Even When It Hurts

Hillsong United released a live video for one of my favorite songs on the Empire album 'Even When It Hurts'. The video is amazing and the download is made available HERE with a donation of any amount to the World Vision Syrian Refugee Fund.  

I am absolutely in love with this video. Everything about it. From the creative concept, to the song and lyrics, to the people, to the hearts that are so obviously projected through the talent, but used for much more than just making beautiful melody.

Not only is this song beautiful, but this song is a weapon. I wrote something on these lyrics on a previous post HERE. Our hope is that this song, the video, and our collective generosity will bless people everywhere. Check it out and enjoy xx

 

"Following the journey of the song through the first four times we ever played it live, from studio to arena— There is a parallel to be found within the narrative of seasons and days, the constant-unpredictibility of life, and the unchanging, unfailing nature of God and His faithfulness — and what singing His praises unlocks in us. In this journey, the song serves as the constant and honest-confession within us, as the environment and atmosphere changes like the seasons come-and-go around us.

Even When it Hurts is a Praise Song – not exactly in the new-traditional happy-clappy-Sunday-morning sense — no, this is the kind written to sound its loudest in the cold-lonely-silence of the darkest night, or the heart-drenched-desperation of the heaviest of tears. It’s a song that finds it’s voice in the moments and seasons where to all common sense and logic, to sing, and be thankful for anything at all, let alone sing a song of praise to God, makes no sense at all – when the fight seems lost and all strength gone with it – when it’s hard to even find the words — louder then, this is that kind of praise song.

If there is anything to be taken from our own hardship and God’s grace and compassion toward us — and even if we are still waiting in our own difficult night for the morning to come, there is perhaps nothing more powerful that we could do, than to take our focus off ourselves, and help others who are suffering.

We are making the download available on our website below – but humbly ask that you would consider donating an amount to the World Vision Syrian refugee fund.

Together we are believing that our generosity, will ring even louder than our song, and will tangibly become the miracle to the desperate plight and prayers and of so many who have lost everything – It’s impossible to fathom the enormity of the crisis, and the turmoil people have been through, and are going through – forced to flee the oppression and war-ravaged-hell-on-earth they once called home, and the daunting uncertainty of all that is before them.  (Spread the word / share the links / share the video)

LOVE."

 

 

 

All over the place.

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I have to admit that I am one of those people who seem to have a million unread emails. I know- I'm embarrassed. But the thing is, I am always in a rush, always on to the next thing. Running behind, running late, trying to run with it. Lately I've been wondering what the problem might be.  Am I disorganized? Am I taking on too much? Am I not productive enough? 

I want to blame being a New Yorker for the cause of my mental mess because it's the nature of this city. Our lights never go out, our phones never shut off, the pressures never die down. But in reality, you don't just have to be a New Yorker to relate, our culture is perpetually flooding our lives with more to look at, more to do, more to consume us away from the most important things. This generation doesn't disconnect, it is nearly impossible to go off the grid. How does one, then, keep their sanity, balance, health and peace of mind? How does one invest in family, friends and career? How does one possibly find the time for themselves, their needs, their wellbeing... time to allow God to restore their souls? And then we wonder why we aren't living as effectively as we'd like. 

I often get asked the question "How do you juggle it all? How do you manage?" like I'd have any answers. In my head, I am struggling just to perform at an average level. Nobody carries exactly what you carry, nobody can measure your level of stress, nobody knows about the pressures you feel; it is all internal. But who has time to think about pressures anyway? Thinking about "the pressures" only makes you procrastinate, thus generating more pressure. I just take a day at a time, put one foot in front of the other. Deal with one email at a time. And because of that, I have been too busy to even remember to ask myself how I am doing.  

We never seem to have much time left to replenish our souls enough before we have to pour more out again. We always feel like we are running on reserve. We expect God to show up in big ways but we don't even save him enough time to show up and refuel us. Isn't one of the points of knowing God that He will replenish our souls and quench our thirst? Why, then, am I exhausted? Why am I running? Why, then, are we restless and anxious? Why are we disoriented? I thought one of the perks of knowing God was to know his peace...

We are certain that to live in God's presence is the only way we can find fulfillment. But living in God's presence isn't achieved just by "knowing" God. Whether we fall short, run out of options or run out of fuel we expect Him to show up, replenish and restore our souls. We say that we know him but we forget that the key is to WALK with Him. But we just KNOW God. We speak to him, we speak well of him, we set our alarms to remind ourselves to spend time with him. We are acquaintances, good neighbors. 

But good neighbors are who you go to when you run out of sugar, they are not your first call, your first thought, your go-to. Not who you share most laughs with, they are certainly not part of your will. But we want God to show up in our lives and replenish our souls when all we are is "good neighbors". We were called to WALK with him, not to just know him and pay our respects on sundays. 

May we be the generation that figures out how to walk how we were intended to walk. Let us never settle for any less than our promises and let us not possess any less than our inheritance. 

Knowing and accepting God saves your soul, but walking with God replenishes our souls.

X Es

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Wearing: For Love And Lemons/ Converse
Creative and art direction: Moi
Shot by Hannah Burton

 

What I Now See

I love Sundays. Family time, long brunches, church... How good is church?! I feel like the word ‘church’ sounds so boring and antiquated at times. Many of us may think church is SO 1900's, so not current, so not relevant, so not applicable today. Not to this generation- no way. They wouldn't attend outdated religious organizations such as church. Haven’t we learned by now that religion causes war and not peace, that religion divides people, that it exists to keep the oppressed in their state of oppression? Haven't you heard all the shocking discoveries of inappropriate behaviors from religious leaders? Yes, I have. I've heard all of it, I agree with all of it and despise all of it. However, that is not the church that I now see.

