Posted in Family, Motherhood

My House Empty but My Heart Full (to my fellow ordinary moms)

“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 the sleepy little town of Long Hill Township, NJ.  Allen, my husband, the heart of my heart, is at his apartment in Pittsburgh, where he works three days a week.  Sarah, 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) in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.  Jared, our blond hair, blue-eyed first-born son, is probably nodding off in his own apartment in Western PA after a really long day working outside.  Joshua, my college senior and future pod-cast cohort, might just be tackling a paper he has procrastinated writing in Long Branch, NJ, about 50 miles away.  Rachel, my baby 19 year old curly-headed musician, is the farthest away, probably jamming away with friends on guitars, keyboards and microphones, all the way in Winter Park, Florida.  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 Wednesday 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 today, this very ordinary Wednesday, 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 Sarah as she was finishing up dinner with her new family after I had spent time caring for her baby and doing their laundry)

“Mom, don’t forget to check for my dress pants in my closet for my job fair next week tonight.”  (phone call from Josh on his way home from his internship)

“See you this weekend, Mom.” (reminder from Josh about Friday night)

“Shalom to you too, beautiful wife.” (text from Allen as he heads to dreamland after our discussion about what peace really means)

“Love you too, Mom.” (text from Jared in response to our discussion about us getting him a puppy for his birthday)

Just as I cuddled up under my covers and was about to turn off the light, I received one last “ding” on my laptop.  It was the last of the bunch, our Rachie Bug, as she is known in these parts.  And it was for no reason at all.

Screen Shot 2018-10-24 at 11.42.31 PM


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 reminded 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 (CLICK HERE) with our precious grandson (CLICK HERE), 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!

**PLEASE LIKE THIS ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND SHARE WITH ALL THE MOMS YOU KNOW**

 

Posted in Faith, Guest

The Pots in My Head

I am so excited about my guest this week, Sandi Piazza!  You are in for a treat!  Sandi is married to Gerry, and is currently on her third career as a stay-at-home homeschooling mom to Emilio (10) and Ana (8).  She is passionate, strong, wise and gentle.  Her heart comes alive when fighting for equality and social justice, diving into literature of all kinds, and providing the much-needed love and care for her foster dogs.  Welcome, Sandi!

Screen Shot 2018-10-16 at 11.20.46 AM


A few years ago, I heard someone preach that men’s brains are like waffles (compartmentalized) and women’s brains are more like spaghetti (highly intertwined).  For many in the audience, this really resonated.  Not for me.  I have pots in my head.

As a perfectionist.  I always have a lot going on AND never really learned how to outline and organize big projects, I tend to procrastinate until I must focus fully on the task at hand and get it done.  To juggle several divergent tasks, I developed a system where I envision my brain as a cooktop covered with pots during a large holiday meal.  Those who know me well may have heard me say, “OK. I need to get a new pot going in my head.” (In fact, that proclamation to my curious friend Esther is the origin of this post!)

When any project comes up, I add a pot on my brain’s stovetop.  I carefully consider the core (main ingredient) of that task?  What else needs to be added (some side elements) in order to accomplish this?  How long do I have to complete (cook) this undertaking?  Each item on my “to do” list gets a dedicated pot–something akin to the discrete little compartments in waffles, but oftentimes things are related and work together and it’s not quite the jumbled mess of spaghetti.  Every so often, I sit down and think, “OK, POT CHECK!  Let’s give things a stir.”

This process was crucial to my success as an undergraduate student.  I was pursuing a degree in English Literature, which meant multiple books and essays assigned at any given moment.  I was an officer in a club.  I had an almost-full-time job.  I was active in a church community (and most of us know what that means for good and bad).  I was fortunate enough to have scholarships covering a huge chunk of my tuition, but room and board simply weren’t in the budget for the Rodriguez family. This meant LOTS of time spent in transit on the subway, commuting from the northernmost tip of Manhattan all the way down to Greenwich Village, in the days before internet, laptops, and smartphones. What was a student to do?  CHECK MY POTS!

