It is our great and sacred privilege to come along side you, engaged and newly-wed couples, to share on the journey of your marriages. These past fifteen years, sitting at our dining room table, on our deck, at Paneras, diners, church lobbies, and even in online video conference rooms, has blessed our lives and our own marriage in ways we never thought possible. Friday night, our culmination final barbecue of the very first young-marrieds support group called our hearts to life and joy and beauty and blessing once again. This morning, we meet with another couple on the verge of marriage to go over plans to perform our very first wedding. It just doesn’t get any better than this for us.
When we were engaged, God gave us a short verse from the Psalms that has guided us and held us in ways we did not understand at the time and that would be a great blessing to us (plus we use it as some of our passwords for things – SSSHHH – don’t tell).
Today, we want to bestow a blessing on each one of you (and your precious partnership). Some of you have been married over 10 years at this point and others of you are just beginning your adventure. We love each and every one of you and even those we haven’t met yet. Our hearts are WITH you and FOR you!
Our Blessing For You Young Marrieds (#oldmarriedstoo)
May you be strong and courageous. May you not afraid or discouraged, knowing that the Lord your God will go with you wherever you go.
May your love abound more and more, with all knowledge and discernment so that you approve what is excellent.
May the Lord surround you with favor as with a shield. May He be your stronghold in times of trouble.
May your talk with each other be wholesome, only what is helpful for building each other up.
May love and faithfulness never leave you. May they be written on the tablet of your hearts.
May the favor of God rest on you and may He establish the work of your hands.
May you be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, as you remember how God, in Christ, forgave you.
May you walk with humility and gentleness with each other, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit.
May God give you the desires of your hearts and make all your plans succeed.
May you walk in integrity.
May the Lord instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; may God counsel you and watch over you.
May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other.
May the Lord keep you from all harm and watch over your life.
May there be peace within your walls.
May God be gracious to you and bless you and make His face shine upon you.
May you have the power together to know how high and wide and long and deep God’s love is for you.
May the Lord preserve your going out and your coming in now and forever.
Lastly, we share our own marriage verse with you, praying that this would be the cry of your hearts and the gentle guide for your life together.
Oh magnify the Lord with me, Let us exalt His name together! (Psalm 34:3)
“Cuddle with me so I can put my freezing cold feet on you and probably use you as a pillow and steal all the covers. K. Thanks.” (Pinterest)
On our wedding day 28 years ago (as I write this), my husband’s father and our best man, implored us in his toast that the THREE MOST IMPORTANT words in our marriage to come would be these: Pirates. Penguins. Steelers.
I can’t say he was entirely wrong. Having been raised in the Steel City, my husband IS all about these black and gold teams that grace the small city of Pittsburgh. Little did I realize the sacrifice he was making on our honeymoon when his precious Penguins were in the Stanley Cup final (that’s the Super Bowl of hockey) and I was completely oblivious (and possibly admonishing) to Allen’s frantic search for a newspaper some mornings to find the score of the game the night before (this was during those olden days without internet or cell phones)! Happy to say they won their VERY FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP that year and don their team name on the trophy!
Heeding Allen’s father’s advice, I have embraced these three words (well, two of them fully and one of them only if I can get to a live game because watching baseball on TV is akin to watching golf…not heart-pumping enough for this wiggly, mile-an-hour girl). They have been a tremendous plus to our marriage, and as many of you know, I am now almost a bigger Steelers fan than he is!
Fast forward. Four houses. Four kids. Four jobs.
Unhealed, hidden selves (very hidden on the day we said “I do”) bubble to the surface and bump up against one another. As our marriage clock tick-tocks, the bumps get stronger and louder and more painful.
Words of defeat and shame are uttered (by me). “Are we going to make it?” “What is wrong with me/you/us?” “Is there any hope?”
THREE choice, sacred, life-giving, hope-gathering words are voiced (by my husband). “WE’RE STILL LEARNING.”
I am taken aback, the words bouncing around like a super ball, uncatchable.
“But,” I whisper to myself, “we’ve been at this for a long time.” Defeat and shame creep back over and over, sometimes kept hidden inside, other times shouted in anger and most often, spoken desperately alongside tears of fear.
Again and again, time after time, the three words of life and hope and healing pour from my husband’s mouth. “WE’RE STILL LEARNING.”
