Hope in the Mess
A lot of times we think about the story of Esther and think: Wow! What a fairy tale. While she started life as an orphan, someone stepped in to love her. And can you imagine, being so beautiful that you were not only chosen as one of the “lovelies of the land” but, in time, chosen to be queen because of your beauty and personality? Think of the opportunity for influence! Think of the honor! Think of the gowns!
But, let’s look at this another way. You’re orphaned. You’re raised by an uncle who is doing his best to love you but, as you enter adolescence and that awkward stage, who’s there to brush your hair, and teach you to cook, and go with you to the well with the other moms and daughters?
(From the get-go, Esther was different.)
Then one day, one really weird day, you’re basically abducted. Yes, there was a decision by the king to go fetch the beauties, but you may not have heard anything about it. The day arrives when the young women are asked ‒ or herded ‒ to come to the public square and then the beauties are taken to the palace. I really wonder: Did Esther have a choice?
Again, your uncle sticks with you. And he does his best to protect and care for you. But, face it, he is outside the gates and not only are you inside them, but you are also inside the women’s quarters where your uncle cannot reach you. Imagine the fear, the jostling. Think of “The Bachelor” (television show) and the catty behavior of the contestants. But then think: You’re probably a teenager, with no formal education or power of your own, and really no voice in the outcome. The king will either choose you or you’ll live as a tainted woman, a concubine, for the rest of your days. Never to have your own husband, your own home, or be near that family you came from.
You, while beautiful in form and face and character, are truly abandoned. And you aren’t even allowed to admit your faith, much less join your friends in the Temple courts and hear the Torah and celebrate the good food and the festivals.
I think about the year Esther underwent beauty treatments, never knowing for sure when she’d be called up for “the test.” Never knowing if she’d “pass” it and, if she did, whether that would be better than failing. Think of what happened to the last queen!
So, yeah, you want to talk about overwhelm? That’s where Esther’s story begins. She was living the definition of an un-rally:
- We think of a rally as being restored. Esther was broken ‒ while her body may have been receiving oils and perfumes, her soul must have suffered.
- We think of a rally as being reunited. Esther was behind bars ‒ pretty bars, yes. But she was separated from her only family, able to send messages and perhaps provisions, but not to see her uncle.
- We think of a rally as a comeback. Esther was likely to lose, not assured of a victory. Her odds of being chosen as queen may have been 1 in 1,000. Her odds of losing her virtue and becoming a lifelong concubine? 999 out of 1,000.
So, yes, we can only imagine that, if you or I were Esther, or if your daughter or sister were Esther, we’d understand if she became depressed, destructive, despondent. She had lost her family, her friends, and she was not allowed to practice her faith.
But she rallied. And her rally was a first step to the salvation of her people of Susa and the empire. Just so, even when we feel isolated, overwhelmed, and called to impossibly huge challenges, our rallies are what God uses to build His Kingdom.
If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed and desired a life of overflow ‒ where Jesus’ river of life produces life through you ‒ join me in the devotional below. And thank you for continuing to pray for Stonecroft’s rally year ‒ the first year toward our aim of loving 1 million women toward Jesus by 2025!
Overwhelmed? Me too, sometimes. Please grab a cup of tea, coffee, or water, with me, and let’s move into overflow through this devotional. Let’s move forward in our Rally!
Your Un-Rally: Moving from Overwhelm to Overflow
A Devotional by Dr. Naomi Cramer Overton
Read Esther 2:1-14. I like the NIV for this passage.
I suspect you know what it feels like to be sinking. Maybe you’ve not been orphaned or abducted, like Esther, but have moments (if not years) of feeling overwhelmed. You might feel buried by to-do lists and the over-the-top, perfect-seeming people all around you. You might feel, just, wronged.
Esther rallied, and we can, too. What the passage tells us is that her character shone not when the pretty bow had been applied, but in the midst of the trial, the oh-so-long preparation period, the isolation.
This year of preparation did more than make her smell nice and have soft skin. It gave her a fragrant character and bold heart that would fuel her future rally. A rally that saved a nation.
My Un-Rally Story
After one wedding, several years, and two kids, my husband, Frank, and I sat in our doctor’s office as she asked us, “What do you hope this next baby is – a boy or a girl?” Without even consulting each other, we said, “Twins!” in unison, and then laughed. We hoped to get a two-for-one special on this last pregnancy and complete our four-children dream.
