Knowing The Plan

This week is my 33rd blog post. Tomorrow is also the 33rd day of the Omer (the count from Passover to Shavuot) which marks the holiday of Lag Baomer.

The coincidence did not escape me.
I’m a connections kind of person. A deeper meaning kind of gal.
I grew up with the concept of Hashgacha Pratis (literally translated to divine providence,) which means that nothing is coincidental or accidental, everything happens for a reason. Every moment, every leaf, and every wrong turn has its purpose and place in the grand scheme of things.
That concept has always given me so much comfort, and more than that, it gives life an air of optimism and mystery.
Life is full of mystery. Honestly, every moment is a mystery, we never know what the next moment will bring.
I like to be in control. I avoid depending on people as much as possible, I like to get things done on my own, I like being the master of my own destiny.
So you can see how allowing G-d to be in control can be a little difficult for me.
Remembering that ultimately, I have no control over what happens in my life is something I constantly struggle with.
But at the same time, I have this deep, deep understanding that G-d really is always in control.
Hence, the connections.
When the subway takes too long at a stop, or I randomly choose a different route to walk, or something happens which forces me to do something I wasn’t planning on doing – that’s when I know G-d is in control.
I know that there is a reason my life is taking this path. It is not random or accidental.
But a moment later…when the reason behind what happened is not revealed to me, my spirits begin to plummet.
See, I’m happy for G-d to move around the pieces in a way that I don’t understand. But when even afterward I still don’t get to see the full picture, I feel a little cheated. When I think the signs that I am seeing are so clear, but then everything they were pointing to falls apart, and I realize how little I know, and how little what I think actually matters to the plan.
See, when I realized that it was the 33rd day of the omer when I would be writing my 33rd blog post, my brain went scrambling for reasons, connections.
I came up with a few.
The 49 days of the omer are meant to be a time of working on oneself, going through the various good attributes we have, and sharpening them.
For 33 weeks, I have been working hard at writing blog posts, each week focusing on something else in my life and my personality. It has forced me to look at myself honestly, and open up.
On the 33rd day of the omer, we have been looking at our attributes for 33 days already. We have been refining ourselves, trying harder, taking notice of what can be done better.
There was no specific reason I chose to begin writing weekly blog posts 33 weeks ago, I had no idea that it would line up this way. Which means – there’s got to be a connection, right?
It’s a little bit far-fetched, I know.
Pretty much everyone I know would chalk this up to a very random coincidence because honestly, it doesn’t really matter.
But it gives me joy to connect the dots. To see the reasoning behind things. To feel like I am part of a plan, to perhaps see the faint outlines of G-ds pen.
Maybe I’m too uptight. Maybe I need to let go a little bit, to learn how to depend on others, and most of all, to learn how to depend on G-d. Maybe to survive through life, one just has to be laid back, and not try so hard to understand everything that happens around us.
But that doesn’t feel right to me. It doesn’t seem like the way I want to live. I’d rather continue to thank G-d when the little things go right, and notice Him in every part of my day, than to loosen up and forget that He’s there.
It’s a difficult balance to find. Like with everything in life, there are pros and cons to every path we take.
There is one thing I know for sure – everything happens for a reason. Everything is connected, and everything has a purpose. The dots are there. But for whatever reason, G-d has chosen to not show me which dots connect to which. He has chosen to not reveal the why’s behind each choice He makes, which has made for some very anger filled prayers on my part.
It’s nice when we get it, but it’s not important for us to get it. The important part for me is to realize that there is a reason – and that’s all.
I will never stop hoping that G-d reveals His plan a little more, that He’ll let me peek, that one day soon He’ll let me understand why I take those wrong turns.
But until then, I will do my very best to unclench my fists a little bit, to trust that He can handle it, that He has heard my prayers and that despite the fact that things seem very scattered at the moment, He has a way of changing things in a moment.

I will continue to pray that my prayers be answered, and I look forward to knowing that they already have been.

