613. Almost the number of rules in our home when the kids were little.
61. Probably the number of different “Family Laws” based on said rules along with kids’ ages and stages.
All of this an effort to keep track of what really mattered and didn’t, what should be disciplined and what should be praised.
But mostly just a desperate attempt to manage the chaos that seemed to be a natural part of raising a family.
One not-so-glorious day, having reached the end of my mom rope, I screamed these words in exasperation:
“JUST TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AND YOUR STUFF!!!”
If the not-so-glorious scene had been made into a comic strip for the Sunday paper, a glowing “light bulb” would have hovered just over my red face and red head.
Boxes in my brain were immediately checked for compliance:
Brush teeth (SELF)
Put gas in the car (STUFF)
Do NOT eat 17 cookies (SELF)
Do homework (STUFF)
No wet towels on the floor (STUFF)
Go to bed (SELF)
Get a job (BOTH). – YES. Get a job!
A new “Family Law” was imposed, one that didn’t take hours of preparation, spreadsheets and doctorates. The old charts were wadded up and saved as fire starters!
“TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AND YOUR STUFF!”
Everything in our OUTER lives is managed by this sweet, simple phrase, no matter how old we are, whether we are a male or female, who we live with, what dreams we have, or what our personalities are like.
(You could play a little game and see if you can find any that don’t if you really want to. Comment if you come up with one.)
It’s the same for me and for you, our child or our parents, our spouse or our friend, our pastor or our barista at the local coffee shop.
But what about our INNER lives? What about cooperation, kindness, generosity, respect, compassion, thankfulness, forgiveness, patience, etc., the deeper issues of the heart?
Do they land in those two columns of “self” and “stuff”?
The wisest human (not me) who ever lived emphatically says, “yes.”
In fact, he reminds us that “taking care of our self and our stuff” begins with our INNER life.
Cultivating the matters of our hearts is the best care we can take of our “selves.”
Tending to our souls is the best care we can take of our “stuff.”
His words, not mine:
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)
“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” (Unknown)
Lots of things are going to creep into your life that will thwart you from staying on the path that’s only yours to take. Others (including me at times) may discourage you or steer you off. Lack of immediate success and even straight up failures along the way may cause confusion and “is this really what I’m supposed to be doing” questions. Fear may come in with its claws and try to convince you that you are “not good enough” to stay the course.
As those disheartening voices shout loudly to you, another Voice whispers cheer, comfort and confidence to you. This Voice reassures you to continue to discover what sets your soul on fire, what makes your heart come alive, what you are good at, what gift ONLY you can bring to the world. He will be with you all the way, marking your next steps and encouraging you to be exactly WHO He made you to be and what He made you to do. He is the one who set your soul on fire to begin with and He can keep that fire burning no matter what or who comes in to try to quench it!!
You don’t need to doubt. You can explore what sets your soul on fire.
You don’t need to retreat. You can pursue with your whole heart.
You don’t need to be afraid. You can be fearless.
From My Heart to Yours
PS. I am deathly afraid of heights. This picture is of me standing at the edge of a 50 foot drop. It was a huge moment!
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.
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!!!
“Yes, please get a new cup every time you get a drink of water.” (No Mom Ever)
I lie alone in my bed on a very normal Wednesday night at 11 pm here in our sleepy little town. My husband, the heart of my heart, is at his apartment 350 miles away, where he works three days a week. Our oldest is hopefully sleeping soundly snug next to her husband with her baby boy a few short steps away in his crib (praying he is not sleeping like a baby, but more like a teenager) over two hours away. Our blond hair, blue-eyed first-born son, is probably nodding off in his apartment after a really long day working. My away-at-college senior might just be tackling a paper he has procrastinated writing. My baby, 19 year old curly-headed musician, is the farthest away, probably jamming away with friends on guitars, keyboards and microphones. My house is empty and my heart is scattered all over the East Coast.
Only eight short years ago, life was completely different. On those weekday nights, after showers were taken, toilets were flushed, teeth were brushed, homework was done, video-game playing came to a close, hugs were given, “I love yous” were said, all five of these people who my soul loves lay their heads on pillows within 20 feet of my own. My house was full and my heart was in one place at one kitchen table under one roof.
