Category Archives: Celebrations

How Loving Mary Helps me Love Jesus #StoriesofEaster

This year, as I journey toward Easter, my eyes are fixed on the ultimate act of love: Jesus giving His life for us. But I also remember to see the whole picture, and so I look to the foot of the cross.

There I see the Mother of God kneeling before her Son, staying with Him, suffering with Him.

As a mother, I can relate to her pain. For me, there is nothing worse than watching my children suffer. I want to kneel beside Mary and comfort her. I want to thank her for raising such an amazing Son. I want to walk each painful step with her. I want to love Mary, for she is my Mother, too.

This Easter, I believe what St. Josemaria Escriva once wrote: “The beginning of the way, at the end of which you will find yourself completely carried away by love for Jesus, is a trusting love for Mary.

READ MORE ON THE CONVERGENT BLOG…plus! Write your OWN Stories of Easter and join us for synchroblog on Good Friday!

It’s my birthday! SHARE THIS ORPHAN’S VIDEO to win one of 5 free, signed copies of my NEW BOOK!

Today is ma birfday. I’m 37! Which WE ALL KNOW is just another way of saying “Almost Forty.”

Know what? I’m kinda ok with that. Scratch that. I’m totally ok with that. Truth is, I’ve felt like I was 40 since I was like 20–I think a lot of kids who were raised in cults feel this way. We were OLD before we were teenagers!

High-demand groups often have this effect on children. Stressful childhood environments force children to grow up fast, to bear heavy burdens at a young age. EXHIBIT 1: THE WORLD IS ENDING SOON SO THERE IS NO TIME FOR FRIVOLOUS PURSUITS LIKE…BEING A TEENAGER.

There are other children who experience high-stress environments and long for something safer. These children are orphans. And for many–especially older boys–their dream of being adopted into a forever family is dying. This past week, I came across this orphan’s video. His name is Cameron. He is almost fourteen. All his life he has dreamed of having a proper mother and father, a home to live in. But since he was born with a heart condition–which was fixed via surgery ten years ago–his chances of being adopted are very small.

On Saturday night, I saw Cameron for the very first time. Something about this boy just gripped my heart. I haven’t been able to stop crying. I can honestly say I LOVE this boy. For my birthday, I want nothing more than to find this boy a loving home.

Cameron will be fourteen in just three months at which point he will be widely considered “too old” for adoption. But I believe in miracles. I just KNOW Cameron’s family is looking for him.

So, today, in honor of my birthday I will give away five, free, signed copies of my brand-new book “Girl at The End of the World.” All you have to do is SHARE THIS VIDEO and leave a comment telling me you did so and you will be entered to win my book.

Cameron from findMe intl on Vimeo.

My book Girl at The End of the World releases EIGHT days. How wonderful would it be if TOGETHER we could find Cameron a home BEFORE my book releases? I believe in miracles! Do you? 

The Girl at the End of the World

What I know about marriage (after 16 years)

January 10, 1998

January 10, 1998

What I know is that I don’t know much. After sixteen years I feel like I’m only beginning to scratch the surface of this mysterious, magical, wild thing called marriage. Still, I have learned some lessons (most of them the hard way–ARE WE SURPRISED?! Nope!) and I thought I’d share them with you.

The first thing I learned is that our culture gives really bad relationship advice. Here are a few examples of things I heard that turned out to be totally and completely false:

1. “You’re too young to get married–you need time to Find Yourself!” One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received is the honor of bearing intimate witness to my spouse’s life journey–and he to mine. It is precisely because we married young (he was 24, I was 20) that we were granted this privilege of watching each other grow up and into the people we were meant to become. He is not only my husband, he is my best friend and I have “found myself” in the context of committed relationship. My deepest happiness has sprung from Finding Myself by serving and loving my husband and children.

Spring 2002: James & Jewel, ages 2 & 1.

Spring 2002: James & Jewel, ages 2 & 1.

