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 Faith, Family, Health, Sabbath

Giving Up Normal (Part 2)

***HERE’S PART TWO OF THE PODCAST I AM A GUEST ON…20 MINS…CHECK IT OUT…HERE’S THE BLURB…DON’T MISS IT***

Do you sense the need to create and maintain a life-giving practice of sabbath but not sure where to start? In part 2 of Giving up the 24/7 Life, Jen continues her conversation with writer, podcaster and leader, Esther Goetz. Esther shares what she has learned on her journey, what her sabbath looks like now, challenges that may come our way and tips to creating your own rhythm of sabbath.

Two life-changing questions to ask yourself:

What do you need today?

What do you want Jesus to do for you?

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN!

Posted in Faith, Motherhood

When You Blow It As A Mom

Dear Sweet Mama,

Blew it. Screamed at toddler.

Blew it again. Used guilt to get 10 year old to comply.

Blew it again. Alienated teen by comparing to “good” sibling.

Blew it again and again and again.

Today, you may feel far from your child. Not necessarily in miles, but in your heart. This child who threw their arms around you without a care in the world joyfully shouting, “I love you,” when he was three seems unreachable today in some ways.   You may wish you could go back and do it all differently. You might not have the relationship that you envisioned with this child. Along the way, you have hurt them and they have hurt you. You may not feel good inside today.

We are constantly bombarded with voices that say, “You only have one chance at being a parent.” “Your child’s moral compass is fully-developed by age five.” “You have to teach your senior these ten things before they leave for college.” Magazine articles, blog posts, podcasts, parenting books and even well-intentioned friends basically send this message: “Don’t mess this mom thing up!” “It will be too late before you know it!”

Today, Sweet Mama, in the middle of the mess of your heart, toss those very soul-killing, discouraging lies aside and hold on to this: your story is not done being written.   Your story as a mom. Your child’s story as a budding adult. The story of your relationship with your child. It is never too late!  It’s never too late to say I’m sorry. It’s never too late to get counsel. It’s never too late to do things differently. It’s never too late for redemption.  For you. Or your child.

God is the God of second chances and third, and fourth… In fact, He delights in them. He makes them His mission. He takes the seemingly hopeless and broken parts of us and infuses them with His healing and restoration. There is nothing too difficult for Him! Look UP and see Him beckoning you out of despair and discouragement into His life-giving courage and hope. He’s got you! He’s got your child! It’s really okay to rest your weary heart today!

“There aren’t do overs. But there are make overs.” (Bill Hybels)

From My Heart to Yours

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 Charity, Faith, Homeless

It Finally Happened to Us (The Relief Bus)

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.” (Mother Teresa)

It’s super easy to spiral into hopelessness when checking out the news or social media. War. Wildfires. Politics. Shootings. Sex-trafficking. Addiction. You don’t have to look very far to find what’s going wrong.  It might even be impacting your own family.  It all feels heavy, dire and needs to be fixed as soon as possible.

Where do I start? Who do I help? What can I possibly do to make a small dent for good in this gut-wrenching broken world? Would it even make a difference? Those hard questions probably come up for you when you think about it. They do for me.

I felt that a lot as a mom.  There were gigantic, world-shattering issues and I was just changing diapers, helping with homework, feeding hungry bellies, cheering at events, and getting needed tasks accomplished, both at work and at home.

I still feel it.  My days are mostly borne out in the small, the mundane, the ordinary.  No earth-changing happening here.  Or so it sure seems.

Many times, I fall into the trap of two not-so-helpful thought-patterns and thus choices:

  1. Draining what little time and energy I have getting stuck trying to figure out what is most crucial or…
  2. Crumpling under the sheer magnitude of all the horror.

Other times, thank God, I am reminded of something wiser:

3.  Make the world a better place because I am in it.

It doesn’t matter what we invest ourselves in. We can care about clean water for the planet, special education needs in our communities, or our own child struggling with his math problems. It can be a big-world, local community or one-person issue.   We, all by our sweet selves, can be a powerful force for good.   We’ve done it thousands of times, most of it small and seemingly insignificant: a smile, a hug, a word of encouragement, a meal made, a listening ear, a thoughtful gift.

No, we can’t do everything. But we can do something. And that is lots better than doing nothing.

Friday night, this came true outside of our normal, work-a-day world.  Allen and I, after much encouragement from my brother, Stephen (okay, he asked us about 10 times before we could say “yes”), drove our little selves to Elizabeth, NJ in 40 degree, rainy weather, to serve soup and hand out socks on the Relief Bus with him and some of his let’s-change-the-world college students.

