Posted in Anxiety, Faith, Family, Friendship, Grief

Fear Keeps Me…

Fear keeps me from loving deeply.

Fear of rejection.
Fear of losing myself.
Fear of embarrassment.
Fear of pain.
Fear of not being enough.
Fear of abandonment.
Fear of grief.
Fear of failure.
Fear of being swallowed up.
Fear of loss.

If I love deeply, every last one of those fears might come true. Many of them already have.

But, it’s a risk I am trying very hard to take every single day, no matter how afraid I am, because…

If I love deeply, I will also find ALL of these along the way:

Grace.
Life.
Kindness.
Intimacy.
Acceptance.
Tenderness.
Joy.
Goodness.
Empathy.
Peace.
Belonging.
Mercy.
Trust.
Healing.
And ultimately, LOVE.

Fear may win a few skirmishes here and there on the battlefield of my heart, but deep LOVE will win the war. That’s a guarantee from LOVE HIMSELF.

Posted in Anxiety, Family, Health, Motherhood, Podcast - Dolly Mama and the Millennials

How My Anxiety Effected My Parenting

Join me as I speak with Josh (our 22 year-old) about how my “nervous breakdown” and subsequent anxiety disorder informed my parenting.  Find out the answers to these questions:  how did crippling fear effect my decisions as a mom and what changed as I began to heal?  Enjoy funny stories as part of the crazy!  If you struggle with anxiety/fear as a parent (and I know I am not the only one), this podcast is for you!!!  (Bear with audio issues…I’m building the plane as I fly it!  It will get better!)

 

CLICK ON PODCAST LINK BELOW:

https://anchor.fm/esther18/episodes/Episode-6-How-My-Anxiety-Effected-My-Parenting-e2qjpl

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Thank you for taking the time to listen!  Please share this with anyone you know who is beginning the parenting journey, in the middle of the mess, or still navigating it all with adult children!!  It’s powerful stuff!

Posted in Anxiety, Faith, Family, Health, Motherhood

Two Desperate Words of All Parents (and what to do about them)

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Paul)

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“BUT I…”

It’s a cry heard all over parenting land.

BUT I took my prenatal vitamins and I did exactly what the doctor told me.  Why does my baby have a heart defect?

BUT I waited until she was “ready” for potty training and I followed the exact steps that worked for all my friends.  Why is my six year old still wetting the bed?

BUT I had him evaluated and got him a specialized tutor.  Why is his teacher still telling me he’s not doing well in school?

BUT I gave up my job and made her a complete priority in my life, even leaving cute notes in her lunch.  Why is she rolling her eyes at me and hardly ever coming outside of her room?

BUT I never had liquor in the house and he’s been through all the drug and alcohol awareness programs.  He’s even seen his friends lose their licenses.  Why did I just find vodka under my senior’s bed?

BUT I took her to church her whole life and we even had family devotions.  Why did my college student just reveal that she doesn’t believe in God anymore?

BUT I paid for four years at a good college and I remember the dreams he had growing up about becoming a doctor.  Why did he barely receive his diploma and can’t even find a steady-paying job?

BUT I TRIED MY BEST AND LOVED HER WITH MY WHOLE HEART, WHY IS SHE STILL NOT OKAY?

We want so desperately in our lives to have A + B always = C.  We want the formulas to work.  We get advice from all kinds of sources (friends, parenting books, the internet, pastors, counselors, doctors) and we cry in frustration “BUT I…” when the recipe ends up more like all those Pinterest fails we’ve seen on the internet (note the picture above).

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When I was just a wee bit younger (okay, like 30 years ago, but I’m not that old, right?!), I believed wholeheartedly in all the formulas, and especially that they would work.  Why wouldn’t I?  It’s perfect.  Just do all right things, make all the right choices and life goes the way it should.  I’d heard it from preachers, parents, teachers, friends, authors, and I’d repeated it endlessly in my own head.  Being the “good Christian” woman that I was, I brought this into my parenting.  Of course I did.

