shot 2019-02-18 at 11.39.10 PM

You want your kids to behave above all else.  You believe that getting them to keep all the rules at school, church and home, is the answer to the giant question of whether or not you are a good mom.  You use guilt and fear more often than not, those being two readily available resources in your tool chest.  You genuinely do love your kids, the good news being that this love wins out over the long haul.  Fear and guilt slowly begin to step aside when your fourth, Rachel, is born later this year.   In 20 years time, you will have growing relationships with each of your four, and they all will speak words of kindness and understanding as you discuss all your strengths and struggles in raising them on your new-found podcast, something that doesn’t even exist today.  What a gift this will be to you, as you turn 53.  One of them will even send you a note on Facebook (something else that doesn’t exist yet) that “you are the greatest of all time” as you head to bed that night.  It doesn’t get any better than that.  LOVE WINS!

Your desire to be good and look good makes my heart sad.   You believe that God’s ultimate goal is to get you to behave (hence your goal for your kids).  You set rules for yourself that keep you in check and when they don’t, you fall into the shame and blame cycle with yourself and others.  You are trapped in the crazy formulaic thinking that following all the rules makes for a good and happy life, but when it all falls apart a few years from now, thankfully bigger life-changing things like grace and mercy come flooding in from a BIG GOD like a tsunami.  He gently picks up the pieces of your broken and confused heart and puts you back together in a way that’s better than if you had never fallen apart.  He is a GOOD GOD and worthy to be trusted each and every day, in all the beautiful and messy moments that make up your incredible life’s journey.

I repeat, I love you, younger version of me.  It’s all going to be okay.  What you see now is but a dim shadow of the beauty that’s to come.  I promise you a few things:  you don’t do it all right.  In fact, you make some mistakes that cost you greatly.  You are afraid sometimes, very afraid.  Your faith is tested to the shattering point.  Your heart is broken into a million pieces.  BUT, you do not give up HOPE, even in the middle of your fear.  The One who is the source of all HOPE does not give up on you.  You do not give up FAITH, even though the waves swirl around you, and it’s hard for you to see the Object of your FAITH.  He keeps his eye unwaveringly on you.  Though your heart splinters into fragments, you do not give up LOVE.  LOVE HIMSELF slowly shows you that you are LOVED beyond measure and this LOVE is freeing and healing.  It’s from this LOVE that you will begin to love others.  You have a long way to go, and so do I.  I wonder what our 73-year-old wiser self will say to us.  It’s just good to be on this journey together!

Your mom (and mine) chose this verse when you (and I) were born.  It’s true today and it will be for the rest of your life.  Take heart, younger Esther Joy.   All will be well.

Screen Shot 2019-02-18 at 11.50.24 PM

From my heart to yours,

Esther Joy

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SHAMELESS BEG…PLEASE LIKE THIS (AND COMMENT) ON SOCIAL MEDIA OR HERE SO THAT OTHERS HAVE THE BEST CHANCE TO READ  (the social media algorithms have us all a little baffled) …IT WILL BE THE BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT YOU CAN GIVE THIS GIRL!

 

 

Posted in Anxiety, Faith, Family, Health, Motherhood

Two Desperate Words of All Parents (and what to do about them)

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Paul)

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“BUT I…”

It’s a cry heard all over parenting land.

BUT I took my prenatal vitamins and I did exactly what the doctor told me.  Why does my baby have a heart defect?

BUT I waited until she was “ready” for potty training and I followed the exact steps that worked for all my friends.  Why is my six year old still wetting the bed?

BUT I had him evaluated and got him a specialized tutor.  Why is his teacher still telling me he’s not doing well in school?

BUT I gave up my job and made her a complete priority in my life, even leaving cute notes in her lunch.  Why is she rolling her eyes at me and hardly ever coming outside of her room?

BUT I never had liquor in the house and he’s been through all the drug and alcohol awareness programs.  He’s even seen his friends lose their licenses.  Why did I just find vodka under my senior’s bed?