These simple THREE words:
allow grace to cascade over us like a waterfall in the middle of a marriage drought
bring mercy to the unhealed selves that keep banging into each other
remind shame (in no uncertain terms) to “GET OUT of our house and our lives and our marriage!”
spark forgiveness as we stop demonizing and begin humanizing each other
usher discovery, newness and life into what seems unchanging, decrepit and even dead
grant bravery to our fearful parts, allowing for a life-long journey of change, growth and healing
energize our hearts to experience freedom from the past and anticipation for the future
breathe desperately-needed and longed for HOPE to the deepest parts of these two souls and bodies, uniting them again and again in ways previously unknown
Today, on our anniversary, we headed on a hike through a windy, periodically smooth, sometimes unmarked, gloriously scenic, often rocky, difficult-to-navigate in spots, kind of scary, breath-taking trail in Allamuchy Mountain State Park. Our favorite part of all was two swans (did you know they mate for life?) with their babies!
We talked about our favorite memories of this marriage we’ve shared. Two things we noticed: most of them were hiking of some kind and lots of them were when something didn’t go quite as we planned (like the time we ended up in some woods filled with mosquitoes and we had to sprint from one end to the other, laughing and swatting as we went).
Marriage is like hiking. It’s windy. It’s periodically smooth-sailing. It’s unmarked in places. It’s gloriously scenic. It’s difficult to navigate in spots. It can be scary. It definitely takes our breath away at times. We need hope every single day. We need all that these three simple, yet profound words speak to. Today, this best gift of my husband, “WE’RE STILL LEARNING,” wash over my soul afresh, hope and life breathed anew.
“She was an adventurer at heart. But oh how she loved drinking this tea in this mug in this chair. Oh how she loved to be home.” (Google Images)
When you hurriedly trekked up the sidewalk with your then 10-year-old in a whirlwind house-hunting trip in August of 2002 and opened the door at 23 Cedar Hollow Drive, DID YOU KNOW?
Did you know…
the neighbor boy that walked through the door the day you moved in would become one of your son’s life-long friends and your son would share the weight of pall-bearer at his dad’s funeral eight years later?
music would fill the living room and your baby would fall in love with the guitar and piano and her playing and singing would be a gift to your soul and you miss these moments terribly?
23 Cedar Hollow Drive would be brimming with boatloads of love for and from almost every species of animal, from snakes, to dogs, to cats, to hamsters, to fish(that wouldn’t die), to every assortment of lizard and now there is only one left?
your marriage, faltering at best, would become a place of hope and healing for dozens and dozens of young couples on the verge of their own life-long journey of marriage? (in fact, you are spending time with one of them again this morning)
your nervous decision to construct a pool granted a space for family, friends, teammates, youth groups, classmates, neighbors and even strangers to rejuvenate and be refreshed? (water gun fights and subsequent peals of laughter did just the trick)
first days of school and dance pictures and phone conversations filled with both laughter and tears would mark your front stoop (and who knows, maybe some goodnight kisses by young lovers)?
extended family would gather for holidays and normal days, where sports teams would be cheered for, good food would be eaten, games (and some arguments over those games) would be played, and most significantly, unbreakable bonds would be formed?
your young daughter, struggling with severe OCD and the inability to go away even for a week would receive help through counselors and would now be a flourishing wife, teacher and mom?
an actual wedding ceremony would be performed in your living room because the bride and groom thought the church was located in your town and got their marriage license in the wrong place?
annual Easter Egg hunts (or should I say money hunts) created a place for teens and budding adults to still be kids in all the best ways?
endless art supplies and crafts from your artist would be haphazardly strewn over all available surfaces and one of those works would be still hanging proudly in your family room for your prospective buyers to see and admire?
birthdays would be celebrated in all their simplicity and sometimes complexity, giving room for sharing reasons why the one whose day it was to be honored was loved (and even liked)?
every kind of sport uniform would be thrown in heaps on your kitchen floor and not-so-carefully cleaned in your laundry room, providing a place of community and friendship for your kids? (even as you write this, two of your son’s high school teammates are asleep with your 23-year-old in the basement)
your finished basement would be filled with sleep-overs and left-overs and hang-overs and do-overs and make-overs and probably thousands of humans entered those doors?
your outdoorsy son, content to spread mulch, carefully prune bushes and chop wood with his dad, would be happiest at his job doing the same? (and he would embrace your sports teams to the full)
your family room couch would become the healing place for illnesses too numerous to count, unforeseen and planned surgeries, along with the comforting spot to take a mental health recovery day and that you let your kids skip school for only this reason (oh how far you’ve come)?
small groups filled with lasting and abiding friendships would meet, pouring over books and videos, praying through heartache, celebrating joys, living the ups and downs of life and kids and marriage and…and…and.. (one of them still met last night right in your family room)?
the pony-tailed 10-year-old around the corner and school-bus seat mate would become one of your firstborn’s closest friends, bridesmaid fourteen years later and Auntie Taylor to your grandson?