As you may have heard in my Podcast with Sarah, our oldest (CLICK HERE TO LISTEN – IT’S WORTH IT), these lovely formulas worked with her.  She was naturally compliant.  She loved the formulas herself.  (If we were Catholic, she probably would have wanted to be a nun.)  She followed all the rules, had sticker charts completely filled in, received accolades in school for being the best citizen, and excelled at “being a good Christian” whatever that means.  Our formulas seemed to work (especially to the outside world).

But inside our home, they weren’t.  She struggled with tummy aches even as early as three.  She had full-blown Obsessive Compulsive Disorder at 10 years old.  She struggled to go away to sleep away camp for a week when she was 14 because she couldn’t leave the perceived “safety” of our home.  She needed meds for her anxiety in college.  As much as she and I tried our hardest to make A + B = C, it just didn’t happen.  The “right” side of the equal sign became D or J or V or most like a giant question mark.

WHY?  I screamed in desperation.  I was doing everything right!

Should I just try harder?  Maybe I am doing something wrong?  Maybe the equation isn’t right?  All questions that swirled around in my head.

And believe me, I still tried to fix it for years.  I read books, took parenting classes, listened to podcasts, asked friends, had mom prayer circles and even begged Allen to figure it out.

Still, I couldn’t make A + B = C.

New questions swirled.  If this doesn’t work, then what?  What do I do now?  How do I parent?  What really makes me a good mom (something I so desperately wanted and still want)?

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It’s funny how when we come to the end of our trying and our finagling and our controlling and our rope and our selves, our hearts open to the possibility of something new.  A new thought.  A new possibility.  A new way.

God used the end of all of this for something new in me.  A new thought about what matters in our family.   A new possibility of how to be a mom.   A new way of seeing my child.

He invited me into relationship, both with Himself and with my children.   At first, this uncertain place seemed like a curse.  It would take lots more time and wisdom when making decisions.  I might not even make the same choice twice.  What I did for one child in one circumstance might not be the best for a different one.  There might be “it’s unfair” shouts.  It would be complicated, messy.

But as I embarked on this different journey of parenting with much trepidation, I found that it just might be a gift, and a good one at that.  Instead of living in a “what I wish were true” place, I began to live in a “what’s actually true” space.   Life is messy and no amount of “doing the right thing” ensures complete safety and success.

I slowly began to gain freedom from the formula master, one chain link at a time.  Instead of viewing my child as a problem to be solved, I began to see them as a mysterious person to be known, loved and enjoyed (kind of like action thriller enjoyment, which is 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.  He doesn’t need any formula for my children to thrive and be okay (the real cry of my heart).

My relationship with my kids slowly began to change.  Instead of having an agenda (the sum of the equation), I could just BE with them, no matter where they were or what they were doing (good or bad).  It was hard for me, like super hard.  I know best, especially as a mom.  I want what’s best for them.  I know how they should get there.  But it doesn’t come from the best place.   I like a little bit (I mean a lot) of control.  But we all know how control works out (see formula above).  It doesn’t.

As I turned the tables (another new thought), I realized I don’t want to be anybody else’s agenda or project.  Neither do my kids.  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.  That’s what my kids want.  I don’t want to feel like I’m going to the principal’s office when I am with someone.  Neither do my kids.  It creates defensiveness, hiding, guilt, shame, people-pleasing, all the yuck we parents are now in counseling for ourselves.

However, when someone is just WITH ME in my beautiful, messy life where sometimes I make bad choices or think terrible thoughts, unconditional love opens the door for vulnerability and trust.  THIS is what my kids want.  All the good stuff happens the most in this safe place.   No one is going to counseling for this.

Now I had a new question.  Was it as simple as love God and love others (including those people who’ve been placed in this family under my purview)?  Yes.

Formulas are not love.  To boot, they don’t work.  Loving God is trusting Him (the hardest part of parenting), especially when things don’t go as planned.  DON’T FORGET:  it is a trust that is wisely placed.  IT BRINGS US FREEDOM.