Yet tonight, as I lie in my very empty house, and although my heart is scattered, it is not empty. My heart is FULL. Full because on the very ordinary day, I have been loved by all the incredible people I shared the better part of my life with in one place at one kitchen table under one roof.
“Thanks, Mom, for all you did for us today.” (phone call from oldest as she was finishing up dinner with her new family after I had spent time caring for her baby and doing their laundry)
“See you this weekend, Mom.” (reminder from third-born about Friday night)
“Shalom to you too, beautiful wife.” (text from hubby as he heads to dreamland after our discussion about what peace really means)
“Love you too, Mom.” (text from son in response to our discussion about us getting him a puppy for his birthday)
Just as I cuddle up under my covers and am about to turn off the light, I receive one last “ding” on my laptop. It is the last of the bunch, our “Bug,” as she is known in these parts. And it is for no reason at all.
Lest you get some crazy notion from all this loveliness that this is how it’s always been or always is even now, let me set the record straight. Under this one roof at one kitchen table in one place, we had our moments. Fights over the huge and minuscule (there was even one earlier this week and it was a doozy). Broken rules and boundaries. Critical spirits and hurt feelings. Addictions and mental illness. Slammed doors and silent treatments. Sickness and sadness. Harsh words and ignorance. All the things that make up normal FULL family life.
But as today reminds me, this is NOT all there was or is now. Under this one roof at one kitchen table in one place, there were also “I’m sorrys” and “I forgive yous.” Respect and authenticity. Forgiveness and encouragement. Freedom and healing. Open hearts and honest conversations. Health and joy. Kind words and understanding. All the things that make up normal FULL family life.
So, Fellow Ordinary Moms and Wives who are…
STILL UNDER ONE ROOF:
I see you. I was you. It’s hard. Look up, Sweet Mama. Keep up the good work. Hang in there. You are amazing. The days are long, but the years are short. You’ve got this. Your family is normal. These people you love, but are ready to kill at any given moment, are worth every ounce of love you can muster and are pouring out and into them. They will make it. You will make it. You will never regret it. It may seem like there’s no end in sight, and your stuff feels huge (AND IT IS), but it will (AND THEY WILL) be okay and even possibly wonderful. Never forget this one truth: LOVE IS ALWAYS THE RIGHT DECISION!
ALONE IN YOUR BED:
I see you. I am you. It’s hard. Look up, Sweet Mama. Our hearts are scattered, yet they reach more places. Our love that we gave and are continuing to pour out is multiplied beyond measure. Hang in there. It will feel sad some days. It does for me too. I miss those times under one roof at one table in one place. But it will (AND WE WILL) be okay and even possibly wonderful. Even though the end is in plain view (and possibly in the rear view), we must keep loving and giving ourselves to our people. Even though our houses are empty, our hearts can be full. Never forget this one truth: LOVE IS ALWAYS THE RIGHT DECISION!
(One heart-wrenching note: for those of you who have lost children, I can’t even imagine. Your heart has been shattered beyond belief. It’s hard for me to speak to you because I don’t understand. I really don’t. But I do know that the love you showed them while they were here is not wasted. It’s continuing to multiply over and over again because love is like that. You loved them with your whole heart. In turn, they loved others with theirs. That’s what this world needs and you have given it freely and sacrificially. Thank you for taking that risk we all are taking as we love our children with our fierce mom love. I’m so sorry, Sweet Mama. My heart is with you and all us moms collectively salute you and hug you with our hearts.)
When our daughter became pregnant with our precious grandson, I was giddy. Not because she was going to produce a grandchild to me, even though that’s a lot of fun, but because she was going to join the massive, never-ending “Mom’s Club” that I am a part of. There’s nothing like it. We understand parts of each other that no one else does. We take a gigantic risk loving this human being, but we can’t help ourselves. We give each other that look (maybe of desperation or joy) across the room and the other mom sees our hearts behind our eyes. There’s nothing like it. We turn to each other in times of great heartache and are comforted. When we can’t speak with our mouths because the joy or the pain is too deep, we receive unspoken affirmation through hugs from each other. There’s nothing like it.
