Posted in Faith, Health, Sabbath, Word of the Year

We All Need Permission for This

Life is noisy. Everywhere. There are televisions in elevators shouting the latest news-worthy crisis. There are horns blaring from impatient people in the cars behind us. There are children throwing tantrums in grocery stores (I had the distinct pleasure of enjoying that with my grandson just this week). And then there is the constant noise inside our own heads.

There’s something about getting away from the hustle and bustle, the noisy world we live in, to a place of respite and refreshment. Maybe it’s the silence that allows our minds to breathe. Maybe it’s slowing down to hear God’s gentle whisper of love and care for us, placing our burdens only meant for His shoulders. Maybe it’s the surrounding simple beauty that soothes our hurried souls and draws us to Beauty Himself. Maybe it’s the intangible peace we receive and feel in our very bodies when we give room and space for quiet.

Constant. Noise. Drains. The. Life. Out. Of. Us.   Jesus invites us to something very different.   He rarely tells us to hurry up.  He often spoke the opposite to his friends when He was living in this “speed-it-up” world.  He knew (for them and for us) that we humans desperately need self-care and replenishment, restoration and renewal, places that GIVE LIFE.

“Come away to a quiet place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)

This place of withdrawal is a gift Jesus so longs to give us, not another “should” on our endless list. He wants LIFE for me and for you, for us in our collective humanity, the most full and abundant life that we are designed for. He knows what we need to be WHOLE and WELL. Rest is not selfish, lazy, or impractical. It is truly freeing and life-giving, a present straight from the tender heart of God for us to unwrap.

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Where is this place of restoration for you? Is it a simple walk around the block listening to your favorite music? Is it laying down for a much-needed nap on a Sunday afternoon? Is it sitting alone in your car watching the sunset from your favorite overlook? Is it putting your phone on “do not disturb” mode for a few hours, giving yourself a break from the constant buzzing and dinging?  Whatever it is, do it often and regularly. Make it a part of the rhythm of your day, your week, your month, even your year.  In the hustle and bustle of ordinary life, give yourself permission to retreat, withdraw and rest.

The noisy world will be calling to you soon enough.

From my heart to yours.

P.S.  I am heading horizontal this afternoon.

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For other posts about my journey toward rest, check these out by clicking HERE.

 

 

Posted in Clean Water, Faith, Family, Friendship, Health, Marriage, Motherhood, Prison, Thanks

What’s Your Panera? #giftsalreadyopened #littlesurpriseattheend

“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!

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  • My solo visits to my friend Kim in prison.  Who knew prison could be a place of restoration and joy?  I didn’t.  Who knew a long-lost friendship could be rekindled in such an unlikely place?  I didn’t.  And now, my women’s group penned individual notes to her for Christmas!  I am undone with gratitude.
  • Fellow writers, editors and podcasters like Afton, Janis, Gail, Annie, Sarah, DebbieTracy 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.

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  • Sharing at church about marriage mentoring and 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.”

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  • 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!!

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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!

 

Posted in Faith, Family, Marriage, Uncategorized

Make a Marriage Great Again (Part Eight of Ten) – Have a Little Faith

“The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib He had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man and his wife were naked and they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2:7, 22, 25)

The first marriage story ever told goes something like this:

God makes a bunch of creatures, including a boy and a bunch of animals.

Boy checks out all the animals, but there is no one that “floats his boat.”

GOD: “It’s not good for the boy to be by himself. I’ll make the best fit for him”.

God makes a girl from the very flesh and bones of the boy. God sets up a not-so-blind date for the two of them.

BOY (after seeing girl for first time): “At last! She is all that I’ve been looking for!   Thank you God! She is beautiful! She is part of me!”

Boy and girl are naked and they feel no shame. Boy and girl become one.

Time goes by and after working in a beautiful garden and enjoying companionship with each other and with God, girl meets up with a destroyer of all the goodness.   Girl is convinced that God is holding out on her and not giving her what she needs.

GIRL: “I don’t need God. I’ve got this. He’s not to be trusted.”

Girl acts from that place of disconnection from God.

GIRL: “Come boy! Do what I do. We really only need each other.”