Agendas are also not love.   Loving others (our kids) 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.

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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!

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Posted in Faith, Sabbath

24/6 (A Beginner’s Journey into Sabbath)

“Sabbath is a time to transform from human doings to human beings.”  (Matthew Sleeth)

Driven.  Workaholic.  Adrenaline junkie.  Type A.   24/7.  Savior of the world (or at least my world).  All of these and more.  That was the person behind this post.  Until I wasn’t.  Until it was stopped FOR ME several years ago.

Stopped.  Key word.  Stopped.  Everything stopped.  This mom of four, wife of one, ministry leader, job holder, keeper of an ordered house, ducks-in-a-row, mover and shaker stopped.  Little did I know then, but a terrible and precious gift had been given to me that changed my world: the word STOP.

After this emergency “stop” in my life (which came in the form of a complete nervous breakdown…the summer where my four kids ate goldfish for breakfast and watched endless amounts of TV instead of the completing the summer transition homework I usually planned for them…it might have been their best summer ever), I began to question the value of this word.  Was there room for me to rest, take a break, actually stop?  Would the world I carefully crafted fall apart without me?  I wasn’t sure.  For so long, I had worked and solved and rushed and moved.

At the same time, I never wanted that emergency “stop” again.  It had been horrible, filled with anxiety, panic attacks, dread and the feeling of being “out-of-body.”  I was desperate to do something, anything.

In the meantime, words like “sabbath” and “margin” kept popping up and I came across a book, thanks to Pastor Tim Lucas, that I avidly read, “24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life” by Matthew Sleeth.  The author is a former emergency room physician (can’t get any more important or busier) about how his life was transformed (physically, spiritually, relationally and emotionally) in his “always-on” world by adopting the practice of sabbath (which literally means “STOP” in Hebrew).   I drank the words in and came away with two life-changers:

  • a best practice for me would be one where I worked 24/6 and rested 24/1
  • this rest period was a truly a gift for me, one straight from the heart of God

I began with baby steps, starting with 6 hours, the time the kids were in school.  It was NOT easy.  My anxiety skyrocketed as I closed the laundry room door, shut off my phone and accomplished nothing.  I was sure my world would come crashing down.  Guess what?  It didn’t.  I literally took naps and did nothing of any consequence.  As a result (wait for it), nothing changed on the outside.  Bills were still paid.  Kids were still fed.  Friends still loved me.  Jobs got done.  However, much began to change on the inside.  Being allowed to be off-duty encouraged me.  Saying “no” to my kids empowered me.  The rest I so desperately needed calmed my adrenaline-addicted body.  I enjoyed every moment of this “sabbath,” not wanting it to end.   A small taste of the transformation Sleeth wrote about was mine.

It didn’t take a PhD in psychology to soon realize that I needed to take the plunge.  Being the recovering work-a-holic that I am, I knew it had to be drastic.  I drew a line in the sand:  24 HOURS.  STOP.  EVERY WEEK.  More anxiety came with this next step.  No change in my outside world once again.  Much more change on the inside.  This human doing began to give room for a human being.

It’s been seven years.  Mine is on Fridays.  My husband’s is on Sundays.  There are weeks when I miss, sometimes because of circumstances supposedly beyond my control (and my people will tell you I get a bit cranky) and other times I still struggle to “shut the laundry room door.”  But I can’t go very long without retreating back into that place of stopping for 24/1.

Many have questions that I have been asked time and again:

  • what do you do all day?
  • how does everything get done?
  • isn’t that legalistic?
  • do you watch TV?
  • what if I have kids?
  • what do I have to stop doing?  gardening?  painting?  social media?
  • does it have to be a full 24 hours?

I have more to share with you (some will be my thoughts on the above questions) and will do so over time.  It’s not a quick, change-in-a-moment kind of thing.  It’s a heart-wrenching, life-time haul, slow-moving kind of thing.  I am excited to slowly unpack my continuing journey towards rest(oration) for my body, mind, soul and spirit with you.