Typical POT CHECK, sitting on the subway riding home from school:

POT ONE:  Paper due later this week on William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.

“I loved the book, even though it took me a while to understand the first chapter, with its stream-of-consciousness descriptions and odd details like Cassie’s white underpants as she climbs a tree. WTH is that about? Interesting that the main character of the book never actually gets to speak for herself…her brothers and the family servant do all the talking. Can I emphasize this in my paper somehow? Hmm… OK, I’ll put it aside to revisit later, but it’s due soon so best not to wait too long.”

POT TWO:  Paper two comparing Coriolanus and Titus Andronicus.

“Ugh.  May as well be comparing liver and okra. Blaaah. That one isn’t due for a few weeks. Back burner for sure.”

POT THREE:  Leading Bible study next week.

“What’s the verse again? ‘For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses…’  OK, how can I make this super-familiar verse seem fresh? There’s the whole Iran Contra-gate thing in the news…weapons of warfare… Too much of a stretch?  Should I just read it and leave it hanging there, hoping everyone can apply it to their own life?  Hmm… I have some time on this.  Let it simmer on low.”

POT FOUR:  Choir Christmas service.

“It’s coming up soon.  I have the lyrics and harmonies of the songs memorized.  I have the white shirt I need and I have that black skirt I can wear.  I haven’t worn it in a while.  I hope it fits…I might need to add some girdle-y (is that even a word? girdle-like?) underwear to make it fit better… Stir that pot when I get home.  Wait…”

WEIRD TRANSITION BACK TO POT ONE:

“Underwear, again.  That’s in a couple of my pots.  Back to the paper.  There was that thing in where Benji notices Cassie’s underwear.  Weird for a brother to notice that about his sister.  Wait, now that I think of it, didn’t that happen with more than one narrator?  Where’s that book?”

By the time I got home from school, I had figured out that there were three different characters in The Sound and the Fury who noticed the central character’s underpants, and that the underwear reflected what they thought of her in that.  The paper practically wrote itself, which was a blessing in the pre-word-processor 1980s!

Some 30 years later, my perfectionism has waned, but I still organize my thoughts and projects in this way.  The pots bubbling away in my mind these days tend to be more abstract than project-based, and currently include things like:

  • what walking with Jesus looks like after deconstructing some toxic doctrines from my fundamentalist upbringing
  • having a successful marriage, almost 14 years in, without an example in my life to emulate
  • parenting a child—possibly two—with autism
  • navigating family relationships successfully and in a healthy way when members struggle with mental illness, addiction, & codependency
  • homeschooling
  • building and maintaining a tribe
  • a room decorating project
  • volunteer responsibilities
  • rescue dogs, old dogs, and how to keep them both healthy/calm

You get the idea.  Lysa TerKeurst says, “The mind feasts on what it focuses on.  What consumes my thinking will be the making or the breaking of my identity.”  That rings true.  This is the stuff of my life…the things that nourish me, sustain me, and keep me going.

Doing an occasional pot check helps me to realize what I know a lot about and what I need to research further.  And, much as it did when I was in college, it often allows me to draw parallels and to see how something in one pot relates to another, helping me make sense out of a vexing problem and integrate the various parts of my life.

I also cook a lot more now than I did when I was younger, and something invaluable I’ve come to know is that there is one ingredient that improves every dish I cook.  GARLIC! Just kidding.  It’s SALT!

Salt is amazing. It has so many uses! It preserves.  It melts ice.  It kills weeds, and, relevant to the topic at hand, it seasons food and enhances the flavor of almost everything.

Author and activist Mariama Bâ has said that “The flavor of life is love. The salt of life is also love.”  That rings so true!  Much as every dish I cook improves with a bit of salt, every pot in my head is better when I add some love.

Sound like a stretch?  See for yourself!

Parenting?  Add love.

Marriage?  Add love.

