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.

 

 

 

Community is a Pain

Guys- I’m going to make an honest confession here:  I’m not sure I like community.  Do I need it?  Yes.  Does it sound wonderful in theory?  Uh-huh.  Community looks cute on TV- like on that show “Extreme Home Makeover”.   All the neighbors and friends rally around a struggling family and show up to support them- the construction people come and give them a home that meets all their needs- and then that bus rolls away and there are tears of joy, and smiles all around, and sometimes even a cute puppy in the background for good measure.  Ahhh…community.  And then…click…I turn it off, and I get to pretend that community ends that way- that it’s always happy, feel good, tears of joy, a bus of blessing.

But real community is kind of…messy, unsettling, annoying, hard work.  Community is like what happens when you try to bake anything with children- it’s going to take longer, there’s going to be arguing, and you’re going to get a whole bunch of flour all over the place.015

Turns out I don’t want the flour all over the place.  I’m a bit of a control freak.  I like to plan my things on my time.  I don’t like waiting.  I’m not particularly good at knowing how to let people help me.  I prefer to be in the driver’s seat, literally, which is why I didn’t let my older brother drive at all on a 16 hour drive to see my parents.  (I didn’t say I was proud of it.)

And why should I ever be vulnerable ever?  Whose bright idea was it to make that a prerequisite for healthy community?  And depending on how honest I’m being, I’d tell you I’m between 68-100% positive that my heart is massively selfish and I struggle to really love anyone and everyone.  Case in point- I maaaaay have told my husband the other day that I was trying to “not seem selfish” but also “do what I want”.  (Like swinging alone for instance.)newport 3

I don’t usually say it out loud, but I think that’s an ongoing undercurrent in my heart, an undertow that threatens to suck me in and drown me in the self-absorption I thought was in my best interest.

Turns out community is really great till it’s inconvenient to me.  Community is fantastic until it means someone has to see my messy side- my needy side- the yelling, irritable, keeping-record-of-wrongs me.  Guys, I can win a complaining contest without breaking a sweat, and as an avid talker I find it easier to gab than listen, easier to use my mouth to complain about something than my hands to work towards fixing it.  Community requires that I use my hands and feet for more than just myself.  Community asks me to let someone else help me up when my pride would rather hide and nurse my struggles by myself.

Community is beautiful till I realize that everyone else is a mess too and it’s not like we’re all getting more and more perfect at a steady rate.  Oh no.  The deeper in we get, the more likely we are to step on an emotional landmine of some kind, more likely to find hurt and more depths of our selfishness and yet…and yet I marvel at how my heart aches for community all the same.  I marvel at how even the sandpaper of community is actually refining me, sanding me a bit smoother.  At least, I’d like to think I’m a bit less likely to give you a sliver today than I was five years ago.

I was made for being with people.  My church family might be the best example of that for me…It offers me hope and love, the faintest picture of what I believe heaven must be like.  I’m surrounded by friends who I know will laugh and cry with me, keep me in check when I’m being a word I can’t use in polite company, and challenge me to grow and love more deeply through their own love.

Yeah.  Community is such a pain.  But it’s the kind of pain that keeps me alive, keeps me from being numb, keeps me from dying in a selfish stupor.

What about you?  Do you struggle with community?  How have you kept your heart vulnerable towards others?  How have you learned to give up your own selfishness?  I’d love to hear because I so struggle with this myself!