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!

Suffering: The Weight of Hope and Praise

Lately I’ve been wrestling with a body not yet thirty years old that may never work the way most people’s do.  My diabetic levels remain high, the numbers are all wrong, and I look back and has it really been this way for months on end? Why do I try so hard, pray so much…yet here I am with this invisible weight?

And then…I’ve been watching friends around me wrestle too.  Wrestle with worse.  Grapple with emotional and physical and family issues that I’m quite sure would warp and bend me till I broke.  And I’ve seen these same people pray, cry out to God, and sometimes…so it seems…their situations have only gotten worse.  And my soul aches for their ache.

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And yet I’ve been sensing, over and over, that I’m meant to be “unshaken”.  That I’m meant to trust God, and trust Him, and trust Him.  I believe He keeps asking me when I get frustrated and weary, “Do you trust me? Do you trust me if you numbers never get better?  If it’s like this forever?  If it only gets worse?

And why would I?  Why would I trust a God who asks me that?  Why would I trust Him for my friends?  I can only trust because He’s a God who gave up everything for me…bled for me, was bent and broken for me, and in humility defeated death for me.  I’ve found that when everything else is moving, shaking, that God is the same yesterday. today. tomorrow.  And how incredibly thankful I am that He doesn’t change because that means He is always Love.  He is always Life.  He is always Hope…always a Good Father.

Is it possible that true trust in God must come only through suffering?  Is it possible that suffering actually produces in me a stronger hope than ease could produce?  I’m slowly…oh so slowly… coming to understand what Paul says in Romans 5:3-5

3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

I desperately crave that Hope that suffering produces.

FURTHER, is it possible that suffering produces a different kind of praise?  God wants my praise at all times, yes, but there’s a praise that follows blessing and there’s a different kind of praise that follows pain.  Both are good, but maybe there’s a weight to our praise through pain that we simply can’t replicate at other times.

There’s a story (Mark 12:41-44) where Jesus points out a widow who gave a very small amount of money to God.  Yet Jesus marvels at her faith because she put in “everything…she had to live on”.  And though others gave more, they gave out of their abundance…out of their extra…though they gave more, it didn’t COST them as much.  Perhaps the same is true of the cost of our praise.

When we feel that we have nothing left to give- when our circumstances are screaming lies like “what if God isn’t really  good?  What if He doesn’t love you or isn’t strong enough to save you?  Why would you trust Him?”  Maybe then our praise costs a bit more… When we feel that the answer isn’t coming and we have no blessing to stand on, the weight of our praise is powerful.  The sound of that praise is deafening.

As my mom said today, the enemy simply can’t stand in praise like that.  If we can praise God in the MIDDLE of the worst, when it costs us everything to hope, the Kingdom of God is more alive than ever.  It’s advancing, growing deeper roots, spreading like beautiful vines that are taking over the death and destruction and the darkness of this world.

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When God can produce praise from our suffering through His own love, through His own sacrifice and presence… the enemy. simply. can’t. stand.

His lies must stop.  His end has been sealed. The victory is ours.

Yet we wait for now in the storm.  To my friends and to those I may never meet… I pray you find strength for where you hurt right now.  I pray God gives you a place to stand in the storm.  I pray that when you’re hard pressed, you’re not crushed; when you’re perplexed, you’re not in despair; when you’re struck down, you’re not destroyed.  I pray you’d KNOW in the core of your being that though you are persecuted you’re NEVER abandoned.   (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

Don’t get me wrong: Praise is not faking happiness.  It isn’t hiding our pain or disappointment from God.  Praise is still looking at God when your world is falling apart.  Praise can be the whisper to “help me in my unbelief” when it would be easier to not talk to God at all.  Praise is hands lifted through tears when no words will come.  Praise is giving God even the tiniest piece of your broken heart, with faltering hands, because deep down you are learning to trust, allowing Him to grow something in you EVEN THOUGH it hurts.  That praise is costly, a sacrifice, yet I believe it’s one of the most beautiful and precious gifts you can give God.