Faith?  Family?  Tribe?  Yes, yes, yes…more love.

Re-examining my faith?  Definitely needs more love.

And so on…

However, unlike salt, I have yet to see a “pot” where too much love ruined it.

Well, if you’ll excuse me, the kids are occupied for the moment, leaving me a few moments to sit and reflect.  Perfect time for a pot check.  No thanks on the waffles and spaghetti, but…can you please pass the salt?


A final word from the Dolly Mama.  It’s been a pleasure having Sandi come and share with us.  She’s exceptional.  If you’d like to see some of my favorite blog posts, take a look at these (and please follow me if you like what you read and don’t want to miss another post):

Not the Boss of Me

The Goetz Family Law

“I Just Had to Pee” and other Half-Truths (Fighting the Monster of Anxiety…A Day in the Life…Glimmer of Hope)

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

Unraveling and Re-raveling (Getting Rid of the Formula)

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

Redeeming Hypnopompia

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.

four_horsemen_of_the_apocalypse_by_matchack-d4ig227

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?

Hope-2.png

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.)

332388114 (1).jpg

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 Faith, Family, Health

Unraveling and Re-raveling (Getting Rid of the Formula)

“Trust me.  There is no formula for most things that are not math.”  (Daniel Pinkwater)

 

godly husband + passionate wife = great marriage

great marriage + good parenting = well-behaved child

well-behaved child + right school and strong youth group = wise-choice making teen

wise-choice making teen + strong college = successful adult

successful adult + other successful adult = godly husband + passionate wife

And the formula goes round and round.  Or does it?

When I was just a wee bit younger (okay, like 30 years ago, but I’m not that old, right?!), I believed wholeheartedly in the formula above.  Why wouldn’t I?  It’s perfect.  Just do it all right, make all the right, godly choices and life goes the way it should.  After all, isn’t that what I’ve heard my whole life from preachers and family and professors and authors and friends and even from my own head?  Things like:  “Blessed is the man who does not walk in step with the wicked…whatever he does prospers.”  (Psalm 1)  “We proved to ourselves that when you do things right, good things happen.”  (Tom Sawyer)  And my new favorite:

main-qimg-985b0e8087f5ef15eea7a4af5d8e3618

To say it again:  just do it all right, make all the right, godly choices and life goes the way it should.

EXCEPT.

WHEN.

IT.

DOESN’T.

What happens then?

Somewhere along the line of that cute little formula, the “right” side of the equal sign fails to happen.  Sometimes it goes like this:

godly husband + passionate wife = messy divorce

great marriage + good parenting – child with Oppositional Defiance Disorder

well-behaved child + right school and strong youth group = teen substance abuser

wise-choice making teens + strong college = struggling-to-find-or-keep-a-job adult

successful adult + other successful adult = distant husband + depressed wife

For many years, I counted on the formula.  When it didn’t seem to be working, I just tried harder.  “It must be something I’m doing wrong,” I thought.  “Maybe I don’t have the equation right.”   After all, there is a way to guarantee a great marriage, well-behaved children, wise-choice making teens, and successful adults, right?  I read “10 Step” books.  I made long prayer lists on color-coded index cards.  I went to seminars and then led them.  My formula-living was not limited to the above scenarios.  Much of my life was permeated by this black-and-white thinking.

Until…

Until…

Until…

Until the formulas stopped working.  Good people got divorced.  My kids weren’t all that well-behaved at times.  Many teens, including my own, made “not-so-wise” choices and some of my children’s friends struggled with addiction.  Well-educated people had a hard time finding a job.  Many lost their jobs.  Successful people were anxious and depressed, including me.  Ugh.

My idea of how the world worked came crashing down.  I didn’t know what to think.  Anxiety took over.  Hopeless thoughts came much more than I wanted them to.  I kept trying harder.  It just got worse.  Finally, I came completely unraveled.  UNRAVELED.  My carefully-built-rubber-band-ball-of-how-life-works began snapping.   If not this, then what?  What do I do now?  How do I live?  UNRAVELED.

