Reina and Her Umbrella {An Unexpected Encounter with Jesus}

Driving “home” today, my friend and I notice the sun setting over the mountains.  We are in (literally) the middle of nowhere Honduras on a road that could be mistaken for a path – at best.  When the road forks, she chooses the “wrong” way purposefully in hopes of photographing the beautiful mountains.

Nothing prepares me for what I see next.

Smoke.  Trash.  A dump.

dump

And a family.

We decide to turn around because (honestly) we are alone and not quite sure what to expect. As we turn, I look closely at the family and realize…it’s our family.  It’s the family we’ve spent almost two days with as we built their widowed mother a home.

It’s Ritzy – the little gal Hannah has hugged and fed and played with. It’s Maria.  And her sons.  And Reina.  Hannah has been to their home.  We’ve loved them – worshipped with them – served alongside them – shared a meal with them.

ritzy

We suddenly understand: It is not the “wrong” – but His way.

We pull up to the dump. They see us and come RUNNING.  Smiles. Jumping. Waving.  So excited!

We get out of the truck – met with hugs and holas and buenos dias.

My friend has sawdust on her pants; Ritzy bends down and begins to clean her pants (no, the irony is not lost on either of us that she’s in a dump and worried about the dirt on our pants).

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My friend begins to ask the mom, Maria, about the dump and how they make a living there. My Spanish is iffy at best, so I begin to share snacks and hugs and high fives with Ritzy and Reina.  They know I have a phone with a camera, so they motion for me to take their picture and let them see it.  (They LOVE looking at pictures of themselves and their family.)

I get my phone out and give it to Ritzy so she can scroll through the images.  Then, Reina asks me to take her photo with her  “sombrilla”- her umbrella.  I frame her in my phone screen and suck in tears and a sob.

Reina with her umbrella.  With the smoke from burning trash.  With trash at her feet.  With the beautiful mountain view.  It’s overwhelming.

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I take sweet Reina’s picture, and she wants to see it. Muy bonita! (Very pretty!) I tell her. She smiles, and I see contentment and joy that I may never understand.

My friend prays over them.  We hug each of them tightly and head toward the truck…

prayer

And I know…Jesus turned us the “wrong” way.  He used His creation – His splendor – to draw us toward His people.  He wanted us to know this family more deeply.  To step outside our comfort zone and walk into their lives more fully.

He wanted us to see their smiles and pride as they showed us their “territory” – the part of the dump they’ve claimed as their own.  He wanted to tell  me…

Sarah, I do NOT live in a box.  Your ideas about what it takes to be joyful and content are NOT my ideas.  Your ideas about the “good life” are yours alone influenced by culture.  Your ideas about “good’ and “bad” aren’t necessarily mine either.  

Because here’s the truth, friends.  I wanted to pick all of them up, drive them out of that dump, find them a new home, and try to make to their lives better.  But, as I drove…I considered my definition of “better” – they were smiling and laughing and working.  They were together as a family.

Do I wish they didn’t have to live and work in a dump? Yes.  Are my ideas and my way of life better than theirs?  No.

They know joy that I do not know.  And they thank Jesus for each and every gift, depending on Him in ways I have never ever had to.  I am in awe of all I learned from them.

Thank you, Lord, for showing me yourself today.  In the most unexpected way.  In the least expected place.  May I never forget Reina – or her sweet umbrella posing proudly in the dump. And may I never forget, Lord, that You discern my and Reina’s going out and our lying down; You see Reina and me when we sit and when we rise; You are behind and before us, hemming us in; the darkness is as light to you – whether in a Honduran dump or in a house in West Virginia.  (Psalm 139)

Beyond grateful,

Contents of a Backpack {Hannah in Honduras}

My Hannah is at the end of the hall getting a pedicure and manicure.  It’s pampering – but it’s really practice for a gal learning in Mi Esperanza’s Beauty School. There’s a bilingual gal named Marcela, and they’re chatting as if they’ve known each other for years.  Hannah’s smile is big, and I know she’s found her happy place.

Han and Marcella

In her rush, she’s left her backpack on the seat along with a half-crocheted baby hat – and some fudge round cookies.

I begin gathering her stuff to make room for others.  I glance down in her backpack, and I have a moment…

This is the girl – the woman – she’s becoming.

backback contents

A small, hot pink Bible (I look later – it’s bookmarked to Proverbs).

I Am Malala, a book she’s already read, so I wonder if she’s reading it again.

Magnetic, a book I purchased for her last weekend at She Speaks.  She told me last night as she read – this book is so good.

A Mi Esperanza passport holder along with the boarding passes from yesterday’s flight to Honduras.

Knowing what’s in her heart isn’t difficult to discern.  It’s what’s in her backpack.

God’s word; stories of social justice; an ethically-made passport cover created by women rising out of poverty in Honduras; a book about “becoming the girl God wants”; yarn and hooks to crochet hats for babies.

I look on as she makes a friend; I love watching as they share about their lives.  She loves dancing as Hannah does.  Two girls from two different worlds – literally and figuratively – who have found common ground…just being teen girls.

group convo

This reminds me we are so much more alike than we are different.  I don’t know why I forget that.  Why we forget that.

So this week I am praying and watching…and learning from my Hannah.

Lesson One:  The language of love needs no translation.  Listen to others’ hearts.

Marcella

Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood? {Part 2}

What’s your name?  Stephanie.  Do you have babies at home? Oh, yes, ma’am.  Four.  She tells me the name and ages.  We share mom talk.  I thanked her for the way she’s served us.  She tells me that’s her ministry: serving. I’ve watched her refill drinks and clear tables for hours with a smile and kindness.  I also watched her sing along to the praise and worship music as she cleaned after the last session.  I understand joy better because of Stephanie.

