Posted in Anxiety, Faith, Grief, Health

What Do You Want From Me?

I got real with Jesus just now.

I angrily pleaded, shouting in my mind, WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME ANYWAY?

His gentle answer surprised me.

You have it all wrong, backwards in fact. It’s the question I’ve been waiting to ask you. What do YOU want from ME? What do YOU need? As a mom? As a wife? As a friend? As a woman? As a human? What do YOU need today?

Really, Jesus? Really? Cause I have a whole list. You ready?

I’m tired. Tired of holding it together. Tired of the extra work. Tired of the mental load. I NEED STRENGTH.

I’m confused. Not sure what to do in this new normal I find myself in. I NEED WISDOM.

I’m irritable. Emotions flying off the wall and out of my mouth. Cranky. I NEED PATIENCE.

I’m sad. Sad that so much good has been taken away. I’m really sad. I NEED JOY.

I’m afraid. It’s scary out there and even here in my own head. I NEED PEACE.

I’m discouraged. Everywhere I turn, it seems like bad news is being shouted loudly. I NEED HOPE.

This time around, His gentle answer did NOT surprise me, because it’s been buried deep in my heart for SO long, just waiting to emerge.

I’ve got all of this IN SPADES for you.
Truth be told, I AM ALL OF THIS.

I am STRENGTH.
I am WISDOM.
I am PATIENCE.
I am JOY.
I am PEACE.
I am HOPE.

There is plenty of ME to go around. I will give YOU all that YOU need today, because what YOU really need is ME.

Posted in Faith, Health

What’s the Plan?

There’s no five-year plan right now.
There’s hardly a five-day plan.

I’m the queen of plans.
To-do-lists.
Schedules.
Goals.

I’m used to being completely sure of all my next steps.

Now, I’m confused.
Unsure.
Doubtful.
Wondering.

Forced to live in the moment, the present, the next five minutes.

Needing God’s wisdom and grace as I navigate what it means to

…have freedom for myself, yet thoughtfulness for others

…have confidence in my decisions, yet unwavering grace for those who make different ones

…live in the unknown, yet trust I am held by the One who knows me

…ONLY be able to do the very “NEXT right thing in LOVE.”

Maybe that’s been the point all along.

Posted in Anxiety, Faith

I’m Afraid of it ALL

Politics.
Religion.
Even something as complicated as parenting choices or as simple as the choice of who to root for on the field.

And now COVID.

Accusations.
Judgment.
“I’m in this camp.”
Social media comment fights.
“I believe I’m right and you are wrong.”
Personal attacks.

“I want freedom at all costs!”
“I want safety at all costs!”

What’s at the root of it all?

FEAR.

WE ARE ALL AFRAID OF SOMETHING.

Dying.
Being wrong.
Not having enough _________ .
Being left out.
Suffering.
Not being liked.
The unknown.
Heights.

The list goes on and on.

To be honest, I’m afraid of it ALL.

BUT I don’t want to live and act from that place of FEAR.
I don’t want it to be the boss of me.

I hope to live and act from a much better place:  LOVE.

Here’s why:

LOVE begets GRACE.
GRACE generates KINDNESS.
KINDNESS breeds BELONGING.
BELONGING creates SAFETY.
SAFETY produces PEACE.
PEACE conquers FEAR.

“There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear.”
(I John 1:18)

Posted in Faith, Family, Motherhood

The Best Advice I Ever Received as a Mom

An older mom, whose kids were the age of mine now, shared a GOLDEN NUGGET with me when my second son was starting middle school.  It changed the course of my parenting and is something I have had to put in practice, albeit not-so-perfectly, especially now as my kids are mostly grown.

(The content below is based on real-life experiences.  The stories may have been altered slightly and names have been removed to protect the innocent.) 

