Unraveled (Friend Post Friday #3)

I’m beyond thrilled for you to meet my friend Sharon Butler who is this month’s “Friend Poster”.  I’d introduce her myself, but I can’t beat her own beautifully spoken bio…so the rest is Sharon:
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These days, I am the wife of a crazy redheaded lumberjack, the mother of seven amazing kids, a homeschool mom, a blogger at www.PureReligionIs.com, an anti-human trafficking activist, and a compassionate entrepreneur. 

I’ve been a writer as long as I could write. The downstairs bathroom was my childhood office and the toilet lid was my desk. I found quiet and solitude there, perfect for my childhood writing. As a teen, I processed fears, beliefs, joy, and all my strange ideas in my beanbag chair writing-lab. 

By college, I was a misfit journalism and ministry student who wanted to change the world, but I started to doubt myself and God’s plan for me. I stumbled, doing things my way for the next several years. Then one day, God took it all. He wrecked the life I had built, and led me through years of wilderness while He shaped me, carved me, humbled me, and began to prepare me to do it all His way. 

I wear a lot of hats, but of this I am sure: that no matter how much or how little I know, God chooses the weak, so He can use even me. Whatever I do, I do for His glory. May that be always evident in all I do.

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UNRAVELED– by Sharon Butler

No Strings Attached

If life is like a tapestry, you can imagine how it might unravel. A loose thread here, a tug, a yank, a pull. Before you know it, you’re just a mess of string, unattached.

The unraveling comes in those hard times that shake us to our core, circumstances that seem to wreck our lives. I presume we all have them, but we don’t always know what to do with them, do we? In the midst of a crisis, we may not see the whole tapestry—only the pull that’s causing the destruction.

My unraveling season was the spring and summer of 2008. It almost seems surreal as I think back to this time of my life. It lives in my mind in mere flashes of scenes – disconnected from each other, but yet, held together by the tiny thread that unraveled me with each tug.

It was the family vacation when I first suspected my husband’s affair. He was on the phone with work way too much, and missing our time at the beach house. When we returned home, I asked him to cut back on his time with her, because something didn’t seem right; but instead, he said, no and walked out the door. That’s how I found out that there was an actual problem, and it was not just paranoia.

It was the day my boss, friend and mentor told me she had cancer, and I felt that knot tighten in my throat. I didn’t dare burden her with my troubles. Then later, she asked for my help crafting a ‘positive’ message about her illness to the staff, while she was losing her hair and growing thin and frail.

It was the day my daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, right before she and I should have been leaving for our first vacation alone. I knew our lives would never be the same again.

It was the day I secretly hoped her Diabetes would bring him back to us, but it didn’t. It was the day he asked for a divorce. It was the day my boss died and my world was wrecked.

That was it. My life unraveled. I was undone—a mere pile of thread tangled up on the floor.

Before that, my life had been a string of people, places and events that connected me to the world, a tapestry of experiences, hopes and dreams; but after, my life was punctuated by nightmares, tears, and far too many unknowns. It was a mess, with no meaning, no pattern left.

My marriage was over, my job was in question, my daughter was chronically ill. And I was alone, with no strings to anything, except my sick baby girl. I had lost my framework — my goals, my dreams, my career, and my partner. I stood there like a blind man in the middle of a room trying to feel for a reference point.

For weeks, I cried as I walked to work. I would pull myself together long enough to look reasonably professional, and cry again on my way home. Occasionally, I’d turn off my office lights, sit under the desk and cry. She, my former boss, would have understood. I would always clean myself up outside the front door of my house, and be sure to walk in with a smile to see my daughter at the end of each day. I’d lie on the floor and let her crawl on me because that’s all I had energy for.

I grieved. I mourned. And then one day, I knew I had to make a decision. I could continue grieving, or I could make a new life, put some of those threads back together, no matter how messy. The tears may not have stopped just because I said so. I still cry nine years later as I recall that time, all the loss. But I began carefully crafting a life for myself–something different to set my eyes on for the future.