a baby in your womb would be lost yet your heart would be born anew?
your game-boy playing first-grader would help you to create your new podcast and be a regular and wise guest?
early Christmas mornings would be filled with children (and even now adults) sitting on your bed opening surprises (and not-surprises) through sleepy, yet curious and excited eyes?
a nervous breakdown would seek to destroy you but a life-long journey toward healing and wholeness would begin and continue today and that a writer’s quest would result?
homework would be finished (or not-so-much), college applications would be filled out, but most important, hearts would be taught to love and hope and apologize and respect and give and continue to learn?
your basement would be the place for a barely sprouting church youth group of eight teens and three leaders that is now hundreds strong?
warm fires would be built inside and out, where stories were shared, sleep was encouraged, s’mores were eaten, and life-giving memories were created?
fights would break out, doors would be slammed, harsh words would be spoken, yet subsequent apologies would be made and forgiveness would be granted? Love and trust would be painstakingly built brick by brick?
your two-year old would happen upon a friend in first grade and after endless sleepovers, birthday parties and bring-a-friend vacations, their college hearts would be knit together even though hundreds of miles separate them?
your glass kitchen door would be filled with chore charts and yearly memorabilia, bird-feeder and deck-flower views, and sun-soaked floors for pets to relax and sleep blissfully?
seventeen New Year’s Eves would be celebrated, some quiet with tired bodies barely making it until midnight and others loud with friends singing God Bless America on the stoop after a long-night of Bunco?
a new love would come bearing another new love?
religion would be shed over and over and Jesus would rise in its place to become the healer of your heart and the lover of your soul?
you and Allen would be more in love than you thought was even possible?
Did you know…
Thankful tears would flow because this house is a true haven of healing and that as you leave it, your prayer is the same for the next set of feet that trek up the sidewalk and open your front door and make this their home?
Yes. This you now know. You know ALL of it.
If you’ve made it this far and you like this, I am asking if you could go back out on social media where you came from and “Like” it! Makes a huge difference in how much it gets read and/or shared. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
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)!
This is 54
In all my imperfections
In all my power
In all my insecurities
In every way
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
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
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,
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
Know what I desire
Is more than a fairy tale
Know what fuels my fire
I will have it
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
is my goal now
There’s only one life
here to live
My faith it keeps me grounded
Shows me the way
His Love and mercy
Filling me each day
My thoughts they keep on coming
As my heart
Thankful for love and grace
Thankful that it shows
Is my gift
I give myself today
Until my dying day.
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!
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.
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.
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!
“Every good and perfect gift is from above.” (James 1:17)
I walked into Panera this past Wednesday and there was a gift waiting for me.
I climbed 20 flights of stairs last January and another gift was waiting for me.
I went to my normal chiropractor appointment at the end of the summer and a third gift was waiting for me.
I went to church on a regular Sunday and a fourth gift was waiting for me.
All the talk right now is what do I want for Christmas. What do you want? What gifts are we going to get come nine days from now (yes, I know, it’s the final countdown…9…8…7)?
Walking into Panera a few days ago stopped me in my tracks. Right there on Route 22 in Watchung, NJ was a gift I had already been given in 2018: my new friend Jackie! Her bright eyes and cheerful smile greeted me before we even reached each other for a hug! Our conversation unfolded in authenticity and grace. We didn’t really want to leave at the end of two hours, but other things beckoned us to pack up our plates and give a quick hug goodbye. As I pulled out of the parking lot, filled to the brim with joy over this wondrous gift of a budding friendship, I was overwhelmed with thoughts of all the gifts I have already opened in 2018, gifts strewn lovingly by God’s hand to my heart.
Maybe it’s just me (and somehow I would hazard a guess that it might not be), but with all the struggles that come from my average, every-day life, my mind tends to swirl around all the gifts I’m NOT getting on any given day. They range from the minuscule (I forgot something at the store and now I have to go back and I just lost a half-hour of time) to the grandiose (some of the prayers I fasted for during Lent on my Hosanna List have not been answered yet). I become discouraged and disheartened, wondering where God is in all of it and if He sees me and even cares.
Enter Panera. My 2018 AHA moment. “Take stock, Esther, of the gifts you’ve already received and opened and enjoyed this year,” a Voice inside my heart nudged, or more like prodded, “You don’t have to wait until December 25.” So on this ordinary Sunday, December 16, 2018, I am doing just that…one for each month of the year!