2. “Don’t have too many children!” My experience has taught me there is such no such thing as “too many children.” The happy clamor, fullness of daily experience and countless opportunities for growth, sacrifice and intimate relationship are among the most priceless blessings of my life. As Mother Teresa once said, “How can there be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers.” Initially, I only “wanted” one or two children. I’m incredibly grateful God didn’t give me what I “wanted”–He gave me something far better!

Summer 2003

Summer 2003

3. “You should wait to have children.” Again, this hasn’t proved true to my experience. By all societal measures, we ‘shouldn’t’ have had children when we did. We were young, financially limited and living inside an oppressive religious environment. We weren’t “ready” to have children. But we had them anyway. And having all five babies by the time I was 30 was, quite possibly, the best decision we ever made. Having our babies while we were very young (and with limited financial resources) meant our options were limited–in a good way. It meant we spent more time at home doing simple things. We ate meals at home together, played board games, took walks to the park, spread blankets in the shared yard of our duplex and read books together. I couldn’t afford to send my first children to fancy preschools or buy them lots of new clothes from fancy children’s stores, but I could give them the gift of my time. I don’t regret one minute of “giving away my 20′s” to my children. It was the best investment I ever made.

And despite the bad advice our culture gave me, I did receive some good advice–mostly from people of faith. Here’s the good advice I received that has proven true to my sixteen years of marriage:

1. “Easy does it:” I learned the hard way that there’s just no good reason to stay up until 2am arguing. It’s much better to wash your face, brush your teeth, kiss your spouse and go to sleep. You can solve the problem in the morning when you’re rested. Give yourself some space. Give your spouse some space. Be gentle and easeful with each other. There’s no need to nag, prod, argue or debate (don’t ask me how I know–har-har). Let the other person be who they are and let them have their own process on this journey together. I’ve found greater results in simply maintaining my OWN side of the marriage without worrying about what my husband is or isn’t doing.

Winter 2009

Winter 2009

2. “Love, honor, cherish and forgive. Rinse. Repeat.” When I was single I used to say things like: “If my husband EVER did _______(fill in the blank), I’d leave!” How precious of me. What I’ve learned is that we have BOTH given each other ample reason to leave the marriage. But instead of leaving, we have BOTH done the work. We’ve stayed. We keep recommitting to staying and working. And then, seasons change. There were hard years of bearing and raising very small children. There were sick years where it seemed we caught every single flu and virus known to man. There were poor years where we had to scrimp and make do. I’ve learned not to make big, life-altering decisions during difficult years. In other words, I didn’t need to decide whether we should get divorced when our preemie-twins were only three months old and we were sleep deprived, exhausted and stressed out of our minds, ya know? I could wash my face, take a nap, kiss my spouse and forgive.

Spring 2012

Spring 2012

3. “Speak well of your spouse:” I’m a talker. This we know. I’ve made some pretty big mistakes with my words. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s very important to speak graciously about my spouse and to my spouse. I’ve also learned to avoid correcting, nagging or complaining. Do I really need to be right? About everything?? No. Sarcasm, teasing, crude jokes and words that cause hurt or fear really have no place in a loving relationship. I’ve learned (and am learning) to use my words to bind up the wounds, heal, restore and inspire. As Buddha once said, “When words are both true and kind they can change the world.” Or my marriage. :)

4. “Forgive and begin again:” My husband has literally forgotten all my mistakes. It’s weird. Sometimes I’ll remind him of something unkind I’ve done and he’ll be like: “What? I don’t remember that.” My husband teaches me how to see the best and believe the best. This is love. Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. My husband sees me through the eyes of love and it is the greatest gift I’ve ever been given. This is what it means to live without resentment. It means we don’t give safe harbor to wrongs done against us. We let them go. We forgive. And as we do, like the springtime, love is renewed again and again and again.

Love never fails.

16 Years!

16 Years!

In 2014, I resolve to fail more

I beeliieeeve I can fly! Or, at least, jump on this here trampoline.

I beeliieeeve I can fly! Or, at least, jump on this here trampoline.