When my friends first heard that I had been going to church, they were all shocked. “Wait, like ‘church’ church? Like God and such? It cannot be, maybe they just opened a cool new spot called ‘Church’. Surely Esther can’t be going to church; she is fun, educated, well travelled…” But nope! There was not a new spot in town called Church; I was really going to ‘church’ church- the God kind of church.

According to many people's preconceptions of church, it is where you go to ask for forgiveness if you've done something really, really bad. Like, killed someone type of bad. That is when people go to church in the movies anyway, after they're done killing two cousins and their pet. But I hadn't killed any cousins; as a matter of fact I hadn't killed anybody at all. So what was I doing at church if it wasn't guilt-driven?

Ah, maybe I was just going through a phase. Surely that wouldn't last. When people are lost and they go through a ‘bad phase’, they seek help from a ‘higher power’. So then, they encouraged me. “That's good, Es. God will help you through this, you will get past it, it will all be alright, have faith in God”. But then I never stopped going to church. So what was I doing in church if it wasn't seasonal?

If going to church wasn't guilt-driven or seasonal, then it must have been that I was confused. Maybe I just lost my mind! I had gone completely bonkers! I was getting fooled by brain-washing leaders with an agenda! Some L. Ron Hubbard type of nut job. My friends were concerned about my mental state. Someone had to save me from that! But then I married into it. It was too late for me, nothing they could do now. I was too far gone. I had completely lost it. But, interestingly, my life didn't fall apart; in fact, it was more together than ever. I had a good family, was stable and seemed to enjoy life. So what was I doing in church if it wasn’t out of confusion?

So, here is the thing. I don't think anyone should go about their life assuming that church is a place you go to be incredibly bored, feel guilt and self-inflict the unnecessary pain of religious condemnation on their lives… That is not even biblical; as a matter of fact that is the very opposite of what is biblical: “Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ”. Nonetheless, that's the general notion, and that was my notion. I had seen how church had worked for my parents and grandparents and I was all for their faith. I wasn't against religion; I just wasn't for it. Indifferent. It didn't affect me.

I didn't understand why people would choose religion. According to me, God was only relevant if you chose to acknowledge Him. For example, if I wasn't religious, I'd be able to be my own boss. I would be able to decide what was right and wrong for me- my rules. Or if I didn't believe in hell, I wouldn't go to hell. I'd just die. And decompose into the ground. And become dirt, home to worms. Ew. No idea what would happen to my soul, I didn't think that far ahead. There was this thing I was told that “church is for the poor, the uneducated and the desperate” and maybe for a fraction of time I even partially believed it. However, this is not the church that I now see.

What I didn't know is that religion was a completely different thing from a relationship with God. One was bounding, the other was freeing. One was about living for acceptance, and one was about living from a place of acceptance. The other thing that I guess didn't resonate with me was grace. That sounded like weakness. Why would I want to be a doormat? Give people the benefit of the doubt and then again give them the benefit of the doubt… And then again… Even already knowing the outcome, but then doing it again… Nothing to gain. It made no sense.

Google alerts recently took me on a little trip down the Hillsong skeptics lane. Although I probably shouldn't waste my time reading such ridiculous junk as I clearly have better things to do, I was so entertained by the level of speculation and ignorance that I spent a couple of minutes checking it out. This stuff is so over the top we wouldn't have been able to come up with it ourselves! All these conspiracy theories so carefully put together... Linking mountain backdrops to illuminati, taking sentences out of context to apply a double meaning, talking about this plan for world domination. Somewhat amusing, but a waste of time. Forget baseless theories! Be certain of your convictions and go change the world! Go, go, go! We only live once-we've got ONE shot at this!

I find it so fascinating how people can be so ignorant and oblivious to the truth. I am not only referring to ridiculous allegations about our church, but just about churches and God in general. How can we be so blind? Actually, I know the answer to that: Unless we have a personal relationship with God, the entire world becomes distorted. Unless we have a personal relationship with God, nothing makes sense. Unless we have a personal relationship with God, life has no meaning. Life without love has no meaning; there is no real love in a life without God. I love what Erwin McManus so brilliantly said, “Without God, we lose our source of love but not our need for love”. 

The moment a human being separates himself from the presence and the reality of God, his world becomes distorted. For some reason, the way we tell the story is that we would be free without God and God is always here trying to put us in prison. The true story is that we were free with God and without Him we keep putting ourselves in prison. You cannot escape that historically, religions exist to control people through guilt and shame. You cannot deny that historically, the church has somehow managed to twist God’s love and desire for personal relationship and portray it as prison itself. But that is not the God I now see.

The truth is that without God, all we can do is manage sin. With God, we can actually overcome evil. Religion exists because without God, all we can do is try to manage our darkness. With God, we can actually become light. This is the God I now see. The God that frees and does not imprison, the God who saves and does not condemn, who teaches and does not judge, who loves and is not angry. A God who is fun, alive and has a sense of humor; not one that is boring, mean and unimpressed. 

The church is His house. The church consists of His people. The church loves and accepts, the church cares and cares for, the church is fun and lively. The church welcomes the poor and the successful, it unites the lonely and the hurt, it brings out laughter and dries up tears. It brings us into the presence of God, it creates community, it takes care of the community. This is the church I now see. 

The church I now see isn't where you go solely because of your guilt, your season or your confusion. The church I now see is HOME; one you belong in, one you can cry and laugh in, one that helps you grow closer to God. A loving God. An accepting and forgiving God, one that has been waiting for you to come HOME, one that hears you in your pain and gives you your heart’s desires. A God that brings you peace and joy, one that helps you in ALL seasons, one that empowers you to not solely exist, but to fully live. A God who knows you better than you know yourself and has accepted you regardless. His opinion of us isn't affected by our own insecurities and struggles with self-esteem. He’s already extended His hand, whether or not we choose to hold on to it. This is the God I now see.

The biggest mistake a person can make in life is not recognizing that THEY, too, need to see God. 