BUT I took her to church her whole life and we even had family devotions.  Why did my college student just reveal that she doesn’t believe in God anymore?

BUT I paid for four years at a good college and I remember the dreams he had growing up about becoming a doctor.  Why did he barely receive his diploma and can’t even find a steady-paying job?

BUT I TRIED MY BEST AND LOVED HER WITH MY WHOLE HEART, WHY IS SHE STILL NOT OKAY?

We want so desperately in our lives to have A + B always = C.  We want the formulas to work.  We get advice from all kinds of sources (friends, parenting books, the internet, pastors, counselors, doctors) and we cry in frustration “BUT I…” when the recipe ends up more like all those Pinterest fails we’ve seen on the internet (note the picture above).

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When I was just a wee bit younger (okay, like 30 years ago, but I’m not that old, right?!), I believed wholeheartedly in all the formulas, and especially that they would work.  Why wouldn’t I?  It’s perfect.  Just do all right things, make all the right choices and life goes the way it should.  I’d heard it from preachers, parents, teachers, friends, authors, and I’d repeated it endlessly in my own head.  Being the “good Christian” woman that I was, I brought this into my parenting.  Of course I did.

As you may have heard in my Podcast with Sarah, our oldest (CLICK HERE TO LISTEN – IT’S WORTH IT), these lovely formulas worked with her.  She was naturally compliant.  She loved the formulas herself.  (If we were Catholic, she probably would have wanted to be a nun.)  She followed all the rules, had sticker charts completely filled in, received accolades in school for being the best citizen, and excelled at “being a good Christian” whatever that means.  Our formulas seemed to work (especially to the outside world).

But inside our home, they weren’t.  She struggled with tummy aches even as early as three.  She had full-blown Obsessive Compulsive Disorder at 10 years old.  She struggled to go away to sleep away camp for a week when she was 14 because she couldn’t leave the perceived “safety” of our home.  She needed meds for her anxiety in college.  As much as she and I tried our hardest to make A + B = C, it just didn’t happen.  The “right” side of the equal sign became D or J or V or most like a giant question mark.

WHY?  I screamed in desperation.  I was doing everything right!

Should I just try harder?  Maybe I am doing something wrong?  Maybe the equation isn’t right?  All questions that swirled around in my head.

And believe me, I still tried to fix it for years.  I read books, took parenting classes, listened to podcasts, asked friends, had mom prayer circles and even begged Allen to figure it out.

Still, I couldn’t make A + B = C.

New questions swirled.  If this doesn’t work, then what?  What do I do now?  How do I parent?  What really makes me a good mom (something I so desperately wanted and still want)?

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It’s funny how when we come to the end of our trying and our finagling and our controlling and our rope and our selves, our hearts open to the possibility of something new.  A new thought.  A new possibility.  A new way.

God used the end of all of this for something new in me.  A new thought about what matters in our family.   A new possibility of how to be a mom.   A new way of seeing my child.

He invited me into relationship, both with Himself and with my children.   At first, this uncertain place seemed like a curse.  It would take lots more time and wisdom when making decisions.  I might not even make the same choice twice.  What I did for one child in one circumstance might not be the best for a different one.  There might be “it’s unfair” shouts.  It would be complicated, messy.

But as I embarked on this different journey of parenting with much trepidation, I found that it just might be a gift, and a good one at that.  Instead of living in a “what I wish were true” place, I began to live in a “what’s actually true” space.   Life is messy and no amount of “doing the right thing” ensures complete safety and success.

I slowly began to gain freedom from the formula master, one chain link at a time.  Instead of viewing my child as a problem to be solved, I began to see them as a mysterious person to be known, loved and enjoyed (kind of like action thriller enjoyment, which is scary and fun all at the same time).  Instead of seeking certainty,  I began to pursue wisely-placed trust, trust in a wild God, One I can’t control, but One who is completely good and utterly safe.  He doesn’t need any formula for my children to thrive and be okay (the real cry of my heart).