I’ll just be over here taking deep breaths and eating chocolate.

 

Blog Post: 33/52


Featured Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

Finding the Flavor

It heals me.

Long before the first taste touches my lips, cooking gives me life.
One of my favorite things to do when I cook is to study the available ingredients and construct a new flavor, a new dish, something a little bit familiar and a little bit surprising.
As the pots boil and the pans sizzle, I feel my muscles relax, the tension release.
Cooking takes me away from my stresses in a similar way that music does. It encompasses me.
Cooking and I have had a tumultuous relationship. While I’ve always been very interested in it, I haven’t always been so good at it. Always chasing flavor, I tend to oversalt, which is a practice I’ve mostly stopped, but occasionally it’ll come back to haunt me.
But that’s my life in general. Always chasing flavor – which occasionally comes back to bite me. Always wanting more out of life, always wanting brighter colors, experiences that are meaningful and full of depth. Sometimes, wanting so much from life makes parts of life harder.
Cooking is one of my favorite things, but cooking for others takes it to a whole new level. Watching people I love enjoy the food, watching their energy levels climb back up is the ultimate reward. Not everyone loves cooking, but I know very few people who don’t love eating, and being able to be part of bringing them that simple happiness is a treasure I hold dear.
I’m no chef. I don’t know much about exotic dishes, my ingredients tend to be simple and cheap.
But my goal with every dish, whether it be breakfast, lunch or dinner is that the flavor is rich. A simple scrambled egg, while comforting to many, is disappointing to me. When a dish, no matter what I try, comes out tasting a little empty, I feel like I didn’t do it justice.
Because every day is an opportunity for things to be better than they were yesterday. Settling for decent, settling for good when you could have incredible or delicious is not in my capabilities.
And I know that this part of me affects others. It makes me a little bit more stressed perhaps. Often, I’m told by others that perhaps I’m shooting a little too high.
But this is me. This is who I am, and I’m obviously not just talking about in the kitchen.
My love for cooking and for flavor-rich foods blends into every area of my life. I love potential. I love finding potential in things and doing my best to bring it to its fruition. Life, people, food, everything can be so complex, so detailed.
There are times in life that I need to just chill out, times I like taking a step back, breathing, not trying so hard.
But no matter what, I go to sleep happiest on the days I don’t need to compromise on the flavor.
Blog Post: 32/52

Featured Photo by Helena Yankovska on Unsplash

When Life Happens

I have never written a blog post on the verge of the week ending like this. I’ve gotten close, but never this close.

But no worries – I’m a commitment freak, and I won’t let this go by, because then I’d probably have to start from Week 1 again, and none of us want that.
I’ve almost completed my first year of teaching creative writing. That’s really crazy to me, because it was about this time last year that I got the crazy idea in the first place. And now I have a group of students who I have gotten to know, students I look forward to seeing and reading their writing. Because all of them are tremendously talented writers and thinkers and it was a pleasure and honor to be able to be a part of their year.
I know the year is not yet over, we still have a few weeks to wind down. But I’m in an introspective, reflective mood, and I’m just so proud to be here.
Doing things that scare me are not my thing. I don’t like roller coasters, horror movies or skydiving. I don’t enjoy the thrill of the fear that so many people seem to be obsessed with. Existential questions are scary enough.
So doing something that scared me on so many levels was a big deal.
My life this school year has seen change. It’s seen growth. It’s seen me with shorter hair and a stronger heart conquering more challenges. Experiencing new things. Facing myself in ways I never really wanted to have to.
Life is ever evolving, which is something pretty terrifying for someone like me, someone who likes to be in control and to be sure of what comes next.
Life throws things at you that you could never have planned for. But these are the things that really test you, the things that make you pull out all of yourself, to figure it out, to face it. To understand who you are, what your limitations are, and where life goes from here, now taking the fork in the road into account.
As summer nears, and the promise of warm sun and healthy days approach, I find myself wondering what is around the corner. What is next for me? What happens when I allow life to happen, rather than overplanning each moment?
It’s scary. To me, this is the scariest thing I’ve ever done. To admit that I don’t know what comes next, to know that life takes time to unfold, and to have patience. To have the patience to see what G-d has in store.
And perhaps I’ll discover that my mind has been limited all this time, and what G-d has planned is even greater than what my small mind can conjure.
Blog Post: 31/52.

