Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Faith, Family, Grief, Motherhood

Long. Slow. Deep.

Breathe.

Just breathe.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

Breathe.

Words said to me over and over again with every single contraction I had as I labored with each of my four kids.

Breathe.

Just breathe.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

Breathe.

Words I say to myself whenever my heart starts to race, my palms get sweaty and my brain is off to the races, filled with anxiety and dread.

Breathe.

Just breathe.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

Breathe.

Words the Tender Lover of my soul speaks to me when the heartache both within and around me feels unbearable.

Breathe.

Just breathe.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

Breathe.

Words that I imagine were spoken to Mary by the women in her caravan coaxing her through the laboring pushes and birth of Jesus and the comfort and joy that prevailed in the afterbirth.

It’s past midnight.

Someone I love was in much pain earlier.

Most days, I would push it aside and go to sleep.

Not tonight.

I’m sitting at my table just breathing.

In and out.

Breathing in her pain.  Long.  Slow.  Deep.

INHALE.

Holding my breath for just a few seconds as I hold her before the God who is with us in the middle of our pain, our heartache.

Breathing out the love of God to her.   Long.  Slow.  Deep.

EXHALE.

I’m not in the physical room with this one I love.  I can’t be right now.

I can’t take away her pain.

I can’t make it magically all better.

But I can breathe for her.

I can breathe with her.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

In the story of creation, God took the dust, the dirt, the ground and breathed life into it.  His powerful, beautiful, love-filled life.

What sprang forth in all its beauty was us.  You and me.

We were glorious.
We were sacred.

But we were also fragile.

But God didn’t and doesn’t stop there.  He didn’t and doesn’t create us and then leave us alone.

We are still glorious.
We are still sacred.

And we are still fragile.

We need Him, His breath of life, every single day.

In our pain.
In our fear.
In our sadness.
Even in our joy.

We need His powerful, beautiful, love-filled life.

That’s why I breathe.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

For those I love.

For myself.

Often for those I don’t even really know, but can love because they are glorious, sacred and fragile just like me.

Each of us takes about 20,000 breaths per day.

20,000 chances to inhale our individual and collective suffering.

20,000 chances to hold each other and bring each other to the One who holds us in the palm of His hand and in the recesses of His heart.

20,000 chances to exhale His unending and unfailing love to one another.

But most of our breaths are rushed, fast, and shallow.

We move at a pace that requires this.  Rushed.  Fast.  Shallow.

It’s no wonder we miss out on the powerful, beautiful, love-filled life that God has to offer us and we have to offer each other.

So tonight, at this dark and quiet hour, I don’t want to miss out.  I want to be present.  I want to soak in the power, the beauty and the love that is ready at the waiting.

I do nothing else but breathe.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

For the one I love.

For me.

And for you.

Posted in Celebration, Faith, Grief

Kitchens and the Howl of the Not-Yet

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The past months have been marked by much suffering.
 
The pain can be overwhelming.
 
Substance abuse by those we love.
Every kind of loss imaginable from the dang virus.
A very scary diagnosis.
Betrayal.
Unkindness.
A debilitating disease that prevents normal life-function.
Mental illness that doctors are having trouble treating.
The excruciating long and threatening unknown.
 
We find ourselves overwhelmed in the most ordinary of places.
For me, it’s often the kitchen (even when I’m not cutting onions).
 
We cry…
 
How long?
How much?
Why?
Why right now?”
 
I love the holiday season.
 
It’s FULL (even this very strange year).
 
My tree is FULL of ornaments.
My tummy is FULL of food (way too much of it, as my current waistline is showing).
My neighborhood is FULL of lights (it seems even moreso in 2020).
My garage is FULL of empty Amazon boxes, gifts waiting to be wrapped and opened on Christmas morning in the family room.
 
And especially this year…
 
My heart is FULL of
 
gratitude
wonder
hope
love
 
I’m desperate for them. I’m holding onto them with all my might.
 
I like living in the FULL of good things part, not the CRYING part.
 
The period leading up to Christmas morning is commonly known as Advent. It’s Advent right now.
 
Advent speaks to the “howl of the not-yet,” the pleading, the waiting, the yearning, the “crying in the kitchen” part.
 
Advent is NOT Christmas morning.
 
Advent speaks about and grieves broken places that are yet to be healed, questions that have no answer today, and yearning that is unfulfilled.
 