My relationship with my kids slowly began to change.  Instead of having an agenda (the sum of the equation), I could just BE with them, no matter where they were or what they were doing (good or bad).  It was hard for me, like super hard.  I know best, especially as a mom.  I want what’s best for them.  I know how they should get there.  But it doesn’t come from the best place.   I like a little bit (I mean a lot) of control.  But we all know how control works out (see formula above).  It doesn’t.

As I turned the tables (another new thought), I realized I don’t want to be anybody else’s agenda or project.  Neither do my kids.  Instead of “here is what I think you should do, be, act like, etc., I love when others say, “I’m with you,” and that’s the end of it.  That’s what my kids want.  I don’t want to feel like I’m going to the principal’s office when I am with someone.  Neither do my kids.  It creates defensiveness, hiding, guilt, shame, people-pleasing, all the yuck we parents are now in counseling for ourselves.

However, when someone is just WITH ME in my beautiful, messy life where sometimes I make bad choices or think terrible thoughts, unconditional love opens the door for vulnerability and trust.  THIS is what my kids want.  All the good stuff happens the most in this safe place.   No one is going to counseling for this.

Now I had a new question.  Was it as simple as love God and love others (including those people who’ve been placed in this family under my purview)?  Yes.

Formulas are not love.  To boot, they don’t work.  Loving God is trusting Him (the hardest part of parenting), especially when things don’t go as planned.  DON’T FORGET:  it is a trust that is wisely placed.  IT BRINGS US FREEDOM.

Agendas are also not love.   Loving others (our kids) is being WITH them, especially when they are not where we think they should be or want them to be.  That’s a love that’s unconditional and safe.  IT BRINGS THEM FREEDOM.

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PLEASE FEEL FREE TO COMMENT OR SHARE.  AND ESPECIALLY TAKE A MINUTE TO LIKE  OR COMMENT ON THE POST ON SOCIAL MEDIA!!

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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 Charity, Faith, Homeless

It Finally Happened to Us (The Relief Bus)

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.” (Mother Teresa)

It’s super easy to spiral into hopelessness when checking out the news or social media. War. Wildfires. Politics. Shootings. Sex-trafficking. Addiction. You don’t have to look very far to find what’s going wrong.  It might even be impacting your own family.  It all feels heavy, dire and needs to be fixed as soon as possible.

Where do I start? Who do I help? What can I possibly do to make a small dent for good in this gut-wrenching broken world? Would it even make a difference? Those hard questions probably come up for you when you think about it. They do for me.

I felt that a lot as a mom.  There were gigantic, world-shattering issues and I was just changing diapers, helping with homework, feeding hungry bellies, cheering at events, and getting needed tasks accomplished, both at work and at home.

I still feel it.  My days are mostly borne out in the small, the mundane, the ordinary.  No earth-changing happening here.  Or so it sure seems.

Many times, I fall into the trap of two not-so-helpful thought-patterns and thus choices:

  1. Draining what little time and energy I have getting stuck trying to figure out what is most crucial or…
  2. Crumpling under the sheer magnitude of all the horror.

Other times, thank God, I am reminded of something wiser:

3.  Make the world a better place because I am in it.

It doesn’t matter what we invest ourselves in. We can care about clean water for the planet, special education needs in our communities, or our own child struggling with his math problems. It can be a big-world, local community or one-person issue.   We, all by our sweet selves, can be a powerful force for good.   We’ve done it thousands of times, most of it small and seemingly insignificant: a smile, a hug, a word of encouragement, a meal made, a listening ear, a thoughtful gift.

No, we can’t do everything. But we can do something. And that is lots better than doing nothing.

