Witnessing Contentment {From the Shuttle Driver}

I watch her hoist the suitcases into the back of the van. She’s a small women, shorter than me. She speaks of her grandson, so I’m guessing she’s in her early 50s.
We take our seats on the 4 am shuttle, and she takes the wheel.
My friend’s sitting in the front with her as she weaves in and out, taking us from hotel to airport.
He asks a variety of questions. Do you always drive the shuttle?  Always come to work this early?   
I don’t have to be at work until 4, but I get here about 2:45. I want time to review the shuttle list and plan because I’m in charge of the breakfast too. And I don’t want my breakfast to fail. 
She gets to work an hour early to make sure we get to the airport on time and that we get fed before we fly.
It’s important to her, serving others.
The conversation continues as she explains why she pulls this double duty…
We are like a family around here. We have job assignments, but we all pitch in and help where we can.  They need me to drive shuttle, so I do. The lady in laundry needs help sometimes too. I’ll go down and help her. Whatever it takes, she says.
I’m not sure why I’m so stunned and impressed at the same time. Maybe it’s because bookstores shelves are packed with “find your purpose” and “live your dreams” books. Quit that day job and reach for the stars. YOLO! (You only live once:).
Being a hotel shuttle driver and breakfast lady doesn’t quite seem to fit with the book club idea of living our dreams.
Yet.
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Here she is. Loving life. Living in joy. Serving others. Putting others before herself – no one goes to work at 2:45 am without self sacrifice. She doesn’t fit the mold pitched to us from publishers and motivational speakers. She’s found joy right where she is. She’s looked around at her circumstances and asked, how can I make the best of this life?  How can I do this with excellence? 
She goes on to say she’s taken her grandson to Disney once, knowing that’s where we are headed. So much to do and see, she says.
You can stand in one place at Disney and look around.  You can see so much from just one spot, she says with excitement as if remembering the moment she took it all in.
And I’m guessing that’s her secret. The joy she exudes. The selfless service to others. She looks around and takes it all in. She doesn’t miss anything. She looks upon the things I might miss. Appreciating them.
Thankfulness. And I’m betting she knows Jesus. Those are her secrets to joy.
We arrive at the airport. Only about 10 minutes has passed. She hopes we have fun!  It’s so sincere. And off she goes back to breakfast. Because she doesn’t want it to fail.
And I head toward my gate thankful for this lady and her early morning reminders of the gospel. Place others before self (Philippians 2:3). Work together (Hebrews 10). Live grateful for all he’s given (1 Thessalonians 5:8).
She’s not aware of her impact. We rarely are. Perhaps that’s why it’s so important to live a lovely story every moment that you can. You never know who’s riding on your shuttle. And how much they need reminded that hopes and dreams are good. But, we live in the right here and right now. And to keep striving and wishing and waiting on the next season causes us to miss the right now.
I don’t what to miss the “right now” as I work toward the “yet to come.”  So I’ll think of her and her contentment often, remembering that God has a plan and purpose for each seasons of our lives. And we should never take the moments for granted.

Connecting Perseverance to Beauty {Looking for Lovely}

I am a quitter.  Those who know me might not believe this because I have never given them any reason to believe I quit.

Because if I promise YOU that I will organize the event or complete the project or write the letter, I will.  But, if I promise ME? It rarely happens.

Wheels begin to squeak, and I begin to grab oil cans, making sure everyone else and everything else is taken care of. And that’s not all bad. But, in the midst, I lose my promises to self and my goals every single time.

Sure there’s some self sabotage and bad habits fighting for attention too.

Still…I am a quitter. I give up easily.  I won’t fight for what I want or need. My self talk says it’s selfish, and my inner lack of perseverance believes the lie and quits. Underlying it all is a feeling of “I’m not worth it; I am fine just like I am.”

And I’ve never tried to “fix” this about  me. It’s been a prayer a time or two. But, I have never seen it as an issue – this quitting on self.  Until I read this book…

looking for lovely

 

Looking for Lovely by Annie Downs.**  

I certainly haven’t mastered perseverance. I’m just naturally a quitter, not a finisher…Instead of being brave and facing the hard moments, I run.

