The Christian Phrase I Hate (Gray Faith Study Ch 4: Gray Sin)

Does the very phrase “gray sin” make you uncomfortable?  Each generation seems to be getting more and more fuzzy about what sin means and how we handle it.  But if we’re going to live and love in God’s kingdom, we need a give-and-take discussion about sin.  And frankly, people, we all have room to grow in how we respond.

Check out my video to find out one Christian phrase I’ve come to hate- then stick around to check out this week’s on-your-own experiment and study questions.  (To follow along with the book, download or purchase here: Gray Faith on Amazon. )

Experiment #4:  

(PART 1) Find a comfortable place to kneel down.  Read through Bible passages that declare God’s holiness and power (Revelation 4:8-11, Job 38, 1Timothy 6:15-16)  Or listen to songs like “Revelation Song” by Kari Jobe, or “The Stand” by Hillsong, “Your Great Name” by Natalie Grant.  (These are suggestions- feel free to play songs you most resonate with.)  The posture of kneeling or bowing sometimes helps us to physically acknowledge who God is. Verbally acknowledge His holiness and that you accept His Lordship in your life.  Consider your smallness and brokenness in relation to who He is.

 

(Part 2) Instead of dwelling on your smallness and brokenness to the point of guilt and despair, now consider the amazing love of the Father who made a way for you to approach His throne with confidence (Hebrews 4:16).  Relish the fact that you’re covered by Jesus’ holiness, that God has removed your sins “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).  Take a moment to just dwell on how great His love for us is, that covers over our worst sins.  Write any thoughts that come to you during this time.

 

Chapter 4 Study Questions:

 

  1. What did you grow up believing were the “big sins”?  Has your understanding of or reaction to these sins changed over time?

 

  1. Can you live in the tension that someone else who loves God may not follow God the same way you do?  Explain.

 

  1.  What is the difference between standing up for what we believe in and arguing with someone over belief?  

 

  1. What does it look like to confront sin in love?

 

  1.  We’re all broken- prone to fail and fall short of God’s glory.  How have honest relationships in your life have helped to break down your judgment towards others?  

 

  1.  The “discomfort of grace” means that God covers our sins, even those we aren’t aware we commit, and he covers others as well.  We’re partly right, partly wrong.  Discuss what implications this has for our moral disagreements and how we interact with others.

 

  1. How does the magnitude of God’s holiness affect the way you view sin?

 

Bible passages for further reading:

Romans 14 (Don’t judge, Disputable issues are between us and God); Matthew 18:15-17 (sin in the Church); 1 Corinthians 13:9-12 (we know in part); Philippian 1:4-11 (God continues a good work in us); Luke 7:36-47 (Those who are forgiven much, love much); Luke 17:1-4 (Causing to sin); John 8:1-11 (A Woman Caught in Adultery); Acts 2:38 (Repent from Sin and be forgiven);Luke 18:9-14 (Humility before God); Revelation 1:9-18 (A Vision of holy Jesus


Tough conversation, but if you care to join, please comment below with your thoughts on anything from your own experience with Christianity and sin, to answers to the study questions. Thanks for joining the online study!

You Are Here

My most philosophical lesson this week came quite unexpectedly from my three year old.

I picked him up from preschool and we went with a friend to New Haven CT to volunteer at Love146 for a couple hours.  (BTW, they are absolutely a fantastic organization, devoted to ending slavery and sex trafficking both in the US and abroad. Check them out!!)

Anyway, I had my friend drive because I’m not a city driver.  Not remotely.  Just this weekend I botched a simple parallel parking job in my tiny town and had people on the curb awkwardly giving me directions.  I played it cool and joked that I’d love to tote those lovely people with me to help in my next driving fiasco.  I don’t think they saw the humor in that.

But please, enough of me.

