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 Celebration, Faith, Grief, Health

I Don’t Agree with Dr. Seuss on This One

“Don’t cry because it’s over.  Smile because it happened.  (Dr. Seuss)

“There is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”  (King Solomon)

In my kids’ high school yearbooks, seniors usually put a quote at the bottom of their picture, words that represented them and they wanted to pass along to their fellow classmates.  I loved reading each one of my kids’ friends quotes because they gave me a little glimpse into what mattered to them, their final statement as they pushed on to the next world of college.  They varied from very serious and mind-stretching to completely silly and slightly inappropriate (here’s a secret…those were my favorite).

The above quote from Dr. Seuss was under at least a few of the pictures every single year.  For a long time, I loved it.  It shouted the very important ideas of hope and thankfulness.  It helped people look “on the bright side” of life.  It granted a new perspective when sadness and pain came knocking.  Or so it seemed.

I filled my kids’ scrapbooks with quotes from Dr. Seuss.  Many speak words I want to shout from the mountaintops and especially whisper to the souls of my kids.

“Today you are you.  That is truer than true.  There is no one alive that is youer than you.”

“A person’s a person no matter how small.”

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

“And will you succeed?  Yes!  You will indeed!  98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed!”

Wisdom.  Hope.  Life.

So why does the “Don’t cry because it’s over…” quote rub me in the wrongest (not sure if that is even a word) way?

I am not good at crying (except at Disney movies and This Is Us episodes).  I like to pride myself on being the “strong” one, the “positive one,” the “hope-bringer.”  But that pride gets me into lots of trouble.  I keep others out, when it would be best to let others in.  I put on the “smile” even when I am hurting inside.  I push aside any grief (like a good American) that threatens to overwhelm me instead of working through it.  I don’t like the negative emotion of sadness.  JOY is my middle name after all (no pressure there WINKY FACE).  

BUT…

(and it’s a BIG BUT this time)

I’m discovering ever so slowly that:

  • CRYING releases toxins and reduces stress.  Tears feel cleansing and authentic.
  • SADNESS speaks to the value of what’s been lost, giving honor to the good in our lives. (I joke often that if my kids or Allen don’t seriously fall apart for at least a year or two or three after I’m gone, I will be pretty upset about it!  What does that say about me if they only “smile because it happened?”)
  • GRIEF brings empathy for the pain of others (our universal human language) and creates a healthy path towards true, lasting restoration.

It’s okay to be sad just as much as it’s okay to feel joy.

It’s okay to cry just as much as it’s okay to smile.

It’s okay to grieve just as much as it’s okay to celebrate.

It’s why funerals and memorial services feel so bizarre sometimes.  One moment, sadness, crying and grief are palpable, threatening to overwhelm.  A split-second later, laughter and the celebration of the one who has been lost bursts on the scene.   What feels so dichotomous actually pronounces the permission to live fully in BOTH AND, not either or, the integrated,  beautiful experience of our human space and my human heart in it’s entirety.

BUT (hopefully a smaller BUT this time)…

I say to myself, “Sure, it’s true for the large, visible-to-everyone, life-changing human experiences.  But what about the very ordinary parts of my life and my day?  What then?”

I cry when my baby takes his first step away from me, but I smile that he is reaching his normal milestones.

I cry when my husband takes a job with a very long commute, but I smile that all his hard work is paying off.

I cry when my friend tells me she’s moving, but I smile because she just landed her dream job.

I cry when my daughter buys her own place, but I smile knowing she’s spreading her wings just like I taught her.

All these run-of-the-mill life happenings echo the same voice as those that are profound.  What happens in the momentous also takes place in the mundane.  I have freedom to embrace BOTH crying AND smiling, in all that this adventure sends my way.

I do love Dr. Seuss.  It’s his birthday when I am writing this (March 2nd)!  So HAPPY BIRTHDAY Theodore Giesel.  You’ve brought much happiness into my life and the lives of my children.  For that, I am truly grateful!

BUT (and this one is a middlish BUT)…

I wish your quote said this instead:

“Cry because it’s over…AND…smile because it happened.”

King Solomon was right.

 

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P.S.  When I told my daughter (one of the seniors in the picture on this post) what I was writing about and why, the basic gist of her response was this, “Oh Mom, I think you’re missing his point.  I don’t think he’s saying “don’t cry.”  I think he’s saying remember to smile.”  So there you have it.  If you also believe I am clueless about Dr. Seuss’ original intention, you are in good company!  Point taken.

 

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P.P.S.  If you’ve read this far and want to comment here or on social media or in an email, I’m asking you this question:  can you think of a time where you found yourself laughing and crying at the same time?  What was it?

 

 

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.

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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.