X Es

The Love That Keeps Us Coming Back.

I thought the Good Mom vs Bad Mom deserved a sequel. If crap action movies with bad acting deserve sequels, so do real life talks that somehow tend to get swept under the rug. Although I am writing with moms in mind, this is not a piece just for women. I hope you enjoy.

Mad love
X Es


 

Without exception, the mothers I know feel like they have failed to measure up on some level. Somehow, as parents, we tend to feel that if anything ever doesn't go according to plan in our children's lives,  it happened because we failed to help them deal with this, that and the other. But the truth is, sometimes things just don't happen as planned. In that case, we are forced to learn to trust God with the outcome. That almost ends up being better for us, doesn't it; to be left facing a wall and realizing that only God is in control. We are just mere humans trying to do the best that we can, which never seems to be good enough anyway. 

As Judith Warner so eloquently wrote in her book, Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, "This widespread, choking cocktail of guilt and anxiety and resentment and regret ... is poisoning motherhood." 

I have been pondering the reasons for this maternal anxiety ever since I first found myself suffering from it, sitting in a playground, my laptop and latest purse traded in for a diaper bag. My focus had been narrowed down to my baby; and myself, my work, my goals and my ambitions were hiding behind what I thought was anger but I now realize that it was closer to despair. I had always been driven and ambitious, myopically fixated on career and business ventures. But I was now a mom.

Not only did I feel like I had suffocated and killed every last brain cell, but after months of no sleep, annoying nursery rhymes, the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and relearning animal names in all the languages I was now trying to pass on to my son, I felt too exhausted to do anything other than to stare at the TV in my down time. Not even watch TV, but just stare at it. Sometimes, I even had it on mute or still hadn't changed the channel from Disney Junior. 

I had traded in my books for brainless reality TV, my spreadsheets for feeding and nap schedules. I had traded in my social life and my traveling for Gymboree's and CityBabes. I felt incompetent, incapable and ineffective. I envied my friends with no kids, I envied my husband and his ability to still come in and out as he found necessary. He was still able to work and travel and walk out the door to grab a coffee as he wished. Man, I was so envious. 

Not in a bad way, don't get me wrong. I did not have bad feelings towards them or envy their lives, nor did I hate mine. I love my son more than anything, that will never change. What I envied was their freedom to continue their lives as they wanted, without having to drop every single thing they considered of importance to just simply be there for someone that clearly couldn't look after himself for 5 seconds. I always laugh at a friend of mine when she jokingly says that she's so over "needy people" as she refers to her 2-year-old. But it's true, they are just SO needy. They get jealous when you try to have a conversation, when you look at your phone, when you just simply sit there and don't engage in the toy-car race they are participating in.

I wasn't made for that; I have businesses to run, places to visit, books to read, people to socialize with, events to attend. Even getting dressed, which is something I have always had fun with, became disinteresting. Everything I put on got ruined and dirty within the first half hour and also, who was I kidding- I had nowhere to go anyway!

I was NOT ready for that, let me tell you. I had lived a very independent life up to that point and I did not expect to have to give that up completely. Why couldn't my son just travel with me, sleep on the plane, color a book while I had a conversation? But no, it doesn't work that way. We have to die to ourselves and live through them. We have to make all decisions for them because we know better. Then we have to try to express to them, through love, that they can trust us and that we will do right by them. And they hate it. They fight it, throw tantrums, scream, throw food on my new dress... And yet, our love keeps us there. Day after day we come back to them, dropping everything that we would like to do, trying to do right by them and to instill trust through love, whether or not they understand us. (Wait... I've heard something like that before... Doesn't it sound familiar?)

But not only was I envious of the freedom people around me had, but I was also envious of happy housewives. If only I were the type of personality that was content with being home and looking after kids my life would be so much easier. The neighbor's grass is always greener.

I recently figured out that the problem is NEVER circumstances, but it's our hearts and perceptions. This "if only" talk only gives us excuses. If only I got that promotion at work, if only I found a loving husband, if only I was able to conceive, if only I had a different upbringing; if only, if only. So many excuses; all good, none valid. None of our circumstances should have the power to define the quality of our lives. Joy is found on the inside. No circumstances can bring or take away your joy. Happiness, maybe; a good time, for sure. But not joy and definitely not peace. Like I said, those need to be established on the inside. 

It’s all about our hearts and perceptions. It’s all about how much we focus on ourselves and our "poor me's". We need to keep our hearts in check, eliminate our self-centered focus and project it onto others. That is why I believe that as "miserable" as it felt to lose my freedom, I also found so much joy in my son. He had become the emphasis in my life; I was no longer my own focus. What a dangerous thing it is, to be your own focus. A self-centered life robs us all of our joy. 

I know you're probably asking yourself why, then, did I not feel "happy" if I had it all and my focus was on my son? Ah- good question. The answer was in my second point: because you also MUST keep your heart in check. But how do we do that? How do we keep our hearts in check if we can't even trust our emotions? 

 

First and most importantly, we need to live with gratitude as a foundation. Gratitude and thankfulness are a game changer. Try it out one day. Wake up and start thanking God for EVERYTHING, no matter how small. Thank you God for another day, thank you for my toothbrush, thank you for my job. Thank the guy who sold you your newspaper, thank the drivers next to you for stopping at the red light, thank the radio for playing your favorite song, thank the flowers for looking pretty. Thank your co-worker for finally handing in that document you asked for a week ago, even if he was late and misspelled every other word on it. Do it not with sarcasm, but with a genuine and grateful spirit. Thank the sun for shining. Thank God for your screaming kid's healthy lungs. You will not believe how full you will feel at the end of the day. Anxiety has no place in a thankful heart. Replace anxiety with gratitude.