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We’re taking turns sharing our book topics.  Our stories.  Sandy from Wisconsin has a “word” to share with me.  Two things.  One: It is what it is, but it’ll become what you make it. Two: Do not allow your children to be victims, but victors. Such a gift from this “stranger.”  Sandy teaches me boldness.  To share your wisdom with others.

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She’s 68 and came to the conference alone.  She desires to help others through her story:  How Jesus took an orphaned girl and made her a beautiful daughter of the king.  I learn you’re never too old to answer His calling.

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Three years old. My prayer partner lost her only daughter to cancer when she was only three.  Then divorced and now a widow…and only 40.  Such courage and boldness to come and share her story.  To use her pain for purpose.  This mom teaches me courage and obedience.

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I meet Brandon in the hotel coffee shop.  We chat while I add cream. He tells me the hotel was unprepared for the large number of ladies needing coffee and lunch, resulting in very long lines.  He ran out of most everything quickly.  I ask him, “Have we been kind to you?  The ladies at this conference?  Because you know it’s a Christian writer’s conference, right?” And he says, “Oh, yes. Everyone has been wonderful.”  Brandon reminds me that when others “know we are Christians,” they’re always watching to see if our actions match our words.

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Kathi adopts older children. (Most people want younger kiddos.) Her family of seven includes two Ethiopian children.  She feels called to help others understand adoption.  As I listen to Kathi, I know I need to trust Him more.  He is strong when I am weak.

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She’s a published author and sought after speaker.  She sees on my Instagram that I’m in Charlotte and comments, “I live five minutes away!”  I ask if I can come over for coffee or dinner (I’ve always wanted to meet her in person.)  She messages me and says she’s moving this weekend and time is tight, but she really wants to hug my neck.  She makes time for me this morning.  Forty minutes in the local Starbucks. And she’s just what I thought…exactly who she says she is.  Humble. Kind. Encouraging.  Genuine.  Wanting God more than any thing. Taking time to meet me and share blows me away.  It’s a privilege. A highlight in my year.  She reminds me the “famous” are truly just moms with to-do lists, trying their best to be obedient to a call that comes with TONS of responsibility.

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A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the “people in my neighborhood, the people that I meet each day.”  God’s nudge to be intentional about really seeing people has taught me so much lately.

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And these words still apply…

Every single person has a story and is carrying a burden you can’t see unless you want to. (ALL people…not just the ones who look like you and not just the ones who are kind.  ALL people – all of those made in God’s image.)

Notice people.  It matters.

We just want someone to genuinely listen our their hearts. To hear a piece of our pain and to acknowledge it – not to fix it, but to simply say…I hear you.

I am not in “my neighborhood” this week.  But, aren’t we all neighbors?  Don’t we all need to love our neighbor – where ever we are – as ourselves?  So, I am still noticing.  And in the noticing, God is teaching me about himself and his children – one by one.

Who are the people in YOUR neighborhood? Would you take the time to notice someone today and share the story in the comments?  I’d love to hear how God is leading you and who you are meeting!

Much love,

Dreams Do Come True {To My Little Self}

I remember parts of my childhood vividly.  The creek.  Our trailer.  My room. My white desk.  Family dinners.  My Barbies. Grandpa’s barn.  Camping. My new pink carpet.  Bo and Luke on my closet door. Getting a hardback copy of Little Women. Going to the Union Mission to get books.

And best of all…

My imaginary world.

I played with Barbies, but only because I wanted them to dialogue.  I’d create “scenes” with them and write them down – just in case As the World Turns or The Young and the Restless ever needed a new writer.

I played in the creeks behind and beside my house.  Small ditches became canyons.  The occasional crawdad  - a great and mighty lobster. The patch of woods across the creek  - Robin Hood’s domain.  The tunnel under the road – a cave holding dragons or hieroglyphic writings.  My bedroom – a school house.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t create story or record my life with pen and paper.  It was and is deep within me; this need to write and create…

Story.

When God knit me in my mom’s womb, He knit a storyteller.  A dreamer.  One who would love her home, but want to fly.

And I keep thinking of that little girl. Sitting at her white desk in her room in Poca, West Virginia, in Bishop’s Trailer Park. Penning story after story in little journals and on notebook paper. Dreaming that one day she’d see the world.  One day she’d write stories and tell of her adventures. One day she’d speak for those who had no voice.

Tonight that little girl is almost 40 and is sitting in a hotel room in Concord, North Carolina.  The desk isn’t white.  The journals and stories long forgotten and trashed.  The hotel different from the trailer.

But, the dream?

It’s still in her heart. She’s still a storyteller.

And this weekend a piece of her dream – my dream – is coming true.

dreams come true

A friend gifted me with a trip to Proverbs 31’s She Speaks conference for writers and speakers.  And here I am.

{Deep breath.}

I’ll meet with two publishers this weekend – one from Bethany House and another from Harper Collins (y’all can pray about that if you’re willing).  I’ll sit and learn from some of the best storytellers. Women who not only tell stories well, but also love Jesus big.

she speaks poster

And I may never be published.  I may never tell the stories created for my Barbies.  I may never tell my own stories.

But.

I will have tried. I will have answered His call and stepped forward.  I will have done all I could to carry out the dreams of the little storyteller sitting at her white desk.

I know I am making her proud.

So, fellow dreamers…parents of dreamers… Keep dreaming! Let them dream!

