“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!
“Worthiness doesn’t have prerequisites.” (Brene Brown)
Undefeated season. Rachel’s middle school basketball team’s final record was 21-0. The crowds came to every game and cheered wildly (I mean the parents and a few random middle schoolers came to some games, but yes, the cheers were wild). The team hugged and jumped up and down at the final buzzer of the championship game. A large trophy was given as the girls gathered center court . The parents beamed and frantic videos and photos were taken. The team picture went in the newspaper with a long article praising the efforts of the coach. Once in a lifetime. Perfection.
Sarah’s freshman fall semester at college. Worked extremely hard. No crowds cheered. Didn’t miss a class. No trophies were given. Read every assignment thoroughly. No photos were taken. Studied until the wee hours. No articles in the newspaper. End result: four A’s and one A-. Imperfection. Not 4.0. 3.95. (Even this paragraph is shorter.)
I was part of the crowd who cheered and took pictures and congratulated the coach and girls on a job well-done that winter of 2012. I was a proud parent. But underneath, I cringed before each game, knowing that the team was held captive by their continuing undefeated and perfect record. As the season marched on, it became worse. What would happen if they lost a game? Would they fall apart? What seemed amazing on the outside could have the potential of “messing” them up on the inside. I continually asked myself the question: is this actually a good thing? Thankfully, Rachel was second-string, being a mere seventh grader and the pressure was not on her directly. She had played in many games, but no one was counting on her skill set to accomplish this far-reaching, never-accomplished goal in the life of Central Middle School. She could enjoy success without the pressure of failure. But as I thought about those first-stringers, my heart went out to them, understanding the potential stress and perfection prison that just might be holding their hearts and minds captive. What some would call a good thing might just not be so. Call me crazy, but I secretly began to wish for at least one loss. As you read, it didn’t happen and life marched on. But at what cost?
I was also the comforting voice to an 18-year-old daughter as she received the news of her 3.95 right before Christmas of 2010. If anyone deserved all A’s and a 4.0, this girl did. By her nature, she poured effort upon effort into her studies, working when others were playing and getting up for early classes when others were sleeping in and skipping (yes, that was me in college). But inside and actually pretty vocally and loudly, I cheered her release from 4.0 PRISON. She could now move on throughout the rest of her college days without the underlying duress of perfection. Might sound strange to you, but it was an amazing relief to us both.
“4.0 PRISON” became a mantra in our house. A-‘s and B+’s (and sometimes even D’s – this is true. Ask Sarah.) were high-fived. Game losses were a normal part of sports. The “gift of imperfection,” as Brene Brown has coined it, was something we, with much trepidation, received with both confusion and gladness, fearing and embracing it at the same time our hearts were disappointed and frustrated with each loss or bad grade (some of my kids even failed tests and had to drop classes in college – imagine that). I was on a mission that my kids understand that their worth is NOT based on their performance (a new concept in our family and particularly myself), that life is full of successes and failures and neither of those define them and that I love and accept them no matter what. I took very small and shaky steps to embrace and share this newly-discovered message with them (neither an easy task):
LIVING FOR A PLACE OF LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE IS SLAVERY! LIVING FROM A PLACE OF LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE IS FREEDOM!
Fast-forward to last Sunday, one week before this Dolly Mama blog marks it’s one-year anniversary (cue balloons and congrats and trophies and loud cheers and pics). We were spending the weekend as a family on our beloved Long Beach Island when I spoke out loud for all to hear, “Oh no! I don’t have ANY views today. I have had a view EVERY SINGLE DAY for this whole year and I’m only one week away from accomplishing my goal of exactly that. Ugh. I didn’t post today since we are away and that usually produces my needed views for the week.” Remarks from audience: “Oh mom, I can go on your site today.” (Daughter) “That doesn’t count.” (Me) . “I will like one of your posts on Facebook and get it back up to the top. Someone will click on it.” (Husband) “It doesn’t work that way.” (Me) And the one that got me right in the heart: “4.0 prison, Mom.” (Son) “Ugh. You’re right.” (Me)
I thought I would be suddenly freed from this “blog-view jailhouse,” I had made for myself but I continued to check the blog throughout the day and was hugely relieved to see a visit to my charity:water post late in the evening, along with the confessed views of some of my children (I made them promise none of them had viewed the charity:water post which they pinky swore they hadn’t). 4.0 prison is right. Perfection. I am stuck there again. I have been checking all week and continue to have views every day. I am writing this on Saturday morning and currently, have no views today so far. Maybe I will be released. Or maybe I will have an “undefeated season” after all. It’s only 7:41 am. The battle rages on inside of me. I know that the “gift of imperfection” is what’s best for me. God accepts and loves me regardless. I am His one way or the other. Yet I hang on to perfection like it’s my life’s blood. I pray that I am released from this internal 4.0 prison no matter what happens today externally, whether on day 363 I have a view or not. I need that strong and good and beautiful and true voice to shout loudly and cheer me on as I listen (albeit reluctantly) once again:
LIVING FOR A PLACE OF LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE IS SLAVERY! LIVING FROM A PLACE OF LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE IS FREEDOM!
Let this freedom ring on in all of our hearts today!
(((UPDATE: I got views today, Saturday. I was kind of bummed in a weird way. I guess my freedom will have to come from the inside out, not the outside in. Imagine that!)))
“There are two days in a year where nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow. Today is the right day to love, do, believe and live.” (The Dalai Lama)
It’s 1:51 am and I am awake. Thinking about starting this blog. Laying in bed, saying to myself, “Just get up and make one post.” What to write? Where to start? I need to start now. Live and do today.
Why the blog name, “The Dolly Mama”? A few days ago, I was on the phone with my adult married daughter and teacher, Sarah. I said to her, as I usually do, when we are getting off the phone, “Love you, Dolly.” She quickly asked, “Do you call us all ‘Dolly,'” referring to her other siblings – two younger brothers and a younger sister. “Yes. Yes, I do.” “Then your new nickname will be the “Dolly Mama.” We both pretty much belly-laughed, Sarah being so proud of her humor, and within about a minute and a half, I was sharing this joke and this new nickname with anyone that would listen.
I do have individual nicknames for my husband (“Bunny,” “Sweetheart”) and my kids (“Peanut” and “Sarah Doodle” for Sarah, “the J-Man” for Jared, “Bean” for Josh and “Rachie Bug,” “Squachel” and “the Scratcher” for Rachel). These nicknames came about for so many reasons. They morphed from one thing into another over time, so that sometimes I don’t even remember how I got to this final destination and name.
A name is what we use to identify ourselves and others. A nickname brings us to a whole different level, one more familiar and personal, expressing love and relationship with another. As I think about each one of these nicknames I have for my kids and even the nicknames they have been given by others, memories flood my mind, recalling when and why each one was given.
My favorite nickname is the one Sarah has for Jared. When he was born, she was only 18 months old, and she combined the words, “brother” and “Jared” and tried to call him “Bread.” But she wasn’t quite good at it yet, so she ended up, in her cute voice, morphing the word and calling him “Riddid.” It’s 23 years later, and many times, she still calls him that. And my heart smiles as I recall the love they share and that special memory that only a few of us understand and know.
So, here I am, “The Dolly Mama,” something given to me in Spring of 2017, and which I hope lasts a life time.
I would love you to comment and tell me your nicknames, ones you are called and ones you are given and the memories that go along with them. And to my precious subscribers, thank you…we can encourage each other to live in the daily…