As my friend drove, my son inserted himself frequently into our conversation, and gave a running commentary of things he saw out the window.  At one point while we were a long way from our destination, my little man suddenly perked up.  “We’re Here!” He shouted in rapture, apparently believing that our shortcut off the main road meant we’d arrived where we intended to go.

And I laughed at my sweet kiddo, but my friend and I both agreed that in some ridiculously simple but profound way- YES, we are here.

We were there in a moment.  No we hadn’t made it to where we planned to go, but that didn’t mean that the present was unimportant.  That didn’t mean that we were exactly in the middle of a meaningful “here”.

Lately I’ve found my heart struggling with “here”.  I find myself waiting to get through the morning routine, the bedtime routine (who am I kidding…there’s no routine)…just so I can savor a minute of peace at the end of the day.  If I’m supposed to meet someone for coffee later, then I’m counting down till the “then”;  if I’m planning out my next tattoo it feels so far away till just then… or lately I find myself waiting while God incubates something new in me- I know it’s growing there because I feel it- but the waiting part hardly seems fun.  The “then and there already” would be much better.

But then I look at my three year old.  This kid is all. in.  No matter what he is feeling or expecting, he embraces each moment with every atom of his being.

If I tell him he can have an ice pop, the kid gasps in amazement; if we’re hanging out in line at Starbucks he is full-on dancing to the store music, making use of every spare inch of floor tile.  If we’re at Walmart he’s going to embrace being a ninja turtle while we’re in the toy aisle.

If he sees a friend, even one he just met, that friend better not need a space bubble, because my son loves handing out enthusiastic hugs in the moment.   Sure he gets mad- sure he throws a fit when things don’t go his way.  But even that is a reminder of how fully immersed he is in “now”.

I get the sense that, for him, life is something that is here. now.  And the beauty of that attitude is that whether he’s up or down, he’s engaged.  He’s happy if an unexpected treat comes along; he’s not thinking about where he’s going next so any context is a social context; he’s not worried about where he’ll be in five minutes because that wide open field is calling his name right now.

Maybe that’s what God is trying to teach me.  Matthew chapter 6 says “Don’t worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will worry about itself.”  “God, give us TODAY our daily bread.” (What we need for this moment.) Or how about Proverbs 19:21 “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”  Why am I striving so hard for my way, my plans down the road, “later”- when there is rest letting go and believing God’s purpose will outlast, outdo, outweigh my own ideas.

Life is happening- now.  And I don’t want to miss it.  Even the hard parts- I’m believing there’s something now that is worth being present for.  Now is going to happen whether I like it or not…so I might as well soak it in.  Just ask my three year old…although, I wouldn’t take his advice on everything.


 

Quick Reminders!!!

  • Don’t forget to check in THIS Friday, June 23rd, for my next “Friend Post Friday”!!!!  You won’t want to miss hearing from my good friend Audrey Beatty.
  • AND the Gray Faith Study starts THIS Monday online!  Check back here for the first video and discussion guide or follow along at https://www.facebook.com/lesstobemore/  I can’t wait to get started!

 

 

 

 

Dead Sparrows= Don’t be Afraid?

The Bible often mystifies me.  Levitical law is too far beyond my culture and era to fathom; Paul is obnoxiously confusing at times (You seemed pretty confident that I’m saved by faith, so what’s this line about being saved through childbearing, Buddy? Get your story straight.); and the finer details of Revelation leave me scratching my head every time.

So there’s this perplexing passage where Jesus is talking to His disciples about how they shouldn’t fear people- the worst they can do is kill your body, but they have no power to touch your soul.  Rather, shouldn’t we be concerned about God and what He thinks of us because He has true authority over us?

But He follows up with what I’ve long considered to be one of the worst pep talks ever:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31: 29 )

I don’t know about you, but here’s what I’m reading: A sparrow isn’t worth much.  But God still knows when it dies.  I can barely keep track of when I’m supposed to wash my hair, but God, apparently, keeps a running tally of each follicle, clean or otherwise.  Moral: Don’t be afraid, because you’re worth more than many cheap sparrows.  The end.