Dreams do come true. Maybe not exactly as we think, but exactly as they should.

And this girl is beyond thankful for a Savior who NEVER gave up on her. Oh, He should have.  So. Many. Times.  But, He didn’t. He kept the seeds He planted alive.  And He’s redeeming a life that has been hard, especially over the past eight years.

And He will do that for you.  Keep dreaming. Stay faithful.  He loves you – I promise.

This verse in the hall at the conference sums up my heart:  Be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead. 1 Peter 1:6

verse

So thankful.

Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood? {Really SEE Them}

He walks up to the table to pay.  I smile and say hello.  No smile in return.  He’s a tough-looking gentleman with “worn” eyes.  I can tell life has not been easy.  His tattoos and t-shirt speak to some of his likes and dislikes.

We exchange money for sparklers, and he says, “These are to keep the grandkids busy. To get their attention on something else.  We buried my step-son today.”

His eyes fill, but no tears drop.  He says thank you, and I connect some dots to the local news.  I know his step-son was very young and left behind young children.

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A dad and a daughter. She’s not more than 10. Dad looks like he’s worked hard today. The daughter talks on and on about everything she sees.  Dad patiently listens and responds. Most people are in a hurry. This dad has all day to listen and respond kindly.  As it turns out, the girl lives with her mom and this time with his daughter is weekly. Dad makes $8.75 an hour doing manual labor and can’t spend much, but his little girl wanted some fireworks.

When they leave, he opens her her door for her – a gesture that brings a tear to my eye.

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She asks how loud each firework is.  She selects an assortment with careful consideration.  As she leaves, she explains that her son is autistic and can only stand certain noises. He won’t go to the larger fireworks shows, so she puts on a show for him the backyard – tailored to his needs.

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The woman and man seem to buy a LOT of fireworks. The husband looks at his wife and says anything else? And she says, “Oh, you know me and fireworks.  You better just check out before I see anything else.”  He smiles and pays.  And she explains…

My son died at age 3 of heart disease.  There’s something about fireworks. They make me feel close to him.  I feel as if he sees me letting them off – that he sees the fireworks and we are together again in those moments.

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The man’s hat proudly proclaims his service in Vietnam.  He’s the only customer in the tent.  We are eating dinner, laughing and joking.  My son throws a Pop It (a tiny paper that pops or snaps when it hits the ground – no flame necessary), and the man jumps.

After all these years, the sound still startles him.

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I remember watching Sesame Street when I was young.  I loved the segment…

Who are the people in your neighborhood?  in your neighbrohood? in your neighborhood? Yes, who are the people in your neighborhood – the people that you meet each day!

people in neighborhood

The postman, the teacher, the doctor, the grocery clerk – we’d get to meet them – SEE them.

And this week, I’ve been seeing people.  Really seeing them.

I’ve been selling fireworks at a tent located in a Wal-Mart parking lot.  The proceeds benefit our team’s mission trip to Honduras this month.  I have to admit…some days, I do not want to show  up.  I am not much of a salesperson, and I have so many things I’d rather be doing.

But, the face of a woman who will get a house  - the faces of those who will visit the feeding center we will help to build.  Those who will gain skills  and those who might just feel unconditionally loved in the moment. These faces come to mind, and I know where I should be and why.

hond woman

What I didn’t expect this week was the people that I would meet – just briefly.  Each of the above exchanges lasted a minute or two. Long enough for the woman or man to be heard.  To share a piece of his or her pain.  And long enough for me or my friends to offer a heartfelt “I am sorry.  I will pray for you.”

I can’t begin to detail the “takeaways” from the week; the lessons God taught; the reminders He gave…but here’s a few…

Every single person has a story and is carrying a burden you can’t see unless you want to. (ALL people…did you catch that? Not just the ones who look like you and not just the ones who are kind.  ALL people – all of those made in God’s image.)

Notice people.  It matters.

So many people just want someone to genuinely listen to their hearts. To hear a piece of their pain and to acknowledge it – not to fix it, but to simply say…I hear you.

A lot of people are angry and overwhelmed, and it pours out on their children and others around them.  Be aware of your words. You can’t unsay them.  (I pray most for the mom of three who talked so hatefully to her kiddos.  I wanted to hug her tightly.  She looked on the verge of breaking at any moment.)

There are so many kind, good people in this world.  Sweeping statements about God’s people – those living in this world, those HE MADE – are unkind and unnecessary.

And in light of the shootings in Charleston, confederate flags, and Supreme Court decisions…As God mixed each of these with the people that I met each day, He reminded me…

Each of us just wants to be loved and accepted. Truly.  We want to be who God has made us to be and not have to apologize or justify it. And for those who follow Christ and identify themselves as Jesus followers – Christians – I pray that what we desire above all else is to become more and more like the Jesus of the Bible. The Middle Eastern man, who was a Jew and poor (in the material wealth sense that our world so highly values).  The one who made black people, white people, brown people – all people.  The one who told us…

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13: 34-35

Today, on this day as we celebrate the United States of America and her history, I pray you notice and take time for the people that you meet along the way, especially those closest to you. Look in their eyes.  Hear their hearts.  Love them.

Celebrating a Miracle {Chloe Turns One}

Yesterday she sat on my lap, pulling my glasses off my face. Kissing me on the cheek.  Saying “ma, ma, ma” and “no, no, no.”  Showing me her index finger when I asked, “How old are you?” and clapping for herself when I said, “Yes, you are!”

