What Twinkies Taught Me About Human Dignity

“Fat people gotta eat!” she said as she poked around an end of aisle snack food display at the grocery store.  She’d been talking half to herself, half to my three year old son who has the innocence and charm to engage many a stranger.

I was on a pointless search for an almond butter that didn’t cost a million dollars, but I smiled as she emphasized her statement by grabbing at her perfectly thin stomach.  I assured her that she was more than fine in the weight department but not to be deterred, she good naturedly revealed her undershirt to reiterate her point.

She never stopped moving and I wondered if she really cared what anyone thought of her, stomach or otherwise, the way she confidently rattled on, side-stepping social expectations in a delightful child-like way.  But as she poked her head around me to say hi to my son, she unexpectedly threw off my own sense of social balance:  As though she literally couldn’t help herself, she invited my sugar-loving preschooler over to a veritable heaven of Hostess products and said, “Want a treat?  You can only pick two.  Which ones do you want?”

My son hid behind me at first as though even he was unsure of what to do in this situation.  But confection wins out every time and before I really knew what had happened, he was throwing a box each of Twinkies and Ding Dongs into my cart.

Our new friend grinned and waved me along, “Just follow me and I’ll buy ’em when I check out.”

What had I gotten myself into?  I didn’t have a strong social map for this situation (do they make books for this kind of thing?), and all my brain synapses were firing on awkward.  How did this shopping trip turn into me playing follow-the-leader with a stranger who wanted to buy my kid infamously bad-for-you treats?

Still, though I may never know her whole story, I sensed that this woman might be someone who frequently found herself on the receiving end of help.  How often did she feel really seen?  How often did she feel the simple dignity of giving an impromptu gift to someone who couldn’t help their self?

So what that my three year old would have more Polysorbate 60 (apparently a Twinkie ingredient) than he knew what to do with.  So what that we didn’t need them and I could have bought them myself.

We continued our unlikely procession, she occasionally turning behind to encourage my lagging son to keep going.  At one point we split down different aisles but she told me she’d catch me up front.  My son, far more aware of the situation than I’d given him credit for, said in his earnest way, “Need her!  Red shirt!”  He could identify down to the shirt color the woman who was funding his treats and he feared we’d lost her.

But as we rounded another aisle she shuffled past and kept waving us along as though we’d never left her sights.  True to her word, she presented my son with his prize bag of goodies as she rung up her own things in the self check-out.  I scanned my items too and thanked her, enjoying her ongoing irritated conversation with the finicky self-check out system.  Before we left she told us where she lived and that we should stop by sometime and head to the lake.  Her generous sincerity somehow rubbed like sandpaper against my own inhibitions and slowness to welcome people with such open-handed hospitality.

As we walked out the door she called loudly to my son again, “Love ya babe!”  Maybe we’d call it taboo.  Maybe we’d say it was a lack of social awareness. But from the time we encountered her, the woman was simply reacting in the present with a warmth and realness that most of us would be too embarrassed to show.  (And maybe that’s more a tragedy than we realize.)

Though she didn’t hear him, my son, now tagging at my heels, met her free child-like emotion with his own: “I lud you too.”

And though admittedly I had to fight that place in my head that worried about my son freely throwing out “I love yous” to strangers, I started tearing up a bit at the exchange I’d just witnessed.  My son didn’t see the strange, the uncomfortable, or the awkward.  He didn’t care her gender, clothing choice, education level or race.  Yes he was mostly fixated on the Twinkies, but I also believe he saw her as an equal.  And isn’t that what I say I believe too?  That we’re all equals?

It made me stop to ask myself how I think about each person I see.  Do I really believe each person has equal dignity?  Do I honestly believe that each person I encounter has a dignity that goes beyond what they’ve ACCOMPLISHED, what they can GIVE, or how they PRESENT themselves? Am I so busy trying to secure my own dignity and worth through helping others that I stop seeing each person as intrinsically valuable?

Do I forget that our human need for each other doesn’t depend on our culture’s definition of who qualifies as “needy” but on the fundamental premise that each of us has some incalculable imprint of our Creator to share with the world?

Silly though my story may be, I didn’t give that woman dignity by letting her buy my son Twinkies.  Her dignity was her own beautiful birthright, Creator bestowed, not to be increased or diminished by a fellow creation.  But in letting her buy my son something seemingly insignificant, I believe I acknowledged in my heart the dignity that was always hers.  In watching her interact with my son I witnessed a piece of her that filled my own soul with more joy than a Twinkie has crème.

As I shared this story with my dad I lamented that my first reaction towards people is to see their social status, their worth according to culture, not their intrinsic dignity.  How can I change that first reaction?

And he wisely suggested that perhaps we can’t control that first reaction, but that God is more concerned with our “second look” at people.  Maybe we can’t help that first feeling of superiority (or inferiority even), that knee-jerk scan of who a person is and how valuable they are based on our first glance.  But we give that reaction to God and let Him shape our second look so that we are able to lay down our man-made view of dignity and see people through the filter of His free love.

So may we pray to acknowledge and embrace the full dignity of others on the streets, in our homes, and occasionally even in the Twinkie aisle.


Have a story to share about your own encounter with the dignity in others?  No story is small or insignificant…I hope you’ll share your moment and revelations with the rest of us.  Or start a conversation on my facebook page at www.facebook.com/lesstobemore. Thanks for stopping by!