Featured Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

Am I Tiny?

I was going to write about another topic.

I had an idea as I fell asleep. But when I woke up, I discovered that today is Yom HaShoah, a day on which many focus their minds and hearts on the tragedy of the holocaust. I realized that my idea did not seem right today. It would feel like yelling loudly in a quiet theatre. Rude, unwelcome and disrespectful. So that idea will remain tucked away for another week.
This week, I’ll write about what the holocaust means to me, as a 21 year old, living in America.
I was first introduced to the holocaust by way of my grandmother’s history. As a tiny child, she escaped in the night with her young parents and baby sister. After a terror-filled journey that had seen many miracles, the small family made it to safety. My great-grandmother was the only survivor from her own, yet rather than wallowing in well-deserved grief, she and my great-grandfather built up a family, resulting in my life – one of hundreds of great-grandchildren.
As a Jewish child, in Jewish schools, I learned about the holocaust in various ways throughout my years. I heard stories, I saw clips and interviews with holocaust survivors. It was certainly a real thing in my life, but it wasn’t until I was nearly 18, that I truly confronted it.
On a trip to Israel, I visited Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum in Jerusalem. As we walked through the quiet halls, looking at what was left of millions of innocent lives, my heart shattered. The reality of it was so raw and horrible, items of clothing and personal belongings telling their silent story. I looked into the eyes of the victims in the images on the walls, and apologized for not having tried to see earlier. For trying to avoid holocaust films and books. For not being more destroyed by what they had been through.
I always use words, yet there are not enough words in the English dictionary to describe what happened in the holocaust, the wiping out of generations. Cruelty and horror are even too kind. It was more than that. It was worse than that.
I have been knocked down by far, far (far, far, far!) less.
Yet holocaust survivors have built their lives back up, put the puzzle together despite the missing pieces, painted their world with vivid color again. Despite every reason not to.
The other day, I overheard my five-year-old nephew having an existential crisis. He was trying to explain to his three-year-old brother how insignificant we are. “We are really just tiny!”
“Nu uh. We are not tiny” said his brother. “Etti’s not tiny”
“She is tiny. We all are tiny. The whole world is tiny!”
I smiled at the depth of wisdom he held. Perhaps he does not quite understand it all just yet, but he was taking his first steps into the endless wonder of who we are, how we got here, and what we are supposed to do now that we are here.
We are tiny. I am tiny. I am one solitary figure in a world with billions of people.
Often, my small daily decisions and choices seem to impact only me. But I know that despite my “tiny-ness,” I have the ability to affect so many. Holocaust survivors knew that – and they knew it was up to them to re-build a nation so thoroughly destroyed. Like my great-grandparents, so many of them went on to have large families, despite the unimaginable fear and anger they must have felt.
Today is a day that we remember the past – but tomorrow, we focus on the future. I often feel insignificant in the grand scheme of things, yet I have been raised to know that my actions count. That I am here for a reason, and that reason is not to serve myself, but to be there for others, to wake up each morning and figure out how I can do better.
My nephew’s words reminded me that yes, we are tiny. And that is something to remember- something to remain humble about. In the expanse of the universe, I am but a speck, if that at all.
But, it is crucial to still stand with confidence, to know that despite how tiny I am, my life has meaning – and I can and do impact all of those around me.
The holocaust had millions of victims. Millions. It is impossible for any one person to recite all their names, or to truly give remembrance to each one.
Yet every single one of them was a person, a human being, with dreams and hopes. They were never just a name, they were someone that was loved and worried about.
They were in no way just a speck.
I will never, in any lifetime, be able to grasp the magnitude of the holocaust and the idea that so so so many were ripped away from their lives.
But I will try to live fully because they were not allowed to. I will try to remember what they have taught me. I may be a tiny speck, but I am a speck that can change the world.
Blog Post: 30/52

Featured Photo by Mika R on Unsplash

I Have No Words.

