Posted in Anxiety, Beautiful Mess, Emotions, Faith, Freedom, God, Health, Hope, jesus, Love, Sacred

Redeeming Hypnopompia

“This is my Son, Whom I love.  In Him I am well-pleased.”  (God the Father)

How do you wake up each morning? Slowly, stunned and disoriented? In a panic, your heart racing? Do you set an alarm and jump out of bed or hit the snooze button over and over? Do your thoughts feel dull or does your mind immediately race to all that you have to accomplish? No matter how it happens, there seems to be a tiny window between being fully asleep and fully awake, those brief moments (or even seconds) when it’s somewhat in the middle of the two.   Experts call it hypnopompia (which roughly means “to lead out of sleep”) or liminal space. It’s the precious time before you’ve accomplished anything.

To be honest, the very first thing I’ve done for a long time is reach for my phone.  After all, the “EstherGizer Bunny” has much to achieve and I can check my emails, weather, social media, to-do list and FitBit sleep status right away (I actually have to sleep correctly too…what are we coming to?).  I can start my day on the right foot, alert and organized.  I can even check off some of those pressing tasks on my to-do list with my pillow still under my head.  I have no time for this liminal space.  It’s no wonder I wake up with heart racing and in a panic.  Who wouldn’t?

Until about a month ago.  I started to read Tish Harrison Warren’s book, Liturgy of the OrdinaryShe speaks of these fleeting, fuzzy moments upon waking.  “Whether we’re children or heads of state, we sit in our pajamas for a moment, yawning, with messy hair and bad breath, unproductive, groping toward the day.”  We have yet to do anything.  Who are we in those moments?  Who am I in that space, without my never-ending to-do list and my hope to “get-‘er-done?”

Tish brings me back to the story of Jesus Himself.  A gentle reminder.  He lived 30 years as a regular guy in a regular town in a regular job.  No one would say His life was earth-shattering.  10/11ths of His life on our spinning globe are barely recorded.  Certainly not much of any import.  And at the end of three decades and before his “big three years,” as He was being baptized, a simple dove flew over Him…DON’T MISS THIS…and the voice of His Father shouted words of APPROVAL over Him, “This is my Son, Whom I love. With Him, I am well-pleased.”  This was all before what many would deem “world-changing.”

He was APPROVED of and loved before He ACCOMPLISHED anything. 

This beautiful and hard-to-soak-in new idea is redeeming my hypnopompic time.  I spoke with a friend who sets an alarm clock 20 minutes before the “real” one goes off so that she can spend that cozy, quiet space resting in the notion that she is completely loved and approved of by God before she earns anything.  Amazing!  It’s all the same for Jesus, my friend and FOR ME!

I am APPROVED of and loved before I ACCOMPLISH anything!

So tomorrow morning (and hopefully all the mornings after that…or at least more of them) before you get your head together, before you check your phone and respond to some urgent request, before you shower and primp, and before you head into your day’s activities where you will accomplish many things, take those fleeting, fuzzy moments (and hopefully I will too) receiving God’s unending and unchanging love and APPROVAL for you.

Soon enough, you will be about your morning.  Brushing your teeth.  Checking your phone.  Helping loved ones out the door.  Putting a load of endless laundry in.  Heading off to your endeavors.  Your day will be filled with all kinds of earning: your paycheck, your friends’ approval, your spot in the grocery store line, your promotion, even your own standards.

As we wake with messy hair and bad breath, let’s “lead ourselves out of sleep” with the gentle, loving approval God wants to pour over us as we start our day.

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have placed my trust in you. Show me the way to go, for to you I entrust my life.” (Psalm 143:8)

From my heart to yours.


As always, feel free to like, comment or share! Especially out on social media (or here)!