 

 

Moving On, Community and Letting Go (Friend Post Friday #6)

I still remember the first day I met Maura Eckels, my guest blogger for today.  We were at a mutual friend’s graduation party and her sweet love of children found her gravitating towards the playground where I was swinging my kiddos.  From the first conversation, I could tell Maura oozed passion to taste and change the world- and not just in a passing fad kind of way- the girl was ready to make a real difference.  I was amazed that someone so young was already aware of such a deep calling on her life.  It’s no surprise then that her faith and heart have since taken her to Franciscan University where she’s enrolled in theology and human life studies, with plans to graduate and carry God’s heart wherever He takes her.  If you ever have the pleasure of talking with Maura, you’ll find yourself caught up in her smile and eager dialogue, while simultaneously feeling challenged to fully live your beliefs and convictions the way she does.  Her journey hasn’t been easy, and in fact her life circumstances have made tuition alone very difficult for her.  I’m sharing with you her tuition go-fund-me page in the hopes that you will read more of her story and please help out financially if you are able!  And I hope you’ll stick around to be inspired as she shares her honest beautiful thoughts.

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“Moving On, Community and Letting Go”

by Maura Eckels

There’s this closing scene in a film called Brooklyn that deeply moves me. I’m not sure if you’ve seen the movie, but it’s about this young woman from Ireland who takes the boat to New York City and meets this Italian fella. The movie ends with her standing on a street in a city which became her home. She sees her husband after a long period of time (she married the Italian guy), he sees her and then she says this incredible line:

“One day the sun will come out-you might not even notice straight away, it’ll be that faint. And then you’ll catch yourself thinking about something or someone who has no connection with the past and you’ll realize… that this is where your life is.”

As I moved away from Connecticut and into a new home in my college town, I found myself on soccer mom duty for the children of a former professor. Three munchkins, one minivan and an afternoon practice seemed to be the perfect medicine for my soul after a restless day driving to Ohio.

It was here that I was overcome with this same realization. These friends and families around me have become my community. This poverty stricken town has become my home. And for right now, this is where my life is.

Just days before I was cleaning out the childhood bedroom of the home I’ve known for 21 years. I noticed that the mess I was either throwing away or organizing into storage bins paled in comparison to the mess of my heart. On the one hand, I could taste the sweet freedom of moving out for good and on the other, the daunting reality of now facing life with the baggage I’ve accumulated over the years, like dust on a shelf.

As I took one last look at the empty room holding nothing but my battered heart, a truth washed over me that perhaps you can sympathize with: We don’t realize how much crap we have until we sift through it and we can’t see how broken we are until we try to clean shop.

Somehow, I’ve painfully managed to grasp on rather than let go of that which weighs me down. This still small voice would keep asking to lighten the load and to share in my burden, but I couldn’t figure out how to concretely give it over to Jesus. And the truth is, I still can’t. So I resolved to carry it alone. Worse, I accepted that maybe I am alone. After all, how could He possibly be helping if he claims his yoke to be light and mine is so heavy?

Then a beautiful woman reminded me that God will allow you to struggle because He wants you to show up for your own fight. And I remembered all the times I made it through the valley with the help of His grace and once again I am reassured that just as I was victorious before, I will be victorious again.

His grace is sufficient for me. His power is made perfect in my weakness.

So I want Jesus to be my number one. I want him to be enough for me. He is the bridegroom and I am his bride. His love for me is covenant; it’s eternal. My maker wants to marry me. He gives himself totally and completely on the cross, holding nothing back. His body given up for me. Love without condition. And in response to Christ’s disinterested gift of self, I desire to be one right back. I want to love him for his own sake and goodness and not for what he does for me. And I can’t claim to fully love someone whom I fear because perfect love casts out all fear. Therefore, I will continue to ask for the grace to not put God in my own image because it’s a false one. Rather, I hope to see him for who he truly is.

The problem is this: Jesus is not as tangible as I would like him to be. I can’t see his facial expressions, hear the inflection in his voice or know what his laugh sounds like. Does he have a preference in wine? I mean he created the vines, but you never know. It’s the details which seem lacking. He feels less real to me than the people around me even though that’s the furthest from the truth. He’s more real…I know that. Yet my heart won’t consent. I hate admitting that he doesn’t feel enough for me because he is supposed to be. To love God for his own sake means to really know him. But I realized that I don’t know him well because if I did, I wouldn’t fear him.

Yet, I have to believe that the same God who created us for himself in whom we alone find satisfaction and fulfillment is also the same God who said to Adam in the Garden that it is not good for man to be alone. We need others just as much as we need God. I mean Heaven itself isn’t just us alone chillin’ with the Trinity. It’s us, Him and the angels and saints. Even our forever is community. Community is what we’re created for.

I know that soon enough I will have to say goodbye to this community that the Lord has blessed me with these past three years. He’s given me so much more than I could have ever anticipated for myself and for this, I am eternally grateful. As I’ve been learning to detach from objects, people and places, I’ve come to the conclusion that as Elizabeth Bishop says, “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.” Letting go is okay, necessary and good. I don’t think any of us will ever be perfectly content with it, but I can only pray for a holy indifference so that when God asks me to leave, I’ll leave and when he asks me to stay, I’ll stay.

Just as God has given before, he will give again. I’m reminded of this even now surrounded by what feels like an abundance of blessings. Even when we are left with what may seem like nothing and no one, we can have confidence and peace knowing that one day he will fill our cup again. When our brokenness surfaces, we can trust that he will heal us in his timing. We can choose to believe the promise Jesus gives us that everything else will be given to us when we seek first the kingdom of God. So I’m choosing right now to seek him first. I want him to be my priority amidst the struggle of this life. In this pursuit of the one who brought me into being, I can find consolation knowing that he will take care of the rest.