First goal: Find me.

After years of marriage to a man I began dating in college, I had given up so many of my own personal dreams and desires, and even elements of my personality, that I didn’t know who I was anymore. I’d moved for him twice, helped put him through medical school, and lived as a single parent, effectively. So the first goal was to uncover who I was. Do I like to dance? I have no idea! Let’s take a Salsa class! What kind of music do I like? Who knows anymore! Let’s go hear some bands.

Second goal: Be brave.

All those things that scared me? I now had a drive to overcome those fears, to try new things, to stretch myself. I had to become brave. I made my list of fears and determined to overcome them with personal challenges. Afraid of swimming with creatures? Snorkeling in the ocean will cure that! Scared of guns? Well, that means its time to learn to shoot.

Third goal: Dream.

For all those years of marriage, I had put my own dreams on hold. I pushed them back into the dark corners of the closets. Now, as I struggled to untangle that thread, I didn’t know what to use it for. What was it I wanted? What was it I loved? What was it I felt called to do?

Dreaming is scary. It’s dangerous and risky. What if I dream it and can’t achieve it? At the time, I was so scared, I manufactured false dreams—dreams I was willing to walk away from easily. And I did. But years later, God restored my true dreams of old—the dreams I had dreamed my whole life—the dreams of helping hurting people, dreams of writing, dreams of family and faith and ministry.

Even though I forgot who I was, forgot how to be brave and forgot my dreams, God never did. He held the plans for the tapestry of my life all along. I had made some poor design choices and ended up with a tangled up life, so as it unraveled around me, God saw opportunity—a chance to re-weave my life into what He intended all along.

Saving Our Kids (and Ourselves) From the More We Don’t Need

We navigated through the crowded woodland-themed lobby towards the canopied exit.  As we pushed the double doors open, fresh air filled our lungs and though the warm spring sun was fading, we caught  whimsical glimpses of its reflection on birds flying high above.

We exhaled.  The kids climbed a giant wolf-rock that was probably fake for all I know.  A fellow vacationer wrapped up her cigarette break and thoughtfully asked if we wanted her to take our family picture.  Where were we again?

That moment was like a reality-check-pause in our mini vacation to Great Wolf Lodge recently.  It’s really the perfect all-in-one place to take a young family.  You unload your light luggage and walk into a child’s dream: face painting, crafts, and balloon shapes, capped with a giant woodland character display.  And that’s just the lobby.  Whimsy is included in check-in, where you receive fuzzy wolf ears for all and head up to your hotel room.

There, the kids get to explore their mini wolf cave, complete with bunkbeds and wall mounted TV.  They even threw in some bottled water for free this time.

But that’s not really why you’re there…because the whole place is part indoor water park, part indoor ropes course with an arcade, spa, and mini restaurants.  Since the waterpark passes are included in your stay, this is the true highlight of the trip, and the big kids ooh’d about the wave-pool while the three year old mastered the mini-slides in his goofy, irrepressible way.  

Then we’d move to another area in the water park and my seven year old crossed a rope-over-water obstacle course while the boys floated in the lazy river or gleefully avoided the giant dumping water bucket.

Pure bliss, right?

Mostly.

But I haven’t told you about the fantastic water pass wrist bands, which were probably invented by a genius who loses things a lot.  The adult wrist band is your room key (*everyone freaks out and faints in amazement!*)…and you can conveniently use it at ANY of the Lodge’s on site locations to buy…well, anything: food, spa, arcade, even the Dunkin’ Donuts on premises.  Hallelujah, it’s convenience on steroids.  Except its alarmingly less convenient than we’d think.