Posted in Anxiety, Childhood, Faith, Family, Freedom, God, Health, Sacred

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 Anxiety, Beautiful Mess, Emotions, Faith, Freedom, God, Health, Hope, Sacred, Thanks, Word of the Year

TW – Not TT (Season #01, Episode #07) Why It’s Not Just for Turkey Day

I’ve been fairly crabby this week.  And anxious.  Allen has also been anxious.  Lots going on in our home and family to merit this.  Definite and possible job changes.  Future home changes.  Friends with health and emotional challenges.  College kids coming home for the summer.  The normal stuff that makes up life, but tends to ramp up the crabbiness and the worry.

Last weekend, while meeting with our marriage mentoring couple, I was reminded once again about my strong passion for thankfulness.  Sitting at the table, surrounded by French croissants (brought by our amazing baker bride) and cups of tea, I spoke (okay, preached with passion…in other words, “went on a verbal rampage”) about the merits of thankfulness, spewing phrases like “it’s never a wrong decision,” “we actively see and acknowledge God’s hand in our lives,” “it brings healing,” “I am highly committed to it and it’s changed my life,” and on and on.  They listened to me with open hearts and wide eyes, jotting down notes in their manuals.

After they left, I sat down at my computer to give myself a good “pat on the back” and re-read all my thankful posts.  After all, I am highly committed to it and my blog will prove it to me once again.  Well, my “pat on the back” came to an abrupt halt when I opened my website and realized I hadn’t written a “Thankful Thursday” post since the end of November:  FIVE MONTHS.  Five long months.  I tried another avenue for the pat:  the daily thankful app on my phone.  Surely that would boost my ego and make me feel good about my dedication.   What I saw there was sporadic at best, certainly not daily, heart-felt reflections on how I have been blessed (those red notification circles on my phone are not doing their job – LOL).  So much for my tireless commitment.

Lest you worry about me plunging headlong into despair (that’s not my modus operandi), I forged ahead and re-read my thankful posts, looking for gentle reminders and the encouragement to pick up this best practice again.   Could there be a connection between my crabby and anxious heart and this drop off in thanksgiving?  The answer came to me:  I’m NOT sure.  Life isn’t having the right formula.  It just doesn’t work.  But as I re-read my posts, I AM sure the gratitude is really important.  Here’s why:

  1.  It gives words to the gifts that have been strewn to us by a generous hand and loving heart, treasures from a God who longs to speak His presence into our very souls.  We actively seek and remember those gifts.  We find out we are not alone on this journey and that there is someone who constantly loves and cares for us.  Read more HERE.
  2.  Sharing our thanks with someone opens the door for more relationship.  It provides connection in a world of disconnection.  It speaks love and kindness into someone’s world where these might be lacking.  It is always a good and right decision, something elusive in an ever-changing and complicated world.
  3. It shouts beauty to a world bombarded with the ugly.  It multiplies thanks in my own heart.  It is one of those sure-fire, good things in my life.  And it is simple, super simple (with all of the formulas out there for changing my crazy life for the better, this one doesn’t require a book to be written or a class to be taken).  Read more HERE.
  4. Thankfulness is one of the environments I can provide for myself that brings healing.  No.  It’s not magic or formulaic (believe me, I have lived a lifetime of that destructive line of thinking). But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s GOOD.  Read more HERE.
  5. There are “unwrapped gifts and free surprises” straight from the heart of God, just waiting for us if we open our eyes to see them.  My life tends to be filled with negativity from all kinds of sources, things that consume me about what’s wrong with the world instead of what’s right.  Thankfulness combats that enemy of my soul and soothes it.  Read one of my all-time favorite posts HERE to find out more.
  6. It brings the voices of HOPE and RESTORATION instead of voices of fear, divisiveness and destruction.  Many days, I am those voices of hope and restoration. But I also need those voices from others, the voices that reflect the very heart of the God of unity, truth, healing, encouragement, kindness, love, hope, peace, joy, patience, all that is GOOD.  Read more HERE.
  7. It’s a gift from others to me.  When someone remembers to say thank you, my heart becomes a little less empty and a lot more full, a little less broken and a lot more healed.  It brings unity where there is division, joy in the midst of sorrow, and clarity instead of confusion.  Thanksgiving heals.  Read about this HERE.

