Posted in Faith, Family, Guest, Marriage

NEW CHAPTER (maybe a whole new book) #thisis54

Just do it all right, make all the right, godly choices and life goes the way you thought it would or think it should.

EXCEPT.

WHEN.

IT.

DOESN’T.

What happens then?

Is all hope lost?

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My friend, Maria, newly divorced, unpacks this better than I can today with a poem she’s written to herself on her 54th birthday, one where she is vulnerable, raw, truthful and filled with hope (and I am all about all of that)!

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This is 54

In all my imperfections
In all my power
In all my insecurities
In every way
I cower

Owning every blessing
And every good gift
Owning every wrinkle
My 54 year old self
Could use a lift 

Better late than never
Better off now alone
Better to be alone and lonely
Than lonely in my home

I’m not sure what happened
Not sure why
I waited so long
But know my children mattered more to me
Their peace
more than my own

I move on in power
I know its not too late
To have the love I long for
With the one I can relate

But first I love myself
I walk in all my truth
Owning my need for more
Unrealized in my youth

Time has passed by quickly
Many ways a blessed life
I thought all the answers
Were in being someone’s wife

But fairytales and stories
The things our people make us believe
While they tried their best
Did not
see the need

The need to guide in honesty
That love is more than what is seen
Its deeper, it is constant
There is passion
you can believe

The knowledge of your whole heart
Being touched and nurtured
Sweet and raw
The wisdom of its purity
That’s what will last for long

So I give this to myself now
I love myself in all my truth
I love that I am fragile
I love the wisdom without youth

I own my insecurities
How I need to feel valued and be seen
I own my need for time, connection,
Affection
Want the dream!

I call it the trifecta
Emotional, Mental, Physical
For now I give it to myself
My love tank
It is full

As “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
Plays on the radio
My childhood song still resonates
My soul and heart
They know

Know what I desire
Is more than a fairy tale
Know what fuels my fire
I will have it
Without fail

So today
I wish myself a Happy Birthday
Treasuring every good gift
that’s in my life
My family and friends
Who value me
That’s the love
I can’t deny

My journey’s just beginning
My heart remains so full
So thankful it’s not broken
But open and vulnerable still

I share this in transparency
To encourage others in their way
I want to live authentically
Boldly, wholly, deep.
In every way

Those who know me best
Love me as I am
The good, the bad, the ugly
As only good friends can

I walk into my second half of life
With so much more to give
What matters
is my goal now
There’s only one life
here to live

My faith it keeps me grounded
My God
Shows me the way

His Love and mercy
Sweetly
Filling me each day

My thoughts they keep on coming
As my heart
It overflows
Thankful for love and grace
Thankful that it shows

Staying open
Is my gift
I give myself today
Remaining
Authentic
Until my dying day.

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I love this!  I love the picture of Maria’s and her daughter’s tattoos on their wrists they got a few years ago!  How beautiful the reminder that there is always sunshine on a cloudy day!  How beautiful that those words of hope ring true for her and for my own heart today!  The sun always shines above the clouds, even when I can’t see it or feel its warmth!   When my own life is not going the way I thought it would or think it should, this poem will gently remind my heart that there is ALWAYS GREAT HOPE!!  Thank you again Maria!  You are a gift!

 

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 ADD, Family, Motherhood, Podcast - Dolly Mama and the Millennials

Navigating the Journey of ADD (Link to Podcast)

Jared, our first-born son and someone who has AD(H)D, spends 15 precious minutes of his time talking through this unique path he was chosen for.  What did it mean for him when he was growing up in school?  What were some of the harmful messages that were given to him?  How has that shaped who he is today and what he does as a result?  What is my greatest parenting regret and why did I do it in the first place?  DON’T MISS the incredible visual he shares that opened my eyes and heart to understand just a little bit more what it’s like for him and why we ALL may need this mental image in our toolbox when those we love are navigating this journey.  Find out what we can do differently!  This is perfect for parents, teachers, friends of those with ADD and especially for those of you who have this struggle yourself!  You may just say, “Ah, someone who gets me!”

CLICK ON LINK BELOW!