Friday night, this came true outside of our normal, work-a-day world.  Allen and I, after much encouragement from my brother, Stephen (okay, he asked us about 10 times before we could say “yes”), drove our little selves to Elizabeth, NJ in 40 degree, rainy weather, to serve soup and hand out socks on the Relief Bus with him and some of his let’s-change-the-world college students.

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Yes.  I finally took the plunge into “the poor being the very portal to the heart of God” thing my friend Juan Galloway always talks about.

We met people who didn’t have their mental ducks in a row.  We met an unwed, teenage soon-to-be mom.  We met a man who prayed for us in a loud voice and called the power of Jesus down on us.  We met a “used-to-live-in-the-suburbs” couple who wanted to overcome their addiction to heroin and were desperate to get into a detox and rehab facility.  Their names are Dan and Jessica.

The bottom line is we met people.  Just people.

People with hopes and dreams not realized.

People with needs not met.  

People with kids they are worrying about.

People waiting to see how God will show up and wondering if He will.

Sound familiar?

People.  Just people.

Doing those few hours, our minds and bodies were taken up with passing out socks and soup, praying with these beautiful souls as they wanted, reminding them not to give up and that God saw them and every single one of their needs and that He loves them.  It was a good break from obsessing over the huge, complicated plight of the homeless in our broken culture and broken systems.

As we got in the car and were debriefing together, those consuming thoughts came rushing back.  “It’s so complicated.”  “What a mess.”  “Are there enough beds?”  “Everyone is on SSI or disability.”  “Are we adding to the problem?”   “No one is working.”  “Is a cup of soup really making a difference?”  “How is this ever going to be fixed?”  Even before we left, our kind guide said to us, “No, you are not going to fix homelessness in one night.”  UGH.

Very quickly, as “not-so-helpful” option #2 buzzed around in the car, floating out there and ready to consume us with hopelessness, we chose to cling to option #3:  make the world a better place because we are in it.

Period.

Love our neighbor.  Period.

Choose good.  Period.

Bring hope.  Period.

You see, whether we’re digging a well in Rwanda (YAY, we got to do that), washing the dishes in our kitchen (do that every day ugh), handing out socks to the homeless, cutting up bite-size portions for our toddler’s dinner (did that for like 10 years straight), putting money in a bucket at church (our church has a popcorn bucket…how fun is that?), saying thank you to your local barista (I don’t drink coffee, but I bet most of you do), all those tiny, supposedly inconsequential moments of good grow into the huge life stories of hope, change and restoration. The good beats back the bad one choice at a time, one person at a time.   It’s not insignificant after all.  It’s essential.

I’m not sure where your passion lies, what sets your soul on fire, what your heart longs to see restored. Be encouraged. Your “cup of soup” for one “hungry” person will send ripples of life-changing goodness into the world.  And don’t forget this one very important thing:  the “hungry” are everywhere, perhaps even sitting next to you.

From my  heart to yours.


**Huge shout-out today to New York City Relief and Juan Galloway (their fearless leader) for allowing us to get up close and personal.  Check out these four places for more information.  GET UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL YOURSELF.**

VOLUNTEER (your time – join all these cool names on the wall)

DONATE (your money or hygiene kits)

LISTEN to Juan’s story about his week on the streets living as homeless

READ Juan’s blog

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, Guest, Motherhood

Leaving

Meet Susan Bernstein!  She is a wife to Eddie (married over 20 years), mom to three growing, young men (Brandon, Blake and Jordan) and a kind friend.  Susan is a dog-lover, a very organized stay-at-home mom (she jokes that she spends half her life at the grocery store), an amateur photographer and an aspiring writer!  Susan is loving, smart and brave.  THIS WILL BE A HUGE TREAT FOR YOU PARENTS OUT THERE (no matter what your age and stage)!  I hope you enjoy! 

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Guess Which One is Susan?