This is what I know so far about my endless journey towards this practice of gratitude.  This is why this weekend (note the title TW which stands for Thankful Weekend…I know you were wondering), I am reflecting on my week and sharing these quick thoughts with you.  Speaking aloud again about what gifts God has given me:

  1.  A lunch with a friend who, after I made a snarky comment, said to me, “This is why we’re friends.  I wish I could live across the street from you.”  She validated why she loved me.  HUGE (especially for this “words of affirmation” girl).
  2. A phone call from a long-time friend about what one of my blog posts meant to him.  He encouraged me to continue to write.  STRAIGHT UP GIFT.
  3. Another friend called and asked me for my advice about her teenage son.  For those of you who have the battle scars of parenting, you get this.  All that work is not wasted.  Someone else can benefit from my successes and mistakes as a parent.  YAY!
  4. A sleep-over with one of my “brides” who we mentored several years ago.  A lazy dinner and a chat about boundaries and marriage and friendship and church and good books to read.  BALM TO MY SOUL.
  5. Sharing communion with my Beautiful Mess girls.  Reminding ourselves about the Deep Deep Love of Jesus and the Reckless Love of God.  FAVORITE NEW SONGS!  Take a few minutes to listen.
  6. A heart-to-heart talk about struggles and decisions with another friend.  Her text to me afterwards reminding me she treasures our friendship.  OH MY GOODNESS.  LOVE IT.
  7. Date night with Allen sharing wine and worries over dinner and then taking the time to paint.  SO INCREDIBLY THANKFUL FOR THIS PARTNER IN HOPE AND HEALING.

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As I sit here and take the time to reflect (which I am actually doing as I write this), my heart is gently reminded again why this matters.  People matter.  Loving them matters.  They are some of the greatest gifts I have.  God matters.  Loving Him matters.  Seeing His provision and gifts in my life matters.  He actually is THE greatest gift.

Maybe I have just “TENDED” to the best thing this morning.  (And I can breathe a prayer that I might just be a little less anxious and crabby.)

I hope you can too.

(Let me know if you do and what you are thankful for either in the comment section or privately at this link or connect with me on my social media pages:  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn).

Posted in Anxiety, Beautiful Mess, Childhood, Emotions, Family, Freedom, God, Grief, Hope, Joy, Love, Parenthood

Launch Sequence (I thought it would be easier)

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”  (Frederick Beuchner)

Jared moved to Pittsburgh five days ago.  Since graduating last December, he’s been living in our basement apartment, working with his business partner to launch a web-based company, while doing odd jobs and serving at a restaurant.  As a nervous “millennial” mom, I asked him every so often if he was okay and was he going to be living in our basement when he was 30.  I don’t want to be that parent, the one everyone talks about, that does not “launch” her adult children properly (if there even is such a thing, but I can assure you, there are tons of articles about this very thing that make me a little crazy).

About a month ago, I got the phone call.  “Hey Mom, what do you think if I move to Pittsburgh with Joe?” (see business partner above)  Shortened version of my response:  “Sounds great, Jared.  You could live in Dad’s apartment while you get one of your own (for those of you who don’t know, Allen commutes there three days a week and has a one-bedroom apartment).   You could work for Uncle Charley while finding a job (Charley has a large landscaping company).  I think you will love it.”  Inside my head, I was doing a little cheer, because it would be the beginning of the launch sequence.  I could even hear the countdown in my head.   After all, Pittsburgh is the perfect place.  Allen grew up there.  His parents are there.  His brother is there.  His other brother just bought a farm and moved there with his wife and seven children.  Even his sister is moving to Pittsburgh one week a month.  And most importantly, Jared is a huge Steelers and Penguins fan and his favorite part would be that there would be no more game black-outs.  All the ducks would line up in a perfect row.  YAY!  But of course, part of me believed it wouldn’t come true (negative thoughts rearing their head).