The beauty of Allen’s apartment in the Strip district in Pittsburgh. Yes, it’s 20 flights up (there is an elevator for the faint of heart), but the view of the river and the sheer “one-of-a-kindness” of it takes my breath away each time I turn my key and open the door. And can I just say, Jared moving to this land of Allen’s birth is the icing on the cake!
Fellow writers, editors and podcasters like Afton, Janis, Gail, Annie, Sarah, Debbie, Tracy and so many others who are encouraging me on this new-found and scary, but exciting journey of blogging, and book-writing. (check out some of the links by clicking on their names…you won’t regret it). AND YOU READERS who this would be useless without!!! Huge thanks and shout out to those of you who read and share and encourage! You have no idea how my heart leaps with each “like,” “share” and “comment.” It means what I’m doing matters. Thank you.
Authors who share their hearts with a waiting and skeptical world and the books that come out of them. My two favorite this year and who I am determined to meet one day soon (one moved to NYC and one moved to Pittsburgh, so I have a good chance!!! One knows a friend of mine and already emailed me back and I have a couple of friends who know the other personally…if you know them, hook me up!): Shauna Niequist and Tish Harrison Warren!
Our cozy beach house that provides a place of respite and restoration for our family, my women’s group, our friends and even the renters who call it “our house” year after year. Memories are forged, love is shared, the salt air heals and each one leaves better than when they came. There aren’t enough words.
Sharing at church about marriage mentoringand all the wonderful couples who came forward to be mentored and especially to mentor! This makes my heart so happy. Not only do we get to share about our own marriage journey (filled with struggles and strengths), but that others willingly come to receive and give themselves. #yayformarriage #yayforvulnerability #yayforredemption
Budding friendships with those I didn’t even know existed a year ago. Jackie isn’t the only one, even though she’s pretty AMAZING as I’ve already told you. How about Susan, Stacey, and Tatiana, girls who jumped into my small groups and opened their hearts wide, sharing their very selves (BTW my small groups are unbelievable…don’t live without one)?! WOW! What about Liz, a young wife who loves Jesus and whose heart matches mine on this wholeness and healing journey (she’s the one who was waiting at the chiropractor, a very unlikely place)? How about Natalie, my cohort in mischief and joy on my trip to Rwanda? As a pastor’s kid, she gets the “growing up in ministry” part of me very few understand. Plus, she’s a great match for this Esthergizer Bunny.What other surprise people are in store for me? I never want to say it’s enough. As I’ve told Sarah so many times in her life, “the best friend you’ll ever make might be waiting just around the corner.”
Our monthly couple’s massage. Best birthday present ever given by my awesome husband. Somehow, though, he benefits from this. He’s a sneaky, but cute one.
An invitation into the redemption story of Rwanda!To see this dream fulfilled after 10 years of our family’s “clean water obsession,” was absolutely incredible. Not only to be a small part of it on the ground, but sharing with our team, meeting the people who do this day in and day out, and being completely invigorated by the ways God is bringing true restoration to a county so broken and devastated. Even the Rwandan woman who prayed for me one day! What a gift! We cannot wait to go back with our family!
Long, deep and abiding friendships that are too many to count! (I can’t even begin the list because I so don’t want to miss anyone. You know who you are! Some of you are even my family members!) Friendships that stand the test of time and love all the fabulous and flawed parts of me. Friendships that remind me never to give up hope and speak grace over me when I’m hurting. Friendships that keep me on course as we “limp our way together to redemption” (Tish Harrison Warren).
The latest Podcast I listen to and online book club I am carefully venturing into with the Bible for Normal People. This is the place I get all my mental feels and my brain gets stretched and I can discuss and argue and be free to express all my doubts and questions about God and the Bible. For this girl who grew up thinking she (and a few other chosen ones) had all the answers to the big questions nailed down, it’s a huge, precarious step into the largeness of God! On a very silly note: I even got to record my voice giving a shout-out in one of their upcoming podcasts! #90secondsoffame
Allen, Sarah, Cody, Broden, Jared, Lady, Josh, Daniella, and Rachel. Heart of my very own heart! Can you even believe that I have permission from them to share about them?! Can you believe a husband and a bunch of mostly Millennials let their stories be known? Who has that? Believe me! I don’t take it lightly! This gift of them and from them allows my voice to be heard and there is nothing I treasure more! They are even willing to go further! How about that?? Here’s the LITTLE SURPRISE: you will begin to hear more from them and from me in the New Year on my new podcast called “The Dolly Mama and the Millennials.” So excited!!
So what’s your Panera today? What gifts have you already opened this year? Take stock, my friend! And please please share at least one! Or two, or twelve! You can comment here, but even better out on social media! Or BOTH!
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!