We happened to have $50 free resort credit loaded on our card, so we used the wrist bands for purchases till that was used up.  But since my mind doesn’t know how to truly vacation from all thoughts probing, theological or otherwise, I started to actually be troubled by the stupid room-charge wrist bands. Because as easy as it is to swipe a credit card mindlessly to pay for things (which I often do), at the tap of a wrist band and a quick signature I could be on my merry way, hardly thinking about the total I was accruing.

Maybe it was the chlorine saturated artificial humidity or maybe it was my over-analytical brain but as I sat watching people walk through the water park area with their Wolf Lodge Pizzas and appetizers, I started picturing everyone with some dollar sign over their head.  I’m picturing invisible running tallies for that thick cut pepperoni, spa splurges, arcade binge, and plush wolf souvenirs.

I’m not even a math person which certainly didn’t help my sense of panic.

But back to my point, if I can find it somewhere in all the fake dollar signs and magical forest creatures: I don’t think it’s wrong to splurge sometimes to enjoy ourselves, to relax as a family, to embrace something fun and whimsical.  (Side note: Our family was blessed to go, and had a blast.)

Great Wolf Lodge is one of those places where you have absolutely everything you need to be happy, but you’re subtly surrounded by the idea that you could be MORE content if you spent MORE.  You can’t convince me it’s not intentional that you have to pass the arcade, spa, wizard wands and bubble blowers to get from the lobby to the waterpark, and it wasn’t lost on our children.

You have the whole amazing water park and THEN some, but as I’m not the first to point out, discontent is good business.  If someone can insert just a hint of discontent, we’re likely to buy into it in a literal sense.

And then we’re surrounded by vacationers who are spending it up with THEIR adorable kids, some of whom have themed wolf pajamas, spa glazed hands or collectible wolf coins (3 for  only $10!).  And there’s a part of all of us parents that feels like maybe we’re not giving our kids the best- the most fun- the world that they deserve.

But what if the “more” is not what we need?  What if the more is actually squelching something beautiful in our kids…in ourselves?  What if the more is actually feeding our discontent which feeds our more…which…well, you get it.

And I realized that the resort we were staying at was like a microcosm of real life.  Vacations are meant for a little splurge.  But our real world works a lot like that resort: I have really good things that many people don’t have.  I have a beautiful family, comfortable home, food and coffee and entertainment pretty much at my fingertips.  It’s my flipping waterpark bliss.

But I’m dazzled by the arcade and spa of my world, whether furniture or wardrobe or latte or must-have for my children.  And am I really any happier for all my spending and stacking of things?  Are my kids?  In reality, our more is suffocating us and overflowing in giveaway bags and trash cans.  It’s coming out our drawers, filling up the floor of my car with empty coffee cups and yet my mind screams for…more.

And I realized I need a moment, just like at the water park, where I intentionally force myself away from the crowd, out those materialistic doors into….the fresh air of a REAL Kingdom that is built on truth, love, and hope.  It’s a Kingdom that doesn’t run on our currency or pinterest wish list, that isn’t driven by profit or prestige.  It’s a place where the Bible says “I lack nothing” (Psalm 23:1) and God says that everything He has is ours already (Luke 15:31).  It’s not a magical unicorn place free from hardships on earth, and yet it’s a place where we can find strength to be content in every situation (Philippians 4:11-13).

It’s the place where I find that something eternal is growing in the midst of precisely the less that I thought I could never be happy with.  He literally makes my less more.

What are the things that draw me out those doors, back into that Kingdom perspective when I’m struggling with discontent?  Is it listening to others who don’t have what I do?  Is it realizing that while I’ve regretted plenty of purchases, I’ve almost never regretted giving money and things away?  Is it saying no to myself sometimes to realize my heart’s capacity to be content in Christ with less?

No matter what, I believe God is telling me I’m missing something in my excess.  (And trust me, I have a lot of it.)

If you’re looking for your own key to enter the perspective of that Kingdom, I’ve made a printable sheet of mini-contentment challenges for you and your family.  Print out a few and stick them in your wallet, car, fridge, or wherever.  Try a few of mine or use the blank card for you or your kids to write their own.