Episode 3: Navigating the Journey of ADD (Wise Thoughts from Jared)

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Please share with anyone who LOVES someone, TEACHES someone, or IS someone who is navigating this unique journey!  (I think that’s all of us at this point!)   This is a “CAN’T MISS IT” podcast!  And ONLY 15 minutes!

 

Posted in Celebration, Faith, Guest, Health

Planned For

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

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


Anyone else need to be reminded today?

God has a plan.

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

“PLANNED FOR”

And I forget.

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

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

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

RV parks are functional—not beautiful.

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

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

“PLANNED FOR”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We write our own stories in our waiting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will you remind me, too, friends?

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

He’s “PLANNED FOR” me, too.

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

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

THERE IS GREAT HOPE!


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

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

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

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

Posted in Charity, Clean Water, Thanks, Third Culture Kid

Dear President Kagame of Rwanda,

“In all my travels, I’ve never seen a country’s population more determined to forgive, and to build and succeed than in Rwanda.”  (Pastor Rick Warren)

Dear Mr. Kagame,

I visited your country this past week.  It was the first time I had ever been to Rwanda.  When I was growing up and then a young mother, your country was constantly in the news, and not for good reasons.  There was strife among your people groups and the politics that surrounded them and then ultimately horrific genocide in the spring of 1994.  Even I, an American child growing up in war-torn Ethiopia during the 1970s, would have been terrified to visit.

That was not the case about a year ago when I was invited to go on a clean water trip to your “Land of a Thousand Hills,” something I learned this past week was more true than I imagined.  I was elated at the idea and said a hearty “yes.”   About three years ago, having heard the basic story of the healing journey your people have embarked on for the past 20+ years, I became intrigued with your country and felt a pull to experience it personally and in detail.   Yes, I wanted to bring clean water, but more so, I longed to learn and know your people and their stories of utter heartache and unexplainable hope.

Your country that is now known for its clean streets and touristy treks to encounter mountain gorillas descended into the dark hole of savagery in 1994, only 24 short years ago.  Your nation was shattered beyond recognition.  Your people turned on their neighbors, their friends, their own families.  They murdered innocent men, women and children, leaving behind a completely decimated economy and environment, destroying themselves from the inside out.    This genocide lasted 100 days and over 1,000,000 (roughly one out of every seven) of your beautiful Rwandans lost their lives.

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When it was all over, there was a crucial decision that had to be made.  What do you do with a nation where 70% of your children personally witnessed the killing or injuring of a family member, 80% lost somebody in their household and 90% were afraid they were the next to die?  What do you do with a country where so many were perpetrators and even more were victims?  What do you do when all the light goes out and darkness appears to have definitively prevailed?

Only the most ludicrous option remained for your countrymen:  the excruciating, very personal and communal passage towards repentance, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration.   Under your humble and wise leadership, your brave people began their continuing journey towards hope and healing.  This incredible and very rare approach to this cruel tragedy provided the essential environment where each man, woman and child who remained could experience life and love again, in all their fullness.  Children could go to school.  Parents could raise their crops and their families.   Rwandan’s businesses could thrive.  Your country could move from tragedy to triumph.

You have come a long way in just these 24 years.  Your country is beautiful, the rolling hills once stained with blood, now dotted with crops and livestock.  Your streets are exceptionally clean, unlike anything I’ve seen.  Your people, adults and children alike, are filled with joy.  Your neighborhoods are safe.  Your unity and respect for each other, from the highest nobleman to the lowest pauper, abounds.  Your visible equality among men and women in places of authority and leadership is highly telling of the mutual, inner esteem you have for each other.  Your desire to become the first African nation where 100% of your people have access to clean water reveals the spirit of hope and excitement that I witnessed in spades.  From your bustling capital of Kigali to the poorest, remote village where we dug our well, positivity and hope-filled energy permeated each person we met.

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We were welcomed with bright smiles, waves and shouts of “Muzungu” (look that up on Google, you readers) as we rode past adults and children performing their daily tasks of fetching clean water, transacting business in the marketplace and taxiing their neighbors on the backs of bicycles and motorbikes.  Never for a moment did I feel as if I was not wanted there.  As I very sadly pondered your blood-stained streets only a few short years ago, I witnessed first-hand the miracle of this very “other-worldly” and one-of-a-kind route you and your people have taken.