BUT, (and I love these “buts” of life) what seemed like a tunnel without a light became just what God used for a whole new “RE-RAVELING” as Rachel Held Evans refers to it: a very different way of looking at people and relationships and what matters.  I began to live in more truth and with that truth came some slow steps toward freedom.

Once the formulas were stripped away, I was invited into relationship, both with God and with others.  At first, this uncertain place seemed like a curse.  It would take lots more time and wisdom and there wouldn’t be simple answers.  It would be complicated, messy.  But as I embarked on this different journey with much trepidation, I found that it just might be a gift, and a good one at that.  The truth is that life is messy and no amount of “doing the right thing” ensures complete safety and success.  This might sound harsh and hopeless at first glance, but it is actually helpful and freeing.  Instead of viewing life as a problem to be solved, I began to see it as a mysterious adventure to be enjoyed (kind of like action thriller enjoyment, which is kind of scary and fun all at the same time).  Instead of seeking certainty,  I began to pursue wisely-placed trust, trust in a wild God, One I can’t control, but One who is completely good and utterly safe.  I am steadily (actually it seems to be in fits and starts) finding that as trust is developed, love thrives.  And this is what I truly want.  Chasing certainty is slavery; carefully-placed trust in a God who loves us is freedom.

My relationship with others slowly began to change as well.  Instead of having an agenda (the sum of the equation), I began to believe that I could just BE with others, no matter where they land on the spectrum of life.  This is hard for me.  I really struggle with this.  I have an agenda for everyone.  I think I know best.  I want you to change for the better.  And I believe I know how you should get there.  It doesn’t come from the best place.  It’s because I think I am better and know better.  I like a little bit (I mean a lot) of control.  UGH.  But as I’ve turned the tables, and the truth is told, I don’t want to be anybody else’s agenda or project.  Instead of “here is what I think you should do, be, act like, etc., I love when others say, “I’m with you,” and that’s the end of it.  I don’t want to feel like I’m going to the principal’s office when I am with someone.  No one wants that.  It creates defensiveness and hiding.  However, when someone is just WITH ME in my beautiful, messy life, this unconditional love opens the door for vulnerability and trust.  Change is much more likely to happen in this safe space.  As Bob Goff says in his book, Love Does, this kind of “love operates more like sign language than being spoken outright.”  I need more of this in my life, both ways.

The best thing for us (and our world) is to love God and love others.  Formulas are not love.  And to boot, they don’t work.  Loving God is trusting Him, especially when things don’t go as planned.  It is a trust that is wisely placed.  IT BRINGS US FREEDOM.  Agendas are also not love.   Loving others is being with them, especially when they are not where we think they should be or want them to be.  That’s a love that’s unconditional and safe.  IT BRINGS THEM FREEDOM.

I am glad my rubber band ball came UNRAVELED.  I am also very thankful I am on the path to RE-RAVELING.  I don’t know about you, but I want to keep living in and from these places, creating safe spaces for both myself and others, filled with vulnerability, trust, love and freedom.  In the end, St. Paul was so right when he wrote, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”  Let’s do what counts together!

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

AND IF YOU DON’T EVER WANT TO MISS MY POSTS, SIGN UP TO FOLLOW ME VIA EMAIL  IT’S RIGHT BACK UP AT THE TOP OF THIS PAGE ON THE RIGHT!

 

 

Posted in Anxiety, Family, Health, Motherhood

4.0 Prison

“Worthiness doesn’t have prerequisites.”  (Brene Brown)

Undefeated season.  Rachel’s middle school basketball team’s final record was 21-0.  The crowds came to every game and cheered wildly (I mean the parents and a few random middle schoolers came to some games, but yes, the cheers were wild). The team hugged and jumped up and down at the final buzzer of the championship game. A large trophy was given as the girls gathered center court . The parents beamed and frantic videos and photos were taken.  The team picture went in the newspaper with a long article praising the efforts of the coach.  Once in a lifetime.  Perfection.