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
building and maintaining a tribe
a room decorating project
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):
“Conflict creates the fire of affects and emotions; and like every fire it has two aspects: that of burning and that of giving light.” (Carl Jung)
Allen and I have our fair share of FIGHTS (the seventh F in the series). We are certainly NOT the couple who can say, “We never argue. We agree on everything.” Nor do we want to be (well, Allen wants to be secretly).
Allen is kind and gracious. I am sarcastic and I like to say, discerning (others may call me a bit judgmental). Allen is a hard-worker, quiet and reserved. I am quick-witted and loud. He is methodical and analytical. I am passionate and decisive. Allen is a supporter and a peacemaker. I am a leader and aggressive. As you can see, blending our personalities lends itself to conflict. It is inevitable.
We bicker about (super important things like) how to pack the car, load the dishwasher, and fold the laundry. I hear myself saying just last night, “I’ve told you not to fold my dresses. They just go on a hanger. You are wasting your time.” (I know, ladies. The man was folding the laundry and I still had something to say about it.)
We argue about more serious things like where to spend our money, how to handle the latest “children issue” and what to fill our calendars with, the things of life that have big implications. There’s just no way around it.
We also have more tender “discussions” about how we’ve been hurt, misunderstood, and disrespected by the other. These stem from places of abandonment and shame, and our lack of the ability to “stay with the uncomfortable” parts of ourselves. Allen has an especially hard time with this, deeply desiring the absence of conflict. It does not make him feel safe inside or out. On the other hand, I love exposing all our shadowy parts (or maybe just his if I’m truthful) and bringing them out into the open for the gaping wound to sometimes fester and other times heal. Allen tends to be the avoider. I am the chaser. I fight and he flees when we feel threatened.
For many years, we had no idea that all this conflict CAN actually lead to intimacy (being fully-known and fully-loved). But it CAN also lead to disconnection. The trick is knowing HOW to argue, how to fight fair. Allen’s calm and quiet during our times of conflict appears like marital harmony, but without resolution, the problem just brews beneath the surface. My love of “getting it out into the open” many times degenerates into insults and harm. This breeds the perfect environment for disconnection.
Dr. Gottman, the expert marriage researcher, says that how a couple handles conflict is directly related to how likely they are to have a happy marriage. There are four disastrous ways of interacting that will cripple attempts to resolve conflict, one feeding into the next (he calls them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse): criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. They are the FIRE that destroys.
Complaining (not to be confused with endless nagging – Allen likes the idea of challenging the status quo) is a healthy marital activity. It’s not pleasant, but it brings things into the light. Many times, and this is where I personally struggle, it crosses the line to CRITICISM. Criticism involves attacking someone’s person, rather than their behavior. Complaints usually start with the word “I” and criticism with the word “you.” For example, “I wish we spent more time together” is a complaint. “You never spend time with me” is a criticism. Criticism produces blame and multiplies shame, never resulting in closeness.
CONTEMPT brings criticism to a whole new level. Many times, criticism, as bad as it is, is born from a place of frustration. It tends to be a “crime” of passion. Contempt is a clear “premeditated” attempt to harm your partner. Its aim is to cause pain. No matter if you have been married for four days or forty years, this monster sucks away every positive feeling spouses have for one another. It appears in the form of name-calling, hostile humor (sarcasm) and straight up mockery. I always associate it with the “rolling of the eyes.” This is the most dangerous “horseman.”
Once contempt has entered the picture, each of us has a natural inclination to defend ourselves. In fact, DEFENSIVENESS can result even from proper forms of communication like complaining, especially if there is unresolved shame in either party. However, it is completely natural to resort to this place when there is CRITICISM and especially when CONTEMPT has taken hold. This being said, defensiveness only escalates a conflict instead of resolving it. Denying responsibility and making excuses only separates a couple further.
The last horseman is STONEWALLING. Allen struggles with this. Overwhelmed by emotions, his natural inclination is to withdraw, protect himself. Even though it might look on the surface like “peace-making,” it actually is a very powerful act, conveying disapproval. The example that comes to mind is when one of us “stops talking” to the other. When this happens, the ability to connect is seriously thwarted and intimacy is beyond reach.
All this sounds so horrible and hard and probably completely relatable. Even writing this is making me a little discouraged. I need a little good news, how about you?
There is great HOPE! All of those horseman come into every marriage, even happy ones at some point or another, especially when there is intense marital conflict. But they don’t have to be the norm. Just like fires can bring harm and destruction, they can also produce light and warmth.