Instead of revenge, you have given each other forgiveness.  Instead of continuing hatred, you have learned to “love your  neighbor as yourself.”  Instead of war, you have an authentic peace that surpasses all human understanding.  Instead of continuous destruction, there is marked restoration.  I do not say this lightly.  It’s palpable.

It’s as close as my eyes that saw church and political leaders working together, diligently creating plans to help the least of their countrymen.  It’s as close as my ears that heard joyful singing of villagers as we watched together the water spurt out of the dry ground.  It’s as close as my mouth that tasted the delicious fruits of your harvest, from bananas to coffee, sweet potatoes to cassava.  It’s as close as my nose that relished the unique smells of the bustling city of Kigali to the rural countryside of the Ruhango District.   It’s as close as my arms that received hugs and high-fives from soccer players and church goers, government workers and school children, the wise elders and the curious children.  More completely, it’s as close as my deeply-transformed soul that I carry with me out of your beloved land.

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From the bottom of my heart, I salute you and your people.  You have courage beyond my comprehension.  You have chosen great love in the face of extreme difficulty.  Each one of you shines like a bright beacon in our dark world.  Thank you.  My heart has captured your dream to bring clean water to every Rwandan father, mother and child and wish to make your vision a reality:  “hope for the hopeless, rest for the weary and love for a broken heart.”  Godspeed, Mr. Kagame!

Esther Goetz

PLEASE CLICK HERE FOR OTHER THOUGHTS ON MY TRIP TO RWANDA!

*If you liked this, please go onto social media and give me a thumbs up or a like.  This one especially shares my heart and it would mean a lot to me.*

Posted in Faith, Family, Motherhood

A Blessing for My Fellow Moms (#refreshmentforyoursoul)

There ought to be a hall of fame for mamas
Creation’s most unique and precious pearl
And heaven help us always to remember
That the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.
Glen Campbell

To my Fellow Sweet Moms,

Each of our souls need blessing, someone willing something very good for us and asking God to grant it.   As moms, we are constantly blessing those we love and live with.  We give many times more than we receive.  As your kids (whether they’re three or 43) enter another new “school” year, I long to speak this blessing straight into the core of your mom soul.  I pray that God would fill your life and your heart with all the good things that God can give.  One of my favorite words is “HOPE” (It was my WOTY in 2015) . True, authentic, God-breathed hope is the confident expectation of good in your life.  This is my “HOPE” and blessing for you this year:

As you rise each morning, may you awaken refreshed with peace and hope for the new day that has been given to you (in your body, your mind and your spirit).

As you are getting ready, may your heart be excited about what gifts have been prepared by God’s hand, especially designed for you.  May your time be expanded so that you are not hurried and that you are filled with joyful expectation.

If you have a little one, may they have slept peacefully through the night and be waking with a brilliant smile and a warm hug for you.  May they respond with enthusiasm as you help them to dress, eat and be ready for their day ahead.

If you have school-aged children, may God speak words of encouragement to you during the morning flurry.  May peaceful and cooperative spirits reign over the rush.

If your child is now a budding or grown adult, may God fill your heart with peace as you trust Him with their journeys and what they may be experiencing apart from you.  May God comfort you as you wipe away the tears that come from missing them and may you experience joy as thoughts of them flood your mind.

As you walk through your day, may others speak words of kindness to you.  May you also have wisdom to know exactly what God has for you as you pursue the things you love, whether for work or pleasure.  May your labor bring much reward to you no matter what you endeavor. 

May you and those you love have safety throughout the day.  May each of you be protected from disease and harm. May you find yourself in a constant place of contentment and peace, physically, mentally and spiritually.  

May you be filled with laughter and joy as you unpack the special gifts God has designed just for you.  May you have times of seriousness and depth as well that speak to your inner being.  May your friendships blossom, your body flourish, your mind be sharpened and your heart be filled with love.

May your pre-dinner time be filled with peace and joy, kindness and motivation.  May those you live with work diligently to fulfill their responsibilities and be a help to you the best way they can.  May there be times of play and refreshment as well that nourish and strengthen your soul.  