Sometimes,
Writing is an escape,
A place to feel at home.
Sometimes,
Writing is a way to build,
Stories and poems,
Worlds that may not exist.
Sometimes,
Writing is communication,
A way to express
What is clogging my heart.
Sometimes –
Writing can take a moment,
A deep breath,
A bit of time off.
Writing can step back,
Have to be woken from its slumber,
When I must write.
But this week
I’ve been living,
Reading,
Loving.
Sometimes…
I don’t need words.
And words don’t need me.
But I made a promise.
52 weeks.
Whether words and I
Are together
Or taking a break.
So here.
Here are my words.
Sometimes,
it’s important to live
To be able to have
What to write.
Sometimes
Words must sit inside my heart
Before I can allow them to live
On paper.

 

Blog Post: 29/52

Featured Photo by Jelleke Vantoogeghm via Unsplash.

Reclaiming Passover

I want to write a story, but my brain has been too full of to-do lists, too full to be able to fit in characters made out of young men or old women in the times of Egypt.
I want to be inspirational, but my tired fingers don’t have much to say.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the little details, the lists that need to be checked off, the things that go wrong, the scrubbing.
As a kid, Passover was my favorite holiday. I would count down, buy some new exciting outfits, and wait for all my older siblings to come home. I loved all the Passover cookies and meals, the Seder night was a treat, and I’d always fall asleep nearby to the sound of family and friends singing familiar tunes.
But as I grew up, Passover became less and less enticing. The workload involved grew heavier as I became a more responsible adult. The Seder grew more tiring when falling asleep on the couch was not an option. As I began to fall in love with cooking and exploring flavors, Passover represented bland food and limited options. While it still remains an enjoyable time with family, the cons slowly outweighed the pros. The stress leaked out from the 8 days, spreading to the weeks before. Never more than now do I feel surrounded by tired, stretched thin Jewish people, working tirelessly to get to their goal.
What went wrong?
As someone who dearly loves every Jewish holiday and looks forward to each one, even Yom Kippur, it was deeply disturbing to me to realize that a part of me was dreading Passover and all it came with. I pride myself in truly loving my religion, finding joy in the way I live my life, and I was heartbroken to discover this truth.
My social media has been filled with worried, overworked, overtired Jewish women, desperate to be doing it all right.
On one hand, it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful that so much care is being given to such tiny details. It’s beautiful that so much work is going into one holiday.
But on the other hand, it’s hard to see the beauty. It’s hard to see the beauty in cuts and scratches, aching backs and tired muscles, sleepless nights and a never-ending feeling of guilt of not having done everything necessary.
Is this what Passover is about? Is this what any holiday is about? Is this what Judaism is about?
Yes, my religion is about consistently going the extra mile. It’s about pushing yourself, seeing the big picture, and working towards bigger goals.
But when things get clouded, when we lose focus, when we are more concerned about the crumbs than about what the crumbs represent – that’s when it feels like we are losing Passover.
The purpose of cleaning our houses of any leavened bread, cookies, cakes, candies etc. represents removing ego from our lives.
How many times did I think about that as I scrubbed?
Sadly, not much.
How many people have I seen, boasting about how hard they’ve been working, or how early they were able to complete their goals?
Sadly, too many.
I would not hesitate to say that ego is the source of all evil.
This holiday represents finding our essence again, getting to the source, freeing ourselves from outside influences, the boundaries of egotistic behaviors, and our self-made limits.
This holiday is a rich and fascinating one, celebrating the way G-d always has His eye on us, celebrating the way we were once slaves but miraculously gained our freedom.
This holiday is about inviting friends and family to join us, to gather and sing, to eat and to laugh, to speak late into the night about who we are, and how we got this far.
Is this holiday about getting on our hands and knees and scrubbing?
Yes. This is how we prepare, this is how we rid ourselves of our ego, of our self-imposed limits.
Is this holiday about stress and tension, panic and anxiety?
No. There is no such holiday in our calendar.
As the holiday officially begins tomorrow night, and as families across the world gather together and sit down for their Seder, I hope that we can all reclaim Passover. To remember what the purpose is, to remember that the excitement we felt as children should still be at the surface of our hearts.
I can not speak for others, I can not feel for others, but I know I will try my hardest to stop focusing on how long the list is, and focus more on what the list is for. Focus on what we are working towards. Focus on ridding myself of my ego to make room for meaningful thought and true celebration.
It is my 21st birthday tomorrow on the secular calendar, and I yearn to have the easy excitement of my childhood, to marvel at each new thing, to reclaim Passover with the untethered joy of a child.
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Blog Post: 28/52