As the month marched on, I was proven more and more wrong.  All the pieces kept falling into place.  Joe got a good job and Charley said yes to Jared.  Everyone in Allen’s family did a jump for joy when they heard the news.  Jared in Pittsburgh.  What a treat!  Even Charley, when he heard the news, said to him, “You finally came to your senses.”  So, on January 2, 2018, Jared packed up his car and moved to “Da ‘Burgh” as it’s known to the locals.  He started work for Charley just two days later on January 4.  All seemed super happy and positive.

Here’s where it gets a little sticky!  I thought I would be elated.  Doing my own jump for joy.  Proud of myself for getting another one out of the house, “launched” as I frequently say to friends (we even use the rocket ship emoji every time this happens to someone).   No more extra food-making.   No more dishes from the basement to wash.  No more feelings of being tied down.  Although those things did happen, other emotions flew in unannounced.   Sadness.  Worry.   Sentimentality.  No more “do you want a smoothie” texts with a reply “Would love one.  Thanks Mom.”  No more “where are you?” texts from him as he pulls in the driveway and my car is gone, causing me to feel needed and loved.  No more hugs as he comes up the stairs to get his laundry.  On New Years, the night before he was to leave, tears flowed unprovoked.  We shared the following texts.

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Life is filled with this.  We experience “BOTH AND” as I like to say.  On many occasions and even at the same time.  BOTH happy AND sad emotions.  BOTH difficult AND easy situations.  BOTH scared AND brave thoughts.  BOTH excited AND anxious feelings.  BOTH joyful AND sorrowful events.  This is one of the times.  I thought (once again, because I am slow learner) that I would only have all the good emotions since this is exactly what I want for Jared (and myself).  But that is not to be.  My heart is filled with a myriad of emotions and a cornucopia of thoughts.  And I am okay with all (okay most) of them (finally).

I lived a lot of my life trying to live in and for ONLY the positive and the good.  I shunned the negative and the bad.  It created much anxiety in anticipation of the “shoe-dropping” moments I dreaded might come true.  I have slowly come to realize that life is filled with it all.  And each part, either negative or positive, can be embraced, lived with and through and then incorporated into who I am and becoming.  It’s a much more whole and integrated place to live and be.  And believe it or not, my anxiety and fear about the dreaded “what bad thing is around the corner” has dissipated.  Bad things will happen.  Good things will happen.  I will be happy and sad.  There will be joy and grief.  It all may happen even in the course of the same event or moment.  BOTH AND.  A much more freeing place to live from.  I keep plugging away toward this place as my life marches on, repeating this mantra, “BOTH AND.”

All that being said,  I am BOTH sad AND happy that Jared has moved out of our little basement apartment into a whole new experience in Pittsburgh.   And Jared, I write this again (even though it’s on a graduation plaque in your bedroom downstairs) to remind you of my heart for you and my dreams for you.

May the Lord bless you, Jared, and grant you His favor FOR:

  • a life filled with knowing and receiving God’s amazing and unconditional love.
  • a wife, children and grandchildren who will love and respect you with passion and fierceness and that you can grow with as you journey through life.
  • success in the work of your hands. 
  • you to find your passion and that your work would bring fulfillment for you.
  • blessing financially so that your generous heart would be able to give freely.
  • a long and health-filled life, unhindered by disease and suffering
  • deep and abiding friendships that will build you up and support you on your life’s journey
  • you to have the peace of God that will guard your heart and your mind.
  • you to have the confidence to be yourself and hold onto who you are in an ever-changing world.
  • purity and integrity in your mind, body and heart.
  • a kind and gentle spirit who will continue to seek out those who need help and offer them yourself.
  • you to entrust yourself to the God who is trustworthy.
  • you to hold fast to God and be unwavering in your loyalty to Him, as He is to you.