Sarah’s freshman fall semester at college.  Worked extremely hard.  No crowds cheered.  Didn’t miss a class. No trophies were given. Read every assignment thoroughly. No photos were taken.  Studied until the wee hours.  No articles in the newspaper.  End result:  four A’s and one A-.  Imperfection.  Not 4.0.  3.95.  (Even this paragraph is shorter.)

I was part of the crowd who cheered and took pictures and congratulated the coach and  girls on a job well-done that winter of 2012.  I was a proud parent.  But underneath, I cringed before each game, knowing that the team was held captive by their continuing undefeated and perfect record.  As the season marched on, it became worse.  What would happen if they lost a game?  Would they fall apart?  What seemed amazing on the outside could have the potential of “messing” them up on the inside.  I continually asked myself the question:  is this actually a good thing?  Thankfully, Rachel was second-string, being a mere seventh grader and the pressure was not on her directly.  She had played in many games, but no one was counting on her skill set to accomplish this far-reaching, never-accomplished goal in the life of Central Middle School.  She could enjoy success without the pressure of failure.  But as I thought about those first-stringers, my heart went out to them, understanding the potential stress and perfection prison that just might be holding their hearts and minds captive.  What some would call a good thing might just not be so.  Call me crazy, but I secretly began to wish for at least one loss.  As you read, it didn’t happen and life marched on.  But at what cost?

I was also the comforting voice to an 18-year-old daughter as she received the news of her 3.95 right before Christmas of 2010.  If anyone deserved all A’s and a 4.0, this girl did.  By her nature, she poured effort upon effort into her studies, working when others were playing and getting up for early classes when others were sleeping in and skipping (yes, that was me in college).  But inside and actually pretty vocally and loudly, I cheered her release from 4.0 PRISON.  She could now move on throughout the rest of her college days without the underlying duress of perfection.   Might sound strange to you, but it was an amazing relief to us both.

Screen Shot 2018-06-02 at 8.15.01 AM

“4.0 PRISON” became a mantra in our house.  A-‘s and B+’s (and sometimes even D’s – this is true.  Ask Sarah.) were high-fived.  Game losses were a normal part of sports.  The “gift of imperfection,” as Brene Brown has coined it, was something we, with much trepidation, received with both confusion and gladness, fearing and embracing it at the same time our hearts were disappointed and frustrated with each loss or bad grade (some of my kids even failed tests and had to drop classes in college – imagine that).  I was on a mission that my kids understand that their worth is NOT based on their performance (a new concept in our family and particularly myself), that life is full of successes and failures and neither of those define them and that I love and accept them no matter what. I took very small and shaky steps to embrace and share this newly-discovered message with them (neither an easy task):

LIVING FOR A PLACE OF LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE IS SLAVERY!  LIVING FROM A PLACE OF LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE IS FREEDOM!

Fast-forward to last Sunday, one week before this Dolly Mama blog marks it’s one-year anniversary (cue balloons and congrats and trophies and loud cheers and pics).  We were spending the weekend as a family on our beloved Long Beach Island when I spoke out loud for all to hear, “Oh no!  I don’t have ANY views today.  I have had a view EVERY SINGLE DAY for this whole year and I’m only one week away from accomplishing my goal of exactly that.  Ugh.  I didn’t post today since we are away and that usually produces my needed views for the week.”  Remarks from audience:  “Oh mom, I can go on your site today.”  (Daughter) “That doesn’t count.” (Me) . “I will like one of your posts on Facebook and get it back up to the top.  Someone will click on it.” (Husband)   “It doesn’t work that way.”  (Me)  And the one that got me right in the heart:  “4.0 prison, Mom.”  (Son)  “Ugh.  You’re right.”  (Me)