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Yes.  I finally took the plunge into “the poor being the very portal to the heart of God” thing my friend Juan Galloway always talks about.

We met people who didn’t have their mental ducks in a row.  We met an unwed, teenage soon-to-be mom.  We met a man who prayed for us in a loud voice and called the power of Jesus down on us.  We met a “used-to-live-in-the-suburbs” couple who wanted to overcome their addiction to heroin and were desperate to get into a detox and rehab facility.  Their names are Dan and Jessica.

The bottom line is we met people.  Just people.

People with hopes and dreams not realized.

People with needs not met.  

People with kids they are worrying about.

People waiting to see how God will show up and wondering if He will.

Sound familiar?

People.  Just people.

Doing those few hours, our minds and bodies were taken up with passing out socks and soup, praying with these beautiful souls as they wanted, reminding them not to give up and that God saw them and every single one of their needs and that He loves them.  It was a good break from obsessing over the huge, complicated plight of the homeless in our broken culture and broken systems.

As we got in the car and were debriefing together, those consuming thoughts came rushing back.  “It’s so complicated.”  “What a mess.”  “Are there enough beds?”  “Everyone is on SSI or disability.”  “Are we adding to the problem?”   “No one is working.”  “Is a cup of soup really making a difference?”  “How is this ever going to be fixed?”  Even before we left, our kind guide said to us, “No, you are not going to fix homelessness in one night.”  UGH.

Very quickly, as “not-so-helpful” option #2 buzzed around in the car, floating out there and ready to consume us with hopelessness, we chose to cling to option #3:  make the world a better place because we are in it.

Period.

Love our neighbor.  Period.

Choose good.  Period.

Bring hope.  Period.

You see, whether we’re digging a well in Rwanda (YAY, we got to do that), washing the dishes in our kitchen (do that every day ugh), handing out socks to the homeless, cutting up bite-size portions for our toddler’s dinner (did that for like 10 years straight), putting money in a bucket at church (our church has a popcorn bucket…how fun is that?), saying thank you to your local barista (I don’t drink coffee, but I bet most of you do), all those tiny, supposedly inconsequential moments of good grow into the huge life stories of hope, change and restoration. The good beats back the bad one choice at a time, one person at a time.   It’s not insignificant after all.  It’s essential.

I’m not sure where your passion lies, what sets your soul on fire, what your heart longs to see restored. Be encouraged. Your “cup of soup” for one “hungry” person will send ripples of life-changing goodness into the world.  And don’t forget this one very important thing:  the “hungry” are everywhere, perhaps even sitting next to you.

From my  heart to yours.


**Huge shout-out today to New York City Relief and Juan Galloway (their fearless leader) for allowing us to get up close and personal.  Check out these four places for more information.  GET UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL YOURSELF.**

VOLUNTEER (your time – join all these cool names on the wall)

DONATE (your money or hygiene kits)

LISTEN to Juan’s story about his week on the streets living as homeless

READ Juan’s blog

Posted in Anxiety, Charity, Faith, Health, Word of the Year

Shattered Shalom (restoring it…in my home and in our world)

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”  (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

If you asked me even five months ago what I thought peace meant, I summed it up as “the absence of conflict.”  In fact, a quick search on Google backed me up on this. My husband also cheered this idea in spades.  He loves an atmosphere where everyone gets along (how one Facebook friend defined it), especially us.  It’s like heaven to him.  Having a house with four very unique and spirited children did not lend itself to this.  The constant conflict and fighting sent us to our beds exhausted many nights.  I would mutter to myself (and sometimes scream loudly to my kids which, if you take a second, is pretty ironic), “Just a few moments of peace is all I’m asking!!  Is it too much?”  I know I don’t have to talk any further without a bunch of nods of the head, muttered “mm-hmms” and loud “AMENS!”

Whether it’s the constant arguing of politicians and political analysts on “news” shows, gut-wrenching war across our world, bickering among children or family members over the latest “who-knows-what,” co-workers disagreeing over how a project needs to be done, or late-into-the-night discord (or should I say straight-up fights) among spouses, it is just plain tiring.  No wonder we want some peace.  Some quiet.  Some “everyone-just-get- along-please” moments.  We are saturated with it all day long.

YES, THAT IS MY SON AND HIS SOCCER TEAM AT HIS SENIOR PASTA PARTY!