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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 Family, Grandparenthood, Thanks

Happy Birthday Broden Bear! #easytobethankful

When I see you, my eyes turn into little hearts! (The Internet)

Dearest Broden Bear,

Today you turn One!  I just can’t believe it’s been a year since I held you in my arms at Hershey Medical Center and had that unexplainable BIG feeling that your arrival would change me forever, in all the very best ways.

Mommy and Daddy have kept you alive for 12 whole months, 52 weeks, 365 days!  This is no easy undertaking now that your adventurous, free-spirited, “I-want-what-I-want”, curious and mobile self has taken over!  Just less than 72 hours ago, your determination to climb the steps all by yourself led to a not-so-little tumble, complete with a bloody nose and a call to the doctor.  Thankfully, you were back to your happy self very soon and went right back to the steps, not a care in the world.

I knew way back on November 18, 2017 that you would be cute.  I knew you would be super special.  But I didn’t know how easily and quickly my heart would be captivated by everything Broden:

  • Your big blue eyes filled with wonder at anything new.
  • Your six-toothed smile.
  • The pleasure you expressed when eating pizza with us on Friday.
  • The way you scrunch up your face.
  • Your strong-willed cry when you don’t want me to leave the room.
  • Bubbles of laughter during peek-a-boo!
  • Your love of music already.
  • The “look” of wariness when you are unsure of something.
  • The way you snuggle into my neck.
  • Your strong determination to get where and what you want.
  • Your look of recognition and then happiness when you see me.
  • Watching you giggle when you were playing with your new birthday toy last night!

One year ago, I found myself asking the questions, “What will you be like?  What adventures will life bring you and you, in turn, bring to life?”  You’ve already had so many adventures:

  • rides in your Daddy’s 1985 Bronco
  • staying up til midnight on New Year’s Eve (that might not happen again for a bunch of years)
  • meeting your great-grandparents
  • reading Press Here over and over and over (parents of young ones, buy this book…it’s genious)
  • going to your first wedding
  • eating a banana popsicle
  • dressing up like a pirate with Mommy and Daddy
  • putting your toes in the sand in LBI
  • kissing your first fish
  • loving the swing at the park
  • eating Chik-Fila (if Daddy has anything to say about it, this will be a staple in your diet)
  • dressing like twinsies with Daddy
  • swimming in the pool at Allenberry Resort
  • riding in your special bike seat behind Mommy and Daddy
  • meeting a goat at Paulus Orchard
  • having your first lollipop as Charlie Brown

And it’s not over . There are many many more to come!  They have and will continue to range from hazardous to great, terrible to sweet, quiet to joyous, sad to wonderful, hard to exciting.  One thing for sure: all of your adventures will be unique, because you, Broden, are one of a kind!  But one thing I didn’t realize then was all the adventures you would bring to me!  It’s been quite a ride already!  Can’t wait for more!

Regardless of the kind of adventure you take, never forget above all that that you are extremely loved.  The God who formed you has absolute and unconditional love for you.  Nothing you can ever do will make Him love you less or love you more.  He loves you just because you are you.

Your creative, smart, kind, hard-working, compassionate mommy and your free-spirited, adventurous, wise, level-headed, willing-to-grow daddy are absolutely head-over-heels in love with you.  They will love you no matter what and nothing you can do will ever change that.

You also have grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends who have loved you from the first moment of hearing about you.  You will never find yourself in a place that you won’t be loved.

All of our eyes do turn into little hearts when we see you!  It’s impossible for it to be otherwise!

Your inner soul anchored in this place of unconditional love will be of immense value for living your outer adventure to the fullest.  Never forget that you have that safe place deep down inside that no one can take from you.  Live in and from that place!

This year, on the day you turn one, I want to remind you again of the “bunch of verses” that God gave to me right when you were born.  They are from God’s heart to mine and mine to yours:

From the day I heard about you, I have not stopped praying and making special requests for you. 

I pray that…

you will be filled with a deep and clear understanding of His will for you, that you will have insight into the ways and purposes of God. 

you would live how God designed you to live, from a fully-known and fully-loved place and that you would have complete trust in Him.  This brings Him the most pleasure.

your life would bear much fruit from all your hard work. 

you would have a full, deep and clear knowledge of God. 

you will be invigorated and strengthened with all power from God so that you will have much patience and joy.

I thank God because He has made you fit to share in all that is His.  He has brought you into His Kingdom, one that is filled with love.

(Colossians 1:9-14 – EJGV – “Esther Joy Goetz Version”)

Broden, how fun that you are ONE!  I am so glad that you were born right before Thanksgiving.  It’s perfect timing!  Having you in my life gives me countless reasons to be thankful!  Next November, you will be TWO and we will do this all over again!  For now, I am off to your birthday celebration!  Happy Birthday to you!!!

With all the love I have in my heart,

(Not sure what you will name me…maybe we will know by this time next year)

P.S.  We took a picture of you every day for your first year.  CLICK HERE TO WATCH YOUR SLIDE SHOW!