Accept and acknowledge your season. No seasons last forever. If this is a tough season for you, acknowledge it, accept it, and know that it will pass. My son will not be two forever, your job doesn't have to be permanent, you can move out of that bad neighborhood. You don't need to hold that grudge, you don't need to continue that fight, you don't have to accept that your family history defines you. We CAN move forward, we CAN get past it, and, until we do, we CAN be grateful for what we have rather than be angry about what we lack.

Keep the right people in your life. Drop toxic friends from your life- there is no excuse. It’s just not worth it. People who just take and never give, people who discourage you, people who don't accept you, people who you can't trust. If you don't have any "good people" around you, begin by becoming the person you need in your life. Need someone to trust? Trust EVERYONE. Give EVERYONE the benefit of the doubt. Need generous people in your life? Become more generous. It’s better to be hurt than lonely. I learned that the hard way. The only way to live a healthy life is through relationship. The only way to find love is by learning how to love. Be the person you want to meet. 

Recognize when to give up control. Sometimes, we won't have control over situations in our lives, and that is ok. When things seem out of your control, that is the perfect opportunity for you to recognize that you don't have all answers. Give it to God and  trust Him as you go on with your joyful life in a constant state of gratitude. 

What a privilege it is to be "forcefully" put back into that very position, yet once again. Facing a wall. Not knowing how to move forward. Again having no choice. Only then can we completely and fully depend on God to show up. And He always does.

Are We Sleeping On The Job?

When I started with this post, I thought it would just be a simple editorial post with a casual text. I picked the title because it worked with the images, uploaded the photos, made myself a cup of coffee and sat down to write. Somehow, I couldn't get the concept to develop into something monotonous and mundane. When I thought about the title Are We Sleeping on the Job it just didn't resonate with me on a casual level. I am not one to sleep on a job; as a matter of fact, I'm not one to sleep much at all. But the words that started flowing were of another chord, a different tone; a much unintended and profound way. 

What is life's purpose anyway? What is the point of running around, furthering your level of personal maturity, procreating, dying...? What exactly are our responsibilities while here, what should be our focus? Of course you can make yourself sound wise and spiritual and reply that our focus should be on striving to grow in God's likeness. But see, when I think about that I can't help but recognize that it suggests that there is actually a possibility that we might be missing the point. 

When I typed the word striving, something hit me. Wait. I don't like that word striving. So I tried to substitute it for other words that I also didn't like: work hard, attempt, endeavor. It also didn't sound right, so I tried to exclude the word altogether. But are we so bold as to exclude the word striving, saying then that the purpose is growing in God's likeness; suggesting we can actually improve or succeed? What if it all comes down to love? What if the more we grow in love- which sounds more accessible- the more we grow in God's likeness? We all know we should grow in love- no one will argue with me here; but what if that is ALL we have to do? Are we sleeping on the job?

If you think about it, everything else stems from love. Habitual, spiritual and relational. But if we are not focusing on love, are we running around in circles? Note that although I am speaking in general and including us all on this boat, I would like this message to be very personal. I would like you to insert your name in the text, to ponder. Reading this might bring up a couple of questions, feelings, and maybe even some disagreement. But nonetheless, this is what flowed out of my heart.

 

Are we fully understanding and grasping the meaning and purpose of our lives? Do we see a clear growth pattern or are we sleeping on the job? What if we are just missing the point, focusing on others and comparing ourselves, pointing fingers and being jealous of other's gifts, talents and accomplishments? Are we wasting time focusing on the wrong things? Those questions sound so complicated, they require some serious self-evaluation. We've all thought about them, have a general idea of the answer, but, somehow, the majority of us don't really seem to know. What do we do then, if we are sleeping on the job?

When I ask myself what would be the ONE practical thing I could try to master on this earth, I tend to come up with more than one answer. To love God and people, to serve and to help others, to keep a strong family, develop my character, improve in areas of weakness, grow in understanding and in wisdom... So many answers but not the ONE answer I was looking for. I want ONE thing to focus on, one thing to write on post-it notes and plaster around my house.

It is mind blowing how easily we can fool ourselves into thinking that we are doing the right things because we just haven't stopped for long enough to really think and evaluate our life and motives. We are, instead, either going through the motions or caught on emotion-based convictions; and we don't even know it. It is crazy how our minds can play tricks on us, specially emotion-based tricks. For example, have you ever been in a relationship with who you thought was the love of your life, to then realize that JUST KIDDING! Or worse, to realize that EW!? Or, have you had negative preconceptions about a person, but after getting to know them you realize they are nothing like what you thought they were? All these feelings are very real at the time, all these reasons we come up with, all these emotions that come storming in and flooding our minds, overpowering our will and clouding our judgement.

But here is a fun fact about feelings and emotions: They feel VERY real, but they are not as real as they feel. What feels like a matter of utmost importance one day, may not feel as crucial as time goes by. As a matter of fact, everything you FEEL will change with time; feelings aren't always the reality, but only our perception and interpretation of one's reality. That is where we depend not on our feelings and emotions, but on our choices, convictions and what we recognize as truths. That is where we get our chance to walk by faith, not by sight; and most definitely not by feelings.

One of the things that I find of the essence in keeping us in check is talking openly and honestly about our shortcomings and struggles and giving people an opportunity to do the same, without judgement and without imposing on them our feelings towards their behavior when it does not match ours. One of the problems I notice, is that we're just not talking about our own frailty enough- we're too scared! And most of the time we are more scared of the church and of people than we are of God Himself. We usually understand that God loves us, we get that; but we just can't seem to wrap our heads around the idea that people will know that we failed. But you see, there has got to be something wrong there. Isn't perfect love supposed to cast out all fear?

When did we become more fearful of people than we are of God? When did we start taking into consideration people's opinions about us and choosing to live according to what appeases and pleases them? How can we choose to do that over desiring to make a difference in their lives by being transparent and honest, starting relatable conversations and developing relationship? And on the other end of the spectrum, when did we become self-righteous, finger-pointing and eye-rolling Christians that are allowing such calamity to take place?! If one is afraid of another's judgement, it can only be because they have experienced it. So my question is, when will we become people who celebrate other's wins and cry with them at their losses? When will we be able to love our neighbors as we love ourselves; without judgement and without behavioral conditions?