Conflict in marriage can be the fire that produces light and warmth. It can bring life and vitality into a relationship. It is the price you pay to have deeper intimacy. WE CAN FIGHT FIRE WITH FIRE! Here are basic “rules” (not a huge fan of that word) that govern how to move from harm to healing:
Bottling things up and burying them just makes the “cork pop” at some point. The problem hasn’t gone away. Instead, take some time away if you need to with the promise that you will come back together when cooler heads prevail over heated emotions. This has been huge for us. When Allen says “Let’s come back later,” I am able to “let things go for now” knowing there will be resolution.
CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES
This goes back to probably 85% of our arguments about how to squeeze the toothpaste tube, mow the lawn, etc. Allen and I have wasted a lot of time and energy here.
GET TO THE HEART OF THE MATTER
Drs. Les and Leslie Parrot, marriage counselors, teach couples the X, Y, Z formula to help them state their true feelings, “In situation X, when you do Y, I feel Z.” This gives room for you to state how your partner’s behavior affects your feelings. This is when “I” statements, instead of “you” statements, come into play. This helps to diffuse defensiveness and provide a place of safety.
Never “throw back in their face” something your spouse has shared with you in a place of vulnerability and confidentiality. In the heat of an argument, this is a quick “go-to,” but will break trust and humiliate the other. Nothing enhances feelings of shame more than this.
IS IT THE RIGHT TIME?
This is especially helpful when working through the bigger things that may need to be sorted out over the long-haul. I have had to learn this the hard way. I want to rush through and fix things right away (like the minute it pops into my head). Allen has taught me to be patient and gracious here. Instead of my normal MO (mode of operation), I ask instead, “I have something bothering me. When is a good time to talk about it?”
Be careful to believe the best about the other’s intentions and be open to learning whether or not you are right or wrong. Mind-reading assumes the worst about someone and can be a strategy of self-protection. If I have Allen “all figured out” (and I’m not usually thinking the best), what room is there for him to share his heart? This shuts down communication and blocks intimacy.
STAY ON TOPIC
Stick to the relevant issue that you are discussing. Don’t veer off course, bringing up everything the person has done wrong in the last five years. Refocus when things get off course. Be careful of this slippery slope.
TWO EARS, ONE MOUTH
Listen. Plain and simple. But not that easy. Have the goal of understanding where the other person is coming from. This is so hard. I’m not sure why. We want so desperately to be understood. Give the gift you long for to the other. Hear with your heart. Be careful not to fix. Sometimes, silence is your spouse’s best friend (something super hard for this chatterbox). “I hear you” have been three of the most powerful words I’ve ever said or heard.
ADMIT YOUR PART
I have a huge barrier when it comes to saying I am wrong. I can see so clearly how Allen is “completely in the wrong about everything” (note sarcastic tone here). This comes for me from a place of pride (“I’m better than you”). For Allen, it comes from a place of shame (“You’re better than me”). We both struggle here for different reasons, neither one of them good. Understanding the back story of our own reactions is HUGE here. When we understand that we both have infinite value and worth, “I’m sorry” becomes much easier because we can take responsibility for our actions without blame and shame.
Feeding off the compassion we now have for ourselves (and our spouses) that comes straight from God’s heart for us provides real room for forgiveness, “giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me.” We all fail. We all need forgiveness. Giving to the other what we will eventually need brings true healing. (This is a huge topic, one to be talked about at a later date.)
I keep coming back to the image of fire. “Keep the fires burning” and “Keep the flame alive” are mantras for good marriage. Fire destroys or gives light. Conflict is the same. Fighting harms or heals, brings intimacy or disconnection. I’m sure another “discussion” is right around the corner for Allen and me. May we fight the FIRES of destruction and harm with the FIRES that bring light and healing!
If you’ve made it this far, can you go back to Social Media and “like” it (but only if you do like it…LOL)!
Welcome to my guest blogger, Grace Hufschmid! Grace is a wife to one (Eric), mom to two (Marley and Presley) and a friend to many (including me). Grace is a regional manager for Operation Christmas Child, the people who bring shoeboxes filled with goodies to the poorest of the poor. Grace’s heart is kind, authentic and fierce! YOU ARE IN FOR A TREAT! Enjoy!
Call me crazy but one of my favorite things to do is to clean my house. It is a feeling of instant gratification to see a mess and then wield the power to clean it up… bonus points if I find some random piece of dirt that has somehow eluded prior cleaning efforts. For me, it is an almost euphoric feeling to walk into a room and look around knowing that every nook and cranny has been cleaned and organized.
Over the past few months, as aspects of my life have felt somewhat out of my control, I have poured every ounce of effort into taking control of the one thing I can… my clean home.