I thought I would be suddenly freed from this “blog-view jailhouse,” I had made for myself but I continued to check the blog throughout the day and was hugely relieved to see a visit to my charity:water post late in the evening, along with the confessed views of some of my children (I made them promise none of them had viewed the charity:water post which they pinky swore they hadn’t).  4.0 prison is right.  Perfection.  I am stuck there again.  I have been checking all week and continue to have views every day.  I am writing this on Saturday morning and currently, have no views today so far.  Maybe I will be released.  Or maybe I will have an “undefeated season” after all.  It’s only 7:41 am.  The battle rages on inside of me.  I know that the “gift of imperfection” is what’s best for me.  God accepts and loves me regardless.  I am His one way or the other.  Yet I hang on to perfection like it’s my life’s blood.  I pray that I am released from this internal 4.0 prison no matter what happens today externally, whether on day 363 I have a view or not.  I need that strong and good and beautiful and true voice to shout loudly and cheer me on as I listen (albeit reluctantly) once again:

LIVING FOR A PLACE OF LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE IS SLAVERY!  LIVING FROM A PLACE OF LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE IS FREEDOM!

Let this freedom ring on in all of our hearts today!

(((UPDATE:  I got views today, Saturday.  I was kind of bummed in a weird way.  I guess my freedom will have to come from the inside out, not the outside in.  Imagine that!)))

Posted in Family, Grandparenthood, Motherhood

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

“Have a heart soft enough to give love and mercy, but wise enough to know boundaries.”  (Kayil Crow)

It has started:  Sarah and Cody’s battle whether or not to put Broden down (cry it out) or pick him up when he is fussy.  Believe me, both have been tried.  (Don’t let the pics of the happy baby fool you.)  The truth is holding him tends to calm him.  He sleeps better.  He stops crying.  He is basically happier.

It continues:  Esther and Allen’s daily battle about how much to help our adult children (pick them up when they are “fussy”) or let them figure things out on their own (many times painful and uncomfortable).  Believe me, both have been tried.  For decades.  The truth is helping them tends to calm them.  They sleep better.  They stop “fussing.”  They are basically happier.

It never stops:  My mom and dad’s battle about how much to help their youngest son with the care of his children while my mom goes through radiation treatment during the next several weeks.  This is a big one:  he lost his wife about 18 months ago and the situation is complicated.   They are 84.  He is 56.  It never ends.  The truth is helping him calms the situation.  Everyone sleeps better.  The “fussing” is abated.  He is basically happier.

If you are a parent, you can completely relate, no matter how old your child is.  It can be teaching a baby to sleep by themselves, driving a forgotten homework assignment to school for your elementary daughter, purchasing a car for your new driver, allowing an adult child to live at home rent-free for a season, watching grandchildren for your middle-aged son, the list goes on and on.  I’m sure you can add your own.  The questions are basic:  how much do I “pick up,” help, console, “save the day,” when my child has a need or even a want?  How much do I let them “ride out the storm,” figure it out on their own, “put them down” so to speak?  Where is that line drawn?  When is that line drawn?  How is that line drawn?  What choice should we make so that we are promoting emotional health and good boundaries, yet making sure the other feels safe and completely loved?

I am becoming keenly aware of how daily of a battle this is, no matter how old the parent or child is.   I am also highly in tune right now with how many opinions everyone has about this and how strong those opinions are.  I also realize how often I go to others to ask this very basic question:  what should I do in “X” situation with “such-and-such” child?  Do I pick them up or put them down?

For many years, I went back and forth, always unsure if what I was doing in any given situation was right.  I felt trapped.  If I “picked them up,” I heard the voices that shouted, “You are doing too much.  Your boundaries are too lax.  They need to learn for themselves.  This is unhealthy.  This is bad.”  If I didn’t help, I heard opposing voices, “You aren’t doing enough.  Your boundaries are too rigid.  They need to feel loved and not alone.  This is unhealthy.  This is bad.”  Ugh.  And if the truth is known, I still struggle with this and it is real and it is still almost every day.