Faith (Friend Post Friday #5)

It may be difficult to perfectly sum up today’s “Friend-poster”.  One of the very first times I met her, Lexi Mcguigan’s vulnerable words made me cry as she poured out her soul in a Breaking Silences girls’ play at Epoch Arts.  This is the place I’ve watched her invest so many precious pieces of herself in others through art and her servant’s heart.  She’s got this infectiously genuine personality and she’s present and invested in each moment.  One of the best things about Lexi (aside from the fact that she’s willing to babysit my three children!) is that she never wants to stay stagnant- she’s always thinking deeply, allowing herself to be shaped by God and others, desiring to grow even through the most difficult seasons.  And as she’s grown, she’s gleaned poignant wisdom to pass on to us.  I hope you’ll be inspired by her heart today…here’s Lexi!


“Faith”

by Lexi Mcguigan

When I was asked to write for the blog I was super excited, I love sharing my perspective and
view of things. I had already decided at the beginning of the month what I was going to write about and I thought that was that…. But boy was I wrong. What I felt the need to write about now was faith.

Faith:
complete trust or confidence in someone or something
synonyms:​ trust · belief · confidence · conviction · optimism · hopefulness · hope

Faith is a strong and powerful word, before looking it up in the dictionary I knew what it was, but I decided to look anyway and what I found interesting and kind of a call out was that a synonym of faith was conviction. I feel convicted of sin all the time, I am not a perfect christian nor do I claim to be, my only goal is to give God all of me. And I fail at that more than I succeed. I feel most people can relate to that because we are all human, we make mistakes, we falter and stumble. My main issue that I come upon is myself, I am my own worst enemy, the critic I can’t escape, the only one that can truly destroy my mind. So how do we escape from our own thoughts? Well through prayer, and I learned that through trial and error, through running away, and finally through just realizing the only one I can truly turn to is God. I have never before experienced the chaos and shake up of God in my life like this.

I have always had issues with control, I am very aware that I have no control and God always will but that does not stop me from trying. I’m stubborn and want things to go a certain way and I always seem to be telling God “I know your way is best but let me try” or “God I trust you, I give you all of me… except for this because I really think I need to do this.” I have this need to have everything stay the same or go in the direction I believe it should instead of trusting God’s plan. I have never been hit so hard in the face by my own actions and words as I have this past month. I never realized how much the word faith meant to me, God has stripped people for my life, moved me, changed me and altogether shown me that I am loved, I am his and yet I can’t give him my complete faith because I hold onto fear.

Fear itself is something we all feel at certain times, some more than others. I personally have been living in fear for most of my life. I believe that it is so easy to fall into fear which can lead to countless amounts of things. This past week we’ve been having some issues with our landlord, and only last night did I see what it was truly like to not live in fear or what might happen or to hold onto a grudge but to see this person through God’s eyes, this person God created just as he created me and he loves just as much as he loves all his children. For me to see this person as less than that itself is faithlessness in my opinion, to not try to understand my enemy, to not imagine them as my brother or sister; is a sin. In the bible it says “I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.”(Psalm 34:4) So why do we still hold onto fear? When we give it to God are we truly giving it to him? I can answer this truthfully and say that not always do I fully give it to God and then I wonder why it still eats at me. At times I blame God for my own faults. And I think the hardest part about it, is sometimes when I blame him I am fully aware that I am to blame. Yet I am forgiven. Why then do I have fear?

As much as I wish I didn’t have fear I know it goes hand and hand with faith, without the trials and different stops I have made in fear I wouldn’t have the faith I have. Along with the the other things that have contributed to my faith, fear has played a big part. I know God has me on a path of for beautiful and amazing things, he would never abandon me so I am putting my trust in him. To quote tobymac. “It’s a little bit overdue, but I’m putting my trust in you. I refuse to backtrack because God has me on a road and it’s a one way street, no u-turns, and backing up on a busy road is illegal. He’s got mighty plans for his children and it all begins with faith. Fully giving yourself over to your Father, Your maker, the creator of all things.

I am a complete mess with God in my life, thinking about it now; I’m not even sure how I
survived without him. My journey with God is far from over and I am bound to fall down at times but I have the faith and trust that God will pick me back up, dust me off and tell me to get back in the game. And there’s times I feel like giving up, It’s hard to be in a world so full of negativity and anger, sometimes we start to be in the world instead of being of the world. We as christians need to spread this faith, I remember during the hartford project this month the pastor of South church said something amazing that sticks to my heart. “It’s like we’re in a battlefield, were clothed in this amazing armor of God and we’re watching others go out into battle unprepared. We are letting people die because of fear.” Yes it is scary but our God is always with us, we are only here for a moment. I want to see my friends, family acquaintances and strangers in heaven rejoicing because of our God. The only way we’re going to do that, is by faith.

Favorite Five [Shopping] For Freedom

I’m no Oprah, but this girl can still make a list of favorites.  I’ve struggled in recent years with the stark contrast between my excess and other’s lack.  My plenty with another’s need.  And though I know our consumerism is part of the problem, I’m encouraged to find organizations that are creating equalizing opportunities through the very products we buy.  It’s a huge step in the right direction!  You’ve probably heard of organizations like TOMS (the one-for-one charity) or World Vision’s Gift Catalog, but in recent years I’ve connected with some other amazing organizations with crazy heart and a beautiful mission.

With each of the five organizations I’m listing below, I’ve either made a personal connection with a team member, or I’ve personally bought their items.  I can vouch for their work and mission and I’m excited to share them with you today:

1: IMAGINE GOODS

This is a fantastic company I stumbled upon during my involvement with Love146 which seeks to end child trafficking and modern day slavery.  Love146 realized that the t-shirts they sold to promote their organization might actually be perpetuating the very child labor they were seeking to end.  As a result, they partnered up with “Imagine Goods” which provides former victims of trafficking with sustainable employment opportunities.  When you buy through them, you know that the clothes you’re wearing didn’t come at the cost of unfair labor for someone else.  Here are some of the things I’ve bought from them!  (I hope you enjoy my cheesy selfie-modeling poses.)