Advent gives a glimpse of fruition at the end of a long season of waiting.
 
Advent says there is suffering and it is real, palpable. But advent also says there is hope, just as real and palpable.
 
Advent says “don’t skip over the suffering. Don’t minimize the heartache. Sit in it, acknowledge it, and feel it.”
 
This is not an easy place.
 
I struggle with Advent.
I do not sit with the grief, acknowledge and feel it.
 
I skip right to Christmas morning, the happy place, where the answer is here and salvation has come, the “FULL in the family room” part.
 
Skipping right to Christmas doesn’t work.
 
It doesn’t take away the pain.
It doesn’t make bad things not happen.
It doesn’t bring true healing.
 
Advent brings healing.
 
It’s the place of truth that speaks to both heartache AND hope, both suffering AND a savior.
 
Right now, there is more than a week until Christmas morning.
 
I think I have some more “kitchen” work to do.
 
Howling.
Waiting.
Questioning.
Grieving.
The Not-Yet.
 
Christmas morning will come soon enough.
 
A baby will be here.
A Savior will come.
What is empty will be filled.
Heartache will be healed.
Yearning will be fulfilled.
What is broken will be repaired.
What we’ve lost will be found.
 
It will be time for the “family room.”
 
But right now, I’m headed to make breakfast.
 
(P.S. I lit my third candle this morning – this time the pink one)
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**thanks to Shauna Niequist, who penned the idea of the “howl of the not-yet.”**
Posted in Celebration, Faith, Grief

I Lit a Candle

I lit a candle this morning.

For the first time.

Not just any candle.

The candle of “Hope” on this first day, this first Sunday of Advent.

It’s a new thing I’m doing this year, the year of all years.
 
The candle of Hope.

Hope.

A simple word.  But not a simple word.

A complex and intricate word.  A pregnant word.

Pregnant?

Yes, pregnant.  The “full of meaning” kind of pregnant.

I’ve been pregnant six times.  Two ended way too soon, loss and grief and confusion permeating my heart.  Four ended at just the right time, joy and life and expectation bursting onto the scene.

Pregnant.

This word.  Hope.  What I felt every single time those two lines appeared on my bathroom counter.

This word.  Hope.

Two times, it ended in a bloody mess.  A bloody mess that brought the end of possibility, the death of the little life that had stopped growing, and abject heartache.

In this particular season of Advent, in all things 2020, it sure seems like I’m sitting in the middle of a bloody mess on my bathroom floor crying.

All I did was open my newspaper this morning.

[One-third of small businesses closed.]

[Numbers in hospitals highest they’ve ever been.]

[Two teenagers dead after Black Friday mall shooting.]

That was just the front page.

In this particular season of Advent, in all things 2020, it’s really okay to be sitting in the middle of a bloody mess on my bathroom floor crying.

It’s why I lit a candle this morning.

NOT because there is nothing to grieve.

NOT because everything is as it should be.

BUT exactly because there is lots to grieve.

BUT exactly because everything is NOT as it should be.

This word.  Hope.  What I felt every single time those two lines appeared on my bathroom counter.

BUT this word.  Hope.

Four times, it also ended in a bloody mess.  But those times, the bloody mess brought the beginning of possibility, the birth of the little life that had grown just enough, and undeniable joy.

Mary.  My favorite pregnant woman.

Young, poor, single.  A nobody.

In a world where her headlines read just like mine.

In a world where there was a lot to grieve.

In a world where everything was NOT as it should be.

BUT in her womb, a baby grew.

Just enough.

AND yes, her pregnancy ended in a bloody mess.

But hope tells me what her Baby tells me as He bursts on the scene.

[I’m right here with you in the middle of your grief.]

[I will put things right and things will be as they should.]

[Take courage, my child.  Prepare your heart for Me.]

It’s why I lit a candle this morning.

HOPE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Anxiety, Faith

LOST

Untethered.

Shaky.

Confused.

LOST.

How I have felt often in the last 86 days.

86 days since I’ve touched a human other than the two I live with.

86 days since I’ve entered a building without some level of trepidation.

86 days since I’ve not woken up wondering when all this will be over.

Untethered.

Shaky.

Confused.

LOST.

How I have felt often in the last 86 days.

Last week, I especially felt LOST.

I didn’t have words to speak.

I didn’t have the strength to muster.