And at one point, I looked in her big blue eyes and simply said, “Thank you, Jesus”   for this healthy and lively one year old, sitting on my lap in the flesh.  I can hardly remember that day one year ago when I took up residence in the hospital waiting room.  On the labor and delivery floor.  Praying…

Please, Lord, this is it. We are soooo close.  Please protect Dawnna and her baby. I am begging.  

That day Dawnna’s nurse was a high school friend, Shawna. (What are the chances?)  And it was Shawna who burst through the door – still clad in scrubs – at a little after three in the afternoon, proclaiming, “She’s here and healthy!”

And she is.

Happy.  Healthy.  Here with us.

A miracle.

celebrating a miracle

And God reminds me of the Israelites who so quickly forgot how God parted a sea for them as the Egyptians followed closely behind.  In fact, they’d continue to “forget” and wander for 40 years as a result.  One flip through God’s word, and we see it again and again….

We forget so easily.  But God remains – always there – never forgetting us.

I’ve noticed that in this world when we “get what we desire” or when life “finally seems to work out,” we forget what He has done.  When in the midst of suffering and dire circumstances, when there is no where else to turn, we ask for prayers and seek our Creator.  But, the moment life appears “good” again – the moment we see the light at the end of the tunnel – our hearts seek him less and less.

Those who are healthy. Who have food on the table. Who have cars to drive and clean water to drink.  Who have healthy children.  Who have good jobs and plenty of clothing.

That is…me.  And most likely you.

We don’t have to fall on our faces every morning and beg God for the day’s provision. To give us a child or to provide a day’s wages.

In fact, we are more likely to be complaining about the child’s behavior or neediness.  To be wishing for a day off or a “better” quality food. To want bottled not tap water.  A newer car, not our older one.

And while these are human and “normal,” my prayer today to my Father was and is…may I never forget.  No, I never want to dwell in my past.  In the moments of hurt.  In the circumstances.  I don’t want to daily remember my dad’s last breath or my sister’s devastating news.  I do not want to dwell in divorce court either.

But.

I want to remember. Not the circumstances, but my Father’s hand in my life. I don’t want to turn back and want what was lost, living in the past.  But to look forward, equipped with lessons learned, remembering that I serve a God who is able.

I serve a God who goes before me, walks alongside me, and stands behind me.

He is in all and knows all.

May we never forget the Lord has brought us this far (1 Samuel 7:12).  And have faith in knowing that He will bring us home.  To completion.

So, today I reread my words from one year ago.  May I never forget how I felt and how much trust I placed in my Savior when I wrote this

Tomorrow as I sit beside my mom again in the WAITING room, waiting to meet Chloe, praying for a safe and easy birth for my sister, thanking God for the gift of a child…

I will silently be giving Chloe back to the one who gave her to us.

As you grow, Chloe, I pray we say of you:  But Chloe, though she was only a girl, served the Lord.  She grew up in God’s presence and grew in favor with the Lord and people.  Yes, Chloe served the Lord. (1 Samuel)

Because as we each walk on this earth, searching for meaning and purpose.  As we each wait for what will be and let go of what was not.  As we wait upon the Lord to heal or take us home.  As we wait on Him to open our womb or change our hearts.

As we wait.

There is only one thing…one thing that matters in the waiting and in the end.  For Dawnna and Casey.  For Chloe.

They served the Lord.

Lord, may we serve you as we wait.  May we serve you as we look back and look forward.  May we truly understand that  you placed us – placed Chloe – upon this earth for ONE purpose:  To love and glorify you.

Processed with Moldiv Processed with Moldiv three kids in teal

May be grow in the grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  (2 Peter 3:18).

Hannah Goes to Honduras

In 2013 Hannah went to Honduras for the first time.  She’d taught herself to crochet via YouTube, and she had made hats for Honduran children going through chemo.  On that trip she also taught a group of young moms how to crochet, so they could make items to sell and support their children.  Since then, those moms have expanded their skills and sales, and Hannah’s heart for Honduras and her people has grown.  Each time I plan a trip or board a plane, she says, “I want to go, Mom.”

han w stack of hats

han and girl w her hat on

And I say…”Why, Hannah?”

And she says, “To teach more girls to crochet so they can escape poverty by selling what they make.  To give people hope.  To love on people.  To build houses.  To give little girls the dresses we’ve sewn.”

As I talk with Hannah about her decision to take a mission trip (not just go along with her mom), I am struck by how deeply she feels.  How much she wants to go into the all the world and share Jesus in the ways he’s gifted her to share.  How sure she is that God is calling her to love and serve others.  How much she realizes her own life is a gift as she has been given much.

“I taught some girls to crochet two years ago.  I just taught them the basics, which was only enough to make a hat and a washcloth.  In the two years since, they have made hats for their children, purses to sell, and more.  They’ve helped to sustain themselves as well as their children with the things they’ve crocheted.  They even sent me a purse they made. I’m very proud of them, and I hope to teach more girls and women to crochet.”

han w Janets girls

 

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Hannah hopes to travel with a team (and me) to Yamaranguila, Honduras this summer and teach mothers in a rural area, who have come to the hospital early in anticipation of their babies’ arrivals, how to crochet.  She will also be part of other team activities, including the distribution of dresses that Hannah has been sewing with a group of ladies at City Souls Ministries.

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Hannah needs to raise about $2000 for her trip, which will include airfare, lodging, supplies (yarn, etc), food, etc.  Any amount – small or large – will help.

If you’d be willing to contribute, you can find Hannah’s Go Fund Me page here:  http://www.gofundme.com/hannahinhonduras

I can promise you that she will steward each penny well.