Here’s my problem, in case any of you missed the apparently non-sequitur leap from message to moral: the sparrow is dead, people.  We aren’t supposed to be afraid because of a dead sparrow? (I’ve complained enough about this passage to one friend, that she sent me this picture because dead birds remind her of me now.  I know, it’s pretty bad.)

Image: Caitlin Leffingwell

Jesus doesn’t say that when a sparrow, who is worth almost nothing, starts to fall, God swoops in to resuscitate it.  Jesus doesn’t say, if the sparrow starts to plummet, I’ll give it wings like Eagles and send it on its merry way.  Nope.  He simply says that the sparrow doesn’t go down “0utside your Father’s care.”  Oh, and have no fear.

Ahem, “God, pardon my irreverent question here, but how does watching a bird die count as ‘care’?”  

OK, I’m going to let you just hold onto that awkward irreverent question while I pause to insert a brief side story:

I was talking to my friend Susan recently about the how I’m stressed from always being high- and when I say “high”, I mean my blood sugar numbers have been elevated because of my diabetes.  (Ah, I enjoy that joke too much.)

I told her I had struggled to feel like God cared for me in the midst of my suffering; that He didn’t seem to want to help.  But I also told her I felt like I was supposed to say “yes” to whatever He wanted to do through my problem- that I needed to let Him use the circumstance for His plan.

And she basically said, “You’re still looking at the circumstance.”  Pff…um…no I was trying to learn God’s lesson for me, right?  That’s what all this is about, right?  Being made mature and God using me to help others and bladabladah?  But maybe she was right?  Maybe I was putting way too much emphasis on the circumstance itself.

If I was upset at God for not healing me, I was defining Him by my circumstance.  If I was waiting for Him to do something through my pain, I was defining Him by my circumstance.  If I was feeling that I had to somehow figure out how to use my problem for something better, I’d still be focusing on my circumstance.

So…can I define God completely outside of my circumstance?

Back to our dying bird and the deafening silence I left you in after my last question to God: What if the point of that story has a lot more to do with WHO GOD IS than with the condition of the bird?  Here I’ve been making sarcastic comments to God about how His little dead bird anecdote is hardly uplifting- when all the while that dead bird has been pointing me to a God whose character is outside my circumstances.  

In the middle of our worst moments we ask God where He is, whether He is big enough, whether He “cares”.  Why? Because our circumstances changed.

But did He?

What if God simply IS good?  (Whether our car gets totaled or we inherit a lamborghini?)

What if God simply DOES care? (Whether we’re enjoying a day at the beach or we just got diagnosed with an illness?)

What if God simply IS love? (Whether we feel Him powerfully in the moment or lie awake in the dark wishing we knew where He was?)

Maybe the story is really saying, “If I care to know this bird’s story, if I’m aware and concerned for it’s death, then I’m a God who cares that much more about you.  No matter what is happening to you.  I’ve numbered your hairs- because that’s how much I care to KNOW you…because that’s just who I am.  I can’t promise you no pain, I won’t promise you won’t die, but I promise you that as your circumstances change, I never will.  Who I am is gloriously unaffected by your circumstances.  So when your pain and heartache and loss tell you I’ve left you, can you remember that I’m not defined by those things?  Can you still trust Me because you know who I am?”

 

I’m on the upswing of a rough week, and the weather is finally bright and sunshiny…its possible that my rising belief in God’s goodness is related to that.  But now more than ever, I desperately want to KNOW God deeply, because I need Love and Care and Good that will not change no matter what I face. Because I’m pretty sure there will be worse days, and I’m going to need something solid to stand on.


What about you?  Have you ever felt like you were defining God by what was happening around you?  What have you found about God’s character in the middle of your trials?  What do you think it means that God cares for us even when our struggles remain?

 

 

 

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!”

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

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.