And if you end up with a cool story to share, or you have other ideas for being content, please comment!

CONTENTMENTCARDS 

*If you don’t want to download, I’ve listed the Contentment Card Suggestions Below:

  • Give Away One Thing a Day for a Week (Be Creative!)
  • Choose to Say “NO” To Yourself Once This Week (When it’s HARD).
  • Do Something As A Family That is FREE But Fills Your Soul.
  • Thank God for something when you feel discontent.
  • Make a List of Things You GAVE AWAY that made you HAPPIER.
  • Send Your Kids on a “Thankful Hunt”: Let them make a list or a Picture.
  • Take a break from Facebook, Pinterest or Social Media that feeds your need for more.

 

 

 

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…

The Inconsistencies of My Heart

If you’re feeling discouraged, left out or abandoned by God, unheard or unnoticed, this post is for you.  It’s one of my journal entries from this month, and I wrote it as though God were speaking it to me…I believe He impressed it on my heart and I hope it lifts you up and challenged you as well.


“I AM unchanging- unfailing- my thoughts beyond tracing out.  You sit in your unanswered prayer- your diabetes- and ask if I hear you, wonder if I care, doubt my love.  Yet I’ve told you that my love and your pain are not mutually exclusive- I AM here IN your pain, through the fire, near in your broken-hearted moments, seasons, journeys.  For your own peace I promised you truthfully that you’d find trouble here, but my presence in unending measure.  For those who wait.  Remain in my love.  Seek me first.  Acknowledge me.  Love me with your heart, soul and mind.

You accuse me of inconsistency- but I’ve never promised you safety and ease- your claims about my inconsistency reveal the truth of YOUR heart, not mine.

My Child- let me ask you this: When you come to Me in song- when you tell Me ‘nothing you desire compares with Me’… that I’m ‘all you need’… that you’re ‘desperate for Me’– why do you cry out the next moment in despair over your circumstances?  Have you ever asked yourself about your inconsistencies? How your words before me are fickle?

Dear one, am I enough for you, no matter what?  Do you desire me more than being fixed right now?  Do you trust that my love really does have your best at heart?

I know it will take time for you to be stripped of your fear and doubts and struggles.  You are human, after all.  And while you’re wrestling, know that I AM here, all love, waiting…pursuing you.  Though you doubt, remember that I died for you and there’s not greater love I could show you than that.

Can you trust that love right where you are today?”


What are you struggling with today?  Do you have prayers that remain unanswered?  I know it’s hard to share our most vulnerable hurts, but feel free to vent in this space.  And if you’ve found that whisper of God’s hope and love in the midst of your pain, I’d love it if you’d post what God has spoken to your heart!  May we continue to encourage one-another. 

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.)

 

 

Parenting SOS!

“Honey, put down the markers, we don’t color on ourselves…or the wall..or the floor…just paper.  PAPER!!  Is that so difficult a concept?”

“If your sister says stop, then STOP!”

“When we get in the car, we sit down and we buckle up.  I shouldn’t have to say that every time we go somewhere.”

“That’s not a sword, and we don’t hit people.” 

“You’re too old to run around the house naked.”

“If you don’t listen, I’ll throw away your toy.  I don’t even care.”

“I don’t actually like to yell, so if you don’t want me to why don’t you listen?”

“I know I said you couldn’t watch TV [Dear God, what was I thinking?]but you could mayyyybe earn it back if you would please just follow directions now.”

“Don’t lick that!”

“I’m sorry that your leg hurts; but it didn’t seem to bother you before I asked you to clean up.”

“If you don’t listen, there will be a consequence…I don’t even know what it is yet, but you won’t like it.”

“No, you can’t have candy for breakfast.  Eat what I gave you because that’s what we’re eating.”

“If I’m in the bathroom, don’t open the door!”

“Don’t worry about what your brother is doing, worry about what I asked YOU to do!”