  • Toddler only wants to talk about, read about, watch videos about, wear jammies with and sit on tractors, especially blue ones.
  • Five-year old wants to wear his Batman costume seven days a week, 24 hours a day.  This obsession continues for four more years.
  • Preteen asks for bassoon lessons.  What even is a bassoon?
  • Teenager flits from photography to guitar to lacrosse to modelling to penny-collecting to painting body for football games to Ford Mustang convertibles all within a couple of years.
  • College daughter announces plans to move 2,764 miles away to pursue career in Studio City, California right after she graduates.

LOVE WHAT THEY LOVE.

  • Eight-year-old’s best friend is known as the “behavior problem” in third grade.  You have heard from “reputable sources” that the parents have been in trouble with the law.
  • Sixth-grade son announces he has a girlfriend, the most popular girl in 7th grade (and who you heard is one of the “mean” ones).
  • Junior in high school casually mentions at the dinner table that she’s dating a boy from work who dropped out of college.
  • College son springs the surprise at Christmas that he is “in love” with a 33-year-old.  You stalk her Instagram and she’s covered in tattoos and sports a lip ring.
  • Twenty-something daughter texts you that she is moving in with her Atheist boyfriend in a few weeks and they plan to get married in Mexico next summer.

LOVE WHO THEY LOVE.

END OF STORY.

I’ve shared this nugget with my kids over and over and over and made this promise to them on countless occasions.  I asked my son tonight what he thinks about it as we were having a pretty-heated discussion about my parenting (flaws and all).  “Mom,” he said, “I feel like I never have to pretend, hide or worry about being someone that I’m not.  I have permission to be exactly who I am.  I know you love me no matter what.”

My heart skipped a beat as a tear trickled down my cheek.  Yes, my child, I want you to be exactly who God made you to be and I will love what you love, and I promise, whether it’s easy or hard, to love whoever you love.  I want to give you the gift that God has given to me.  END OF STORY.

“Observe how Christ loved us.  His love was not cautious but extravagant.  He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of Himself to us.  Love like that.”  (Ephesians 5:2)

 

Posted in Anxiety, Childhood, Faith, Friendship, Health, Thanks

Insomnia and SELAH

Good morning SELAH,
I loved seeing you yesterday, even though it was from a distance. I loved watching you play with our dog.  I loved hearing from your mom and dad about your hike in the meadow. I loved how we talked at the end about being “awake” together during the night.
Last night, I woke up a few times and just like I told you, I thought of you and prayed for you, that you wouldn’t be afraid like you’ve been the last few weeks.
But it was more than that and I want to tell you what happened.
When I woke up, I thought about the things that God is and then I thought about you.
The first thing I thought about is that GOD IS LOVE. He loves me. He loves you. But then I thought about you, your name. SELAH. I was told when I was about your age that when I saw that word in the Psalms, it meant, “pause and reflect.” So that’s what I did in the middle of the night.
I thought about God loving me and you and then I just laid there for a minute with your name: SELAH. I laid there and thought a little longer about how much God loves me and you. Paused and reflected.
The next thing I thought about is that GOD IS GOOD. He is good to me. He is good to you. Then I thought about your name again. SELAH. I laid there just another minute, pausing and reflecting.
The very last thing I thought about is that GOD IS WITH US. He is with me. He is with you. SELAH. I don’t think it was very long at all before I drifted back off to sleep.
I woke up a couple more times during the night and thought more about these three things. And YOU. Praying that God would help us to be able to rest and sleep and remember over and over and over again that He loves us. He is good to us. He is with us always.
SELAH, you are a beautiful young lady (I can’t believe you are only nine) and I am so grateful that I know you. I am so thankful that the name your mom and dad gave you helped me so much last night.
Tonight, if and when I wake up again, I’m going to be thinking about you and God and pausing and reflecting. SELAH.
If you wake up in the middle of the night this week (and I hope you don’t), remember that you are not alone and that I am “awake” with you, and God is taking care of us both.
Love,
Miss Esther
Posted in Faith, Health, Thanks