I love you Jared!  You are one of the best gifts I have ever known and I will miss you.

Mom

P.S.  I loved your snapchat pic when you were pulling out of the driveway.

By the way, Jared’s web-based company is on the move.  For all of you who are of have up-and-coming college students, you will want to check it out!!  Look for a launch date coming soon!!

Posted in Anxiety, Emotions, Freedom, God, Hope, Love

The Cure for Fear

“We stopped checking for monsters under the bed, when we realized they were inside of us.”  (The Joker from Batman)

For years, I struggled with a horrible disease.  It hurt my family.  As I sit here in the wee hours under cover of darkness waiting for my first grandbaby to be born, one of my greatest desires is that he won’t ever succumb or even have to fight this monster.  No, it’s not cancer.  It’s not heart disease.  It’s not anything that modern medicine in the traditional sense can address.   The disease is fear.  What is the cure?

One of the “not-so-good” things I do when I don’t feel well or have some kind of physical symptom (I know at least two or three of you reading this do this exact same thing) is check WebMD.   There is a handy symptom checker, and most of the time, many deadly diseases come up as a possibility when I have a headache, my left-side hurts, and I have a funny mark under my chin (you get it…you’ve had those weird symptoms too).  Needless to say, it sends me to a “not-so-good” place (if you are taking notes and you have medical-related anxiety, NEVER USE THE SYMPTOM CHECKER ON WEBMD!).

I don’t need a symptom-checker for fear.  The manifestations have been evident in abundance for as long as I can remember in my own life, the lives of those I love, acquaintances, and even strangers.  It doesn’t take long to spot them.  They include: striving, hating, arguing, comparing, performing, blaming, controlling, bragging, shaming, judging, pretending, slandering, and hiding, among others.  I’m sure you have your own list to add.   It’s a little more tricky to understand the driver behind these behaviors:  fear.

What is our greatest collective fear?  I would venture to say it might just be the fear of being unloved, not belonging and ultimately rejection.  No wonder there are so many symptoms.  It makes so much sense.

Left unchecked, fear increases.  Hope diminishes.  The above symptoms get worse.  Sometimes, addictions develop.  Relationships with ourselves and others suffer.

So what is the cure?  I can confidently shout from the top of my roof that the cure is LOVE, plain and simple love.  “Perfect love casts out fear.”  (John)

“Love is an experience that is given and received.”  If we had a symptom-checker for love, it would include: safety, connecting, trusting, humility, vulnerability, harmony, encouragement, openness, and resting.  These certainly sound like the very opposite of fear.

One of the things that fear does to us is isolate us from others, from what our hearts long for:  love, belonging and acceptance.  We believe that we can protect ourselves through isolation and lack of trust.  The result is the contrary: fear grows and multiplies.  Can this true debilitation be treated?  Yes.   True treatment is not in protection, but in vulnerability, scary as that is.  It happens on walks, around tables, in homes, all kinds of places, anywhere that hearts connect.

Is that enough?  Do we just need the venue?  I would plainly say no.  We also need the conduit.  It’s not enough to be with people, side-by-side, together, but alone.  We have had enough of that at big parties or even small family gatherings, to understand that fear can abound in any environment.  What we really need is the language of grace.  Received and given.  My new online friend, Janet Newberry speaks these words:

“Grace is a language, and it’s so much more than a language.

There is real, and supernatural, power in the words we speak, and the words we refuse to speak.  There is power to heal or destroy, to strengthen or weaken, and we hold this power in our words.

When grace is spoken, new life is wooed forth, from our new hearts within.  Good life.  Deep satisfying life.” 

Fear language speakers are filled with the symptoms we noted above.  You don’t have to go too far (just go on social media, watch the news, check out what’s going on in your own home or maybe even passing through your own lips), to see blame, shame, judgment, comparison, slander, arguments, boasting, and the list goes on.

The opposite is also true.  Humility, trust, understanding, kindness, encouragement, and vulnerability permeate the language of the grace speaker.  Connection happens.  Fear is quelled.  Love prevails.