Except for the mirror at the end of the upstairs hallway. That mirror is dirty. It has smudges and grime and fingerprints all over it. It’s so bad that you can see that it’s dirty from a pretty good distance. Now it’s not dirty because I haven’t noticed it (obviously I have by the above description) and it’s not that I haven’t had the time to clean it. Believe me! I have walked up to that mirror many, many times with Windex and paper towel in hand with a very determined look on my face. The real issue is that when I get close, close enough to clean it, I see it… little tiny fingerprints all over it. For as long as I can remember, my husband has walked my two little daughters up to that mirror and let them look at themselves. They bang on the mirror, poke dirty little fingers at their reflections, laugh and yell all while my husband tells them how beautiful they are… all in that mirror. From a distance, it just seems like random smudges and dirt, but up close I can see the work of tiny happy little hands and I can’t wipe it away.
Enter the dilemma: last week we were hosting a first birthday party for my daughter. I wanted everyone coming to my house for the party to walk away believing that I am the cleanest, neatest, most on-top-of-my-game mother around. My already cleaning-obsessed mind became increasingly fixed on that mirror. What would my guests think if they walked by a dirty, grimy mirror? Oh the horror. They might not think I am so perfect after all. I actually thought about taking the mirror down and shoving it in a closet until after the party so that no one would see or judge it or me.
Fortunately, I was able to let it go and keep my messy fingerprint-ridden mirror intact without losing too much sleep. The party went on with the mirror left in its place. However, I did start thinking about life and the never-ending struggle to present the most perfect picture of our life, our family, our faith and so on… “of course I have it all together… just check out my Facebook newsfeed.”
Reality struck. When we do just that, we miss the opportunity to show people what happens when you get up close and look at the messes in our lives… we might just witness the not-clearly-visible fingerprints of God.
One particular messy area has been my marriage. About five years ago, my husband and I hit a really rough patch. From the outside, everything looked perfect. We were both working in ministry. We had a cute daughter. We even wrote lovely things about each other on social media. But hidden from Instagram and Facebook were the nights I cried myself to sleep and the times we talked about what it would look like if we walked away. It was an absolute mess, but in a way that only He can, God amazingly healed and restored our marriage. He brought us to a stronger place than we had ever been. It wasn’t easy and boy was it complicated, but it was something only God could do.
I am amazed that in these years that have followed, He used what we went through to give hope to other couples that were struggling. He is still doing that to this day. You see, when you get up close and stick your nose in our mess, you can see God’s fingerprints all over it. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul says “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
We have seen that truth come alive in our own lives and marriage. As we hand over our weaknesses, our shame, our doubts, and our insecurities to God, they become opportunities for others to see His power, His fingerprints. As Paul says, we can actually be excited “boasting” about our weaknesses because they are opportunities for God’s perfect grace to be seen.
These are the questions I have to keep asking myself: Do I see my weakness and struggle as something to be fixed, minimized or hidden or an opportunity for God to show up? Do I let people in to get close enough to my mess to reveal God’s fingerprints? Or do I try to tuck failure and insecurity in the closet to preserve my perfect image? Those are questions I battle with almost every day. Answering them the way I know can bring me to the best place sure isn’t easy, and sometimes I make the “not-so-good” choice, but when I do, it’s worth it.
“Every man’s way is right in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 21:2)
It began right at 5:00 am this morning. “Can we put the stuff we are moving in the living room?” (Esther) “I want to put it in the closet. I don’t want all that out there clogging up the area.” (Allen) “But if we put it in the living room, we will separate what is going and what is staying.” (Esther) Allen gives in. Half-hour later, another conversation goes like this. “You keep everything.” (Esther) “What do you mean by that?” (Allen) “You have every box for what you own and every imaginable bag that you bought stuff in. I don’t do that. But you know what? Sometimes, it’s good. Now I have all your dry cleaning plastic bags to put over your hanging clothes.” Esther gives in. If you are confused as to what is going on, I am here in Pittsburgh helping Allen move from the suburbs to a cute, trendy apartment in the Strip District. We are packing up his stuff. Fun times (insert sarcastic tone of voice here). We both had a “FORECAST”, a what’s-it-gonna-be-like mindset (there’s my fifth “F” in this WTF series – see first four at these links: FOO, Fidelity, Fallibility, and Faithful)for how it would play out. We came into this packing thing with a load of expectations.
When we got married almost 27 years ago, I imagined it all completely different. I envisioned romance, adventure, emotional closeness, spontaneity, laughter, someone to take care of me, and the embracing of differences. I believed in and expected the “happily-ever-after marriage.” After all, isn’t that the point of getting married? (I can hear some of you chuckling to yourself knowing how silly it all was.) I certainly didn’t envision to be bickering over how to pack up an apartment. After all, this apartment is part of a new adventure for us. It should be magical. (Yes, you are still chuckling.)