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

Stirred this morning with that same odd feeling that I just don’t have a name for yet.
My thoughts swirled. We are still in this. Still in this. STILL IN THIS.
The band Queen’s words echoed again as I lay hugging my pillow.
“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality.”
I felt myself getting pulled into the dark, ugly space of “no hope.” Thinking of all the things that could go wrong today and in the future.
A little bit of anger rose up inside.
I’ve worked for a long, long time to recover my mental health after a nervous breakdown about 15 years ago.
Counseling. Nutrition. Prayer. Sabbath. Vulnerability. Gratitude.
Is it all for naught? I feel like I’m teetering on the edge. We all are.
I stayed longer, baffled as to whether or not to keep mulling in despair or get up and “face the day.”
I’m not sure when it happened (the time is blurry during that weird waking-up time), but a faint glimmer of “hope” flickered, just bright enough for me to feel its dim light in the darkness of my mind.
A small moment of clarity shoved its way in.
My whole journey to this healthier space was a marathon, not a sprint. And I ran it. I ran it. One moment at a time. One hour at a time. One day at a time. I ran it.
I can run this marathon too. One moment at a time. One hour at a time. One day at a time. There is hope. There is hope.
Grappling for the mental health tools I had right there in my bed, I talked to God about a few things I was grateful for today.
1. My bed.
2. My husband.
3. A fridge and pantry with food.
4. The sun shining on our philodendron.
5. My car insurance company kicking back 15% to us.
6. My computer.
7. My thyroid meds.
8. My parent’s generosity to our furloughed son yesterday.
9. You who take a minute to read and comment and encourage me in this space.
10. My kids.
It wasn’t magic. I don’t feel fine. But it was a step. A step of hope. That’s good enough for this morning.
Posted in Celebration, Faith, Thanks

Pennies From Heaven

“The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside by a generous hand. But- and this is the point- who gets excited by a mere penny?”  (Annie Dillard)

My husband hatched a plan at dinner one night many moons ago.  He had been reading Annie Dillard’s book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and was captivated by an anecdote about a game she played during childhood. She tells how she hid her own “precious penn(ies)” in nooks or crannies in trees or sidewalks, drawing chalk arrows to them so a stranger would find the surprise penny and pick it up.  Many times, she would lie in wait to catch a glimpse of the excitement in the finder’s eyes.

Dillard reminds us that, just like her game, there are “unwrapped gifts and free surprises” straight from the heart of God, just waiting for us if we open our eyes to see them.  Our family mission was born:  find these pennies every day and tell us about them at dinner.

What started as a conversation starter for the table ended up literally changing our lives. Each one of us searched and found many things each day that we believed were “strewn by the generous hand” of God Himself, “surprises” just for us He had hidden along the path, many times with “big arrows” signaling where we might discover them.  We had things like flowers, actual pennies, frogs, the best parking space at the mall on a rainy day, butterflies, a kind word from someone, a goal scored on the soccer or field hockey field, etc.  Sometimes, we would joke that what we had been given was a “nickel,” a “dime” or even a “quarter,” depending on the magnitude of what it meant to us.

My life (and mostly my head) is filled with negativity from the news, struggles in my home, animosity on social media, work-place uncertainty, sickness and even the death of those I love, all things that consume me by what’s wrong with the world instead of what’s right.  Truth be told, doubts creep in about this God and I question if His love and care for me and this beautiful, but hurting planet.

Sticking my head in the sand and pretending the “bad” does not exist is NOT a good idea, but being swallowed up by it is worse.  I am wise to navigate the tension between the bitter and the sweet of life, allowing them to sit side-by-side, both having their rightful place in my day, compassion rising within me in the bitter and joy enveloping my heart in the sweet.