Depending on what your evening’s activities bring you (family, a good meal, continued work, exercise, quiet, or friendship), may those who come in contact with you give you only words of comfort, understanding and support.  May the mouths of others be shut if their words are critical and unkind.  May your exercise (whether physical, emotional, relational or spiritual) be fruitful and bring life to you.  May your loved ones bring you blessing and life.

When you have a break from the daily grind of work (weekends, vacation, Sabbath, etc.), may your time be filled with restoration  of your mind, your spirit and your body.  May you have understanding of what to fill your time with and when to rest, when to be with others and when to be alone.

As you wrap up your day, may your mind turn to thoughts of thanksgiving for the gifts that were so freely given to you that day by God’s hand.  May all thoughts of despair and discouragement be banished from your mind, heart and soul and may they be turned to Christ, who has sustained and provided for you during this past day.

May your night be filled with dreams that bring you joy, recreation, laughter, hope, love, peace, kindness, encouragement, restfulness and even creativity.  May God grant you the full and daily restoration that your body, mind, heart and soul needs during this time.  May your whole being respond with healing and wholeness.  May God richly bless you as you sleep!

Throughout all of your days, may you be able to see, feel and receive the love and grace that God has for you in abundance.  And finally, “May the God of HOPE fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with HOPE by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  (Romans 15:13)

Sweet Fellow Mom, we are on this journey together, one that is filled with the beautiful and messy, the light-hearted and complicated, the bitter and sweet!  We will keep trusting and moving ahead on this journey together!

From my heart to yours,

Esther #fourkidsisfun

 

 

 

 

Posted in Family, Health, Marriage, Uncategorized

Make a Marriage Great Again (Part Seven of Ten) – Fight Fire with Fire

“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.

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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?

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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:

  1. DON’T RUN
    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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. NO LOW-BLOWS
    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.
  5. 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?”
  6. AVOID MIND-READING
    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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. FORGIVE
    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.)

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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)!


CHECK OUT THE FIRST SIX “Fs”

Family

Fidelity

Flaws

Faithfulness

Forecast

Friendship

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)

 

**PLEASE FEEL FREE TO SHARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA…THE BUTTONS ARE BELOW**

PHOTO CREDS TO JASON AT WWW.AWAKENEDFILMS.COM

 

Posted in Anxiety, Charity, Faith, Health, Word of the Year

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

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”  (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

If you asked me even five months ago what I thought peace meant, I summed it up as “the absence of conflict.”  In fact, a quick search on Google backed me up on this. My husband also cheered this idea in spades.  He loves an atmosphere where everyone gets along (how one Facebook friend defined it), especially us.  It’s like heaven to him.  Having a house with four very unique and spirited children did not lend itself to this.  The constant conflict and fighting sent us to our beds exhausted many nights.  I would mutter to myself (and sometimes scream loudly to my kids which, if you take a second, is pretty ironic), “Just a few moments of peace is all I’m asking!!  Is it too much?”  I know I don’t have to talk any further without a bunch of nods of the head, muttered “mm-hmms” and loud “AMENS!”

Whether it’s the constant arguing of politicians and political analysts on “news” shows, gut-wrenching war across our world, bickering among children or family members over the latest “who-knows-what,” co-workers disagreeing over how a project needs to be done, or late-into-the-night discord (or should I say straight-up fights) among spouses, it is just plain tiring.  No wonder we want some peace.  Some quiet.  Some “everyone-just-get- along-please” moments.  We are saturated with it all day long.

YES, THAT IS MY SON AND HIS SOCCER TEAM AT HIS SENIOR PASTA PARTY!

Sorry for the diversion.  Back to the blog post.  I think you understand my point.

ALL.

DAY.

LONG.

To combat it and try to find some measure of inner calm, I find myself doing one of four things:  fighting, running, avoiding, or just standing there with a blank stare not knowing what to do next.  This is the natural response from our human bodies when we feel threatened and overwhelmed.  It’s our “lizard brain” (as I like to refer to the amygdala) doing what it can in the moment when the adrenaline rush takes over to protect us.  Psychologists refer to these responses as fight, flight, faint or freeze.