(Top Picture: “the Kate dress“.  Bottom Picture: (skirt no longer sold) Shirt: The Empowerment Women’s T-Shirt–  SHIRT QUOTE: Empowerment is equipping an author with pen and ink to write their own story.)

AND Better yet, they’re running a sale through Sunday July 23rd! So now is a great time to try them out!

2: NEW CREATION- Design for Justice

I ran into this Harrisonburg, VA based organization through ImagineGoods actually.  While I haven’t ever been to this physical store (it’s on my to-do for one of our next trips south!), they have quite a unique story.  They call this place their “porn shop takeover” where they bought up a building that once perpetuated the trafficking industry and turned that into a powerful weapon against the evil it once stood for.  In their words, their mission is ” counteracting human trafficking through education, awareness, design, + the hope of Christ”.

 

And of course…I bought their “Justice and Coffee” shirt.

Next on my list to buy from them is one of their cool art prints or perhaps some survivor-made lip gloss that supports trafficked victims right out of Nashville, TN.  🙂  Win-win.

3: TRADES OF HOPE

Trades of Hope is very similar to the other two organizations in the ways that it empowers women to support themselves through the production and sale of products.  I love that Trades of Hope reaches out to a variety of women in multiple countries and addresses multiple reasons for poverty (disease, cultural discrimination, trafficking, etc).  But what I additionally love about Trades of Hope is that their sales approach also provides employment opportunities for “Compassionate Entrepreneurs” who sell largely through host product parties.  They sell jewelry, hand-bags, scarves, home-goods, and more- and for each item you can see a little bit of information about the artisans that created the product.  It’s a great way to combat poverty and start some conversations through the items you wear and have in your home!  I’m actually hosting my first Trades of Hope party this Thursday through my May Friend-Post Blogger, Sharon.  So if you’re interested in more information, please check her out!

4: NIGHTLIGHT DESIGN

Also during my time with Love146, we had a man visit and share about his heart to change the trafficking climate by addressing the very men who perpetuated the demand for trafficking.  Since then, he has shifted ministry roles, but he now finds himself working with a mission out of Bangkok Thailand which created “Nightlight Design” . This organization mirrors the others in the way it empowers the trafficking survivors right out of Thailand.  My understanding is that you can “host” a party with friends, church, etc, where Nightlight will send you a box of items to sell, and you return any unsold items and the profits from sales back to their team.  You can also purchase online!

5: AMANI YA JUU (Amani Africa)

Call me crazy, but one morning I woke up with the word “Amani” in my head.  Having no idea what it meant, I looked it up and discovered it means “peace” in Swahili.  So months later when I talked to a friend who worked with an organization called “Amani Ya Juu” I was understandably intrigued.

Amani also allows artisans to create sustainable income through the creation of products.  But Amani has such a unique focus on the communities established through each of their centers (Liberia, Kenya, Uganda, and Chattanooga, TN).  Each of these community centers uniquely reflects the women involved, and provides far more than just training or employment.  Especially in light of the refugee crisis of late, the stories you’ll read about the women who launched Amanai and the centers will truly inspire you.  They are bringing so much life where once was grief and pain.

AND I had the pleasure of visiting their Chattanooga storefront last November-

and was in love with their unique toy items, clothes, greeting cards, and more.  Here’s some pictures to give you an idea:

(This skirt has POCKETS!!! Yes, please!)

Such a great shop, and you can find many of these items and more online as well!


Thanks for hanging around to see a few of my favorite shops for freedom.  This is part of my promise to post about some cool ways you can be part of changing the world with your own “less to be more”.  I’m looking forward to sharing more hands-on opportunities with you soon!  What organizations have you worked with that are empowering people and changing the world?  I’d love to hear about them!

Be the Hydrangea

I have a confession to make: I’m in love with hydrangeas.  (I don’t care who knows it.)  My obsession started when my parents moved from their beloved CT home to distant Alabama.  My Mama, who passed her sweet sentimental genes on to me, had carted and cultivated a blue hydrangea, that had been transplanted from my great-grandmother’s plant, to various homes she’d lived in.  Though they moved in summer and the hydrangea was in full bloom (not the best time to move it), my mom couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her plant behind.  So she recruited one of our moving helpers, (bless his heart), to dig up that whole giant hydrangea plant, and pack it in all its uprooted strangeness into my mini-van.  I promptly taxied it to my own home like I was a flower ambulance driver, and dug it a new home with all my heart.

The spring after they moved, I watched that hydrangea’s signature green leaves burst forth in full health.  There would be life yet for this organic bridge of generations.

Or not.  The plant was alive, but its poor shocked system wasn’t ready to re-bloom just yet.  Not the first year.  Or the second.

I waited patiently.  One winter (remember that key detail), I went outside for the mail or one of the other two reasons you go outside in the frigid New England cold.  And there, blowing down the road like a frosty tumbleweed, was a dried up hydrangea blossom.

Call it the innocuous catalyst to a winter-crazed mind, but I latched onto that plant in a symbolic way.  Suddenly I had to know all about hydrangeas because how often does one casually breeze by your mailbox in the dead of winter?

Did you know hydrangea literally means “water vessel”?  (That’s one fact I found out in my hydrangea frenzy.)

Water vessel.  Water carrier.

These robust flowers are so named for their appetite and ability to draw up water and the bowl shape of their flowers. (*)

I believe we’re meant to be like these hydrangeas. (That’s right. Be the flower.)