I learn nothing from my successes except how disappointing they are and how they rarely live up to my expectations. I learn far more from my mistakes because they give me the opportunity to learn something about myself and about reality. Thing is, if I’m not learning anything, I’m not failing enough. Or failing big enough. This is why, in 2014, I resolve to Fail More, Fail Boldly and Fail Better.

Fail More

Reality doesn’t work the way I want it to work. My plans–mwah-ha-ha–MY PLANS–are futile attempts at pretending I have control over reality. I am Master of my Destiny! I haz the controoollllll! Yeah, no. I have no control. This is what failing more teaches me. Failing more gives me an opportunity to come face-to-face with my profound frailty, my inability to bend reality to my liking. As William Blake once wrote, “A fool who persists in his folly becomes wise.” I intend on failing so hard and so often this year that my only option is total dependence on grace.

Fail Boldly

Remember when i was gonna blog every day? HA HA HA. Remember my 31 Days of the Little Way that was more like A Few Days Before I Got Bored and Moved On? And then there were the failed drafts of my book. Honestly, I lost track of how many Final Drafts I turned in. Probably something like eight. Or ten. But all these failures taught me how to better manage my limitations. I have limitations and as much as I’d like to pretend I can Do All The Things, I really can’t. Failing boldly teaches me to slow down. It’s OK to take my time, apparently.

Fail Better

Failing better simply means failing differently. I don’t have to over-commit to blogging because I already failed at that last year. This whole Philosophy of Failing More means learning to fail in a different direction. PROGRESS! At least I’m failing in new ways and not repeating the insanity of failing in all the old ways.

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I’m kinda stoked about my book release (“Girl at The End of the World” releases March 18, 2014!) because I can’t wait to see how hugely it fails to sell. I wrote a real good book (if I do say so myself) and I’m very proud of it (it only took me about 80 billion failures to get it written). But even industry insiders don’t know how well my book will sell. Do you know why this doesn’t bother me? Because even if my book doesn’t sell, I did my absolute best and THAT counts as an Awesome Fail Better.

I call that progress. A life fail lived.

Come sign my international, virtual Christmas card!

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Whoa, 2013. You rocked my world. This year: I wrote a book (“Girl at The End of the World” is available March 18, 2014!). Matt entered the Catholic Church. Jewel graduated from middle school and spent the summer dancing with American Ballet Theatre. Jude won two writing awards at school, James brought home straight A’s. The twins finished Montessori preschool and began kindergarten.

This Christmas, I am filled with gratitude and a deep peace I haven’t experienced in years. Writing a book about growing up in a cult was the most difficult and painful thing I’ve done–second only to birthing five children. But now that it’s finished, I have an affirming sense that my book will encourage, help and inspire others. I am so grateful to all of you for loving me through this year. Many of you have read my blog for YEARS and I wish I could hug each of you and say thank you!

Instead, I send you this virtual Christmas card and all my love. Please “sign” my Christmas card by leaving your greeting in the comment box (my kids always love seeing the different hometowns and countries so please be sure to include your location!).

Merry Christmas from EE & Family
Los Angeles, California
USA

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Giving thanks for messy family relationships

Thanksgiving 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

Probably one of the most commonly asked questions I get is: “How is your relationship with your parents?” Blog readers ask me this. People who knew my family when I was a kid often ask me this. Even Michael Pearl asked me this after I confronted him on Anderson Cooper’s TV show. And I’m sure this is a question I’ll receive repeatedly after my book is published this coming March.

 

Here is the short answer: It’s messy.

Unlike many people who left my childhood church never to see its leaders again, I didn’t have that option. My parents WERE church leadership. I could leave the church but how exactly does one leave family? 

All I can say is that for the past ten years, it’s been an imperfect process. We’ve had our ups and downs. We’ve had our times of silence, we’ve had to cobble together a kind of uneasy truce, we’ve had to draw and redraw boundaries. Sometimes we agree not to discuss Certain Topics. Other times we dive in headfirst. Mistakes have been made on both sides.

But here’s the thing: we keep trying.