Featured Photo by Blaise Vonlanthen via Unsplash

I’m No Slave

This week in my class, I discussed slavery. Well, I asked my students to discuss it. Real slavery, not metaphoric slavery. What does it mean to be someone that is held against their will, abused and forced to do something everyday that they are not receiving  wages or benefits for. I asked them to each write something that depicts slavery in an honest way, that forces them to think about it is as a real experience that real humans struggled through. We talked about how in our heads slavery is a thing of the past, but slavery is still happening today, in 2018.

The specific reason I brought this discussion to my class is because Passover is next week, and it is a time that we spend celebrating our freedom, but more in theory than in practice. I wanted my students to take a moment and realize – woah. I’m not a slave.

We discussed. We wrote. Some more than others. The realization was had, I hope, by everyone.

I managed to be able to write my own poem during this class, and it’s been awhile since I’ve had the chance to do the same assignment I’ve assigned. But I thought about it. And I realized that I am no slave, metaphoric or not. I am the one who holds myself back – I hold my own key.

This poem is not my best, it was written hastily and mid-thought. But perhaps it will spur more of you to have the same discussion we had in class, because it’s a conversation worth having.

 

My legs are not in shackles,
My hours are my own.

No whips are taut above me,
No gates keep me contained.

Freedom of speech is granted,
Freedom of growth allowed.

I am not a slave in Egypt,
I am not a slave at all.

They say it is our prison,
They say we must break free.

Do I feel as if I’m broken,
Have I secured my fate?

Have I hidden my own key
Or am I truly free?

 

Blog Post: 27/52

Featured Photo by Evan Kirby via Unsplash

The Background

On September 11th, 2017 I decided to write a blog post every week.