Once Jesus sat at a well with a Samaritan woman who had gone all kinds of wrong in her life.  And even as she went to draw physical water for herself from the well that day, Jesus promised her “living water” which only He could offer.  He said “Everyone who drinks this [physical] water will be thirsty again,  but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

Later, in John 7 Jesus says, ““Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.”

This world has only satisfied me to a point.  After awhile, even the greatest physical experiences leave me missing something.  Whether friendships, food or family; vacation or vocation.  It’s temporary.  It doesn’t last, and I keep returning to the well each day, seeking a pure joy and hope, but never filling myself completely.

Yet when I realize my physical world isn’t everything and I thirst for something greater, I’m finding that God DOES offer that living water that somehow floods my soul, offers me lasting purpose and hope, and, yes, satisfies me when I allow myself to be transformed by it.

But when we begin to thirst for that kind of water, we’ll find its not meant to be contained.  No, I believe we become carriers of that water, like the hydrangea, overflowing with hope to others.

You are meant to carry water and spill it over in every place that you touch.  We are meant to be spreaders of Hope and Life to our families, our co-workers, those that seem to have nothing and those that seem to have everything.  When we thirst for living water we’ll find its an endless well and we’re not meant to hold it in but to let it flow, and this is the mystery of His Spirit.

I don’t know where you’re planted and drawing up water- I don’t know specifically where you’re meant to overflow with Hope.  But I do know, you were created for this.  You were made for the only Water that satisfies and you were made to overflow.

This world is struggling in more ways than we can count right now.  If ever there was a (political, social, racial, economic, resource-scarce, confused, unjust) time to seek God’s heart and let it spill over in compassionate action, now is that time.  And we are the water carriers.

P.S.  My hydrangea finally did blossom, and just this year my mom took a cutting of it to her new home, so the legacy lives on!


Stay tuned!! In the coming weeks I plan to highlight a few practical, tangible ways you can make a difference with issues such as human trafficking, poverty, and more!  If you’re currently involved with an organization or know of a group that is meeting physical needs and empowering the powerless, please pass along what you know!  I’d even be happy to have you guest post about your experiences. Thanks for joining and for all the ways you share hope.

 

*Hydrangea Meaning

How Many Shades of Gray Faith?

No, the answer isn’t 50.  At least I don’t think so.  It’s a gray area.

Understanding and finding more of God is a process, and we need to give ourselves permission to seek God where our answers seem to run out, where our expectations aren’t quite met, where we can simply be our honest selves.  We might gravitate towards black and white answers and easy spiritual growth- but in my experience, we’re missing so much of God in that safe and sterile Christianity.

I believe we find a lot more of God in the shades and tones of gray, at the end of our control, at the end of what we think it means to just be a “good Christian”, at the end of the simple answers we’ve believed in our head but missed in the depths of our soul.

If you’re looking to step out and meet God in the middle of real life and mess and questions this summer, I invite you to join me for an online “Gray Faith” book study this summer starting Monday June 26th!!

Here are just a few shades of gray you can expect to explore as we go through the 8 chapters of the book:

Gray Beginnings:  Are we believing the lie of “Good Christianity”?  What have we picked up from our spiritual beginnings? What have we grown up believing and how can we critically question those beliefs and spiritual routines in a healthy way?

Gray Christian Culture: What have we been raised in the church to believe?  How has our “Christian culture” shaped our view of God and others, and are we brave enough to step outside of that culture long enough to see the parts that honor God and the parts that may be keeping us from fully experiencing Him?  What are those outside our Christian culture really seeing and hearing from us?

Gray Church:  What does it mean to be part of a church or body of Christ?  How do we handle disagreements and denominations, loving each other and loving the world?  What does it mean to balance each other?  Does God have a one-size-fits-all plan for how church looks?

Gray Sin: What does it truly mean to love a broken world?  Does that look more like waving a protest sign or sincerely listening to people we may not agree with? What does it mean to acknowledge that we’re all broken and need grace?  How do we keep our hearts in check before a Holy God?

Gray Evangelism: What does it look like to “share our faith” with others?  Do we need an exciting before and after story to impact people?  What motivates us to share God with others?  How can we share physical love with people that goes hand-in-hand with our words?  Where have we gotten “evangelism” twisted?

Gray Expectations: What are some of the expectations and assumptions we’ve come to make about God?  Do we perpetually think He’s unhappy with us?  Are we frustrated with Him for not blessing us the way we thought He would when we followed Him?  Our expectations have the power to reveal our true beliefs of God- and wrestling through those expectations honestly helps us find God more intimately.

Gray Walk: What does it look like to grow and change over time with God?  Where are the places that God has been changing our views or opinions?  How do we continue to find God in each season; the waiting and the receiving, the loss and the joy, the beauty and the ashes?  Can our process with God lead us to crave His presence even in the ups and downs?

Gray Answers: At the end of the day, on this side of eternity, we simply won’t have all the answers.  What does it mean to humbly walk with others knowing we don’t have all the answers?  What does it look like to encourage friends without trying to fix their problems with the “right” answer?  How do we handle difficult questions like why God allows pain and suffering?  Can we trust that God is big enough to meet each us uniquely precisely in the gray?


The beautiful thing is, if you’re the extrovert kind of person who wants to get a group together and go through the study with friends, go for it!  I’ve done the study with friends and absolutely loved the raw, genuine conversations that came up.

But if you’re the kind of person who still feels a bit uncomfortable asking gray questions in front of others- if you’d rather just wrestle with God in the privacy of your own home wearing your sweats and a tiara (hey, I’m not judging!) then you can absolutely follow along on your own.