To be quite honest, I’ve had enough of schism, division, fighting and theological wars. I’ve discovered that if we can meet on neutral ground, we find common ground.

I’m not worried about my parents reading my book. They already know everything that happened–ha ha. There aren’t going to be any surprises. The only surprise, perhaps, will be for them to see the experiences through my eyes.

I’ve already given them permission not to read it. I’ve said: “If you think reading my book will cause you unnecessary suffering, by all means, don’t read it.”

It really no longer matters to me whether my parents ever truly understand or DON’T understand what my life was like inside fundamentalism. Because I’ve dealt with my sh*t, ya know? I’ve hashed it out in years of therapy, journaling and twenty jars of Cookie Butter. Give or take.

I didn’t write the book so other people would understand me, I wrote the book so others would understand they are not alone. I wrote the book for you. I wrote the book because if I know one thing it’s that many, many people undergo harmful church experiences and even if their stories are not the same as mine, those who read my book will find themselves. Or someone they know. Or maybe–perhaps–see the ways they unwittingly perpetuated harm.

I believe in reconciliation begins with mutual respect and understanding. My parents have changed so much over the past ten years. I have, too. Over the past ten years, we’ve been involved in the sometimes difficult, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes triggering work of reconciliation. I have to take lots of breaks. Lots of naps. But ultimately, I keep coming back and this is what I’ve learned:

I accept the things I cannot change.
I cannot change my past.

But I can be serene.
I can be kind.
can be courageous enough to change the things within my power–mainly, myself.

This is why I keep doing the work of reconciliation. Because when both parties are willing to come to the table peacefully, leaving space for God–that is when the healing begins. 

I guess that would be my answer: “My relationship with my parents is healing.”

And for that, I’m thankful. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Redemption Song

I’ve been (mostly) offline for three weeks. I entered a time of deep silence–I actually went away for 12 days, tucked myself into quiet. I turned in my iPhone, my computer, wrenched myself away from the Internet. Somehow, somewhere along the way I’d lost myself. There was so much noise in my head. I was over-exposed, frantic, torn.

I went away because sometimes leaving is the only way you can come home to yourself. And I did. I came home to myself. I came home to my life. I came home to my family.

This is the part where I tell you that I have a very real, very scary problem with anxiety. I project a very confident, gutsy, fearless image online. But what I need you to know is that for all my life I’ve been running scared.

Scared I’ll be abandoned. Scared I’ll get Left Behind. Scared of rejection. Scared I won’t be loved. Scared of the panic that sweeps over me like a black tsunami, sucking me under. I had–what my therapists call–a traumatic childhood.

What I need you to know is that even though I am safe now, I struggle with nearly debilitating anxiety–every single day. What I need you to know is that every single day feels like a fight for my life.

I also want you to know that there is hope. This smile you see? It’s real. Because I am getting better every day. I have fought for this smile and I will continue to fight for this smile because I deserve to live a happy, healthy life.

I have found that strength lies in quiet trust. I have found that God longs to be gracious to me. I have found that God’s love for me is everlasting.

I am free to be happy. I am free to find joy each day. I am free to laugh and be silly and enjoy my life. I am free to let my children laugh and be silly and enjoy their lives.

Yes, I have a painful past. But it is only part of me. The more important part is that I have a bright future. Yes, I have made mistakes and yes, I have wept for them.

Weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning….especially when these two girlies crawl up into my bed for a morning snuggle.

Joy comes when I take my sons to water polo practice and watch them play their hearts out.

Joy comes when I watch my beautiful ballerina graduate from middle-school with honors.

Joy is quietly resting in love’s sacrament….

I am Elizabeth Esther and this is my story, this is my redemption song: God has rescued me. God is rescuing me. God will continue to rescue me.

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My deepest thanks to Jennifer Imus for taking these beautiful family pictures. If you’re local to Southern California, check her out. She is one talented lady–and amazing with children! (She handled all five of mine better than I did!) Jen is on Facebook & Twitter, too.

Permission to enjoy life

A rose from my garden. To enjoy life, I take daily pictures of my flowers.