As the doctor measured my belly, she smiled and said, “Naomi, you’re measuring big. How about we have a peek?” and we headed to the ultrasound room. There we saw our miracle on the ultrasound screen – two babies, and they were having a party! They danced back-to-back on the screen and were the exact image of our “dreams come true.” Twins!
At our next doctor’s appointment, excited for another glimpse of the twins, we filled the exam room to overflowing – Frank, me, the doctor, a nurse, my sister, my mother-in-law, and our two older kids. There was hardly room to move.
As the doctor did the ultrasound, she looked startled. She sealed her lips and pursed them closed. Her eyes met mine. She held up one finger, meaningfully, and stared at me.
Quietly, she whispered, “There’s just one.”
“There’s just one,” I said, puzzled. “What does that mean?”
I studied her face, and she turned the screen so I could see what these words meant. Immediately we cleared the room so Frank, my sister, and I could hear the news. There, on the ultrasound screen, the baby on the left was moving, dancing as she had been a few weeks before. The baby on the right was floating. Still. Awful. Dead.
Several weeks later I gave birth to a baby girl. She arrived ruddy and with deep blue eyes, staring up into mine. I also gave birth to what was left of our little girl who died. We named our living twin Katriel and our stillborn twin Natalie Joy, which means “born into joy,” as I envision her being held in Jesus’ hands.
Living from Overwhelm
Starting a few months after her birth, I began to sense something was not right with Katriel. She slept more than our other two children had. The doctor told me to be thankful! She was slower to crawl and later to walk and, by age 2, could only make a few breathy sounds. The doctor told me, “Don’t worry, youngest children let their older siblings talk for them.” I eventually got a second opinion, after asking again and again, “Does something seem different?” and getting answers that only partially made sense.
The second blow fell. A specialist at our local children’s hospital told us, “Her hearing’s fine … but we see an oral-motor issue … then there’s sensory integration dysfunction, and challenges that will require physical therapy, and ….”
At this point, I began to block out the specialist’s words. Oral-motor? Is that like those battery-powered toothbrushes? Could she stop saying these frightening things — please?
We dove headlong into treatment. Speech appointments and therapy groups unfolded into another diagnosis, and another kind of therapy, then a third diagnosis and more weekly therapy. I strained to balance hours of therapy, hours of driving, and undoable combinations of homework that each well-meaning therapist gave us. Then came the regular mom things. When could I just love and play with Katriel, not just “fix” her all the time? What about loving my two older kids? What about Frank?
I was sinking.
Experiencing your limits can help you remain in God, preparing your rally.
Experiencing Katriel’s limitations, and my own as her mother, was the beginning of a transformation. When I came to the end of myself, God finally had something to work with. No matter how many of the therapies I did, I could not “fix” my daughter. I still can’t. But today, I’m not sure she or any one of us who is in a place that’s different than we planned, is actually broken.
Mother Teresa said it so well, as she ministered to the poorest of the poor. Not fixing them, but being present to them, modeling Jesus as Emmanuel — the “With Us God.”
“Ours is not to be successful. Ours is to be faithful.”
When I began releasing my need to be that perfect mom with perfect kids, I could at last receive God’s definition of “perfect,” and rejoice that it rarely looks like my own.
That, God promised me, is enough.
When I released my need to be comfortable, I could at last receive God’s comfort, God’s beauty treatments preparing me for God’s mission.
That, God promised me, is enough.
When I continue releasing my need to be successful, I can at last receive God’s definition of success: Loving God, loving others. No matter what.
That, God promised me, is enough.
Recognizing my lack, although difficult, is what allowed me to release my “not enough” to God and receive God’s “more-than-enough.” Perhaps that’s how Esther prepared, too?
The real trick is rallying on God’s “enough” when you can’t see the bow. The holy magic happens when you agree to say “yes” even when you don’t see the answer. When you live in the year of preparation, turning the anointing of oils into the oil of gladness.
Today God sees your situation. If you have every reason on earth to feel overwhelmed, as did Esther, as did I, as did Katriel as she struggles even today, you are invited into the life-giving possibility of living from God’s enough, living a rally. God longs to be with you in your un-rally, and prepare you for the mission only you can accomplish.
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Rally Point: Rally begins with remaining, allowing God to prepare your heart to move you from overwhelm to overflow.
Dr. Naomi Cramer Overton
President and CEO