I didn’t have the answers I long for.

I finally shared, tears streaming down my face, with some friends that my usually hope-filled, positive, “look-on-the-bright-side” self felt LOST.  Really LOST.

It was vulnerable.

It was scary.

It was hard.

BUT I’m so incredibly glad I did.

One of them spoke the most healing words of truth I’ve heard in the past 86 days.

86 days.  86 LONG days.  86 days of feeling LOST.

Here they are.

Screen Shot 2020-06-08 at 10.32.20 PM

 

 

 

Posted in Charity, Faith

My Promise to You

Dear Readers,

You mean more to me than you will ever know.  I count it a privilege that you ever take time out of your schedule to read the words that I pen, words that I agonize over, words that I edit and re-edit, words that I pray bring hope and healing to your heart and your home.

In that vain, I want you to know that my vision and mission has not changed and will not.  I make these promises to you afresh, so that you have confidence when you “click” on something I’ve written, knowing my heart is for you and its desire is to bring you hope and healing in a hurting world.

I promise to do my best to take the posture of Jesus before I hit “send,” or “post” or “share.”

The posture of GRACE, the one that speaks tenderness to all, including myself, the one that conquers shame.

The posture of PEACE, the one that refuses to add fear and hate, the one that promotes reconciliation in every form.

The posture of KINDNESS, the one that sees beyond the outward actions to the inward suffering.

The posture of HUMILITY, the one that listens and learns, the one that serves and changes, bringing redemption to me and to you.

The posture of LOVE, the one that is the pure foundation, the one that moves each of us from brokenness to wholeness.

Lastly, the posture of HOPE, the one that shines light in the darkness, the one my heart needs every single day.

My heart is with you, my friend.  I want this to be the safest place on the internet.  We will continue to move on this journey of hope and healing together.

Thank you for reading.  It means the absolute world to me.

From my heart to yours.

 

 

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, 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 Celebration, Faith, Family

Merriment AND Melancholy

Voices of carols play everywhere I go.

Joy to the world…Children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile…Tis the season to be jolly…It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

MERRIMENT.

Texts, posts and phone calls crowd my screens.

Second-born not able to come…Over-the-top difficult family dynamics for many…Terrible government news…Health scares…Anxiety creeps in and a settled spirit is hard to be found.

MELANCHOLY.

The two sit side-by-side.  One NOT more important or legitimate than the other.  One NOT pushed aside to make room for the other.   The shout of one NOT drowning out the cry of the other.  No choice has to be made.  The two lay beautifully intertwined.

Merriment AND melancholy.

BOTH AND.  Wholeness.  Completeness.  Integration.

CHRISTMAS.


Suffering AND Savior.

Peacemaker AND Warrior.

Servant AND Leader.

Poor AND Rich.

Grace AND Truth.

Man AND God.

Both AND.

Wholeness.  Completeness.  Integration.

Jesus.



Thank you so much for being part of the Dolly Mama Family! It means the world to me! I pray that your week will be filled with a beautiful explosion of God’s goodness! A true Merry Christmas from My Heart to Yours!

Much Love, Esther

Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Faith, Third Culture Kid

“You Better Watch Out” God

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
(Prince Caspian, Chapter 10)

I lay on my bunk bed at boarding school in Ethiopia. I am just nine years old. My bunkmate stirs below me. I wind my musical Raggedy Ann doll over and over, hoping to get some sleep. Sleep does not come.

I rehash the day. Thoughts swirl: “I did a bunch of wrong things. Maybe that’s why I can’t sleep. I should confess my sins. Hey God, I’m sorry for all the bad things I did today. I hope you can forgive me.”

Still no rest for my eyes and tired body.  I go into a bit of a panic. “Maybe I didn’t mean it for real when I prayed the magic prayer asking God into my heart. If I did mean it, I would not be so naughty.”

I whisper the same thing for the umpteenth time, “Please come into my heart. I really mean it this time. I will be better tomorrow.” Still nothing. I lay there wide-awake.

My mind happily drifts to earlier in the evening, my dorm mother reading us another chapter in the story of Narnia. The image of Aslan, a loving lion who makes everything good and right in a strange land, and seems to adore children and even play with them, floods my mind. “I love Aslan. I wish God was like Aslan. Why can’t He be?”