As I very feisty and passionate individual, I naturally gravitate to fighting.  As we all know, this does nothing to help.  It escalates the issue and then the whole house is in an uproar, hurt and angry.  It becomes a mess.  Allen, on the other hand, is drawn toward fleeing.  He shuts down, gets quiet and goes into another room.  Our kids vary on the spectrum, with some fighting, some getting quiet, some going to their room to watch TV or sleep, and some utterly dumb-founded, not knowing what to do.  It makes for a little bit of a “not-so-peaceful” house.

ENTER COUNSELING and the beginning of understanding that although, in the moment, those responses are normal, they don’t restore harmony.  We are working from brokenness not health.

ENTER BOOK, As We Forgive (Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda) by Catherine Clare Larson, suggested to us by our group leader before we head to this beautiful country to dig a well in September (HUGE SHOUT OUT AND MUST READ).

ENTER VACATION with family members (nine people plus baby for seven days).  Arguments and behavior patterns and all that good stuff.  (You know what I mean?!)  I figured out that nine people make up 36 different relationships.   That’s enough to start a war.

RE-ENTER BOOK.  Reminder that all of the above are really just shattered shalom (the fancy Hebrew word for peace).

I have always believed that shalom had the same meaning of peace that I had in my head.  Come to find out I am missing something.  A huge thing.  And it just might really make the difference in my own little world with my own little group of people.  But it also might make the difference in our huge world with all the groups of people (like seven billion and counting much to my son’s chagrin as he’s a little paranoid about over-population).

So what is it?  What is this shalom?

SHALOM IS NOT DEFINED BY ABSENCE.  Instead, it encompasses the PRESENCE of true human flourishing (my friend’s Word of the Year):  socially, emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Larson reminds me that it is “ultimate harmony.”   Shalom speaks of fullness, completeness and wholeness, hardly the absence of anything, except perhaps division (as another Facebook friend reminded me).  In Ancient Israel (where the word comes from), when a crime was committed, the central point was not on the outer (the broken law and restoration of order), but rather on the inner (broken shalom and restoration of peace) for all involved:  victim, community and even offender.  It was important that ALL would flourish, all would be brought back to wholeness.

As I stated above, our human body responds to conflict in one of four ways:  fight, flight, faint or freeze.  We are naturally drawn to one of those responses when it comes to personal conflict.  However, somewhere among attacking, running away, avoiding and becoming paralyzed lies a completely different way, one that is more difficult, but offers much in the restoration of this fuller peace, or shalom.  In fact, sometimes conflict and disagreement are required to achieve it.

Really?!?

In the flight, faint or freeze responses, the focus is on “ME.”  I am looking for what’s easy, convenient and non-threatening.  Protecting myself becomes the highest priority.  However, in the fight response the focus is on “YOU,” blaming you and expecting you to solve my problem or my pain.  Again, protecting myself becomes the highest priority.  The peace-making, shalom-restoring response shifts to “US.”   The restoration of the relationship and the flourishing of ourselves and the other becomes the highest priority.  Wholeness, fullness and completeness come to the forefront.  Conflict happens and disagreements occur, but the relationship is not threatened.  In fact, clashes and variance might just provide the avenue for greater wholeness than without them.  The move from YOU vs. ME to US changes everything.

For this girl who tends to blame others and fight, this is really BIG.  A huge change of thought.  And practice.  It’s not enough for me to “not have fighting,” the absence of conflict.  I want more.  I want wholeness and healing and true flourishing.  In every area of my life.  For me and for you.  When I think about Jesus, the “Prince of Peace (guess what the Hebrew word is there),” this makes more sense now than ever.  He doesn’t just want “quiet” for me.  He wants shalom.  He wants me to flourish.  He wants the same for you.  And he wants the same for our world.   Here’s to restoring it more and more every moment and every day.  I hope to start right now.

 

Thank you again for reading all the way to the bottom.  WOW!  Please like this here and especially out on social media if you can!  Comment here or there as well.  It means the world to me!  

 

 

Posted in Faith

Hummus and Hosanna (#40days)

“The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior, who will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love.”  (The Bible)

Love, loss and lent all collided on Wednesday.   The very best part of being human, our deep love for one another, was celebrated.  Another horrible and murderous act showed one of the worst parts of being human, our collective and individual brokenness and the tragic loss we all feel in our very bones.  Ash Wednesday couldn’t have come at a better time, marking the beginning of a period of human reflection, repentance and renewal.