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I used to have this idea in my head that parenting is more about being with my kids and loving them than disciplining them.  But somehow that’s not how it’s going for me.  Honestly, from the minute my kids wake up I feel like most of what I’m doing is giving them directives: “Get UP, Get Dressed, Eat Breakfast, Pack your library book in your backpack!”  When I’m not telling them what to do I’m telling them what not to do, as the list above reveals.

Occasionally, my child will speak soft, kind words, or try to tell me their whimsical thoughts.  And even THEN half the time I can’t even focus on that sweet moment because one of the other two is acting out.

Is this what parenting is?  Am I missing something?

I’m starting feel right now, especially with my middle child that I’m just in a never-ending battle.  Maybe I’m trying to get him to leave a friends house and JUST want him to put his shoes and coat on.  I like to think it’s a fair request in New England winter.  Yet we drag on back and forth, me taking away treats or fun things; he pushing back with angry words and stubbornness.

By the time we get home there’s something new to argue about, assuming we even made it the whole car-ride home without a clash.

And tonight, I’m sitting there praying with the big kids at bedtime after a whole bedtime saga, and he just says “stop praying, stop praying, stop praying” and I ended up downstairs after just crying because I feel like I’m failing at this.  Failing with him.  Like I must have been inconsistent or faulty in something when the kid was 18 months old and we simply can’t recover.

Maybe I let him have one too many muffins one day instead of firmly saying “no”, or maybe I yelled a bit too loud once and his little brain decided that he’d start fighting anger with his own.  I joke… but really…do you ever wonder if you have been parenting all wrong and you just don’t know how to get back on track?  I don’t even need to be on the track…just maybe parallel to it.

I don’t want to be the mom who spends the whole day saying no.  I don’t want to be the mom whose kids require twenty reminders to do one thing.  I want to give my kids fun things, good things. I want to be a light-hearted Mom who creates a home of peace.  But I’m not sure I’m that mom right now.

How do we let God hold our kids, yet seek Him to strengthen our own for the task He gave us as parents?  How do we encourage our kids to obey without nagging, to listen because we love them- how do we motivate them with less punishment, less anger?  Or maybe, how do we learn to admit that even with our mistakes, we’re really loving them better than we think?

I’m putting this out to you Moms- Dads- Grandparents- Aunts- Friends- What advice would you give to me and other struggling parents who think they might be losing it somewhere?  How can we discipline as needed without creating a negative atmosphere in the home?  Comment, post, text me if you must.  🙂  This mom is ready to listen.

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.

 

 

 

Wait. Remain. Rest.

Why has it taken me so long to post in the new year?  I could blame it on all the transition around me, a post for another time, but the truth is I’ve simply been a bit stuck.  Kind of in a funk.  2016 felt like such a big year for me, finally publishing my first book, being asked to speak on multiple occasions, and attending my first writer’s conference.  Then 2017 rolled around, a blank canvas…and perhaps for the first time in my life I saw that empty calendar as a threat instead of a challenge.

Instead of my imagination soaring through endless possibilities I looked at my baby steps of “success” last year and wondered, “What if that was it?  What if that was my season of living bold, my grand hurrah, and now God is saying, ‘Hey, Kid, really great effort back there.  That was your season.  So, yeeeaaah….I guess we’ll be in touch…(*awkward cough*)’ ” 

I’m hearing and I’m reading a great blog here and an inspiring message there about going and doing what God wants and having spiritual goals and it all sounds so wonderful…but I’m wrestling.  I’m not seeing the plan; I want to “go” but I feel a bit reckless without a map.  I’m not so much afraid that I’m bringing my baggage from 2016 with me into the future, I’m afraid my best self is stuck back there.  And I can yell pretty loud, but I’m just not sure I can get that me to follow me alllll the way to now.