I would still venture to say, however, that I don’t have to look very far to see the bitter.  I am bombarded from sun up until sun down.  I must open my eyes to search for the sweet, find it, and name it.  Those “pennies” are just what I need.  They quiet those doubts and remind me of a God who is fully alive and loves little old me, a God who has put special pennies all throughout my day, surprise “pennies hidden” just for me.

“As you go through this day, look for tiny treasures from God that have been strategically placed along the way.  God lovingly goes before you and plants little pleasures to brighten your day.  Look carefully for them and pluck them one by one.  When you reach the end of your day, you will have gathered a really nice bouquet.”  (Sarah Young)

From my heart to yours.

P.S. My penny already this morning was the sun streaking through my window, casting its rays across the floor. How about you? Any pennies?

Posted in Childhood, Faith, Family, Friendship, Grandparenthood, Health, Marriage, Motherhood, Thanks

I LOVE PEOPLE

I LOVE PEOPLE.
This whole pandemic has made me love them more.
My head shakes in wonder at their CREATIVITY.  Father/daughter duets from their family room.  Healing poems. Whole choirs singing via Zoom. Art classes online. Entire educational systems and their staff STILL teaching the next generation. Faith communities having services in cars, online, complete with music, prayer and words of encouragement.
I LOVE PEOPLE.
My heart bursts at their KINDNESS. Masks for strangers. Pizza ordered for weary hospital staff. Phone calls to the elderly. Smiles and “thank yous” dispensed across lawns and continents. Lysol wipes distributed to friends.  Round-the-clock prayers on behalf of the suffering.  KINDNESS.
I LOVE PEOPLE.
My mind boggles at their sense of HUMOR. Silly memes on social media. Comedy shows streamed free. Toilet paper jokes at family dinners. Videos that almost make me pee my pants. Hope disguised as laughter, the best medicine to cheer our hearts. HUMOR.
I LOVE PEOPLE.
My ‘fraidy-cat-self marvels at their BRAVERY. Medical personnel on the front lines. Small business owners fighting for their workers. Relief workers serving the marginalized. Delivery people handling packages from who knows where. Struggling patients clinging to the hope of going home. BRAVERY.
I LOVE PEOPLE.
My soul is enraptured by their GENEROSITY. Neighbors dropping hand-sanitizer in each other’s mailboxes. Donations (small and great) to food pantries. Countries sending medical supplies to each other. Firemen creating birthday parades. Moms and dads forgoing much-needed sleep for confused littles. GENEROSITY.
I LOVE PEOPLE.
My “hope-to-be-like-them” is fascinated by their WISDOM. Leaders navigating the nuances between freedom and safety. Podcasts generated by grief experts. Produce stands quickly figuring out “curb-side pickup.” Online counseling sessions to work through mental health issues. Texts between friends with comforting words.  WISDOM.
I LOVE PEOPLE.
My entire being is captured by their LOVE. Creative date nights planned by spouses. Video “chats” between grandmas and toddlers. Grocery store runs for the fearful and the shut-in. Parents wrapping arms and hearts around sad school-lovers. Teenagers forgoing freedom to protect the vulnerable. LOVE. LOVE. LOVE.
HAVE I SAID HOW MUCH I LOVE PEOPLE? I LOVE US.
We aren’t perfect and we are making lots of mistakes as we hobble down a path we’ve never encountered before, but I think we are doing just fine. We are learning and growing together in ways that will make us more CREATIVE, KINDER, FUNNIER, BRAVER, more GENEROUS, WISER, and better able to LOVE than ever before.
Hang in there, my friends! I’m hanging with you. We have GREAT HOPE!
Posted in Anxiety, Faith, Health, Motherhood

DO. EVERYTHING. BETTER. (Pandemic Edition)

The vicious mantra of our world is three simple words: DO. EVERYTHING. BETTER.

First, I am supposed to DO. Perform. Accomplish. Behave. “Make it happen.” Push.  “Get ‘er done.”  Move.  Cross-off.