I leave you with this from this song I LOVE by Casting Crowns: Praise You in the Storm

And with this Bible passage from the Message version: (2 Corinthians 4:13-18)

13-15 We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, “I believed it, so I said it,” we say what we believe. And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise!

16-18 So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.

You Homeschool Too

Today I started my second year of homeschooling my kids.  I’m not a saint- really homeschooling is just trading some problems for others.  When my daughter went to public kindergarten, mornings were essentially a drill to see how late we could get up without missing the bus.  It required a lot of determination- last minute bed-waking, yelling to get her dressed in the morning, setting the kitchen timer like a drill sergeant so she finished breakfast in time and barely making the bus.  And with two kiddos still at home, when she returned, my parenting juice was already squeezed out; I felt like I was missing her most days, putting the TV on so she could unwind from a long day while I invented last-minute dinner.

Homeschool is a different crazy- more prep work to do for lessons, more pressure in one more area of their lives to potentially screw up.  On the plus side, I can tweak our schedule and let the kids sleep in if they need.  We can take a two week vacation or a casual sick day without informing any school office.  I don’t drown in  piles of papers from school about homework, fundraisers, events, and fairs.  I love watching my kids giggle and play so much as siblings; to see their personalities as they interact with friends; to teach them some really fun stuff. It’s a trade-off.20160906_105654

Still, sometimes I wonder whether my quantity of time outweighs the quality.  My one-on-one time spreads thin across three kids.  Today for instance, I had to take a break from schooling to rinse a generous blob of shampoo that my 2 year old squeezed in his hair.  Each season requires being willing to flex and do what’s best for our family right now.20160906_105711  So next year may be a new adventure back to public school.

In the meantime, homeschool has taught me a lot about myself and how I view my kids’ education.  And I don’t just mean academics.  Stepping back from the “normal” way of schooling gave me an opportunity to see the system more for what it is: a positive tool my kids can use to learn- a place to build friendships and independence- an experience that helps shape them…but not the end-all teacher.

School, along with church and organized sports and pediatricians and _________ (add your own), all have certain priorities, goals, and methods that sometimes clash with my own.  With your own.  And we need to occasionally take stock of the places where we don’t totally line up with whatever system it is, because those are precisely the places we have to teach our kids at home.  You too.  Me too.20160906_092642

Yes, academics  are important to me- I want my kids to read well, to be able to understand the world around them, to be savvy and comfortable with math and science, and ultimately to be able to use those abilities to impact the world around them in a positive way.

But I also want my kids to know that learning doesn’t just happen when you get an A+ on a paper.  I want them to see, whether at school or church, that knowing the right answer is empty unless you can use it- experience it.  I want my kids to know that family is important, rest is important, and we will take days off of school shamelessly for both reasons.I want my kids to find that love is always a better motivator than competition, success, or pride.  Because love is always focused on how everyone wins, how people are more important than tasks or even grades.  20160906_124318

So I want my kids to love.  I want my kids to dance and be silly and never trade in who they are for anything.  I want them to ask questions and see what I sometimes didn’t see as a young kid- that being the best in school does not define them, does not make them a more valuable human, does not dictate whether they can impact the world.  20160906_090231

Maybe you want the same things for your kids- there’s probably some places we would disagree. But the point is this:  Whether we see our kids 2 hours a day or 5 or 12- you teach your kids, in some ways far more than the schools ever can.  What you teach your kids sets them up for how to use the rest of the tools in their lives- what you teach your kids gives them permission to honor the system while maintaining personal priorities- what you teach your kids goes far beyond academics into soul and character shaping.  You might just be homeschooling more than you think.

So be brave and be strong- we are bound to get it wrong sometimes- but your kids have no more precious teacher.

 

 

Being the Oreo Cream

Are you a “middle” person?