And suddenly I’m keenly aware of everyone else around me who seems to be running wild and free with their dreams, like those pictures of jubilant youth scampering with abandon through open fields of wheat or daisies or…OK I’m not great with plant names I’ll just stop before I embarrass myself.

 

 

 

 

 

Do you ever feel that way?  Do you ever have that suspicion that you’re missing out on something vague and distant that you don’t even know how to get to?  Whether it’s weight loss or financial planning or a dream job or a more organized house…someone else has figured it out, but you’re not sure how to?

So where do you put your foot first?  (Out of bed helps, anyway.)

And I feel like God is whispering into my stubbornness… “Come back to me…rest…just enjoy being with me, your first love.  If you find your full satisfaction in ME then you’ll never have a reason to be dissatisfied.  No circumstance or success or failure can define your significance because you are simply Mine. Be strong, and take heart, and wait on me.  Just where do you think you’re running on your little hamster wheel?  Remain in me, because outside of me you’ll only find striving with empty results, but even the little you do in me will bear fruit.  I’m not finished with you yet…and whatever plans I have for you I will continue to accomplish. Do you trust me enough to stay close and obey?”

Wait. Remain. Rest.  Although they’re not my favorite, my Christmas tree reminded me why I desperately need those words.  See, my tree this year just wasn’t very full at the bottom.  Lots of gaps. Awkward and off-putting.  So I thought I’d just shove some of the extra branches we’d cut off into the tree stand to fill out the base.  My husband suggested we twist tie them on to the other branches, which worked wonderfully…and I basked in my DIY tree-hack bliss.  Until I noticed a few weeks later how my lower branches were looking a bit sparser than the others. Hm…

My hacked branches were no longer attached to the tree, no longer getting any water from the trunk.  They were dying quickly and shedding needles at an upsetting rate.  And yet this is the picture of what happens to me when I try to hop off the Vine and do my own thing, seek my own dream or glory apart from Him.  When I become more focused on how significant my life and dreams appear than on the One who alone breathes life and significance into me…I fall apart.

But if I Rest. Wait. Remain.  They don’t sound like the most productive words for the new year, but if everything we do, every dream we pursue, every passion we act boldly on flows out of those words…then watch out because the Kingdom is advancing.  I believe God is not done with us yet!

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Psalm 27:14: Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

John 15:4 NIV  Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

Isaiah 30:15 “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:

“’In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength,
    but you would have none of it.'”

Philippians 1:6 “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Warning: High Maintenance Areas

I’m not high maintenance.  Pff.  Absolutely not.  Yes, I’ve been buying more clothes from for-real stores and from fair trade/wages organizations like Imagine Goods and Amani Ya Juu20161110_212757

but I’m still a thrift shop girl at heart.  My long hair means I don’t have a “salon” so much as some friends with haircutting abilities that I occasionally pay to keep me within the realm of acceptable split-ends.  I don’t require expensive jewelry; I admire fancy nails, but I can’t seem to maintain them myself; it doesn’t cripple me to have an imperfect house.

So I’m not high maintenance. Nope.  Not a smidge.  Um.  Except for when I am.

This holiday season I’ve been mulling over the idea of “joy”, mostly because I’m supposed to teach on joy this month.  Drat.  It’s more fun teaching something than learning it myself.

My joy seems to be wrapped up in my expectations.  I can sit here and look at all the other people with their “high-maintenance” whatevers who seem to require more of this or more of that than I need to be happy.  Or their personality is wired so that they really can’t function without a fully cleaned house…or they find an honest-to-goodness happiness in a really great manicure and monthly hair-styling.  And it’s easy for me to think that those things are a wee bit unnecessary- definitely not something to set your joy on.

Yet I set my joy on some high-maintenance expectations of my own.

Let’s start with coffee.  A friend recently told me she only buys coffee out a couple times a year.  Excuse me?  In a YEAR?  That might cover your birthday and anniversary, but what about Valentine’s Day and Groundhog Day?  What about the Starbucks monthly double-stars day?  What about days when the kids are going crazy or you feel hormonal?  What about the “I-happen-to-be-driving-within-10-miles-of-my-favorite-coffee-place” days?  What about RAINY days for heaven’s sake??!!