All of a sudden, we want to forget that we, too, have struggles of our own and we want to focus on 'keeping others accountable'. Yes, it is biblical to keep others accountable, but that, the way I see it, is referring to close friends and family, your leaders and your church family- which I believe in this case its alluding to your actual church family, those who have invested time in you; not just any Christian with Wi-Fi.

To keep someone accountable you must first know their hearts and circumstances, not only base your words on your perception of one's situation. And definitely not base your words on your temporary feelings about them. Base your words on love, use your words to edify those who God has put around you and entrusted you with. Why use your words to argue facts, disagreeing with people who you don't even know personally, defending your perspectives and points of view to people who don’t really care? Ah, isn’t our pride fabulous… We just need to make our points no matter what, we just need to come up with a higher thought, a better solution, we just need to be right. But are we missing the point? I have yet to see a life that was changed by a mean-spirited or ‘corrective' Tweet. 

But sometimes we sleep on the job. We want to throw stones at others so we feel better about ourselves. We want to find someone who is doing something we aren't so that we can roll our eyes and think about how much better the world would be if they only lived by OUR personal convictions. God’s approach is tailor-made for YOU. How He works with one isn't necessarily how He works with another. His ways are higher. But we like to underestimate God.

Who are we to throw stones at anybody, no matter who they are or the nature of their so called sin? Homosexuality, for instance. (HOT TOPIC RIGHT HERE! All of a sudden my keyboard heated up enough to almost burn my fingers as I type. But unfortunately for some of you, it turns out I like the heat.) Let's touch on those sore subjects, shall we? How can there be any talk about not taking a "strong enough public stance" on it, when our stance is the only one there should be? One that loves people as people, tells them to 'come as you are', places value on their lives regardless of what they are going through, and works with them on a case by case basis. Blanket statements work for no one, as no case is like the next. And that applies to ALL.

When dealing with people, we must first love them, respect them, welcome them, get to know them, and only then, when we have done OUR part, allow God to do HIS. Conviction is His job- ours is to love without prejudice. 

Before you start to look for the "escape" button (how is that for a metaphor), let me remind you that I am no theologian. I have never had any training to become a 'professional Christian' such as some surely consider themselves. I am just a sinner saved by grace. I am just a thinker. I am just a lover of people who is now able to do so because people have loved me in my own sin. I am just a believer in people because I was the least likely to come around. I am just fresh and still in awe of God's ability to love, change, reveal AND convict without using any of His finger-pointing people to do the job on His behalf. Just saying. But I only speak from experience and observation, not claiming to speak as if I were "the voice" of God or on behalf of any organizations of which I may be a part of. Again, these are just thoughts.

I don't consider my sin to be any different, smaller or bigger than anybody else's. Sin, by definition, means that we have naturally missed the mark, deviating from God's perfect plan and thus, causing separation from God. It's holistic in God's eyes, not individual. That is what puts us all on the same boat, the fact that we have ALL sinned. People are just people, doing their best and trying to figure their lives out. If they have a heart for God, He will meet them where they are. But we like to underestimate God's power to show up, and so we like to take on the job ourselves. Just in case God doesn't come through. Hah. What a ridiculous thought.

Much easier to 'hold someone accountable' (AKA feelings of disapproval towards one's behavior) than to simply LOVE them. Who wants to deal with this "love" thing anyway? That is a lifetime commitment to getting hurt, forgiving and forgetting, accepting people despite behaviors that differ from our personal beliefs, showing up with encouragement and not with I-told-you-so's... Too difficult. Too much work. Let's just create our own grade system for sins and then put people in categories, accordingly. Easier to first filter through who is worth loving and who is worth 'convicting' and 'holding accountable'. Right. 

I encourage you to reconsider your motives. Our motives can be sneaky, just like our feelings. They sometimes hide behind our emotions and partial self evaluation; and we don't even see it happening. Sometimes, we miss the point. By the time we realize it, it's already too late. By the time we even notice that we have been bothered by the speck of sawdust in someone else's eye it's almost too late to try to remove the plank from our own. Sometimes we sleep on the job.

But we never meant to, we didn't see it coming, we were just "trying to help". Listen, I fully believe that is the case; as a matter of fact, if I don't keep focused on my own “plank", I end up doing that very thing to others. But that is the beauty of focusing on your own struggles and living by your own convictions and only for the audience of ONE. Not only does it keep you humble, but it also keeps you in check. By doing that, you are loving yourself. By doing that, you are also loving others. By doing that, you are loving God.  Know your flaws so well and watch them so closely that it causes you to miss mine. What a beautiful place to be, when you are so consumed with love that you almost miss the wrong others are doing towards you. The world calls it weakness, I call it an abundant life. 

We were called to love ALL and welcome ALL. Get to know ALL and point ALL in the direction of Jesus, who spent His time on earth doing just that. It is our LOVE that will reach people, not so much our own carefully curated display of 'righteousness'. Although we are called to live by example, I think we are much more effective when approaching ALL people and subjects with more love and less disclaimers and conditions; a little less fine print. Our job is to love, not to show people how good we are or how we supposedly know something they seem to be missing. Let us all come down from our high horses, we are not that good. Let's just love instead. We were given ONE job.

 

 

Shot by Hannah Burton

Even when it hurts like Hell.

I was recently listening to this album (again) and I got caught up on these two verses. Not because I was hearing them for the first time or because they were beautifully written, even though they were. (SIDE NOTE: Shout out to my man- the man behind the music. Thanks for being DOPE. Ok. Im done. Where was I...) 