God’s ultimate will for us is that we love and be loved.  He gently reminds us to love others the way He’s loved us.  That’s a love you can trust.  God communicates to us in the language of grace.  He is the ultimate grace-giver.

Yes, the cure is Love.  “Love is a connection that speaks grace.”  Love is not a blog.  Love is not a sermon.  Love is not a book.  Those are good, but they are one-way streets. Love is relationship.  Love is people.  Connection.  Safety.  Vulnerability.  Humility.  The ultimate language of grace is to know another and be known, to accept and be accepted, true and unconditional love.

Will baby Broden’s generation be the one that has the cure for this horrible disease called fear?  I am hoping for that.  I want to be, as Janet reminds me, a “cure carrier,” who speaks grace in safe relationships.  It’s free for you and for me.  I pray that my heart will be on this continuing journey of receiving and giving grace, hope and love.   And that out of that more healed heart, my mouth will speak loudly and often.

“There is no fear in love.”  (John)

(Click HERE to see Janet Newberry’s website, who I follow whole-heartedly because she speaks the language of grace which I need desperately and want to learn more about.  I have taken much of these thoughts from her in this post.  Anything in quotes is from her.)

Posted in Anxiety, Childhood, Emotions, Freedom, God, Hope

For What It’s (uh…I Mean I’m) Worth

The Lord Your God will take great delight in you.  He will quiet you with His love.  He will rejoice over you with singing.  (The Prophet Zephaniah)

I was a smart, speedy child.  I could read when I was just four.  I skipped kindergarten, went to first grade at five years old, did three grades in two years, moved to the United States and repeated third grade (there was no way the Ventnor school system would have a seven-year old in fourth grade), skipped fourth grade when I went back to Ethiopia and ended up in fifth grade when I was only eight years old.   Sounds exhausting just writing it, much less living it.  After that, I actually did only one grade per year, but it meant I graduated high school at 16, even before I got my New Jersey driver’s license.

Needless to say, I was praised all the way through for how smart I was.  What a great performer I was.  How “special” I was.  I loved the attention and thought of myself as the “one to beat.”  But to tell you the truth, I actually did not believe you would ever “win” if we had a competition when it came to smarts.

This perpetuated itself in high school when I received the award for the #1 Bible quizzer in the United States for our church’s denomination and was deemed worthy of a spot at the “Harvard of Christian colleges,” Wheaton College in Illinois.  I had performed well and was rewarded for it.

Lest you think that I sailed through with flying colors both outside and inside, there were many times that I struggled with embarrassment.   I did not want to be the “odd man out,” the one who was different, “special.”  I lived with two conflicting emotions:  I loved being the best, the fastest, the smartest, but I also wanted not to HAVE to be that, desiring to be average, normal, the right age and be accepted anyway.  I actually purposefully got a “C” in Physical Science in ninth grade to fit in (not even with others, but just within my own head).  Opposing messages swirled inside of me:  I am worth a lot because I am smart and I wish I was worth a lot because I am me.

I took these two opposite notions with me well into adulthood when one day, I heard the phrase, “Your worth is not based on your performance.”  Really?  Really?  Because my worth certainly was.  As time marched on, I began to entertain this thought and realized much damage had been done to my heart so long ago and still continued.  It began to make sense why I was driven to achieve and worked tirelessly at everything I did and ended up in an adrenaline-overloaded life-style, constantly feeding the “worthy monster.”   It morphed into terrible anxiety in my late 30s as I struggled with the idea that if I wasn’t “pulling my weight” here on earth, God might just deem me unworthy of staying and he would take me to Himself.  Weird thoughts prevailed:  if I wasn’t the perfect mom, God might just give me cancer.  If I don’t make that person dinner or take their kids to soccer practice, they might not want to be my friend.  If my kids misbehave in church, people will judge me.  So I paddled along, hearing that good message faintly echo in my thoughts, but living from the louder opposing voice.  I wanted to believe that I was worthy even if there was no performance, but my actions proved that I still held to the contrary.