It’s been 26 weeks since, and I haven’t yet missed a week. Halfway – and going strong.
I’ve really liked some of them. Whether it felt like I was finally expressing a deep truth I’ve wanted to express for a long time, or whether those who read it reached out in a variety of ways to let me know what it meant to them, some of my blog posts had a real impact on me.
Some of them kind of floated by. There were a couple of weeks I toyed with the idea of skipping it, because why write when you don’t feel it? Why write when there is nothing to write about? Is putting my random words out there more important than putting something of quality out there?
But at the end of each week, my commitment won out. I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to commitments – once I make em, I can’t break em. I get a thrill out of keeping to them. That part of my personality has it’s pro’s and con’s but that’s not what this is about.
That’s really just to explain why even if all my posts haven’t been of the greatest quality, I’ve still been sharing them.
This week, I closed up a short story unit with my students.
We’ve been working on it for a long time because, in comparison to poetry, flaws in short stories shout a lot louder. It’s much harder to know when you are done, it’s much harder to fall in love with a story you crafted because you’re never sure if you did enough.
And my students were feeling that pressure. I could tell.
But this week, I looked at them and told them this week it was going to happen. They were going to finish their short stories.
As I write this, I’m waiting for the last few to submit them.
But so far, I couldn’t be more proud.
Writing a blog post every week has pushed me. It made me realize how similar my posts were. It pushed me to try my best to spice it up a little. That led me to write 3 short stories in the span of 6 months.
I had written about 3 short stories in my entire life before this October.
Recently I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and bare with me because this post is a little bit of everything, a little bit of everywhere.
I’ve been thinking about growth – which you know from my last post.
I’ve been thinking about risks. Pushing limits. Trying new things. Allowing yourself to be who you are, truly, deeply and authentically. The kind of be yourself that shakes you and wakes you up and reminds you that you are meant for more, that you can be doing things that you never thought possible – as long as you reach inside of yourself and use the tools you’ve been given. I’ve been thinking about owning up to yourself, looking yourself in the eye.
I’ve been thinking about what I want out of this life, and how quickly the days are going by, and how until G-d slowly moves the puzzle pieces of my life into the picture I want, I have multitudes of blessings to work with. But I’ve also been thinking that I don’t have to be content with that – I can stomp my feet and ask for more, as long as all the while, I am thanking Him for what He’s given me.
I’ve always been a bit of a paradox. I’ve lived much of my life fearful of others thoughts and others minds, and the fact that I can’t see inside them.
Yet, I’ve also lived in an almost fearless way of not being afraid of telling others what I feel. Of reaching out, of putting myself in the deepest, most vulnerable spaces for the sake of something so much bigger and better.
I’ve been thinking about perfection. I’ve been thinking about how much I wish my writing was perfect, that I was perfect. Often, I find myself admiring other’s wonderful qualities and wishing for them – before I remind myself that just like dying my hair red, someone else’s best quality would sit oddly on me. And that life is not about being like others, it’s about being there for others in the best way we can be.
I’ve been thinking about my future, because I never stop thinking about my future, and how I spend each day looking for the rest of the characters to walk in at any moment.
I’ve been thinking about how I chopped my hair off, and in some twisted way, my hair knew that I needed something drastic to change before my heart truly admitted it.
I’ve been thinking about 21, and what it means, and how much it doesn’t mean.
I’ve been thinking about all of these things.
I’ve been reading my student’s stories and realizing that doing something that scares you is the deepest reward you can give yourself.
I’ve done things that scare me, and sometimes the result is obvious, the gain is immense.
Sometimes you do things that scare you, and the result is not obvious, and you can barely see any change, any gain.
But I’m realizing that every moment, every thought, every word, every day, despite how meaningless they often seem, are so so full of impact, so so full of development.
And as I make my small plans down here, G-d is shifting the big things up there.
And as I scheme and develop what I feel are big things down here, G-d is moving timelines and space to make my dreams come true.
I’ve written 26 blog posts since September.
Some of them, I could feel the words rush through me, their purpose clear.
Some of them I posted with some shame, some feeling of letting someone down, perhaps me most of all.
But I don’t think any of them were useless.
For they proved to me, if nothing else, that I can do it.
That it’s sometimes not about perfection, it’s not about being inspiring, or funny, or insightful, or writing the best post ever.
My students may not have all fallen in love with their short stories – but they wrote them, and you know what?
For me, for today, that’s what counts.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m trying to remind myself that I only see one tiny sliver of the picture. And I know that in the deep part of my heart, but it’s much less accepted in the forefront of my brain. So when my blog post seems like it’s missing something – yet I post it anyway, and I make plans, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to follow them through, or I pray, and pray, and pray, yet it seems like I’m praying to a closed door – I am trying to remember that this is not everything. I don’t know everything. I never will.
And as I feel guilty for wanting more from life when I have so, so much, I am reminded that I don’t even know how much more I could have, and while it is foolish to feel ungrateful, it is useless to feel guilty.
And as I discover the impact of one moment months later I am reminded that I never know the background story of what is happening around me, and I am reminded that as I pray for G-d to write my story…

He is writing as fast as He can.

Blog Post: 26/52


Featured Photo courtesy of a birthday gift from a very thoughtful friend.