When it comes to the things of God, they are alive. That is one of the things that differentiates the bible from another good book out there: Its Alive. You can see and hear the same thing multiple times and yet always find new treasure. Always hear a new voice. Always understand something new, apply it to where you are in your journey. It is living and breathing. The wealth and wisdom found in it are challenging, nonconforming and life changing. It exudes enough power to allow the lame to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the dead to live. 

There are so many practical things in the Word as well. It speaks to us and brings down walls; uniting us, helping us find comfort and community. Helping us navigate this craziness called life, allowing us to find peace in a world that seems to be suffocated by evil. Enabling us to praise our way through pain and be healed within it. Teaching us to live outwardly and not to react, but to consciously and carefully act with love and gentleness. Showing us how to silence pain with praise, anxiety with gratitude, indifference with love. I know because Ive seen it. We know because we've experienced it.

Even when my strength is lost I'll praise You
Even when I have no song I'll praise You
Even when it's hard to find the words
Louder then I'll sing Your praise

Even when our fight seems lost Ill praise you
Even when it hurts like hell I'll praise you
Even when it makes no sense to sing
Louder then I'll sing your praise

A wise man (AKA bae) once wrote these lyrics above. Not only do they help make up a beautiful song, but they also make it a powerful song. You see, when it comes to the things of God- which we have established are Alive- we are not just "singing" words. When we declare them, they don't just simply come out as narrative, but as assertions and commands from the heavens.

Even when its hard to find the words. Even then, when I have no song. Even then- I will praise You. No eloquent words needed, no beautifully written songs. No dress code, no conditions. No social status, no riches, no diplomas. Even when my strength is lost, even then- I will praise you. When I have failed and fallen, when I can't seem to find the strength to get myself up and back on track- louder then Ill sing Your praise. Even when it makes no sense to sing. 

See, these words aren't just poetry; these words come from a soul that cries out to God at the end of their rope. These words come from having experienced the deepest hurt but yet known a higher hope. These words are a declaration, a commitment. Getting these words out in the midst of despair changes something. Praise opens up Heaven, praising through anguish calls upon miracles. It moves the heart of God. When we praise Him we activate something. Something in His heart is touched. And when God is moved, He moves.

I don't know about you, but I want to be that daughter who moves the heart of God. Even when it hurts like hell. 

Mad love.

x Es

It Is For Freedom That We Have Been Set Free- A Personal Note.

I get a lot of backlash for doing what I do. I think that comes as no surprise to most of you. How can I like clothes and work in fashion while being in a family of well known pastors? Travesty! That is just highly inappropriate. You can't try to look good and love Jesus. You can't like clothes, that's just vain! No way! It's ludicrous! Just awful. Well, I don't believe that is true. So since I have been accused of my "message" being unclear, I thought I'd clear that up so that nobody will have to go about their lives being 'confused' by mine. (Hah. Isn't that funny how we blame people for our own confusion... For goodness sakes, be secure in what you believe! Where is our personal conviction?!)

Let's go back a few years, when I first came into what I knew was a relationship with God. Reminisce... I love those moments when you bring yourself back to where you were and just remember... It's never good to forget where you come from. My friend Carl Lentz says, "Let's not forget that we WERE the woman at the well before we started to judge women at the well..." (Just saying.)

One of the first things I experienced about God was a feeling of freedom. Everybody is always talking about rules that come with religion. My experience was the very opposite. For the first time I realized that I no longer had to prove myself on a daily basis because I had ALREADY been accepted. I was already loved... I didn't have to win anybody's love... Didn't have to prove that I was good enough. That's why Jesus came- to take the pressure off me and pay the price for me... So that we could "cast all our cares upon Him and lay ALL of our burdens at His feet."

However, that just seems too good to be true. Nothing in life is free, nothing in life is easy, right? But our salvation seems to be;  we have been accepted, yet not because of our works. By faith we have been saved. What a revelation! We can now live FROM a place of acceptance, not FOR acceptance. Wow. Groundbreaking. 

Now a little background. You have to understand how I lived most of my life. I never felt secure, never felt free. I always had to prove myself and make known the reasons why I was worthy of my position and status. Do you understand how exhausting that is? Always putting on masks. Always putting a smile on your face while you silently and slowly break down. Always keeping up a thousand relationships when you actually have none. When I felt God's presence, what changed me was an instant sense of acceptance and love. I no longer had to prove myself. What a crazy concept. I was already accepted. Now I can exhale. Years and years of insecurity. 

Not the kind of insecurity you could ever tell though. No way. I was very calculating. My insecurity was the type that you could NEVER tell. I was the most insecure person in the room even though I looked like I had it all figured out. Oh my gosh, maintaining those perceptions... I'm exhausted thinking about it. What would happen if anybody ever found out that I wasn't invincible? If anybody ever found out how lonely I actually was? How much I cried behind closed doors? I had anxiety just thinking about it. Take a pill. Numb it. Get over it. Move on. Be strong. Pretend. Oh, you have NO IDEA. 

With Jesus also came my freedom. All the things I had to prove, all the perceptions I had to maintain- I was now free because He loves me. I was free because His love is tangible, powerful, real, sufficient and life changing. I wasn't alone anymore. I could live FROM a place of acceptance, not FOR it. Not to achieve it. Not to conquer it. But to just humbly live in a constant state of gratitude and awe. And what a difference it made. 

I don't know what some Christians have been doing with their lives, but I tell you this- my relationship with Jesus is nothing but freeing. I can now breathe. I can now love. I can now pour out what has been poured into my soul. So when it comes to petty things in life like fashion and vanity and being "too sexy" and too this and too that... Listen. I am free. Nothing can imprison me. I am saved by grace. I am loved just because. I am accepted because the price has already been paid. Now I get to live. I get to enjoy the same things that I've always had but haven't been able to find joy in because of the constant run on the treadmill. Getting so tired and yet going nowhere. Trying to catch the wind. What a waste.