It didn’t help that our culture permeates this point of view.  Constant evaluations based on performance in school, community, church, sports, friendship and even marriage flood our lives.  Learning is replaced by good grades, teamwork is replaced by winning games, compassion is replaced with mandatory volunteer hours, Christian community is replaced by behavior-management sermons, long talks on porches are replaced by a “what can I do for you” mentality and intimacy is replaced by well-manicured lawns and magazine-worthy homes.

I spent years combatting this highly destructive-to-the-soul belief, shouted truth from the mountaintops to my children, friends and anyone who would listen, hoping it would penetrate my own soul and that I would finally live within the framework of knowing I was worthy just because I am who I am and God had deemed it so.  Until this past week, I would have told you that I had won the war for my heart.

Not so.  While waiting for Broden, our grandson, to arrive (and yes, we are still waiting not-so-patiently), I was scurrying around cooking meals for home and for the soon-to-be-parents, cleaning out every cabinet in the house, washing every last dish and dirty clothes item, and tackling projects long-laid to the side, when I asked myself the deeper question:  what’s going on?  why do you feel the need to get “all your ducks in a row” before this baby comes?  Of course, there is the natural “nesting” that takes place when a baby comes into the world, and that is all well and good, but I sensed a below-the-surface wound that was oozing out again.  After all, I am making the transition from motherhood to grand-motherhood.  I can justify my worth if I have children and take care of them.  But what about now that they are grown?  I had a huge moment of clarity: once again, I am trying to prove my worth.  This does not come from a deeply-loved place, but from an earning place.  Keep working.  Keep doing.  Get praised.  Be loved for what you do.  Prove.  Prove.  Prove.  YIKES!

As the week progressed, it came to the forefront that I still have ways to go.  I am still surrounded by constant evaluations, some of them coming from inside of me.  The battle is not “one-and-done.”  It’s a daily fight to the place of wholeness and healing.  There is good news:  I believe and live whole-heartedly from the place that YOU are valuable, beyond any measure.  YOU are of infinite worth, whether you ever perform another task again.  I never measure YOUR worth on your performance.  And there is future good news:  I am much closer to living from that same place for myself.  After all, my mantra in this blog is this: wholeness and healing is for all of us.  And finally, there is the best news of all, a spark of hope:  it can start with me.  I am loved and that is enough.

(Please like or comment on this on social media if you came from Facebook, Instagram or Linked In.  It helps in spreading the good news of hope.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Anxiety, Emotions, Freedom, God, Health

What My Dog Taught Me About Anxiety

“I need you to love me a little louder today.”  (Healthyplace.com)

This past year, our dog, Autumn, tore both of her ACLs and we made the very hard decision to put her to sleep.  She was an absolutely beautiful dog, a loving dog, an active dog, a mischievous dog, and a highly-anxious dog.  At our first vet visit when she was just a puppy, we were told that she probably had neurological issues (because we made the lovely decision to buy a pure-breed).  Little did we know then, but soon found out, that this dog was one nervous-nelly.

Life marched on and she had all kinds of typical dog anxiety related to thunder, strangers, and loud noises (like Allen and I yelling at the TV during Steelers games).  But she also had “not-so-typical” dog anxiety where she panted and paced often for no reason, snapped at the air like she was catching flies even when she was alone (it’s called fly-biting syndrome) and tried to climb out of our home through the fire place.

Needless to say, you get my point.  Like her loving owner, this dog had some serious issues with the dreaded monster of anxiety.  As the years went on, I learned some very valuable lessons from my Autumn, many that I remind myself on the days that anxiety rears its ugly head in my own life and the lives of those I love.