So Sweet Mama, thank you for loving. Thank you for sharing your heart with another. Thank you for making your little world a much more beautiful and safe place. You’ve got this! And together, we’ve got this in spades!
“Conflict creates the fire of affects and emotions; and like every fire it has two aspects: that of burning and that of giving light.” (Carl Jung)
Allen and I have our fair share of FIGHTS (the seventh F in the series). We are certainly NOT the couple who can say, “We never argue. We agree on everything.” Nor do we want to be (well, Allen wants to be secretly).
Allen is kind and gracious. I am sarcastic and I like to say, discerning (others may call me a bit judgmental). Allen is a hard-worker, quiet and reserved. I am quick-witted and loud. He is methodical and analytical. I am passionate and decisive. Allen is a supporter and a peacemaker. I am a leader and aggressive. As you can see, blending our personalities lends itself to conflict. It is inevitable.
We bicker about (super important things like) how to pack the car, load the dishwasher, and fold the laundry. I hear myself saying just last night, “I’ve told you not to fold my dresses. They just go on a hanger. You are wasting your time.” (I know, ladies. The man was folding the laundry and I still had something to say about it.)
We argue about more serious things like where to spend our money, how to handle the latest “children issue” and what to fill our calendars with, the things of life that have big implications. There’s just no way around it.
We also have more tender “discussions” about how we’ve been hurt, misunderstood, and disrespected by the other. These stem from places of abandonment and shame, and our lack of the ability to “stay with the uncomfortable” parts of ourselves. Allen has an especially hard time with this, deeply desiring the absence of conflict. It does not make him feel safe inside or out. On the other hand, I love exposing all our shadowy parts (or maybe just his if I’m truthful) and bringing them out into the open for the gaping wound to sometimes fester and other times heal. Allen tends to be the avoider. I am the chaser. I fight and he flees when we feel threatened.
For many years, we had no idea that all this conflict CAN actually lead to intimacy (being fully-known and fully-loved). But it CAN also lead to disconnection. The trick is knowing HOW to argue, how to fight fair. Allen’s calm and quiet during our times of conflict appears like marital harmony, but without resolution, the problem just brews beneath the surface. My love of “getting it out into the open” many times degenerates into insults and harm. This breeds the perfect environment for disconnection.
Dr. Gottman, the expert marriage researcher, says that how a couple handles conflict is directly related to how likely they are to have a happy marriage. There are four disastrous ways of interacting that will cripple attempts to resolve conflict, one feeding into the next (he calls them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse): criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. They are the FIRE that destroys.
Complaining (not to be confused with endless nagging – Allen likes the idea of challenging the status quo) is a healthy marital activity. It’s not pleasant, but it brings things into the light. Many times, and this is where I personally struggle, it crosses the line to CRITICISM. Criticism involves attacking someone’s person, rather than their behavior. Complaints usually start with the word “I” and criticism with the word “you.” For example, “I wish we spent more time together” is a complaint. “You never spend time with me” is a criticism. Criticism produces blame and multiplies shame, never resulting in closeness.
CONTEMPT brings criticism to a whole new level. Many times, criticism, as bad as it is, is born from a place of frustration. It tends to be a “crime” of passion. Contempt is a clear “premeditated” attempt to harm your partner. Its aim is to cause pain. No matter if you have been married for four days or forty years, this monster sucks away every positive feeling spouses have for one another. It appears in the form of name-calling, hostile humor (sarcasm) and straight up mockery. I always associate it with the “rolling of the eyes.” This is the most dangerous “horseman.”
Once contempt has entered the picture, each of us has a natural inclination to defend ourselves. In fact, DEFENSIVENESS can result even from proper forms of communication like complaining, especially if there is unresolved shame in either party. However, it is completely natural to resort to this place when there is CRITICISM and especially when CONTEMPT has taken hold. This being said, defensiveness only escalates a conflict instead of resolving it. Denying responsibility and making excuses only separates a couple further.