The Pain of Growth

Growing pains.

That’s always what they were. As a kid, I’d come to complain to my mom about yet another aching part of my body, and the reason was always growing pains.
It gave the pain some purpose, a sense of pride. I was in the process of growing, becoming older, getting taller.
Eventually, we all stop growing physically, our measurements coming to a slow halt, leaving us at relatively the same size as our 16-17 year old selves.
The growing pains ebb away, and I imagine the reminder of them comes as our own children turn to us and ask us about their own pain.
Growing pains.
So easily explained, so easily understood, so excusable for the hurt we feel.
But as we reach milestones, turn corners, and fall over as we awkwardly grow into emotional adults, the growing pains are so much more unclear.
They feel more like failure.
As we grip our aching soul, the pain seems to have no purpose, for the growth is hard to see.
This week, it is my birthday. I say that not to get a slew of birthday gifts (although welcome,) I say it to clarify why growth is something I’m really focusing on this week.
For what is growth?
Do birthdays mark growth?
Do I look back at the past year, and measure myself? Using what as the yardstick? Amassed funds? Amassed friends? Sweet memories?
What proves that I have grown between last years cake and this years?
To me, it’s all about the growing pains.
Because I have had them.
And while I was aching, there were times I persevered, believing in the purpose of the pain. But there were times I surrendered to the pain, eyes shut, hands up, and let it overtake me.
This year I expanded horizons, worked harder, re-focused, trampled my comfort zone.
I have also cried in the shower, eaten too much sugar, given up, and allowed my self-made limits to box me in.
I’m tempted, on my birthday, to ask G-d to wipe the world clean of challenges, of obstacles, of struggles.
But I fear that I would be asking Him to remove the color, to silence the joy.
I prefer to ask him to allow us to see the purpose of the pain.
To allow us to look in the mirror and smile through the ache, because we know that through our pain, we are painting the world with vibrant colors.
Without struggle, without challenge, there is no depth of joy, there are no intricacies of beauty.
I ask Him to wipe the world clean of endless grief, of grief so deep that the beauty is too deeply hidden to be asked to reveal itself.
But I ask Him to continue to challenge us, challenge us with pushing past our limits. Challenge us with obstacles we can see over, obstacles we know we can overcome.
Allow the growing pains to have a purpose, allow the pain to be only a roadblock, not the end of the road.
Because without growth, we fail, and without growing pains, we don’t notice the growth.
May my growing pains paint the picture of my future, strengthening my foundation, allowing me to build up and up and up.
Even joyous occasions come with growing pains  – adjusting to married life, a new baby, a brand new home, a new career. But these are the growing pains we can handle, these are the growing pains that make us better. That give our world more color, make life richer, that give life more purpose.
And so as I welcome a new year of my life, I look back at my growth. And I mark my growth by the pain. Not by how many days I felt defeated, but by how many days I felt euphoric, having overcome the challenge that had held me back.
And I ask G-d that He give me more of that strength, more of the ability to jump the hurdles, to push through the pain for the most epic of results:
Glorious, colorful, invigorating, beautiful growth.