Either way, here’s what to do to JOIN THE ONLINE STUDY:

  1. Optional: Purchase a “Gray Faith” book (paperback or kindle version) here: Gray Faith Book (Note: you can still follow along with the study videos/questions without having a book.)
  2. “Like” my facebook author page, where I’ll be posting all my updates and videos!
  3. Check into facebook every Monday for a new video and FREE weekly Study Guide downloads on my blog!
  4. Comment on the weekly video to join the conversation, challenge others, and open up about your own process with God.  This is one of the most exciting parts for me- really getting to connect with YOU and hear your heart.
  5. Share with friends!  If you know someone who might be interested in joining, or if you find encouragement from the study, please pass the news along!

Thanks so much for checking in; I can’t wait to start this “Gray Faith” journey with you all.

We Are the Collective (Friend Post Friday #2)

I’m excited to introduce you to my brother, Ben Martin, the second author in my monthly “Friend Post Fridays” series.  Ben may be the youngest of the four of us kids, but he daily inspires me in his simplicity of living, his desire to truly listen and engage with those around him, and his big heart and humor.  Ben doesn’t just talk, he DOES.  When he’s not traveling, he’s working hard, being WITH people (all in), or maybe writing music.  You can check out more of his music on his Youtube Channel.  He doesn’t settle for status quo, and he doesn’t want us to either- so I hope you are challenged by his blog today.  


“We Are the Collective” by Ben Martin

What is in a name but just what we have limited it to be? The infrastructure of our mind is more advanced than we let on, more than we can understand. One must think outside the box as it were, but thinking outside the box has become a box in and of itself. There’s no such thing as hipsters. We act like by complete choice we do what we do, and wear what we wear, but there is an extreme influence present that affects all of us whether we’d like to admit it or not. I hesitate to even say the “S” word because it could just be placed in another box, shipped off by an amazon drone to a part of your brain that doesn’t pay a mind to what it thinks it has heard before. Maybe this topic has been introduced previously, but how can that negate the importance? And, if we choose not to listen to this, what is IT that we are listening too? Even when you zone out or drive zombie-like to work, we are listening. We are watching. We are absorbing something. Sometimes our sub-conscious is accepting things all the time without us realizing. We see something or read an article and it makes sense only because we’ve SEEN it. It has made itself visible to us. New ideas didn’t begin until someone said what if we did it THIS way, or what if the world was not flat, but in fact round. Let us look at what is around us and make an accurate judgement.

Maybe I should just come out and say it…..society. There, it’s done. Don’t judge me. Instead, think about how real it is and how it affects you. Do you feel this affect is positive or negative, maybe both? Do you find yourself questioning much of what you do? Are you easily swayed by others opinions? Have you been raised a certain way that in turn makes you think a certain way? How should we define the word society? These are questions I like to ask just for us to get a better view of where we stand. You may have a vision of where you’d like to stand, but that does not always match up with the facts. I would love to be on a beach in Tahiti right now, but If I pull up the gps on my phone it shows me what I already know, that I am sitting in a hobbit hole in Connecticut on a cold winter night with snow coming in a few hours. It’s the truth. Not something you hear every day. I wonder the legitimacy of most news articles and people on television that like to paint a picture. Who’s to say that last article you read about such and such a leader did terrible things was created on false facts just to stir up trouble, to get us angry and emotional. Well, it works. We have a feeling and we run with it. It’s easy to keep a fire going once there’s a few hot coals. With this, the truth becomes almost trivial and only a word to get us believing whatever is put forth.

There is a depth to each person’s soul where at some point they’re asking “why?”. They are asking the deep questions of life. Advertisements and television and news have discovered THIS truth, and used it in such a way to get what they want. If they get us to a point where we no longer think but just do, we are perfect products of our society and aren’t exercising one of our biggest gifts, which is the ability to think and question. A mistake for us would be to equate average living with something somehow entirely separate from what society would tell us ‘average living’ should look like. I am impacted by society just as much as the next guy, and isn’t that the point? We try to distinguish and separate and individualize ourselves, but how is that not interconnected with a collaborative source of people all trying to do the same thing. There’s no such thing as hipsters.

Please don’t write this post off as a purely negative attack looking to point out where you’re all wrong and lost and controlled unknowingly. The fact is, those statements might have some truth, but my purpose behind the glass is to evaluate how everything around us is affecting us, and how it can be both positive and negative, and how we might respond to these effects. It comes easy for me to write overarching ideas and themes, to outline an issue or introduce a doctrine, but it becomes more difficult when getting down to specifics. Therefore, it is my job as the writer to give examples and pull from experiences and point to events and occurrences. It’s true, just as society is an integral force in influencing the general public, I too am looking to influence you and uncover what otherwise might remain buried. Most of what society and television touch upon resides on the surface level in which the ground we walk can even become foreign if we’re not constantly digging. What makes up the dirt, the soil, the minerals, the roots, the magma, the stuff we tread on the daily commute? We know much less than our superhero pop-culture news reports might have us believe.

Personally, I pay very little attention to the news. The only time I know what’s going on around in the world is when I hear it from a friend or co-worker. I haven’t invested in keeping up with current affairs because I tell myself it’s all gobblesmack. Yes, gobblesmack. But this is the world I live in and I am affected by what happens around me. To go further, am I not exercising my fullest potential when I choose hiding over acknowledgement that there are important things going on right now and I play a part? Do we play a part? Do we believe that what we do matters? Some people refuse to vote because they know they’re one vote really won’t make a difference. I haven’t even registered to vote yet in however many years of eligibility. To me I didn’t think much of it, and I felt more just in doing nothing. But that’s part of the problem, when we disassociate or do not recognize ourselves as part of the collective, we will more easily skip out on action. What if we could put a name to society? Or how we would like it to be? What does that look like? We can invest in each other’s lives. Invest in people from all cultures to grow and gain a better perspective. To experience love in all its forms and hate as well, but to embrace emotions and beliefs and both joy and sorrow that comes from this.