The last horseman is STONEWALLING. Allen struggles with this. Overwhelmed by emotions, his natural inclination is to withdraw, protect himself. Even though it might look on the surface like “peace-making,” it actually is a very powerful act, conveying disapproval. The example that comes to mind is when one of us “stops talking” to the other. When this happens, the ability to connect is seriously thwarted and intimacy is beyond reach.
All this sounds so horrible and hard and probably completely relatable. Even writing this is making me a little discouraged. I need a little good news, how about you?
There is great HOPE! All of those horseman come into every marriage, even happy ones at some point or another, especially when there is intense marital conflict. But they don’t have to be the norm. Just like fires can bring harm and destruction, they can also produce light and warmth.
Conflict in marriage can be the fire that produces light and warmth. It can bring life and vitality into a relationship. It is the price you pay to have deeper intimacy. WE CAN FIGHT FIRE WITH FIRE! Here are basic “rules” (not a huge fan of that word) that govern how to move from harm to healing:
Bottling things up and burying them just makes the “cork pop” at some point. The problem hasn’t gone away. Instead, take some time away if you need to with the promise that you will come back together when cooler heads prevail over heated emotions. This has been huge for us. When Allen says “Let’s come back later,” I am able to “let things go for now” knowing there will be resolution.
CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES
This goes back to probably 85% of our arguments about how to squeeze the toothpaste tube, mow the lawn, etc. Allen and I have wasted a lot of time and energy here.
GET TO THE HEART OF THE MATTER
Drs. Les and Leslie Parrot, marriage counselors, teach couples the X, Y, Z formula to help them state their true feelings, “In situation X, when you do Y, I feel Z.” This gives room for you to state how your partner’s behavior affects your feelings. This is when “I” statements, instead of “you” statements, come into play. This helps to diffuse defensiveness and provide a place of safety.
Never “throw back in their face” something your spouse has shared with you in a place of vulnerability and confidentiality. In the heat of an argument, this is a quick “go-to,” but will break trust and humiliate the other. Nothing enhances feelings of shame more than this.
IS IT THE RIGHT TIME?
This is especially helpful when working through the bigger things that may need to be sorted out over the long-haul. I have had to learn this the hard way. I want to rush through and fix things right away (like the minute it pops into my head). Allen has taught me to be patient and gracious here. Instead of my normal MO (mode of operation), I ask instead, “I have something bothering me. When is a good time to talk about it?”
Be careful to believe the best about the other’s intentions and be open to learning whether or not you are right or wrong. Mind-reading assumes the worst about someone and can be a strategy of self-protection. If I have Allen “all figured out” (and I’m not usually thinking the best), what room is there for him to share his heart? This shuts down communication and blocks intimacy.
STAY ON TOPIC
Stick to the relevant issue that you are discussing. Don’t veer off course, bringing up everything the person has done wrong in the last five years. Refocus when things get off course. Be careful of this slippery slope.
TWO EARS, ONE MOUTH
Listen. Plain and simple. But not that easy. Have the goal of understanding where the other person is coming from. This is so hard. I’m not sure why. We want so desperately to be understood. Give the gift you long for to the other. Hear with your heart. Be careful not to fix. Sometimes, silence is your spouse’s best friend (something super hard for this chatterbox). “I hear you” have been three of the most powerful words I’ve ever said or heard.
ADMIT YOUR PART
I have a huge barrier when it comes to saying I am wrong. I can see so clearly how Allen is “completely in the wrong about everything” (note sarcastic tone here). This comes for me from a place of pride (“I’m better than you”). For Allen, it comes from a place of shame (“You’re better than me”). We both struggle here for different reasons, neither one of them good. Understanding the back story of our own reactions is HUGE here. When we understand that we both have infinite value and worth, “I’m sorry” becomes much easier because we can take responsibility for our actions without blame and shame.
Feeding off the compassion we now have for ourselves (and our spouses) that comes straight from God’s heart for us provides real room for forgiveness, “giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me.” We all fail. We all need forgiveness. Giving to the other what we will eventually need brings true healing. (This is a huge topic, one to be talked about at a later date.)