That’s me. I started my career as a neutral middle person during recess at my cozy Massachusetts elementary school.  I don’t feel like recess was sufficiently long for third grade drama to incubate and hatch into full-blown silence treatment- but what do I know?  One day in particular my two best playground friends had some disagreement and wandered off towards the specific destination of being as far away from each other as possible.

Which meant I was alone in the middle.  Why?  Maybe because I didn’t know which of them to follow- you follow one person and Switzerland will deny your application to the ranks of neutrality.  Maybe I thought the recess bell would ring soon and I didn’t have enough party hats and noisemakers to throw a reunion party.  But perhaps it also had something to do with losing my voice.

A middle person has a voice you know- often a strong one, but the middles can be hesitant to speak, to act.  We might not speak because we want to maintain peace, we might keep silent because we don’t think we can change anything, we may prefer “just OK” to ruffling feathers.

Here’s a thought: The world needs the voice of the cookie part of the oreo, but it definitely needs more cream voices speaking up too.

The beauty of being the cream in the middle is that you interact with and grow from both sides of the cookie, without losing your unique identity.  

Recently I was in a situation where I felt rather uncomfortable.  I was listening to the conversation of those around me and I totally felt out of place- as though I’d made group reservations at a dinner place that I thought was casual, but showed up in my jeans and t-shirt to find that everyone else was wearing tiaras, glass slippersballgowns…. OK, apparently my imagination is going with everyone dressed up as Cinderella.

I was a bit squirmy because I couldn’t seem to agree or relate to everyone fully.  I wouldn’t have been there if I didn’t agree in part- but at no point did anyone else at the table say the thoughts that were running through my head.  Uh-oh.

Breath in…breath out…don’t be a baby and cry.  Don’t run away.

So, I didn’t run very far…but at one point in the evening I made my way to the bathroom to breath in the fresh air of being with someone who I belonged with, even if it was just myself.  And in that moment I had what I’ll call a “God-thought”…just this sense that I’m supposed to be a middle person.  That’s kind of my role.  To be where I’m not fully comfortable to not only speak balance into others, but to find balance for myself.  And to grow and be sharpened by the opposite view as well.

See, as much as I didn’t fully agree or fit-in with the present conversation, there was probably another equal and opposite conversation happening somewhere that I wouldn’t fully agree with either.  And there was some poor schmuck dressed as a Cinderella who thought she signed up for ballroom dancing and walked into a square-dance in a country barn.  And she had to choose whether she would hoist up her dress and dance a line-dance in a bit of discomfort, or run away so fast she’d leave a slipper behind.

At some level, we’ve all been the middle person somewhere.  It’s a lot easier to stay with the middle people who think just like us…but that’s not a very good soil for growth.

Maybe you find yourself in the middle of…

  • Parenting Philosophies (i.e. Schooling options, food choices, the growing Pokemon-Go debate, etc.)
  • Church Stuff (i.e. values between two different churches, leadership values, music choices, etc.)
  • All Things Family (i.e. communication styles, disagreements, vacation preferences, etc.)
  • Relationships (i.e. strong opinions between mutual friends, different values in the workplace, introvert and extroverts, etc.)

You can be a middle person and have a strong opinion.  And you can actually keep being a middle-person without hiding your opinion in an inconspicuous corner of your sock drawer.  In fact, to be a healthy middle person means that you get to be a bridge to two different sides.  (Kind of like my little cozy-coupe driver who is quite comfortable between two very different ride-on toys.  OK, just go with me here…I didn’t feel like hunting for a perfect oreo picture that would leave you running away for a snack.)

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I’m realizing lately that I would be missing out on a lot of healthy balance if I always ran away from the places I felt a little out of place in. Maybe being in the middle is where I’m called to be, not to water down my beliefs, not to be a little doormat-people-pleaser who agrees with everyone to keep the peace- but to grow more into God’s heart which just so happens to love people on both sides of any cookie.

Where’s your “middle”?  Are you trying to run back to neutral ground, or are you learning to grow and be a bridge?