NOW I’M SUPPOSED TO DO ALL THAT IN A PANDEMIC.

Second, I am supposed to do EVERYTHING. Exercise. Eat healthy. Brush teeth. Make friends. Manage social media. Keep learning. Stay neat. Be spiritual. Dress appropriately. Make money. Recycle. Manage time. Connect with family. Serve others. Dream big. Sleep.

NOW I’M SUPPOSED TO DO ALL THAT IN A PANDEMIC.

Third, I am supposed to do everything BETTERIN A PANDEMIC.

Stick to a quarantine exercise plan.  Go hiking and biking and walking and get outside for at least one hour a day.  PRESSURE.

Make completely nutritious and delicious meals from scratch with the limited supplies I am getting from the grocery store for all the people that are now in my house 24/7.  Take my Vitamin C, D, E, fish oil, folic acid, B, K, and some kind of probiotic so that I build my immune system against this crazy thing. PRESSURE.

Brush twice AND floss once every day, plus do a serious mouth rinse.  Avoid the dentist right now AND make sure I don’t get any cavities or weird tooth infections or gum disease or need anything for my mouth in the middle of all of this so that I don’t poison my dentist with my spit.  PRESSURE.

Create meaningful relationships with diverse people groups.  Do that now online.  Reach out to people I haven’t seen in a while because now I have boatloads of time and I should not waste it on Netflix or Facebook.  Oh, and write snail-mail letters.  PRESSURE.

Keep my social media to a minimum while remaining completely engaged with those in my networks.  Feel super guilty for the amount of time I am spending on Facebook and Instagram trolling for glimmers of hope.  PRESSURE.

Take an online class (after all, now is my perfect opportunity) AND possibly teach one myself. Listen to life-changing podcasts. Read a book a week (or at this point, two).  Stayed informed about the virus from reliable sources without freaking out.  Actually, stay off the news.  Which is it???  PRESSURE.

Have carefully marked and organized spaces for everything I own, even though the Container Store is closed and Amazon is running low on command strips.  Make do with what I have in the house currently.  Clean out my car with a Q-tip, but don’t use the Lysol wipes.  Use Windex and paper towels, but rip those in half.  PRESSURE.

Go to church regularly (now online, plus the mid-week prayer meeting they’ve added).  Read a daily devotional first thing every morning and find one that will keep you hopeful, and not more stressed. Pray for everyone everywhere…nurses, doctors, the army, your friends, people in the hospital, your government leaders, the homeless, senior citizens, the immune-compromised.  Give to all the charities that desperately need it right now because funds will run low, plus my poor church that won’t be getting all the cash in the basket.  Be in a small group or two or three (online, of course). Be like Jesus, for goodness sake.  PRESSURE.

Get dressed even though I’m not going anywhere.  Look like nothing has changed in my world.  Find hair-dye and apply it myself via video chat with my hair dresser.  Make sure I don’t let any gray hair peak through in the next few weeks.  Cut my own hair.  Stop wearing my yoga pants.  That only adds to the mental health issues I’m already facing.  Do not sleep in my clothes that I wore during the day.  PRESSURE.

Keep my job at the same time I am staying home.  Don’t get furloughed and collect unemployment and become a drain on the system.  Make sure to watch the stock market and figure out what to do about its falling numbers every single day.  Don’t spend needless money right now, but keep the economy going at the same time.  Take out life insurance.  Berate myself about not moving money to a “safer” place before all this happened.  Did I mention calm down and don’t add to the panic buying of all the paper towels?  PRESSURE.

Rinse out every bottle and remove all the wrapping before I place it in the bin. Do not hide mostly-empty jars of peanut butter that are impossible to get clean under the trash in the garbage can from my newly-home college Environmental Science major.  Don’t kill the planet for goodness sake.  PRESSURE.