We Are Sisters {What Does Love Require of Us?}

Caring isn’t a Christian’s sideline hobby. Caring is a Christian’s complete career. We don’t just care about people — caring about people is our job — the job every single one of us get up to do every single day. That’s it. Caring is our job, our point, our purpose.We’re here to care like a boss. Ann Voskamp

I’ve missed the last few Ann Voskamp posts. In a busy day, blog reading is the first thing in my routine to go. But after seeing this post shared on Facebook by ladies I respect, I made time to read.

I read and reread.

How horrific.

I am begging you to take a moment and read it.  Please. You need to know.  (This is me pleading you to take five  minutes and read this – please.)

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I once prayed…Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours.  He answered.  He continues to answer. And if I am honest there have been times I’ve tried to take that prayer back.  I’ve looked around in Honduras or in my own classroom and said…I don’t want to know anymore. I don’t want to care.

Just today a woman who once cooked for me in Honduras lost her one-month old to pneumonia.

Two students recently told me of their foster care experiences – one is now happily adopted. Another just existing because it’s the best she’s been offered. (When she looks around at her peers, she feels less than – like she was dealt an unequal hand.)

And now these words from Ann that describe something I can’t even fathom.  Near the end, the “God forbid” sections get to me.  Tears come.  And this….

When we are on Sinjar Mountain,” Sozan motions to these mothers, these women, sitting on the floor of the shipping container — like you can truck humanity around like meat — “and ISIS is fighting and shooting and killing all around us — there is no water. No water anywhere — for any of our children. There is no food. Six of the children with us — six of my nieces and nephews” — she holds up her fingers — “six of them, they die. No water, no food.”

Does she know that after every meal at home, I water all our houseplants with the leftover water in the pitcher? That our dog gets whatever we don’t finish off our plates? Does she know that our churches are fundraising for building expansions and plusher chairs while their children are dying?

I had a bad day yesterday. Just a day of feeling overwhelmed and weary mixed with sadness.  So much just felt impossible yesterday.  And then I read these words.

Both my kids woke up happy and healthy this morning.  Chose from 20 outfits. Ate good breakfasts. Packed a big lunch.  No choosing which one to put in the getaway car.  No watching them die and covering them with rocks because I can’t dig into the mountain for proper burial.  No wondering how they will eat or drink today. (I mean, can you EVEN imagine??)

I wasted three gallons of water washing my favorite travel coffee mug because I’d left it in my car.  Wasted pizza sits on the table.  I threw out old food from the fridge in anticipation of trash day – you know, that day when the trash man comes and takes away all the things I’ve wasted.  Sigh.

And, friend, this is NOT me feeling shame or guilt about what I’ve been given.  Not at all.

BUT…

It begins to end when the world lives what we actually are: We are sisters. We are a sisterhood. We belong to each other. We belong to the women who can’t read, we belong to the women who have been stripped of every hope, who are being sold in slave markets, whose daughters are coming back to them with ripped apart virginity. ISIS doesn’t own these women — they belong to us. They belong to the sisterhood of the world. When we live like we all belong to each other, we answer much of the longing in the world. 

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I read Hebrews 11:1-40 this morning; it just happens to be Faithfulness day at She Reads Truth.  I read of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah who IN FAITH gave their best to God. I read my friend Marilyn’s blog on frontiers and fear.  And wrote this prayer in my journal…

Lord, what am I sacrificing BY FAITH to bring my best?  

It’s so hard to look heavenward and say “send me” – however that looks.

I wonder…”What do I do with this, Lord?” Then, I fear His answers. (Have you ever been scared He will actually answer or give you the desire of your heart?) If I truly ask Him and surrender, then what might love require of me?

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What does it look like for me to stand “with each other and for each other and about each other”? Here, there, and everywhere?

A mentor and good friend (whom I admire greatly) texted me and asked my thoughts on Ann’s post…she shared that the “enormity of the horror immobilizes me.”

Do you feel that way?  Immobilized?  Scared to ask what love requires of you?  Me too and me too.

But, can we begin a conversation?  Can you share what you think?  How you feel God is leading you?

I pray it’s time we begin to speak of the real issues and horrors in this world – and that those things which break His heart, breaks ours.

Stop Apologizing {Especially You, Single Mom}

I’d found a patch of shade and settled in to watch my little guy, Owen, play baseball.

After about three innings, my phone alerts me to a text from my daughter, Hannah.  She’s at a fundraiser with her dance team and wants to know what time I can come get her.  She’s feeling dehydrated and nauseous.  She’s been in the sun  - 90 degrees – since about 10 am, and it’s 12:30.

I text a few moms who are with her (because it really does take a village), and they’ve given her water and a break. I text Hannah and remind her to drink plenty.  I also remind her that I’ve arranged with another mom to drop her at home after the fundraiser.  I will follow closely thereafter with Owen.

Then, a miracle.

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For the first time since my divorce, I did not apologize for myself.  For not being able to come right then and get her (not that she expected that anyway.)

As I sat and watched the next few plays, I experienced an almost audible conversation with God – yes, at the ball field.  Suddenly, I no longer felt the need to apologize again and again to the child I felt was/is being slighted.

Because that’s what I do.

If I am somewhere and can’t pick up Owen or meet a need I think needs met, I apologize profusely to the child – even though I know he or she does not expect it.  In fact, I wonder if they think, “Mom is crazy.”

Yet, in that moment at the ball field I felt no urge to apologize, and I realized (thanks to some divine intervention) that the apology comes from a place deep within in me, whispering failure.  As if, I owe  my children an apology for not coming to the game because I am at the other child’s recital – and what I am apologizing for really isn’t the missed event.  That’s a bit trivial.