Sorry for the diversion.  Back to the blog post.  I think you understand my point.

ALL.

DAY.

LONG.

To combat it and try to find some measure of inner calm, I find myself doing one of four things:  fighting, running, avoiding, or just standing there with a blank stare not knowing what to do next.  This is the natural response from our human bodies when we feel threatened and overwhelmed.  It’s our “lizard brain” (as I like to refer to the amygdala) doing what it can in the moment when the adrenaline rush takes over to protect us.  Psychologists refer to these responses as fight, flight, faint or freeze.

As I very feisty and passionate individual, I naturally gravitate to fighting.  As we all know, this does nothing to help.  It escalates the issue and then the whole house is in an uproar, hurt and angry.  It becomes a mess.  Allen, on the other hand, is drawn toward fleeing.  He shuts down, gets quiet and goes into another room.  Our kids vary on the spectrum, with some fighting, some getting quiet, some going to their room to watch TV or sleep, and some utterly dumb-founded, not knowing what to do.  It makes for a little bit of a “not-so-peaceful” house.

ENTER COUNSELING and the beginning of understanding that although, in the moment, those responses are normal, they don’t restore harmony.  We are working from brokenness not health.

ENTER BOOK, As We Forgive (Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda) by Catherine Clare Larson, suggested to us by our group leader before we head to this beautiful country to dig a well in September (HUGE SHOUT OUT AND MUST READ).

ENTER VACATION with family members (nine people plus baby for seven days).  Arguments and behavior patterns and all that good stuff.  (You know what I mean?!)  I figured out that nine people make up 36 different relationships.   That’s enough to start a war.

RE-ENTER BOOK.  Reminder that all of the above are really just shattered shalom (the fancy Hebrew word for peace).

I have always believed that shalom had the same meaning of peace that I had in my head.  Come to find out I am missing something.  A huge thing.  And it just might really make the difference in my own little world with my own little group of people.  But it also might make the difference in our huge world with all the groups of people (like seven billion and counting much to my son’s chagrin as he’s a little paranoid about over-population).

So what is it?  What is this shalom?

SHALOM IS NOT DEFINED BY ABSENCE.  Instead, it encompasses the PRESENCE of true human flourishing (my friend’s Word of the Year):  socially, emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Larson reminds me that it is “ultimate harmony.”   Shalom speaks of fullness, completeness and wholeness, hardly the absence of anything, except perhaps division (as another Facebook friend reminded me).  In Ancient Israel (where the word comes from), when a crime was committed, the central point was not on the outer (the broken law and restoration of order), but rather on the inner (broken shalom and restoration of peace) for all involved:  victim, community and even offender.  It was important that ALL would flourish, all would be brought back to wholeness.

As I stated above, our human body responds to conflict in one of four ways:  fight, flight, faint or freeze.  We are naturally drawn to one of those responses when it comes to personal conflict.  However, somewhere among attacking, running away, avoiding and becoming paralyzed lies a completely different way, one that is more difficult, but offers much in the restoration of this fuller peace, or shalom.  In fact, sometimes conflict and disagreement are required to achieve it.

Really?!?

In the flight, faint or freeze responses, the focus is on “ME.”  I am looking for what’s easy, convenient and non-threatening.  Protecting myself becomes the highest priority.  However, in the fight response the focus is on “YOU,” blaming you and expecting you to solve my problem or my pain.  Again, protecting myself becomes the highest priority.  The peace-making, shalom-restoring response shifts to “US.”   The restoration of the relationship and the flourishing of ourselves and the other becomes the highest priority.  Wholeness, fullness and completeness come to the forefront.  Conflict happens and disagreements occur, but the relationship is not threatened.  In fact, clashes and variance might just provide the avenue for greater wholeness than without them.  The move from YOU vs. ME to US changes everything.

For this girl who tends to blame others and fight, this is really BIG.  A huge change of thought.  And practice.  It’s not enough for me to “not have fighting,” the absence of conflict.  I want more.  I want wholeness and healing and true flourishing.  In every area of my life.  For me and for you.  When I think about Jesus, the “Prince of Peace (guess what the Hebrew word is there),” this makes more sense now than ever.  He doesn’t just want “quiet” for me.  He wants shalom.  He wants me to flourish.  He wants the same for you.  And he wants the same for our world.   Here’s to restoring it more and more every moment and every day.  I hope to start right now.

 

Thank you again for reading all the way to the bottom.  WOW!  Please like this here and especially out on social media if you can!  Comment here or there as well.  It means the world to me!