Today, I share with you my “half-thoughts” on the subject.  A “half-thought” is something I am still in process about and haven’t completely “landed” anywhere quite yet, but still want to share.  I hope these bring you some freedom for the “back-and-forth,” trapped feeling you may find yourself in today:

  • Even though the questions are easy, the situations are complicated.  No two are the same and rarely is there a quick answer or fix.  Rest in that.
  • This dilemma is part of being a parent, period.  There’s no getting out of it.
  • Other parents are in the same boat.  We all need each other, not to judge and give solutions, but to listen and give grace.
  • Don’t ask yourself if the decision is right or wrong, black or white, good or bad.  Rarely are decisions that we make all one way or the other.  That’s an exhausting treadmill and only promotes fear, guilt and shame.  Either decision will have both difficult and wonderful attached to it.  Usually it’s some combination of beautiful and messy.
  • Ask yourself these questions instead:  What do I really need?  Why do I want to help?  What do they really need?  Take the long-view and dig a little deeper.
  • Change your mind if you need to.  Take the time to re-evaluate and get counsel from others.  There is great freedom here.
  • Show yourself boatloads of grace no matter what you decide.  Remind yourself that God loves both of you and He can come in and provide all that’s lacking no matter what decision is made in the moment.
  • I leave you with my biggest one for this past six months because many days I just don’t know what to do.  This verse comes up every single day on my reminders.  I pray it every morning:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives GENEROUSLY and FREELY to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  (James 1:5)

Here are my not-so-secret questions that I have asked God about recently about my own parenting:

  1. Do I pay for a hotel room for Josh for his Psychology conference?
  2. Do I buy all Jared’s starter supplies for his new apartment this week?
  3. Do I keep making meals and sleeping over at Sarah and Cody’s (with this new baby)?
  4. Do I call the apartment complex where Rachel lives about an unwarranted noise complaint (we are the lease-holders)?

You see, it never ends.  I’m okay with that.  I am growing and being stretched and learning to love in a healthy, hope-filled, very complicated kind of way.  Here’s to our children and here’s to our parenting.

I would love to hear your feedback.  I would love to know your secret questions.

(Also would you mind liking the post back on out social media if you came from there? It helps me to get the post viewed by the most people.)

Posted in Celebration, Family, Friendship, Thanks

We are the Gift

Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.  (Hamilton Wright Mabie)

As I sit here listening to needles fall from my Spruce, I am not sure if our tree will survive until tomorrow.  It’s one of those minor stressors that come about because we bring something that’s alive from the outdoors into an environment where it is not designed to thrive.  The tradition seems silly at times, but it’s one of my favorite parts of Christmas.

Tonight and tomorrow, many of us head into environments where, like my tree, we are in survival mode.  There are so many reasons why it might be the case.  Thriving is not even on the agenda.  We are just going to “make it through.”

From the thousands of Christmas movies, books, and shows, we know in our heads that “Christmas cannot be bought from a store.  Christmas is just a little bit more.” (The Grinch)  But our actions speak otherwise.  We rush around buying gifts and would never be caught dead without one in hand for those on our list.  Part of the survival of Christmas.  Get a gift.  Bring a gift.

I don’t really want to just survive until Tuesday.  My thoughts swirl as I think about how to “make that happen, keep my needles from falling off.”  And then my heart is quieted.  It’s not the outer world:  other people, the food, the dying Spruce, the gifts, and even the Steelers game that are going to do it for me.  It’s a gentle reminder from my friend Annie that she has hammered into my head for the past ten years (obviously I am a slow learner):  We don’t just HAVE gifts to offer.  We ARE the gifts.

As you go into today, tonight and tomorrow, be encouraged.  You ARE the gift for those who spend any moments of precious time with you.  Open yourself up.  Unwrap yourself.  Let others in.  Help them to know you.  At the same time, view others as the gifts that they ARE.  Seek to unwrap their hearts.  Get to know them.  It’s scary and vulnerable and you might just be hurt and rejected, but you will be giving the best gift of all:  YOU.