What I am apologizing for is my failed marriage.  My inability to juggle all the balls perfectly.  I am apologizing to them for being stuck with a mom like me – one who isn’t perfect, doesn’t have it all together, can’t provide everything she wants them have, and can’t be at every single thing they do. One who splits the laundry and household chores with them because she can’t keep up with it all alone.

Because at some point I decided moms should do it all for their kids.  It’s a mom’s job to do her child’s laundry and mow his/her lawn. In fact, making the child help seems wrong.  After all, they’re MINE, and I want to do everything for them.

While I love my children more than anything and I did “take them to raise” – this thinking is faulty at best (and clearly a product of culture and not faith).  God – through his word and a friend  - has been working on me about this, but I was oblivious until I sat in my camping chair at the ball field and realized…

I have nothing for which to apologize.

I have apologized to them for my part in their broken home.  I have and will apologize when it’s genuinely needed – like when my frustration reaches an all-time high, and they become the target.

But, in general, I do not need to apologize over and over for the “what has been.”

And if I keep it up, we may never know “what will be.”

Because we will keep living in the reminder and the ick of the past.

Because all that apologizing…that self talk that occurs around the apologizing…it’s not good or useful.

Moms, our children have it better than 90% of the world. For what do you/we truly need to apologize? Should we have honest conversations? Yes!  Can we help them navigate the hard things in life?  Of course.

We also can and should help them understand that we don’t love them less, but it’s the sister or brother’s turn for our time or attention. Or it’s time for “mom only” time.

But don’t be sorry. Either verbally or in your heart.

You can be sorry for the divorce or the death. That their family is broken or different. But you can not live that way. And you can not keep bringing it up and apologizing.

Instead. Huddle up. Go team!  Be a family – however that looks to you in your situation. Teach your kiddos to give and take. Be thankful. Speak life and thankfulness for the grass that needs mowed and all the clothing that needs washed. Be thankful that they made the team or teams so it presents a dilemma as to how to split time. (Some kids would love to have a spot on the team!)

It takes just a tiny turn of perspective to change attitudes and outlooks. From “this is broken and stressful” to “look at us go!”

You don’t have to juggle it all on your own. You get to because you have a home and food and laundry and healthy kiddos.

Best of all…you do not juggle alone.  God is with you – your refuge and your strength (Psalm 46).

And He is for you.  (Romans 8)

That day I was able to get Hannah at the fundraiser’s end, and Owen’s dad dropped him at our house.  And then…we had the best day!  We celebrated Mother’s Day a day early with a laughter-filled lunch and this sweet gift ….

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Hand in Hand.  Heartfelt.  Blessings.

We got this.  

A fitting reminder after my conversation with God that morning – that we got this.  We are all in this together.  It’s not just you, Mom, taking on the weight of the world. It’s all of us – together – mowing, laundering, cleaning, giving, taking, and loving.

And, friends, we are all in this together – truly.  Even if you’re not single – we’re all in this together – living, laughing, and learning as we walk one another home. Don’t forget that.  You do not have to do it all or be it all – you weren’t made for that.  You were made to be you and do what He called you to according to his purposes. Nothing more, nothing less.  (So swallow your pride and ask for help – or allow someone to help.)

Sister, allow Him to lift the weight.  Walk in freedom today, knowing you’ve got this – we’ve got this – because he has us.

Much Love,

The Year After Divorce {As Viewed Through My Journals}

One year ago today.

I walked into a courtroom, and in the span of about 11 minutes, a judge declared my marriage legally over. I remember details about the courtroom and the proceedings.  I remember purchasing a ring to replace my wedding band.  (The ring is an old spoon bent and repurposed into a ring – fitting.)  I remember having lunch with a friend.

The year has dulled my memories of that day.

The year has also revealed and healed.  Chastised and shamed.

It’s been one of new beginnings, new routines, new friends, and new beliefs.

And it’s been hard.  Just plain hard.

In retrospect, I spent at least the first six months wallowing in self-pity and shame.  I think I hid it well from the world, but I never hid it from Jesus.  From May to December, Jesus and I talked hours and hours.  I read his Word, questioned it, wondered where my promises were, and told Him that I thought He forgot me. Forgot my marriage.

I remember saying to Him…you’re FOR marriage, so how did this happen?  I loved, I forgave, I this and I that. So.  Where were YOU?

My soul knew he was there, but my head and heart felt abandoned by Him.  Yet, instead of walking away, I searched his word day in and day out for answers.  For understanding.

In December, I celebrated my 39th birthday and decided to switch my processing from Google docs to paper to document my 40th year of life.  I bought a journal that said “Let Your Soul Shine” determined to do just that:  Shine again….because I’d lived in the dark since May with the judge’s gavel echoing “failure” in my heart.

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The first notes in that journal are from Sanctuary Church in Columbus. The topic? Worship fully.  Worship begins with seeking Jesus. Worshiping Him for WHO he is, not what you can get from Him. Seek and serve Him.  Worship without service is selfish. Serve to worship and glorify Him  - and bless others.  

And I decided to begin there:  worshiping Him for WHO he is regardless of my circumstance or how unfair I thought Him and my life to be.

Then a friend took me to Nashville to see Ann Voskamp for my birthday.  I have several pages of notes from that evening, but this is highlighted and I remember it clearly:  I can’t meet the needs of other people unless I release my grasp on the things I think I need.

I later listed what I thought I needed.  Shew.  It was long and eye-opening.  The list began to reveal a thread of selfishness in my heart that I had labelled “survival.”