For now, I leave you with three of the many small gifts that I have received from my 24/6 adventure:

  • The world goes on without me and I don’t have to be the Savior of it (even in crazy, fast-paced, over-the-top New Jersey).
  • I have room for not “shoulding” all over myself for one 24-hour period.
  • I am never going back.

At the start of this journey, I asked, “What will happen if I do?”  Now I ask a much different question (and have experienced the answer to it), “What will happen if I don’t?”

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Posted in Anxiety, Faith, Health

Not the Boss of Me!

“I will not be mastered by anything.”  (The Bible)

Fitness trackers are the latest things in the exercise world.  Promises of helping you become more active, eat and sleep better and ultimately, turn you into a healthier human being abound.  I bought into this promise about two and a half years ago.

Dosed with excitement because a friend was using a FitBit, I ordered one immediately, very excited to get my 10,000 steps and track my sleep.  At first, it served me well.  I was paying attention to my activity level and exercise, walking more, going to bed earlier and becoming what I hoped was a healthier person.

Very quickly, however, this servant “became the boss of me.”  I found myself leaving family at Thanksgiving evening and going out alone at 9:00 pm in the chilly darkness to get my 10,000 steps.   At 11:50 pm one night, I began running in place just to eek out those last 300 steps, missing the mark by just a few as the clock struck midnight.  I became obsessed.

It worsened when I bought my husband one for his birthday and found there was also a “community” I could invite friends to.  Now, I had others to compete with, especially the man I shared my home with.  I spent my days keeping track of and trying to beat those who walked miles and miles a day.   I became a lunatic about “keeping up” with the person who had the most steps.

The day I realized that it was no longer serving me, but had become my master, was a light-bulb and life-giving moment.  It wasn’t just about FitBits, but about life.  I recalled a quote by John Seymour, “Emotions are excellent servants, but tyrannical masters.”  I realized it wasn’t limited to emotions.  It wasn’t limited to FitBits.  Most things in life make great servants, but terrible masters.  Here’s a taste:

(Aside: my FitBit just buzzed to remind me to get off my behind and get moving…WOW)

  • Emotions

Anger, fear, sadness and happiness are all great servants.  Anger causes us to act for justice and right the wrong in the world.  Fear prevents us from doing things that would harm us or warns of impending trouble.  Sadness helps us process through loss and heartache.  Happiness invites celebration of blessings.  However, each one is a terrible master.  Rage causes both physical and emotional harm.  Anxiety cripples.  Depression paralyzes.  The pursuit of happiness at all costs can destroy.

  • Money

Much good comes from making and using money.  We care for ourselves and our families and even provide for the poor.  However, money as a master can be all-consuming, with the result many times being workaholism and even soul-wrecking addictions.

  • Power

Many of us exercise power in our worlds.  We influence the next generation, bring people together for a cause and lead others to a better place.  However, the thirst for power produces dictators at every level, and even, at its worst, war.

These are just a glimpse.  What about food, shopping, phones, medicine, exercise, just to name a few? And in the end, something as simple as my FitBit.

I am certainly not opposed to my FitBit.  In fact, it’s one of the things I love (see What I Love and Don’t) and if you click here, you will be brought to Amazon to find out more about the one I wear.  It sits proudly on my wrist and some days I do better than others allowing it to be the boss of me.  The problem doesn’t lie in the technology.  It resides in me.

When I sense the “take over,” as I like to call it, the simple questions I ask of myself are “Who is the boss?  Is this my servant or am I the one in chains? Who is serving whom?”  The immediate answer in my heart tells me all that I need to know and I am reminded of the great and loving Master who never makes me a slave, but calls me a friend and a daughter.

Now I will ask you.  What might be something in your life that started as a really wonderful servant, but now may have become your tyrannical master?   Feel free to comment below, just hold it in your private place or maybe share with a trusted friend.  Lastly, and as always, please share and subscribe below so that you don’t miss out.