One of the prohibitions many of us learned in childhood is the unspoken rule: “Don’t have fun and enjoy life.” This rule creates martyrs–people who will not let themselves embrace the pleasures of day-to-day living. Many of us associated suffering with some sort of sainthood.

We can go through the day making ourselves feel anxious, guilty, miserable and deprived. Or we can allow ourselves to go through the same day feeling good.

There is much to be enjoyed each day, and it is okay to feel good. We can let ourselves enjoy our tasks. We can learn to relax without guilt. We can even learn to have fun.
–Melody Beattie, “The Language of Letting Go”

I grew up in an environment that claimed grace but didn’t live it. I grew up not knowing how to relax, how to enjoy life, how to receive love. Part of my recovery has meant learning how to slow down, to receive and enjoy the pleasures of each day. It’s ok for us to enjoy life. It’s ok for us to feel good. Can you find something today to enjoy? Can you find something today that makes you feel good? Can you take a deep breath and…relax?

For my birthday, God is giving me one less hour of sleep.

Yep, daylight savings falls on Sunday, March 10th this year. My birthday. Good thing I’m a morning person. Who’s up for a 5 mile run at 4am…er, 5am?! Anyone? ANYONE?! Well, at least I’ve got a pretty dress to wear this weekend or this whole turning 36 + losing an hour of sleep would be, in the immortal tweet of Justin Bieber: “Worst birthday ever.” Yeah, pretty sure the sparkly dress saves the birthday (thanks, Danielle!).

What’s even better is my dear friend Rachel Held Evans is out here for a speaking engagement and I’m gonna hang out with her AND Kristen Howerton this weekend. Like, what? All three of us in ONE place?? CAN YOU HEAR THE MOUNTAINS TREMBLE? CAN YOU HEAR THE…oh, wait. I’m singing cheesy worship songs now? Yeah. Pretty sure it’s gonna be the BEST birthday ever. 36 is gonna be a good year. I can FEEEEEEL it!!

Return to Me with your whole heart #AshWednesday

Even now, says the LORD, return to Me with your whole heart,
For gracious and merciful is He, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. Joel 2:12-13

How can a heart that is given over to the affection of created beings
be intimately united with God? –
St. Therese of Lisieux (Story of a Soul, p. 85)

 Jesus’ whole life bears witness to the truth we find so hard to believe:
God loves us; He is unequivocally for us, not against us…
In essence, Christ’s life proclaims: “You don’t believe God loves you?
Let me show you how much God loves you…This is my body given for you.”
Christopher West, Theology of the Body For Beginners, pg. 42 

Ash Wednesday marks a season in which we especially
ponder our relationship to suffering.
Praying, fasting, and giving alms are not arcane holdovers from a time
when people more inured to suffering than we are found such practices easy.
Fasting has always been hard.
Fasting is a reflection of the fact that the more desperate we are,
the more open we are to change.
Fasting reminds that the  more keenly aware we are of empty hands
and our empty stomach, the  more likely we are to realize we need help.
Fasting helps us remember that we are all poor,
and how very much we do not want to be poor.
Heather King, Magnificat Feb. 2013, pg. 171

This Lent, I am giving up my unbelief. It is extremely difficult for me to believe God loves me. I require constant proofs of love. I am full of constant doubt. Lord, let me see the ways you have generously loved me in the past and let me see the ways you generously love me each day now. Help me believe in Your love.

I am giving up my ideas about how people ‘should’ love me* Lord, help me feel truly and wholly loved in You. Help me stop asking others to meet the need only You can fully satisfy.

Lastly, I am giving up the need to be fixed. I have come face-to-face with my human weakness and now realize that no person, place or thing can fix me.* Lord, help me find my wholeness in You. Help me humbly accept my human weakness and instead of despairing, rejoice in the ways You are redeeming my life story.

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With many thanks to Heather King and her book,”Shirt of Flame,” especially the reflections from page 28-33 which inspired these Lenten intentions  

Are you giving anything up for Lent? Please share with me….?