As I finally drift off to sleep, resting in the comfort of the lion who loves children, I have a flicker of hope: “Maybe He is.”

*************************************

For decades, Santa has flooded the Christmas season. A jolly man with a jolly heart. A man who rewards good behavior with toys and naughty behavior with “a lump of coal.” My friend “prayed to Santa” all year and confessed her sins, much like I did to God as a young girl.

It makes a lot of sense. “He (Santa) sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. YOU BETTER WATCH OUT! Santa Claus is coming to town.”

Sounds eerily similar to a song from those little girl boarding school days: “Be careful little eyes what you see, for the Father up above is looking down below, so be careful little eyes what you see.” YOU BETTER WATCH OUT.

Recently, Santa’s Elf (on the Shelf) has stepped in to “help Santa.” This Elf is dispatched from the North Pole at the start of Advent. He or she enters homes to keep a watchful eye on the children, ensuring good behavior during the rough parenting patch when kids are over-sugared and over-excited for Christmas. His or her “job” is to make sure they belong on Santa’s “nice” list. YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!

Santa. God. Elf on the Shelf. YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!

*************************************

Fast forward 30+ years. I’m a mom of four littles who loves celebrating Santa (in fact, my seven-year old just opened her letter from the North Pole). We don’t have an Elf on the Shelf (only because he/she is not invented yet). But me, this “desperate-to-please-God” young mom, believes wholeheartedly in a this YOU BETTER WATCH OUT God.

I’m stuck in my grown-up mom body as the little nine-year old girl on her bunk bed. God is no different than Santa or Elf on a Shelf. He’s up there watching my every good and bad behavior, ready to reward or “smite” me for each one, his main goal to get me to behave, to be good for goodness sake.

You yelled at your kids today. BAD!

You taught Sunday School. GOOD!

You told that white lie to your best friend! BAD!

You helped your twelve-year-old with their homework. GOOD!

You forgot to pray! BAD!

My relationship with this Santa/Elf on a Shelf/God is a little topsy-turvy. I’m filled with and act from the stranglehold of fear and guilt. Am I good enough today? Is God happy with me?

I hide or at least try to. Why wouldn’t I? I avoid Him. Who wouldn’t? I struggle to feel close, spending all my energy keeping my external, visible behavior under control, hoping it’s enough, trying to avoid that proverbial “lump of coal,” God’s utter disapproval of me. UGH!

My internal craving for love and belonging is completely sacrificed on the external “behavior management” altar. YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!

*************************************

In the middle of all of this, the stories of Narnia reenter my life and I have a reunion with Aslan.  I find three-hour-long radio theater dramatic renditions (absolutely a must-buy if you have kids) of these tales that I loved as a child. I kill two birds with one stone: share this amazing lion with my own children and at the same time, keep them quiet on long car rides (keeping it real people).

As I reconnect with Aslan, I find again that he is wise, playful, generous, kind, mysterious, terrifying, magnificent, beautiful and unconditionally loving all at once. He is the one I long for and need so desperately, my grownup heart still fragile from the many years of trying to keep myself in line.

That hopeful thought I had as a child flickers again in the darkness of my soul.

God is not like Santa.

God is not like the Elf on the Shelf.

God is not ultimately concerned with “behavior management.”

God is like Aslan.

God is wise. God is playful. God is generous. God is kind. God is mysterious. God is terrifying. God is magnificent. God is beautiful. God unconditionally loves and He unconditionally loves me.  Period. End of story.

No more YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!

My soul settles slowly (I’m talking years of retraining my brain) into a place of love and belonging. Yes, God sees me. He really sees me. He sees that little girl in the bunkbed, fearful, yet hopeful. He sees the young mom who longs to be known fully, and loved completely. He still sees me, the real real me. But instead of “setting me straight,” His beautiful, tender, kind heart sets me free!

My flicker so long ago, “Maybe He is,” burns brightly as a fire of hope that shouts, “YES. YES HE IS.”

****************************************

P.S. I have told people that, as a child, I loved Aslan more than I loved Jesus. I found out that a concerned mother once wrote C. S. Lewis on behalf of her son, Laurence, who, having read The Chronicles of Narnia, became concerned that he loved Aslan more than Jesus.

In his response, Lewis offered this relief: “Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before.”

 

***ONE MORE NOTE:  If you liked reading this, please go back out and “like” it on social media.  Means the world to me!***