Allen’s vision for our marriage so long ago had very different hopes and expectations. He thought it would be filled with peace, physical and emotional closeness, lots of quality time together doing simple things, care for him, stability and harmony. He also believed in the “happily-ever-after marriage.” After all, isn’t that the point of getting married? (At this point, you need to stop chuckling so loud I can even hear you from here.) He certainly didn’t envision us bickering over how to pack up an apartment. After all, this apartment is part of the plan for us to have lots of quality time together getting to know his simple home city of Pittsburgh. It should be easy.
Every marriage is confronted with a vast assortment of expectations from both parties about what marriage and life should look like. We have been forming these for years before we are married, even from childhood. We come to believe that certain things are right and good and therefore want and expect them from our marriage partner. There is nothing wrong with this. It breaks down when we assume that we both have an identical picture of marriage and life itself. However, saying “I do” brings with it a host of conscious and unconscious expectations that aren’t always fulfilled. We see it play out day in and day out: simple things like how to pack an apartment and much more complicated things like how to discipline a teenager. When we have these sharp contrasts, they lead to unexpected arguments and stresses. When this happens on a regular basis, we find ourselves with a vast emotional chasm between us, something neither of us want or thought would happen.
This sounds like all bad news. As you think on your own marriage or marriage-to-be, it could seem overwhelming. “We fight all the time. We are so different. We want such contrary things from each other and from life.” Yes. It’s difficult. Yes. It takes a lot of work. But I am here to tell you that there is also really good news. And all the hard work is worth it.
As many of you know, Allen and I are the marriage mentoring coordinators at our church and we meet with and counsel engaged couples as they prepare for their upcoming marriage. Allen has a very favorite exercise (developed by our friend Glenn Murphy…BIG SHOUT OUT TO HIM!) that these couples do as part of the curriculum. Each couple writes a list of his/her own “Ten Commandments” (the unspoken expectations, the “roles and rules” that he or she brings into marriage). No matter where you are right now on your marriage journey, this might be super helpful to you. And it can be about any aspect of your life or marriage. Just this week, I spoke with our daughter, Sarah, as she and her husband are beginning to navigate raising a child and both working, and they sat down and wrote about what they both expect and want to happen in the next few months as it relates to their adorable son, Broden. And as I am thinking further about it, I need to seriously practice what I preach here and Allen and I need to sit down before we go about the rest of our day and do this about even something as simple as our expectations of the moving weekend before more bickering ensues and we feel disconnected and upset.
Anyhow, here are some “How To Do It” guidelines:
Make intimacy (being fully-known and fully-loved) your over-arching goal. This will help create an environment of transparency and safety.
Do this exercise separately without your partner’s input. Be careful not to write what you think your partner would expect or want. Be as honest as you can and don’t be afraid to have your voice be heard! (This comment is not for people like me who speak their voice loud and often.)
Compare answers with your partner. Notice what you have in common and where you differ. You might just be surprised at both!!
Provide a safe environment to discuss them and question each other with the goal of mutual agreement. This takes each person believing that expectations are not right or wrong, but different.
Create a new, mutual list that where you both feel heard and what matters most is there. This is a huge opportunity to move from “ME” versus “YOU” to “US.”
Sometimes, there are things we cannot comfortably reach agreement with or compromise about. Here are some more thoughts for that scenario, which I promise will happen at some point in your journey of future expectations and decisions.
Possibly discuss them with someone you trust who will not take sides. Look for feedback and input from them. This could be a mentor couple, a friend or even a professional counselor.
Take a moment to pray together and ask God for wisdom as you navigate the conflict. Ask Him for unity of spirit and heart.
Face the reality that some sacrifices are necessary for the sake of a loving, mutually satisfying marriage. This means that there are some things that are important to you but you will be choosing to give up , hopefully without any residual resentment or hostility.
Realize that letting those things go might be painful depending on how important it is to you. It may hurt and cause some emotional distress. You may have to grieve what isn’t going to happen.
Understand that there will be losses and there will be many gains. What IS going to happen may even be better than what isn’t going to happen.
Trust the process. There is great hope and true intimacy (being fully-known and fully-loved) may just be the outcome, especially if you’ve made that your goal from the beginning. That’s what we all want anyway.
What’s it gonna be like for your marriage? What’s your FORECAST for the future? No matter where you are on your journey, there is always hope for greater healing and wholeness! I pray that your FORECAST would be bright!