Oh how we need it.  I need it.  When I hear “hard-to-understand, out-of-my-control” things on the news or from a friend or family member, or experience these things in my own life, I tend to move quickly toward fear and anxiety.  All the “what-if” thoughts come careening into my head and heart.  I go through all the natural “lizard brain” (as I call the amygdala) reactions:  flight, fight, faint or freeze.  Sometimes, I run the other way and pretend it doesn’t exist.  Other times, I get angry and try to come up with a plan to fix it.  I seriously just take a nap or watch mind-numbing television many times.  However, to be honest, my reaction oftentimes is to become completely paralyzed, unable to do anything.  One thing I certainly don’t do often enough is to take the time for the spiritual:  reflection, repentance and renewal, what I actually need the most.

That’s why I am so thankful for the season of Lent, this specific time marked on the calendar that shouts to me to do things a little differently than I do every other day of the week, month, year.   Take a break from the status quo.  Carve out time to shake things up in my every-day life.  Exchange the natural for the spiritual, the outside for the inside.

About a year ago, a difficult, out-of-my-control, situation reared its ugly head in my life.  In fact, it was something that kept coming up over and over and no matter what I tried, the problem just wasn’t getting fixed or even getting pushed in the right direction.  It wasn’t for lack of effort on my part.  I had tried all four methods of fleeing, fighting, fainting and freezing along with better tools like counseling, prayer, you-name-it.  That night, in the dark, on my knees, a last ditch effort at telling God I was super serious this time, the word “Hosanna” flooded my mind and also my mouth.  I wasn’t sure why.

Of course, I had to check it out.  What did this word that I had heard so often in my churchy life even mean?   Thanks to ever-helpful Google, I found that “Hosanna” was originally an appeal for deliverance, a cry that shouted “PLEASE SAVE.”  Over time, it developed into an expression of joy and praise for deliverance that was anticipated and would be granted, an oral burst of hope in God, an “anchor for your soul” kind of hope.

Being the “doer” that I am, I came up with a Hosanna list (that now exists on a pink sticky-note on my computer and I have a feeling you are going to try to see if you are on that list…that’s why I made it blurry…LOL), that being at the very top.  I eventually added people and situations that seem completely out of my control, the ones that seem hopeless, the desperate, only God-can-fix-this, things.  I only have one word for them:  Hosanna.  Please save.  I repeat this often to myself when I see that pink note, “When you don’t know what to do, pray Hosanna.”

So what’s with hummus (see title of blog post)?  Starting on Monday, I am participating in a partial fast for forty days during Lent, ending with a celebration on Best Friday (as my friend Jody has named it since she is getting married that night).  I’m taking a break from some of the foods that I love:  cheese, chips, and chocolate (to name a few) to make room for what’s better: hummus (along with veggies, fruit and nuts). 

Forty days from now, I probably will be a little thinner and a lot healthier (great perks of this fast).  But I want it to be much more than that.  I am combining Hosanna and hummus.  You guessed it.   I want to take a break from my go-to, very natural methods of controlling and fixing (which I also love) to make room for what’s better for my soul:  reflection, repentance and renewal.  When I want to reach for the natural, I pray that I will instead be reminded to reach for the spiritual, the super-natural.  I am asking God to “please save!  Please save!”  Speaking words of hope to my own heart that He is the BIG GOD who hears my deepest cries and can truly save and renew even the seemingly impossible in my life and the lives of those I love and even some that I don’t even know personally.

Today, I invite you to take this journey with me.  You don’t have to give up what I’m giving up.  This is personal.  Along with this,  I would be honored to hear what or who might be on your Hosanna list (click HERE to get in touch with me privately).  If you want, I can add them to my pink list for the next 40 days and as I am eating my hummus, I will be quietly shouting “HOSANNA!”

By the way, it’s my birthday today!  What a great way to start of my new year!  I wonder how God will show up!  I can’t wait to find out!

As always, I would love for you to sign up for my email list so that you never miss another post.  And feel free to share this with anyone or any way you’d like!