Since we’re so good at putting names to things, why not call society what you believe it to be and then do something about it. Take part. Take action. Help people. Find your purpose. Share what you’ve be given and receive what others have to give. Dig deeper. Appreciate what you have. Keep asking questions because God knows we’ll never figure it all out. Look for what you believe to be issues or unhealthy, and take simple steps to change that. We must acknowledge that we’re not always right, but the beauty of this collective is the uniqueness each one of us brings. Don’t lose hope when things are not going the way you wanted them to. Life is confusing and much less linear than we perceive. We are moving towards something whether we like to admit it or not, and whether we take part is up to us. But we ARE a part of this so called society, for better or worse, and we’ve got stuff to do. The only way I can be confident in challenging others is if I also am challenging myself. I am eager to discover where I fit into this puzzle and ultimately coming to a place outside of myself where I discover true meaning and purpose and connections. Together we stand…

Encourage Challenge!

For my birthday this past month, I dressed up 80’s style and enjoyed a murder mystery party with a bunch of friends.  It was a bizarre mix of wandering fake accents, stuffed mushrooms, sweat bands and the realization that my natural hair volume doesn’t really belong in this decade.

I fear if I give you any more details or pictures I’ll incriminate myself, and I wasn’t even the murder.

But on top of being willing to dress up and be whimsical with me, my friends gave me one of the best gifts I’ve ever received:

The inspirational packaging is nothing compared to the inside.  My friends and family wrote me letters and labeled the different envelops for different occasions that might come up in my life.

From an envelop for when I’m bored, to an envelop for when I want to strangle someone, they pretty much have me covered.  I’ve been trying so hard to wait and savor my envelopes over weeks and months, but I’m telling you…this box is like knowing you have a bunch of chocolate hidden in your house.  (Actually, one of the envelops did have chocolate in it.)

The other day I had to go to my doctor, and seriously, does anyone jump up and down about that?  I packed a few envelopes to bring with me just in case, and just the knowing I had encouragement waiting on the other side of that appointment gave me joy.

This is a box of life, and humor, and compassion, and yes chocolate.

And this box challenges me too.  Because I realize that the worth of a letter, a well-timed bit of humor, and certainly a bar of chocolate, are lifters and soothers of our souls.  Could I be this kind of friend to others? Could I take even a moment each day to find someone around me to build up?

I can’t actually begin to count the number of amazing friends that have impacted my life.  You have been encouragers, meal bringers, supporters, deep-thoughts-discussers, coffee-joiners, breakfast buddies, How-I-Met-Your-Mother and FRIENDS watchers, character sharpeners, prayer-lifters, tear driers, road signs to keep me on track when I’m lost.  You friends have loved me well and loved me tangibly.

THANK YOU isn’t big enough.

And my challenge to myself, and my challenge to you is this:  Pick 3 people this week to encourage.  Send a letter, write a text, tell someone you appreciate them next time you see them…for the love, send them a really good chocolate bar.  Maybe start a list of people to encourage and make it a fun game.  Maybe it turns into a habit…but start small.

The action of love written out, spoken over, given freely, can carry us so much farther than we’d imagine.

Post or comment if you’re up for the challenge, or if you have a cool story of encouragement to share!

 

Jazz Flute Freedom

Agawam, MA, circa 1997- the monumental moment when I chose to play flute in the middle school band.  My teacher seemed to think I was a natural, and my parents splurged to purchase that elegant silvery beauty.

“Blow into the flute like you’re trying to spit rice.”  (A fine analogy, for those who are accustomed to rice spitting.  Is this some kind of carnival game most people are familiar with?)

But I played well, in all my fifth grade zeal, when I actually took the time to practice.  Here’s a roughly fifth grade picture to bring you into better focus.

And then came the announcement that jazz band would be starting up…but it turns out flutists weren’t invited.  If you played any brass instrument, or maybe a sax or trombone- you were good to go.  But a flute…well…that simply wasn’t jazz material.

My memory is fuzzy, but I must have vented my disappointment to my classroom teacher.  He was one of my favorites- a balding red-headed Jewish man who spent Friday afternoons pulling out his guitar and singing us songs like “One Tin Soldier” and “Why Must I be a Teenager in Love”.  One day he pulled me aside, oozing optimism, to tell me the name of a popular jazz flutist- I think he even wrote it down for me.  What was his point?  “Just because there’s not a spot for you as a ‘jazz flutist’ in the fifth grade band, doesn’t mean you can’t be one.”  (Of course this was long before I watched the ultimate Jazz Flutist, Ron Burgundy. 😉 )

Jazz is a music defined not by instrument but by soul- flute or trumpet…doesn’t matter…what you breathe into that instrument makes all the difference.

I’ve been thinking more and more about women’s equality- something I grew up thinking we had all but achieved.  I’m realizing there’s a vast chasm between where we are and true equality, and unfortunately the Church has helped perpetuate that chasm.  I should clarify..I’m not oppressed in my church- far from it- in fact it is here in my church that I’m finally learning to become freer.  But I believe there’s more.

Here’s what I’m beginning to see: gender equality isn’t merely about equal rights or opportunities for women.  No.  It’s a journey to remember Eden and restore the value of a women alongside of men.  It’s a desire to understand how men (God’s creation/instrument) and women (also God’s creation/instrument) were made to work together in harmony.  It’s a quest to know that the Spirit or breath of God in me, in this instrument, is no different from the Spirit or breath of God in a masculine instrument.  It’s the BREATH that matters.