I long for one thing in this life and just perhaps you do too (whether you know it or not):  being fully-known and fully-loved.  I am so thankful that Jesus paved the way for us and showed us how this works.  He opened His heart fully for us, taking a huge chance on being vulnerable and rejected, giving Himself without pause.  He knew beyond a doubt that He IS the best gift for us and that you and I ARE the greatest presents He could ever receive.  All of the scary rejection paled in comparison to the JOY that this union of hearts would bring.  We were worth the risk.

I don’t know what’s going to happen today, tonight, or tomorrow when you risk your hearts for the chance of knowing and being known, loving and being loved.  I can’t promise you that it might not end up painful.  I can’t promise you that you might not be rejected.  But I can promise that your heart will be more open, and in turn, more healed. And you might just be a little closer to getting what you really want this Christmas!

(Check out this fun video – What If We Saw Everything as a Gift?)

 

 

 

Posted in Health

The Ta-Da List

“What did you do right today?”  (You’ll find out – keep reading)

Based on the fact that there are about 17,000,000 apps and web sites out there to manage your to-do list, many believe that the crossing off of such a list is top priority.  Get ‘er done.  The feeling of accomplishment and thus a sense of peace is promised at the end of the day when it’s all finished.

However, if I’m like anybody else, and I know you people are out there, I was trained from a young age to spend time at the end of each day focusing, not on what I had accomplished, but on what I had done wrong, admitting it out loud and asking God for forgiveness.  No matter how much good I had given to the world, my last thoughts as I said my bedtime prayers were how I had messed up and what I hadn’t done well and who I had offended (in many cases, this happened to be the God of the universe…yikes).

This line of thinking followed me into my adult years and into my marriage.  I ended most days, as did my husband, with final thoughts of how much I had done wrong.  For reasons I don’t remember, one night I changed it up and asked Allen this question, “What did you do right today?”  Crickets.  More crickets.  Finally, after several minutes, he answered with something like, “I smiled at the store clerk.”  If I know him at all, he had probably been kind, sought justice, served those he worked with, and treated everyone he met with complete dignity and respect, along with all the daunting tasks he had crossed off his list.

Appalled at how much of our day was taken up with negative thinking about ourselves, we decided to make this a best practice for the end of our days.  We spent time each evening before we closed our eyes to sleep asking each other this question, “What did you do right today?”  Instead of only beginning our days (which I do as you can see from the picture above…it’s my actual current list for the day I write this) with a to-do list, we ended our days with a “ta-da list.”

Although this was a really nice way to end to my day, something I enjoyed even more was when I slipped into one of my children’s rooms and watched them as they slept (something that still happens from time-to-time, even though they are literally giants at this point).  My heart would be filled with love, joy and peace (after all, this was mostly the only time there was peace) and no matter what had happened during the day, both good and bad, it didn’t seem to matter any more.  I was completely and utterly in love with them.  I was just happy at the thought of them.

To tell you the truth, this sounds a little like the God I have come to know and love.  While the to-do lists and the ta-da lists matter to us, they don’t seem to matter much to Him.  He has bigger things on His heart that He wants to share with us, His children.  He longs for us to hear His voice in the depths of our soul as He says to us at BOTH the beginning and end of each day, regardless of either of those lists, “I will quiet you with my love.  I will rejoice over you with singing.”  (Zephaniah 3:17)  This is what brings my heart the true joy and peace that I long for.

What did you do right today?   What can you say “ta-da” about?  I would love for there not to be crickets this time around.  Comment below and/or share the link with those who might need to hear this question as well.  I am off now to check some more boxes on my to-do list.

(One last thing, please check out my WORTH THE READ page and then tell me your favorite reads.  I would love to get to know you more!  You can either send me a note on my WHO ARE YOU? COME SAY HI page or comment below.)