Blog Post: 25/52

The Night Before

Talya tossed and turned, burying herself under the blankets, as if that could make her mind stop churning.
She heard her son whimper from his bed. She lifted him up and tried to calm him as her hands shook and her heart beat twice as fast.
How could she sleep tonight?
Tomorrow, her best friend since childhood would be sacrificing her life for the sake of the Jewish nation.
Talya had not eaten in 3 days, and she was physically weakened, but the mind games and constant thought had played more of a role in causing her diminished state.
She couldn’t fathom what Esther was feeling, thinking.
Was Esther sleeping tonight?
In that enormous palace, empty of joy, empty of soul, beautiful in all the wrong ways.
Esther’s home for so many years, yet Esther hasn’t been home in so many years.
The baby fell back asleep in Talya’s arms, and she moved to a pillow on the ground. She needed the comfort his small body gave to her.
Shushan was quiet in the dead of the night. Talya wondered how many eyes were still open, staring at the night sky.
It had been horribly long since Esther was taken. Eleven years since that painful day.
Talya had been away at her uncle’s house, assisting with his small children for a few months after his wife passed away, all the way in Persepolis. When she left, she hugged her best friend goodbye, naive, unknowing what the coming months would bring.
When she returned, her best friend had been kidnapped and preparations were underway to proclaim her as queen.
Talya cried for two weeks, unable to leave her bed, feeling a depth of guilt she could not even fathom. Then one day she was forced to go to the market, and as she did, the evil King Achashverosh was showing off his new wife on a escorted stroll through the Jewish area of Shushan. Talya locked eyes with Esther, and Esther’s eyes filled with tears.
Talya knew there could be immense danger for Esther if she dared to express displeasure about being the new Queen, so she made a fool out of herself by comically dropping the pears she held. Several people around her gave her angry looks, but when Talya met Esther’s eyes again, she saw a glint of amusement and the hint of a smile on her lips.
Nobody in the palace knew that Esther was Jewish, and therefore Talya could not soirée with Esther in her lavish new home. But they exchanged letters, sent through Mordechai and Hatach, and whenever Esther was let out of the palace for a brief showing, Talya focused all her love into the one glance they could afford.
She couldn’t imagine the depth of loneliness Esther felt in that huge palace, the lack of warmth, love and Torah that once surrounded her now gone, all taken in one fateful night.
Talya lay the baby gently on his bed and tip toed quietly out of the house, careful not to wake her husband and other sleeping children.
She looked up at the starry sky. It was a beautiful night, the kind of night Esther had loved as a kid.
As soon as the thought entered her mind, Talya forced it out.
“No, this will not be Esther’s last night alive.”
Talya felt the lump in her throat returning, the tears coming again.
Mordechai was so brave, so resilient in his faith. He had visited their home earlier that day, and he had not one doubt in his mind that a miracle would occur.
Talya wished for even an ounce of his strength. But it was so hard, oh so hard, to stop the bad thoughts from coming in.
“Don’t you see, Talya?” Mordechai had cried “this is why Esther has been living in that palace for eleven years. For this moment! Can you imagine that G-d would forsake us?”
Talya shook her head as she continued to pray, unable to do anything else but fast and pray, as they had done for the last three days.
The impending doom of the 13th of Adar was looming, less than a year away. They should been celebrating the Pesach Seder that night, but they were fasting.
Talya’s heart dipped in pain as she bit back the thought that perhaps this was their last chance to celebrate Passover at all.
The door across from Talya opened, startling her from her thoughts. She brushed her tears away as her neighbor stepped out of her house.
“Can’t sleep?” Avigail called softly.
Talya shook her head. Avigail crossed the path and embraced Talya. As soon as Avigail’s arms were around her, Talya’s tears came quickly. She could no longer hold them back.
The two women stood, in tears, their stomachs empty, but full of fear, their hearts trying so hard to believe.
But when life unfolds so slowly, when the future can only be known once it has passed, belief is the most difficult to find.
It had been eleven years since Esther had been taken from their small neighborhood, eleven years since she had been a part of their everyday life. She had laughed with them, inspired them and cooked with them.
For eleven years she had been unreachable, growing less familiar each day.
And tomorrow she would risk death in order to save them.
And nobody knew if the plan would work. It was a plan of desperation. A hope, a tiny fire kindled and strengthened by their leader Mordechai.
And on the night that families should be united around tables, singing songs, drinking wine and eating matzah together, celebrating freedom, some sat alone and some sat together, whispering words of prayer, asking their G-d to split the sea once more.

Blog Post: 24/52


Disclaimer: This story may not be historically, biblically, or anything correct. I used my creative license to give life and emotion to a story we read each year. If you’ve never heard the story, read it here: http://www.chabad.org/holidays/purim/article_cdo/aid/645995/jewish/The-Basic-Purim-Story.htm