“The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.”  (Denis Waitley)

I would suspect most people don’t cry when looking through a Bed, Bath & Beyond catalogue. Last night however, I found myself doing just that. As I studied the various organizational and space-saving items they sell to help one fit their belongings into a 14 x 14 foot dorm room, the tears just started flowing. I couldn’t believe that in one short month, I’d be packing my oldest son up for college. My mothering mind wondered if he’d have everything he needed, but deep down I wasn’t too worried about shower caddies or desk lamps. My concern was more for friends, support, and wisdom…things they didn’t sell in that catalogue.

My husband noticed my tears and came over to hug me.

“You ok?” he asked me for probably the millionth time this year.

“Yeah.”  I exhaled and sighed.

“It’s not that I’m upset about him leaving,” a fresh sob forming in my throat, “It’s just that he’s never coming back.” And the floodgates erupted once more.

It hits me at odd times that our family of five will never again permanently reside under the same roof.  I beamed proudly during his graduation ceremony without shedding a tear. However, I had to pull myself together in the aisle of the Hallmark store as I shopped for a card and gift just days prior.  I choked back the tears as I chose Dr. Seuss’ Oh The Places You’ll Go, realizing he was about to begin a new phase of life, and it wouldn’t include us.

I knew in my heart the day would come.  I mean, isn’t this what we plan for as parents all along?  None of us have children and secretly hope that they’ll live with us when they are 40, right?  The fact that they leave means we actually did something right as a parent! We raised a child strong and independent enough to survive on his own! Isn’t that the whole point of this parenting thing? We spent untold hours teaching them the value of hard work, integrity, and the need for sunblock.  We had heart-to-hearts about taking the high road when betrayed by friends. We battled fears, real and imagined, late into the night, and steadied their shaky steps when they entered the unknown territory of a new school, team, or social circle.  All the pep talks, time outs, chore charts, and consequences have paved the way to this moment.  Leaving might actually be the Super Bowl event of parenthood, a time to fold our arms and smugly proclaim, “I rocked this parenting thing out of the park!”

Not exactly.  Yes, he’s a capable, intelligent and (somewhat) responsible young man.  He drives and makes decisions and can even vote or join the army if he wants to.  But is he ready?  I remember asking the same question when I left him at preschool a blink of an eye ago. He cried and cried for me, and I was sure I was doing him irreparable harm by leaving.  It’s funny, because my heart hurts in the same way now.  Except he isn’t crying anymore.  He’s on Facebook meeting incoming classmates and looking for a roommate. So, he probably is ready.  But am I?

Parenting seems to be the most selfless profession out there.  After you’ve done all you can to love, nurture and raise this tiny little person, you need to let them go.  As a child, my son believed everything I told him.  Now, he forms his own opinions, and he is influenced by a myriad of voices over which I have no control.  Our children aren’t mini-clones or younger versions of ourselves.  They actually have their own unique identity.  They will think and believe and do what they decide, and we are now on the sidelines, watching.  We silently cheer them on and pray constantly that they will have victory.   We are most definitely now on the bleachers watching their game of life, rather than next to them in the huddle.

As I prepare to release my son into the world, I will shop for all the things he needs for his new “home.”  I will buy fluffy towels and warm blankets, plenty of Command hooks and microwave popcorn.  He will leave packed up with all the essentials, including 18 years worth of unconditional love.   I will watch with wonder, excitement, and a fair amount of sadness, as he leaves us behind and begins his life.  He has a story to write, and he will write it his own way, on his own terms.  I will always be a part of that story, but just one part, the one loving him from afar and praying that God protect him and put good, loving people in his life.  And I suspect, for a few years at least, I’ll be the one helping to pack and organize him at Bed Bath and Beyond.


 

How great was that?!  I just want to thank Susan for sharing her heart with each of us!  If you are interested in reading other parenting blog posts by me, the Dolly Mama, click on the links below:

The Goetz Family Law

Ending Well (and a surprise beginning)

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

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

 

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PHOTO CREDS TO JASON AT WWW.AWAKENEDFILMS.COM