NEVER waste time. Especially now that I have a boatload of it.  Make a schedule of all my activities for the day (see all the notes above) and stick to it.  Everyone is saying it’s good for my mental health (which I am completely responsible to keep in check right now as well).  Check all the boxes off my list every day because I am doing all the right things at the right time and in the right amount of time with no interruptions.  PRESSURE.

Be with my family 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Find meaningful ways of connecting with each person.  Homeschool all my kids under 18 and make sure my college students are not seeing their friends and infecting the population at large.  Don’t have any fights even though everyone is completely irritable.  Make puzzles, limit screen times, go outside, do a craft, make dinner together.  Remember, the time is short and I will regret not making the most of it.  Manage everyone’s mental health issues that are bumping up against each other, especially my own.  PRESSURE.

Serve the homeless at a soup kitchen (is that still even allowed?).  Clean that closet out and donate all my unused clothes (make sure I wash them first).  Drive them to one of those bins during non-curfew hours so that I don’t get in trouble with the police.  Give toilet paper to my elderly neighbor without touching him.  PRESSURE.

Create space every day for the pursuit of my passions.  Find a vocation that fits my personal purpose.  Guiltily remind myself that it takes 10,000 hours of complete dedication to master a skill, and also guiltily remind myself I actually might have 10,000 hours right this very moment, one like no other.  Think about all the amazing possibilities this has opened up for me.  PRESSURE.

Lastly, get plenty of sleep (even more than the recommended 8 hours) even though my heart is racing three times with a mini-panic attack in the middle of the night.  It’s the best thing for my immune system, so I’ve heard.  There are no excuses.  PRESSURE.

STRESS CLOSES IN LIKE A MONSTER, CHOKING THE LIFE OUT OF ME!

NO WONDER MY HEAD HURTS!
NO WONTER MY SHOULDERS ARE TENSE!
NO WONDER MY STOMACH IS IN KNOTS!
NO WONDER I’M A LITTLE CRANKY!

DO. EVERYTHING. BETTER.


The very simple, gentle lilt of Jesus is this:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Come to Me. Get away with Me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me – watch how I do it.

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with ME and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-29 The Message Version)

BIG SIGH FOR MY EXHAUSTED, ANXIOUS HEART.

I need this today and now like no other.

Jesus, help me listen to the whispers of your grace instead of the shout of the world.

 

**If you’ve taken a minute to click on this from social media and it meant something to you, would you mind heading back out to social media and hitting the “like” button or commenting on it.**

 

Posted in Faith, Grief, Sabbath

What Do We Do With the Space In Between??

Now Mary Magdalene and another Mary kept vigil there, seated opposite the tomb. Matthew 27:61
It’s not Good Friday.
It’s not Easter Sunday.
It’s just Saturday. The space in between.
What do we do when…
We’ve lost our job AND don’t have a glimmer of the next?
Our kids are grown AND our hearts wonder what comes after?
We’ve gotten the diagnosis AND there’s still no “good course of action” from our doctor?
Our marriage is over AND we don’t know if we’ll ever be truly loved?
We’ve filed for bankruptcy AND we still can’t give up our life’s dream?
We’re sequestered at home AND we have no idea when this pandemic will truly end and we will be safe to venture out?
Our Savior is dead AND it’s still Saturday.
What do we do with the space in between?
WE GRIEVE, whether wailing out loud or whimpering into our pillow
WE QUESTION, possibly shouting to the sky or shushing our inmost fears and doubts
WE SIT SILENT, perhaps eyes wet with tears or as a stunned bird gathering strength
WE WAIT, living the tension of the known past but the unknown future
WE WATCH, expectantly yet with trepidation
and mostly…
WE HOPE, for we long to believe that what lies ahead is somehow richer because of what lies behind
WE HOPE in this place of rest. SHABBAT.
WE HOPE in this place of peace. SHALOM.
Yes. It’s just Saturday…still Saturday! The space in between.
Hear this my soul, my friend: REST In PEACE today!
SHABBAT SHALOM!