BOY: “Okay. Sounds great to me.”

Boy acts from the same place of disconnection from God.

Boy and girl now realize they are naked and they feel shame. Boy and girl cover up and hide.

GOD: “Where are you boy and girl?”

BOY: “I am hiding from you.”

GOD: “Why?”

BOY (blames the girl): “She made me do it.”

GOD: “Why girl?”

GIRL: “Someone else made me do it.”

Disconnection → hiding → shame → blame. This is how Allen and I lived for many years. The cycle repeated endlessly. We lived how Albert Einstein defines insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” It wasn’t like we weren’t trying hard. Believe me. We were. We just didn’t know how to get off the hamster wheel.

God designed us for the opposite of the above cycle. His original design for marriage is connection → vulnerability → responsibility → grace → intimacy.  It’s the same as His perfect plan for His relationship with us, our journeys of FAITH in Him (there it finally is…the F you were waiting for…see the rest at the end of the post).

God longs for each of us to be “naked and unashamed” (fully-known and fully-loved) with Him. But why does it matter?

The vicious cycle of disconnection → hiding → shame → blame is a destroyer of souls, hearts, minds, even bodies.  That’s why it matters.  It does NOT work for good.  It does NOT bring wholeness or healing.  God wants something better for us.  He has actually created us to have the same relationship with Him that He does with Jesus, the “I and the Father are One” kind of relationship Jesus speaks so freely of.  He wants us to be One, naked and unashamed.  How can this happen?

CONNECTION: It starts here.  God wants us to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are loved by Him no matter what. This is not an easy undertaking. We have had voices of fear, guilt and shame that have permeated our lives and many times, we have associated them with God. Repenting (which just means “changing your mind or thinking a new thought”) is the first step. The truth about God, not what you’ve heard and assumed all your life is that He loves you. No matter what. His great desire for you is that you live from the place of this unconditional loving connection with Him.

VULNERABILITY: When we struggle and fail, he wants to deepen that connection without hiding, but with vulnerability, putting ourselves in the place of trusting Him and His love for us. Vulnerability is when we make ourselves susceptible to the judgment of others, when we let our guards down and relinquish control. It’s scary. It involves risk. We might be rejected. The good news is that God will never reject us. He is safe because He can be completely trusted with our struggles and our strengths, our trials and our triumphs. He isn’t going anywhere. He will never leave us or forsake us.

RESPONSIBILITY: This safe place with God allows us to be free to take responsibility for our lives, our actions and our emotions, instead of playing the blame game. Taking ownership of our own brokenness, without the self-deprecating place of blame and/or shame is a tricky path to walk. Recognizing our own humanness and frailties and then bringing that out into the light with God is a wonderful giant leap on this journey towards intimacy with Him.

GRACE: God responds to this out of His own complete goodness. He responds to us with grace, which simply means unearned favor. Instead of shaming us, He is kind to us. Instead of cursing us, He blesses us.   Instead of turning His back on us, He turns His face towards us. Instead of sending us away, He pulls us close.

INTIMACY: Naked and unashamed. My favorite phrase in the English language. Fully-known and fully-loved. The definition of intimacy. What we all long for at the depths of our being. This is the end result of all the hard work. Completely worth it. It is the healer of souls, hearts, minds and even bodies.

As you can see, our marriages are designed to reflect this beautiful cycle of intimacy, the oneness we all long for, with God and with each other. Marriage is unique, the only human place where this can take place in all of its fullness. We are designed to know and be known, fully without shame: spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. How amazing of God to have invited us to experience this with another human being in the covenant of marriage. I have been given the gift of Allen. He has been given the gift of me. We both have been given the gift of this life-long union. Here’s to opening our gifts every day for the rest of our lives.♥

Thank you for reading today!  Please feel free to “like” out on social media or here!  Thank you again!


 

For the rest of the “F’s” in the series on marriage, click on the following links:

 

Family of Origin

Fidelity

Flaws

Faithfulness

Forecast

Friendship

Fighting

Posted in Anxiety, Family, Health, Motherhood

4.0 Prison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Celebration, Family, Friendship, Thanks

We are the Gift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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