It’s the growing belief that embracing my full identity as a co-heir with Christ is not selfish- it’s not simply about my liberation, but the freedom of many.  For as I rise- free- I no longer limit the call, the influence, the plan that God may have for me.  None of us can know the awesome scope of adventure God has for us if we’re limiting ourselves based on human traditions and values.  (Or the fifth grade band teacher, as it were.)

As each of us, men and women alike, are freed from restraints of brokenness and human tradition, we rise free to liberate others.  People say that “hurt people, hurt people” but as Christina Cleveland said once, “Free people, free people.”  Liberated people, liberate people.  You can’t walk in the full liberation of the cross of Christ without impacting those around you.

And that liberation is abundant.

You are as free as God says you are- and if Christ has set you free from the law of sin and death, from the curse of the Garden, then you are free indeed.  Walk boldly in your freedom because your influence is not determined by a title, by what other “creations” define for you, but by your identity in God and the good works He’s prepared in advance for you.

What do you need to be freed from to walk forward boldly into what God may be calling you to?  Invite God to simply breathe into you as His instrument and create the soulful notes that only He can.  Then ask yourself, “As I walk free, who am I meant to liberate?”


Further reading:

Galatians 3:28: There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”

John 8:36: So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Romans 8:1-2: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death.

Hebrews 2:10-11: In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.

Acts 2:17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.’

(New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.)

 

 

What We Find in “Losing It”

This morning I had an appointment scheduled with a nurse at my new Endocrinologist office.  Trust me, I’d thought through the day- I was going to knock out three birds with one stone, stopping first at my doctor for 10am, then picking up my contacts while I was out, in time to mosey along to my three year old’s speech language appointment at 12:30.  No matter that I had an extra kid home sick today…I so had the day covered.

I stuck my oldest on the bus, packed up the boys and drove to my Southington appointment.  Except when I got to the office there was a sign on the door that said they were closed on Thursdays. Weird.  “Well, maybe just the doctor is out, but they have a nurse here…”   So I asked the lady at the opposite reception area…you know…just in case. 

(As I type this my rational self is shaking her head- “Seriously? The sign says “CLOSED” and you’re going to plow right ahead and confuse the poor receptionist there instead of admitting you made a mistake?)

She basically reiterated what the sign said- and to just heap some extra shame on myself, I asked her what phone number to call to sort this out with my doctor only to find out that (you probably guessed it) the contact number was ALSO on the sign.

So I called the number and apparently I was supposed to go to the New Britain office.  Oh.  The lady seemed as perplexed as I was: “I booked that appointment with you…why would you go to the Southington office?”  

  1. Maybe because I have three children and only 2 functioning brain cells.
  2. Maybe because this is the only office I’ve been to so I just assumed despite your phone reminder.
  3. Maybe because OH! there’s a Starbucks over there…
  4. Or maybe I because I just screwed up.  

I resented her question, but she quickly realized that I was flustered and kindly assured me I could call back and figure out a new appointment soon.  So I dragged the kids downstairs, determined to salvage the trip by at least using the bathroom, but found that it was being cleaned.

Back to the van! I looked up directions pick up my contacts anyhow.  Just to be safe, I checked their office hours.  BLERG! – turned out the eye place was closed on Thursdays.  Sensing a disappointing pattern here, but still determined to be productive in the 2 hours till my son’s appointment, I decided to find a place to have the oil in my van changed and also use the bathroom. (This is absolutely rational-people logic.)

So I found an oil place- full service- very nice people.  The guy told me all their names and said, “If you need anything you can just say, ‘Hey Valvoline Guy!'”  Great.  Valvoline Guy.  I can remember that.  One problem…it was some express change so you stay in your car the whole time while they work.  This was fun for my boys but now I was seriously second-guessing my brilliant decision to over-hydrate.  

In the end, the oil was changed, the kids got a fun meal, my bladder survived, and we made it to the speech appointment no problem.  Not the worst day of my life.

But this wasn’t the first time this week I’d made a massive mistake.  Saturday I was beyond excited to drive up to Danbury CT to hear a Noble Peace Prize winner, Leymah Gbowee, speak at PeaceJam (a gathering of mostly youth and college students).  She’s absolutely amazing, uniting Christians and Muslims and helping end a civil war in Liberia.  Well, an hour or so, a parking garage and some trying to get directions later…I realized that the lecture had already happened the night before.  I missed it entirely.  I was devastated and was ready to hop back in the car and cry my hour drive back home, but I ended up texting a friend who was helping with the Jam.  She told me they were in the gym doing some cool dance and open mic stuff and I should totally join.

Ah yes.  The college campus gym. Directions?  So I awkwardly followed some girls and walked completely out of my element into this gym full of students, where my friend was leading a group in a dance to Bob Marley’s “One Love”.

Next thing I knew I was reliving a former Zumba nightmare trying to follow along to an African Dance.  (How come college kids have so much energy and so little social inhibition?)

 

And perhaps around this time I started asking God, “Hey there…what’s going on?  If I missed this awesome lecture and drove over an hour, I assume there’s something I’m supposed to get out of this detour.

(Order the book via email at: amezetovic@winooski.k12.vt.us)

Well, this was one reminder that God sometimes works in our detours and even our ineptitude to accomplish His own plans.  I ended up meeting a Bosnian woman who had come to America 20 years earlier as a refugee.  She has since written a book of poetry about her experience, and currently works at a school teaching ESL to a student body that is 40% refugees.

I plan to connect with her more in the future and hopefully understand a bit more about refugees and how to help.

Though we often feel foolish or frustrated when plans fall through, when we go to the wrong place or at the wrong time, there’s always something happening.  Maybe it’s just a perspective we need- a letting go once again of our control, learning to appreciate what’s in front of us anyway.  Or maybe God is orchestrating something in our detours that we never would have known to “plan” to begin with.