However, against ALL ODDS, I married into a "big" Christian family. So now people have been trying to put me back into the same box from which I JUST CAME OUT OF. Hah. And we call ourselves Christians. Let's throw stones at the same person we were a couple of years ago. Let's tell them what to do, what's acceptable to God, how to live, what they're doing wrong, how they're not setting good examples. I'm just so confusing! I'm a pastor's wife that should know better... Should be clearer about my message... No, no, no. I'll tell you what I am: I was blind and now I can see. That's who I am. 

But ok. Let me be clear about my apparent message. I prefer to take criticism rather than to pretend like I'm ok with this idea that I or anyone else should have to fit a certain mold in order to please God. What a joke. Are you kidding me?! Do you think God goes through all the trouble to reveal Himself to us personally and to offer us abundant life in Him just to then realize that we're not good enough? Can you picture our God, creator of all things, omnipotent, omniscient, thinking, "Wow. I really messed up. I thought Esther would come through. I'm quite disappointed at her performance... I should have picked somebody else... Somebody who wasn't in the fashion industry... Somebody who dressed a little more 'conservatively', who acted more like a pastor's wife... " What does that even mean, to look like a pastor's wife? Who made these rules anyway? I don't remember having that as a requirement when I got married. All I remember is being accepted and loved as I was. According to me that's the whole point! The point is that I am not good enough, and neither are you by the way. We AREN'T good enough. But God doesn't use people who are qualified, He uses people whose hearts cry out for change, mercy and grace. People who are constantly on their knees asking Him to show them the way. To enable them, to give them wisdom. And I can tell you I am that person. So therefore, God can use me. High heels and all. Believe it or not. Maybe He even purposely picked me so that I could stir things up a bit- who knows? I don't know. What I DO know is that He picked me. And He also picked you. 

I HAVE BEEN SET FREE. What I do no longer defines me. Who I am is no longer a mask. How I live no longer dictates my status. God has loved me, saved me AND has set me free. Although I respect all of your opinions, it doesn't really matter. I'm the daughter of the King. I'm a princess. I'm God's favorite. I'm His chosen one. He took me out of darkness and into His light. He allowed me to see Him while I was blind. He loved me when I didn't deserve it. He pursued me. He was faithful when I was not. And FROM a place of freedom I will live my life. FROM a place of gratitude I will live in awe. And out of my brokenness, He will use me.  

He always had a plan. A perfect plan we could have never thought of ourselves. Do you think it's out of His control that I'm here? That you're here? That we're here? I think not... Be free and make a difference. Stop worrying about petty things. Fix your eyes upon Jesus. He could use less referees and more team players; less critics and more willingness to actually do the work... 

Good Mom vs Bad Mom. When We Feel Conflicted.

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London Town. That's where I should be right now. But I'm not, I'm in NY. Nothing wrong with that, as New York is my favorite city in the world and its also my home. The problem is that it's not where I should be right now. I should be in London.

My Personal posts are usually about a conviction, a revelation or an advice. About people I love and things dear to my heart. But this one is about a struggle. On this post I have no answers really; on this post I have questions, thoughts, and conflicts... But hey, Im a real person too. And I've obviously  caught the writing bug recently, so I guess I'll share some thoughts. 

This new season as a mom has been incredible. For those of you who don't know, the little blonde, curly haired angel I often post photos of is my son, my only child. My pride and joy, my everything. And he also drives me crazy. Sometimes I want to lock him in the closet and put earmuffs on. Of course I don't do that, I just said that to add to the shock factor and make you gasp and instantly think 'Oh my gosh! How could she even say that?!' The answer is simple: because I love shocking people with reality and honesty so that they don't need to live their lives thinking they're alone. Even if I get a little backlash for it... I can handle it... Im not worried about all of the better-than-thou, self-righteous, know-better you's. All y'all can just take your concerns to the nearest blog or social media outlet made available to you. Im concerned with those beating themselves up because nobody has ever told them they are not alone. 

Well, I have never locked Zion in a closet and put earmuffs on- yet- but let me tell you what I HAVE done though, which will probably SHOCK you- specially those of you with no children, and those of you mythical 'good moms' who seem to obviously have it all figured out. I have, more than once, brought my hands to my face and thought 'What have I done!' as I either pace around in despair or stand there paralyzed at the thought that I will, indeed, have to deal with "this" for the rest of my life. Yea- I said it. Judge me. But do remember me when you find yourself doing the same. 

 Being a mother brings out stuff you never knew you had inside of you. An ability to love that you never thought possible before, a level of selfishlessness you had never experienced before, a grade of sleeplessness you never thought one could survive before. But we love it and wouldn't trade it for the world. We would change everything about it but yet, change nothing at all. What does that even mean? I'm not really sure, but that's how I feel.

I'm sure the majority of moms share the sentiment, even though many would be too afraid to admit it and end up sounding like a 'bad mom'. So here you go. I'm saying it first so that you can understand that you, dear friend, are not alone; and feeling like that from time to time doesn't make you a bad mom.

What makes someone a bad mom? More importantly, what makes someone a GOOD MOM? I recently read this by Aylet Waldman, and got an honest kick out of it.

When I polled an unscientific sampling of my friends and family, they had no trouble defining what it meant to be a good father. A good father is characterized quite simply by his presence. He shows up. In the delivery room, at dinnertime (when he can), to school recitals and ball games (whenever it's reasonably possible). He's a good provider who is not above changing a diaper or wearing a Baby Bjorn. He's a strong shoulder to cry on and, at the same time, a constant example of how to roll with the punches. This definition seems to accommodate, without contradiction, both an older, sentimentalized Father Knows Best version of a dad and our post-Free to Be You and Me assumptions. However, my polling sample had a difficult time describing a good mother without resorting to hyperbole, beneath which it's possible to discern a hint of angry self-flagellation. 