On December 12th I sat down and had a long conversation with my children about our lives and our time since May…further revealing how much I’d gone into myself. Our conversation revealed that I’d focused on me, dwelling on how I’d been hurt, how I had failed my kids and my God, and how I was rapidly gaining weight.

From the outside, you could easily see a girl who was struggling with divorce and depression.  On the inside, I saw myself as a girl just trying to make it.  Day by day. Doing MY best, but not His best.

As I continued flipping through my journals, I began to notice these threads of selfishness and pity. Threads I didn’t see until I looked at my writing as a whole. I also noticed  tangible evidence of Jesus moving in me.

His first step…my word for 2015:  Wonder.  He simply asked me to step outside myself and begin to see the wonder in this world. I’d been hiding,  looking inward and sulking for so long that I was missing life.  I didn’t see wonder.  I saw failure and unfairness.

But I now see how God redirected my head and heart, reminding me that his followers deny self, take up their crosses, and follow Him – no questions asked.  He reminded me to renew my mind.

So I did.

I have pages on notes on my study of Esther, reminding me that God places us and purposes us for such a time as this.  She reminded me of the freedom found in trusting a sovereign God.  She couldn’t see the end, but she risked her life anyway to save her people – those she loved. I couldn’t’ see the end or the plan either, but could I have been placed and purposed for such a time as this?  I had to believe yes.

I reread an email from a friend stapled in my journal.  She shared how God awakened her at 3:30 am and gave her words for me.  She shared a passage from Ecclesiastes and wrote beautifully of how God plucks and places; molds and mends.

Over and over I wrote…”he must increase; I must decrease” – spiritually and physically. As I look back,  I notice that my notes on the negative are still there, but slowly they’re infiltrated with wonder – with good.

For Lent, I wrote of giving in to God instead of giving up anything.  At the time, I was just tired.  It was almost a selfish move.  It was like...I can NOT do this anymore, Lord.  I am not cut out for this.  Lots of “woe is me” and “life is hard” pity parties that I could NOT get past.  So, when faced with Lent, I said, “Here you go, Lord.  Take it all.  I can’t carry it anyway.”

And even though my heart was icky and motives less than stellar, He moved. He took the yoke and began giving me peace.  (Awww, surrender.  You stink, but I get you.)

February 23 ended my Let Your Soul Shine journal.  I look back over it and smile.  God amuses me sometimes.  He took a soul that lived in a dark place and He illuminated it as only He can.  Day by day, sending a spark, kindling a flame. Again,  I didn’t notice this until I reread the journal.  But as I looked back,  I could see and feel His work.

I began journal two:  Enjoy the Ride.

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The first page is an email from a friend.  Dated February 23, she writes Psalm 33: 20-23 like this:  Praying that as Sarah waits in hope for the Lord, he will be her help and her shield.  In Him, Sarah’s heart will rejoice; she is trusting His holy name.  May your unfailing love rest upon Sarah, O Lord, even as Sarah puts her hope in you!

This friend lives across the country.  I spent four days with her at a retreat, and that is the extent of our “in person” relationship.  But, God.  He can use anyone at anytime.  He used her and is still using her to send life-giving words and encouragement.

And so, Enjoy the Ride  was the beginning of God using words from others to speak in and move me.  A book called I Want God.  My friends.  Blog posts.  Emailed Scripture from an acquaintance that would shock me every time. Enjoy the Ride is thick with printed and stapled prayers and posts.  (Thanks to each of you!)

It’s like God  moved to step two. Let your soul shine again, Sarah.  Now, enjoy the ride as I teach and love you.  As I teach you to love again.

The following pages are filled with words of surrender, correction, clarification, and love from me to Him and Him to me.  I still love these words from my study time during Lent:

We come to Christ with empty buckets – whether we admit it or not. So let’s not bring our self-improvements and call them sacrifices.  Let’s not use our efforts as currency to buy the free grace we’ve been given.  Let’s simply come to the cross of Christ – again, today. Let’s come empty. He will fill us.

I wrote often in journal two of what God is teaching me in the surrender of Lent.  The pages of the journal say “the journey not the arrival matters” and I am learning this is so.  All I wanted was to “move on” and “be healed” and “not care.”  And all God wanted and wants is for me… To return to Him and live as His vessel, content with His timing.  To stop trying to improve myself and call it sacrifice.  To stop using my efforts as currency to buy grace that He gave freely.

A few pages later I discovered this prayer from She Reads Truth:

May I be willing to trade a whisper of my name for a shout of His.

May I stop trying to be the bigger person and start seeking the All Sufficient.

May I replace my performance with His presence.

His message to me was and is so clear.  So cohesive.  So consistent. I am only aware of this, however, in the rereading and reviewing:  I was beginning to want God more than anything.  As it should be.

In fact, at the beginning of March I shared a passage from the book I Want God on Instagram, and Lisa (the author) responded:  Here’s the thing: until we become sickened by what our comfort has cost us we will not hate it enough to let it go.  

She asked me to list what comfort has cost me (not for the faint of heart).

She said, Just keep going.  Victory is found in the long obedience.  This kind of hard is not as hard as living without overcoming because that carries no eventual benefit.

And those words stirred deep within me.  The long obedience.  I needed to keep going – keep riding – following Him – no matter how long this journey takes, I began to realize just how worth it it is.  I also began to realize that I might be worth it too.

I learned that we can’t crucify ourselves.  Crucifixion of self must be done to us. I realized I was trying in my own power again.  So I kept writing…The long obedience.  Replace performance with His presence.