I keep coming back to the image of fire. “Keep the fires burning” and “Keep the flame alive” are mantras for good marriage. Fire destroys or gives light. Conflict is the same. Fighting harms or heals, brings intimacy or disconnection. I’m sure another “discussion” is right around the corner for Allen and me. May we fight the FIRES of destruction and harm with the FIRES that bring light and healing!
If you’ve made it this far, can you go back to Social Media and “like” it (but only if you do like it…LOL)!
“True love between two human beings puts you more in touch with your deepest self. The pain you experience from the death of the person you love calls you to a deeper knowledge of God’s love. The God who lives in you can speak to the God in the other. This is deep speaking to deep, a mutuality in the heart of God, who embraces both of you.” (Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love)
Grief. Most of us try our very hardest to shy away, or even run away from it. We question what to say when someone is grieving. We are unsure how often or even if to “bring it up” once life supposedly goes “back to normal.” We don’t know what to expect from ourselves or what the other might need from us. Should we come close or give the other space? It can be a very confusing time for everyone. And truthfully, if I can speak candidly about myself, I don’t like to be in pain or be with others in pain. It’s just downright uncomfortable.
The past couple of years have been filled with family and friends who are grieving. And like most things in my life, I am not an avoider. I want to throw myself headlong into the process, engage in it, learn from it, deal with it. After all, it’s fairly new to me and I’ve heard that it’s horrible, sacred, beautiful intimate, and gut-wrenching all at the same time.
I lost my own sister-in-law, Denise Maret, just under a year ago, after a year-and-a-half long battle with colon cancer. My brother and 19-year-old niece are left to raise my nine- and ten-year-old nephew and niece, along with the help of their grandparents.
My friend lost her precious brother to suicide. He has left behind a wife, three children and two grandchildren and her heart is broken.
Our friend and former babysitter lost both her dad and her husband to cancer during her two pregnancies and she is left to raise two young children alone.
I reconnected with someone on Facebook who lost her only son to teen suicide. This was the second time she lost a child, the other, a daughter, in early infancy.
A friend from church battled kidney cancer for many years. His wife faithfully cared for him, only to lose him. He missed his step-daughter’s wedding by only three short months.
One of my best friends from high school lost both of her daughters, her only children, in a tragic car accident on Good Friday. They were only 19 and 20 years old, absolutely stunning girls, one only 10 days away from her college graduation.
You have your own stories. So much horror. So much sadness. Grief multiplied.
This is probably where you want to click off, log out, go find puppy videos on the internet. Me too. At times. But not today. Come with me. Lean in. Learn along side of me. Today, we will catch just a glimpse inside the world of my friend, Annie, who lost her baby brother to suicide at just 51 years old. I promise you that it’s not all horrible.
When she first shared this journal entry with me, my heart was filled with horror, joy, sorrow, connection, injustice and comfort. Yes. All of those things. Loss feels raw and sad and terrible and wrong, but also sacred and beautiful and precious. Entering in to the pain allows our hearts to be touched with a deeper knowing and beauty that we will miss if we click away. I ask that you would read on.
Annie’s Journal Entry on 6/17/2017. Four months later.
Steven is gone. He is gone. He is gone from me. How can this be? How can he be gone, just gone? I don’t feel disconnected from him . . . but definitely disengaged. He is not here to hope, or dream, or plan for a future together. All those things are gone.
My connection to a future here that includes him is gone, and nothing will take its place. It is an empty space…and it will stay empty. It is a space that holds his absence and my missing him. My own future will always hold this empty space. I am suffering. I will suffer, but I will not be destroyed or left desolate by an empty space.
This empty space where Steven is missing is a sacred place. I would rather have this sacred, empty space than no space at all. Our love and connection to each other created a space for our future together. If there had been no love and connection, there would be no space – – and I am thankful for it, for our empty space . . . for my empty space.
I am thankful for all the other spaces, the other spaces that are full – – beautiful, cherished spaces filled to bursting with love and life and memories. Memories of the two of us. All the precious moments we had together and apart-but-connected. All the treasured memories we had together with others. Those spaces are filled up and will stay full . . . nothing will change that.
I don’t have you with me now my Steve, my beloved Steven, but I am forever grateful for you – my one time little brother, my forever friend.