"Mary Poppins, but biologically related to you and she doesn't leave at the end of the movie." 
"She lives only in the present and entirely for her kids." 
"She has infinite patience."
"She remembers to serve fruit at breakfast, is always cheerful and never yells, manages not to project her own neuroses and inadequacies onto her children, is an active and beloved community volunteer; she remembers to make playdates, her children's clothes fit, and she does art projects with them and enjoys all their games. And she is never too tired for sex." 

She's everything that I'm not.

These responses might be colored by the fact that my polling sample, despite containing a moderate amount of racial, religious, and socioeconomic diversity, was composed of women of approximately the same age (mid-thirties to early forties) and the same level of education (which can be described, succinctly, as "more than they use"). Nonetheless, the common elements in the responses make a compelling statement both about the pervasive power of the antiquated June Cleaver vision of motherhood and about how badly we fall short. 

 

So wait. If the single defining characteristic of iconic good motherhood is self-abnegation, her child's needs come first and their health and happiness are her primary concern. They occupy all her thoughts, her day is constructed around them, and anything and everything she does is for their sakes. Her own needs, ambitions, and desires are relevant ONLY when in relation to theirs. If a good mother takes care of herself, it is only to the extent that she doesn't hurt her children. A good mom MUST be able to figure out how to find time for herself, but only if its without detriment to her child's feelings of self-worth. 

How is any of that even achievable?! Lets just talk about how this piece of writing is about to be posted in just a bit, at about 7:55 am, and you KNOW it didn't just take me a couple of minutes to write this. But that is when a good mother does her own thing, right? After her baby goes to sleep and before he wakes up. Because when he wakes up its his time, until, of course, I have to go work. And then when I get done its their time again. And then I will write you more posts at 5am tomorrow... Oh, the unreasonable pressures of life.

Being a good father is a reasonable and attainable goal. You show up, you support, you're physically there (when you can), you provide. I think I'm a MUCH better father than I am a mother... 

Its been the best season but its also been a difficult season. As I said, I should be in London right now.

Shot by Hannah Burton

How Do You Deal With Wrong Perceptions of You?

I recently got asked a question about how to deal with it when people have wrong perceptions about you. How do you move past that? And how do you move forward professionally with a joyful heart? Well, aren’t those darn good questions? I am not going to pretend I have all the answers, however, what I can always do is share from my perspective and experience. So here are two points, I hope they are helpful.

1. People have a lot to say these days- but you don’t have to listen.

Between the growing ‘gossip’ entertainment industry, social media obsession and the over-utilized sense of free speech, everyone seems to have something to say. Every pryer has access to information that they can use to create their personal opinion of who a person is- every coward has a voice behind a username. (Yes. Cowards. All of you that feel too confident to share your negativity online but would never have the courage to say any of it face to face. Bullies. Grow up and grow a pair. I’m over it.)

What do we do then? How do we keep that from hurting us and, most importantly, from confusing our minds about who we REALLY are? Well, personal attacks can temporarily hurt our feelings sometimes- I get it- but they don’t have to permanently hurt our life and long-term purpose if we STAY SECURE IN WHO WE ARE, STAY FOCUSED ON WHERE WE WANT TO BE, AND KEEP CONSCIOUS OF WHERE OUR VALUES LIE.

These days I almost have to deal with my personal life in a similar way to how I deal with  business. What is my ‘business plan’ for my life? What am I about? Who do I want to become? Who am I? What do I believe in? Where do I see myself in 10 years?

Because of the immense flood of opinion, comparison and judgement that we have to deal with on a daily basis, we need to have a clear personal plan. A mission statement. Just like you would do for a business, but instead, it has to deal with who you are, your goals, values, calling and purpose.

Let’s come up with a mission statement for our lives. Apply what you’ve learned in the business world into your home, soul and spirit. The whole purpose of a business plan and a mission statement is so that you can set yourself clear guidelines and a clear description of what you’re about. Every time you start to steer away from that and get overwhelmed- look at your mission statement. In a couple of sentences, there you have it- laid out in front of you- what you’re about, who you are.

I’d like to challenge you to do that in your personal life. Be so clear in what your purpose is that no crisis and no backlash can steer you away for long enough, no negative opinion can shatter your confidence, no struggle can take your eyes off the prize. We are talking about character, beliefs and goals. Things that shape your life. Things that define you. Pay the attention that it deserves. This is YOU: the successful YOU, the parent YOU, the child YOU, the student YOU, the leader YOU, the world changer YOU. Dive in. Reach for the stars. Make a difference. Stay the path. Stay secure… And do it with a JOYFUL heart.

Stay the path. Stay secure... And do it with a JOYFUL heart. 

2. People can try and steal your joy- but you don’t have to allow it.

The second part of the question was about how to do it all with a joyful heart. How do we live life and deal with troubles with a joyful heart?! Life is too much, too stressful, too overwhelming, too uneventful, too plain, and too ordinary… How do we manage all this opposition, competition and imposition? Breach of confidence, breakage of trust, endless disappointments, unbearable competition. You manage it with gratitude. You do it with thankfulness, appreciation… You do it with a humble spirit; you do it by aiming to serve rather than to be served, you do it for others rather than for yourself. You cut off ALL FEELINGS OF ENTITLEMENT.

ACHIEVE EXCELLENCE BY FEELING LIKE YOUR POSITION IS UNDESERVED.
ACHIEVE FULFILLMENT BY AIMING TO SERVE.
ACHIEVE JOY BY LIVING IN A CONSTANT STATE OF GRATITUDE.
ACHIEVE GREATNESS BY PUTTING OTHERS IN FRONT OF YOU.

My dear friends, I am not an exceptionally wise person, but I can tell you this- fulfillment doesn’t come through accomplishments. Fulfillment comes through genuine gratitude and service.

xox Es