I began to see His faithfulness on every page of my journal – in every moment of my life.

The pages filled with prayers of repentance.  Notes from others.  Scripture. What I was learning about myself  - what God was revealing.

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Still…I had been (mostly) ignorant of God’s work.  I hate to admit that:  I was faithful to meet with God each day, but never stopped to make sense of it all.

Then, March 21. The big day. I read this from Ellie Holcomb:  Jesus is not a victim, but a volunteer.

And there it was. I felt Jesus almost audibly say…

You might be a victim, Sarah, but living that way is miserable.  You need to make the turn from victim to volunteer.  

So true.  I look at the last year and notice how much I lived as a victim.  How much time I spent sulking and complaining.  How often I secretly thought “poor me.”  In many ways the last year was a perpetual pity party, and the guest of honor was a gal I hardly knew. Gone was the outgoing gal who loved people and church. Gone was the laughter and smiles and humor.  Yes, I could flip that switch when necessary, but my daily life did not reflect a shining soul.

Who am I, Lord? Who is this girl you’ve refined in your fire?  You’ve plucked and placed; molded and mended. Now what?

A new peace settled that day.  More burdens released.  More truth revealed.  More understanding gained.

Jesus used his word again and again to show me who he was and is.  How he works.  How he loves.

I loved rereading the one point at which I got stuck on the story of the woman at the well.  I read it again and again. Through it, He reminded me  he is interested in my heart, for when he transformed the Samaritan woman, her circumstances did not change.  She ran back and told her village of Jesus and his living water.  Of how he knew what she had done – her sin – and how he’d offered her hope. Notice…she was changed.  For sure.  But, her circumstances did not change. She most likely still had a man to whom she was not married at home.  She still had five husbands.

But.  Now she had Jesus, living water. And that was more than enough.  She was different now as a result of a changed heart, not changed circumstances.  Lesson noted and learned, Lord.  

I made notes of being asked to speak at women’s retreat and how much I struggled with the decision – page after page.  I acknowledged the mess of my heart, and tried to say I am too busy etc.  The hostess was persistent, flexible.  She offered to reschedule the retreat based on my availability.  I can’t tell her no; I just felt I should do it – messy heart and all.

She sends me my topic: What is My Worth? Seeing Myself Through the Eyes of God

You want to laugh, right?  I did.

Because now my second journal’s words shifted as I began spending my quiet time preparing for a talk about my worth in Him.  About how He sees me. And, as it turns out, that’s exactly where God wanted to steer me next. (Who’s surprised, right?:)

I had acknowledged my darkness, my lack of belief, my hopelessness.  I had repented of my victim mentality.  I acknowledged that heart change – internal change – was most needed when all I seemed to want was external change.  I had focused on Him and His character.  Now, he was turning the table to me.

God began countering my internal dialogue with …

1 Peter 2:9 – We are chosen; his beloved possessions.

Isaiah 43:1 – I have called  you by name, you are mine.

And Enjoy the Ride ends.  I am not kidding.  I came to the end of journal two yesterday.  Oh, God, you are good – and a little funny.

Which brings us to today.

I turn to May 7 on my perpetual calendar and it says: You had to sacrifice.  This is the season for upheaval, and God’s plans weren’t your plans, but you obeyed and trekked on and it is well.  God loves you so much, you conquering women, you.  You victorious daughter.  You princess.  You warrior.  You’re reminded that sometimes sacrifices are right – necessary.  But Jesus whispers sweet nothings. He calls you by your real name. Redeemed. Sanctified. Good.  You shake off the lies and dress to the nines in truth and love and know that you are enough.   Arianne Segerman

Indeed.  It is well.  He loves me. Redeemed.  Warrior.  Princess. Conquering. Victorious.  I am clothed in truth and love; I am enough.

I already had my next journal – a Christmas gift from my best friend.  Its title?  Adventure Awaits. The first page says…not all who wander are lost.

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So God begins another chapter today.  Another journal – another journey. Reminding me that I wandered, but I was not lost.  That he never left me.  He did not forsake me. He allowed me to grieve, kick, and scream all the while working.  Slowly but surely.  Even when I was oblivious, angry, and distant.

Such a good and faithful God, huh?  Shew.  I am simply overwhelmed by his grace and patience. ( I’d have kicked my whiny butt to the curb.)

You might be wondering…why share all of this? And my answer comes from a She Reads Truth study:  This is what it means to be witnesses of Jesus: to share with others what we’ve seen Him do.

Friends, as I reflect on the last year, He is tangible. I can’t say that I knew he was there working and weaving in the moment.  In fact, I thought more than once that he didn’t care and he’d forgotten me.  But, when I look at my journals, I am overwhelmed and humbled at how present he was.  Daily working in my heart and world, drawing me to Him.   (And I left out so much!)

When you seek Him, you will find Him – I promise.  You have to lose your life to gain it.  (Matthew 16: 25 and Luke 17: 33).  And you  can’t “love others as you love yourself” if you do not love yourself. (Matthew 22:39 and Mark 12:31)

I’m finally learning to spot the wonder.  Finally understanding why he gave me that word.  Because if I am looking for and acknowledging the wonder – of Him and of His creation – then I am not dwelling in the lost or the what if’s.  I am not throwing pity parties and sobbing into my pillow.

I am a wandering wonderer;)

Reveling in the story He is writing for me and my kiddos. In the life he died for – the life he’s freely given. And the depth of thankfulness that results is unstoppable.  Unbeatable. Unfathomable.

I can’t wait to see what He does in the year to come!