And then let’s get down to the actual coffee.  I, thrift shopper that I am, have somehow convinced myself that it’s OK to drop 5 dollars a pop on coffee. I’m quite a smooth talker to myself.

” Why, yes self, you DO have diabetes…you DO have a two year old who punched you in the face today…you DO feel a bit tired and YES if you miss this two minute window to buy coffee you’ll probably go into a catatonic state of lethargy from which there’s no return.  What kind of mother would you be if you DIDN’T buy coffee?”

And my joy is suddenly based on the latte-ness of the day, or whether the store has my favorite sugar free syrups, or how often I’m able to escape in java bliss.

Then Christmas tree shopping revealed more high maintenance areas.  We got a wonderful tree but we didn’t get our usual wagon ride and hot chocolate amenities.  A bit of joy deflated.  And even though I “let” my kids pick out a tree, I’m a master of getting them to ultimately pick one I approve of.  Because Christmas just might fall apart (for me) if I let the kids pick out the tree.

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So my gracious husband dragged in our fresh-over-priced tree, patiently stood it up and screwed it into the stand only for me to look at it with an overwhelming sense of discontent. (loss of joy).  The trunk was too tall…the lowest branches were dismally far away from the floor.  Dismally.  Yes I said it. I awkwardly asked if he could re-do it.  If he could possibly take the whole thing down, cut a bit of trunk here, a branch or two there.  Only because my joy hinged on it.

And then I almost started crying, because once he had trimmed the darn thing, the tree was closer to the ground but the branches he was forced to cut off left gaps all around the base of the tree.  Not one sad little gap that you can turn towards the wall so no one sees it.  Gaps everywhere!  And I panicked because we had already bought this tree and there was no going back and now Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas unless I could JAM some extra tree branches into the tree stand to fill out the bottom.  Seriously, I sat there like a mad-woman trying to wedge tree branches until my husband gently asked if I’d like him to tie the branch onto the tree instead.  Yes…we twist tied branches onto my tree this year like the equivalent of tree hair transplant.

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So our tree is complete now and it fills me with joy and it should.  That’s OK.  But it’s also symbolic this year of my expectations for joy.  Maybe I do have some areas of high maintenance that can threaten to steal my joy if I’m not careful, if I don’t own them and tame them through a little letting go.  Maybe we all have those places in our lives…maybe the things or people that give us the greatest joy, when lost or broken, are also the places where we have the potential to lose the greatest joy.

Is there a deeper anchor for my joy than my own high-maintenance places?  Is there a well of joy that runs deeper than my broken expectations?  Is there a source of joy that outlasts my temporary fixes?

I’m finding that a joy bigger than my circumstances must come from outside of myself.  For me, Jesus is more and more becoming that source of joy for me.  He’s becoming more than just a plastic figure or a pat answer and is soaking into the very fiber of who I am.  I’m not fully there yet…but my soul reminds me whenever I’m disappointed in this life that there’s a far deeper joy in the One I can’t see than in the things that I can.

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Where are you tempted to lose joy this year?  How do you refocus yourself when joy seems far away?

 

Call it Creativity?

It was Tuesday morning, circa 8:50am: homeschool co-op day was upon us, where I’ve been entrusted with an hour of activities and playtime for the boisterous toddler set.  Except I had no activity planned.

My fully-adult baby brother and sister came to visit the night before which meant I’d stayed up late talking about all the things.  Sibling time is soul food, and therefore worth shirking other obligations for occasionally.  Right?  So there was simply no time to squeeze out to prepare for class. Not a drop.  (This is where you all smile and nod your head and pretend like it was grossly unreasonable for me to carve out a twenty minute slice of prep time in the two weeks between co-op classes.  Ahem.)