#1  Anxiety can come out of nowhere.
There are times that I find myself in a place that only moments before was nowhere to be found.  I am going along just fine and out of the blue, I have thoughts that are absolutely ridiculous and filled with fear.  (I haven’t heard from Josh today.  I wonder if he’s okay.  He is, Esther.  You are ridiculous.  But he could have fallen in the shower and all his housemates are already at school.  He might be laying there bleeding or worse, he might be dead.  How will we deal with this?  I will be wreck.  Stop it Esther.  This is nuts.)  This may have come on the heels of enjoying a nice breakfast out with a friend while drinking chamomile tea.

#2  Anxiety usually passes.
After years of observing Autumn’s and my own anxiety, I have come to realize that it doesn’t usually last.  The same way it roars into my life, it often makes its way out.  This is a lifeline for me in the throes of it.  On a very bad day, I remind myself that it will eventually pass.  It might take some time, but it won’t be like this forever.  It seems to be cyclical.   Shalom (meaning completeness, soundness, peace) is a life-long journey, with many fits and starts along the way.

#3  Anxiety isn’t about trusting God.
One day, Autumn was just beside herself.  It might have been a thunderstorm.  She was pacing and panting, wide-eyed and whining.  In a moment of clarity, I said to her (very tongue-in-cheek), “Autumn, you just need to trust God more.”  You are probably thinking to yourself, “That’s ridiculous.  She’s a dog.”  And you know what, it is ridiculous.  For years, I added to the shame of my anxiety by berating myself about not trusting God enough.  I memorized verses about fear, the “do not fear” ones especially (and yes, I do know that here are 365 verses about fear, one for every day…I would imagine you might sense the sarcasm).  I promise you.  If memorizing these verses and trying really hard to “trust God more” would have done the trick and that formula could have worked, I would be all over it, preaching it from the mountaintops.  If it were only that easy.  But the hard truth is it’s not.

This is a message for all of us.  Anxiety is a neurological disorder.   Anxiety is when a person’s central nervous system is telling them there is an emergency even when there isn’t one.   Anxiety comes from a place of fright without solution.  Yes, we can feed it and make it worse (learned all about those neurons firing and giant pathways being created in my Physiology class in college).  I am an expert at feeding it.   And yes, new pathways can be formed that bring calm to the nervous system.  I am in the process of feeding those new pathways now and have been for many years (which has helped tremendously).  In the end, it’s all very complicated and I am not an expert in the field.  But that’s not the point.

Here is the point.  For those of you who don’t struggle, please don’t tell the person in the middle of it to “trust God more.”  I promise you it won’t help.  It may just heap more frustration and shame on the person and send them deeper into hiding.  And for those of you, like me, who have this monster hounding them on many days and during many seasons, think about my dog.  Give yourself some grace.  Tell yourself some truth.  It’s just as ridiculous to say “trust God more” to yourself as it is to my dog.

#4  Anxiety dissipates by being “held.”
The best thing we could do for our dog, when she was at her worst and visibly shaking with fear, was to hold or pet her, come close to her, and speak gently and kindly to her.  That’s really what those of us with anxiety need.  We need someone to listen to our fears, be gentle and kind to us and most of all, hold us until it passes (this can be emotional or physical).  My favorite words in the whole world are, “It’s going to be okay.  You (the real you) are going to be okay.”

The big question that nags is what if there is not someone tangible to hold us?  Can we go to God?  Will He calm our hearts?  It’s not magic and certainly not a quick-fix formula, but I promise you that He cares for you.  He loves you.  He will listen.  He will be kind and tender to you.  He will hold you until your heart and mind calm.  A verse that I reprimanded myself with for many years got flipped on its head one day by our counselor.  I Peter 5:7.  Instead of “cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you,” it is actually the reverse in the Greek.  It really says, “Because He cares for you, you can cast all your anxiety on Him.”  God is the initiator here.  We ARE cared for.  He holds us.  To that truth, I cling with my life.  Shalom.

(By the way, I loved my dog and I miss her very much.  I wouldn’t have traded her for the world, fly-biting and all.)