But honorable and brave woman that I am, I became fully committed to preparing for class 20 minutes before I had to leave for said class.  Procrastination calls for nothing more than a healthy dose of creativity.

As a side-this is probably why my home is in the state it is: The theme is basically “functional chaos”.  While I’ve gotten more organized over the years (I can literally hear some of you snickering right now), I’ve mostly learned the art of “creative cleaning” which is more focused on appearance than legitimate clean.  For instance, I still have papers everywhere, some stuck on the wall, some stuck in “planners” (some good they do me), but mostly I stick them in baskets now.  That’s better.  To actually sort the papers, well, that’s asking me to exert a great deal of my limited decision-making ability.  (How does anyone decide the destination of one more financial paper or half-scribbled coloring page and remain sane?) And when it comes to “cleaning” my kitchen, well…I’m much better at artistically stacking the dishes in such a way that the counter appears clean.  Ta-da! (If you want a further window into my home, read this blog post by my friend about HER HOME. It was scarily relateable and will give you a chuckle!)

But where was I? Yes.  8:50am.  Nothing planned.  So my mind played this out: “It’s fall- we’ll just print out some tree coloring pages.  Yes.  Oh! Here we go…this one is  great (clicking print)..and I can totally have them glue on the extra tissue paper I have cut up from 2 classes ago.  Um…except what are we going to do for glue? I don’t think I have time to find all the glue-y things.  Um…wait…I do however have an excessive number of alphabet stickers.  Alphabet…tree-…the Book!  Chicka Chicka Boom Boom!  

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We’ll make a fall themed Alphabet tree and I’ll bring my book if I can find it.  Hallelujah, it’s on the shelf.  What are the odds?  Aaaand…let’s go!”  

So out I ran, probably reminding my kids that they should know enough to get in the car and get buckled without me asking, and probably blaming them somewhat for why we’re always late, when in reality my last-minuteness is killing us.

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When my class started 10 or so kiddos filed in, and the territorial squishy-block wars began as usual, with a couple quieter ones on the fringes playing with magnet dolls or trains.  But then, miracle to behold, my most active boys were totally engaged in the story- kids were chanting “Boom! Boom!” in adorable disunity, and most of the kids sat patiently for the craft as well.  My heart swelled almost as much as my pride as I confidently proclaimed myself “brilliant” and beyond gifted at the art of creative procrastination.  You know what, let’s just call it creativity.

Later that day, I pulled a similar creativity stunt for our non-existent dinner plans- I whipped together some concoction of stew that I believe to be one of my best ever, and which I’ll never be able to duplicate because I, um, just used whatever popped into my head.  Go me.

Except I started thinking…creativity is a blessing, yes…it’s a strength of mine.  But do I sometimes rely on it to avoid actually working?  Yes, sometimes I come up with things on the spot and they are AMAZING.  But other times, my kids suffer from my lack of planning and wonder what on earth the schedule is going to be today?  Sometimes, my spontaneity actually takes up MORE time. Sometimes I think that if I just planned a bit better, I might actually save more money on food and feed my kids less PB&J.  (not that I’m knocking that!)  Maybe what I’d like to call creativity is a cover up for weaknesses I’m less thrilled to admit- being late to things, feeling overwhelmed simply because I didn’t sort out my week, not giving myself FULLY to a task or following through completely on things because I’m creatively bandaiding it for now.

For the life of me, if I knew how to insert an emoticon, I’d put a sad little questioning face right here.

I’ve been thinking about how our strengths can often be part of our weaknesses…  About what it means to acknowledge what I’m good at and what I’m not and surrender it all to God to be used in His way.  And that probably means I need to wake up a little and do some housecleaning of my heart and stop making excuses for the parts of myself that need work.

What about you?  Where have you found that your strengths and weaknesses collide?  What practical steps have you taken to address your weaknesses?  How have you found yourself surrendering it all to God?  I’d love to hear your story!