I loved God. I just hated me…Maybe it wasn’t that I wanted to be skinny or beautiful; maybe I just wanted to be free…When things feel too painful or seems too hard, I escape. {ie I quit}

Instead of feeling any of the suffering, instead of pressing through the pain and taking it to God, trusting that He heard me, I escaped to anywhere that would feed me, and I stuffed my emotions down by covering them in layers of food.

Every act of obedience is an act of courage. Every hard yes, every difficult no, every moment of moving and shaking takes bravery… you have to be brave to believe you are made on purpose – to go after your passions and walk in who you were made to be. 

I decided if I was going to survive this (the healing process), it had to be worth it. It had to have some sort of worthy redemption. It had to be beautiful…to stay in the process, to let it work itself out, to not give up. It was going to take a lot of looking for lovely…the beautiful things, though few and far between, were the knots on the rope that helped me keep climbing.

There is a correlation, I’m finding, between beauty and perseverance…It’s not just the things everyone sees, but it is what YOU see, what sticks out to you, the unique moments God give you to collect up and hold and draw strength from.

I needed to find beautiful if I was going to hang in there…I just don’t want to quit anymore.  

These are just a few of my many highlighted and triple underlined passages in Looking for Lovely.

If you have suffered or are suffering. If you can’t find the joy in the journey. If you quit and see no reason or motivation to persevere. If you can’t count it all joy when you face various trials (James 1:2), then this book is for you.  

Annie connects the lovely to perseverance, showing us where she finds joy: sunrises, nail polish, a farmer’s market, her people and more. And before you dismiss these as “shallow” – as I almost did – I encourage you to read the book and see how they’re anything but “first world” and “shallow” – how these might not be YOUR ways of finding lovely, but simply a place to begin looking for lovely.

I find lovely in stickers.  Yes, I am 40, but I still gain motivation from stickers on my planner. I decorate my bible memory verse cards with them too. I also gain joy from watching my children banter in the supermarket or at home. There’s something so lovely about these two beings that God gave me growing and learning and loving. Spring flowers or fresh water.  I am learning to look for lovely.

It’s not a shallow lovely or pointless lovely either. It’s the process taught by those who have scientifically and psychologically studied habit for years.  As  Charles Duhigg writes in The Power of Habit: Habits can’t be eliminated, only replaced. Habits have a pattern, cue, and reward.  Those cues currently cause me to quit or eat.  However, slowly but surely I am replacing the reward by looking for lovely.

God was doing a big work. I knew it, I just had to keep showing up, even when it hurt or felt hard or wasn’t AT ALL what I wanted to do. 

I just keep showing up.  I just keep persevering. And, friend, you can too. Step by step. Day by day. Follow the path.

It’s not that my life is all that different; it’s just that I  see it differently. 

——————————–

***A perk of blogging is being invited to a launch team. It’s a group of bloggers who receive a copy of a book before it’s released. In exchange you share about the book’s release and review it on Amazon. I’ve so enjoyed being part of Annie’s launch team. God has used it to give me the direction for which I had been praying.  If you’d like to read Looking for Lovely, you can buy it here.   

 

Happy 16th Birthday, Hannah!

I sit her down on the babysitter’s floor. This is our last trip to Fran’s and my last day of work.  Tomorrow, I’ll no longer work at the university or hold the title “public relations specialist.”  Tomorrow, I will have one title only: Hannah’s mom.

She’s my little one.

I listen as Matt Lauer speculates about the crashing planes and falling towers. He says it may be an act of terror.  I keep one eye on the TV as I pour more Cheerios onto Hannah’s highchair tray.  I suddenly feel less equipped to be her mom – scared to raise her in a time of terror.  I lift her out of the chair and hold her tightly.

I pray bravery over her. And she’s brave. 

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She’s not quite two.  She brings me the magnetic schoolhouse filled with colorful letters.  We sit on the floor, legs crossed, as she hands me each letter one by one, naming them as she goes.  I begin teaching her numbers.  We read and create stories. We fill our days learning and playing.

She’s smart and works so hard.

Nervously she hops up in the leather, high-backed chair.  She takes in every machine and person in the room.  Wearing her Big Sister shirt, she meets her baby brother for the first time.  Her smile swallows her face. She can hardly contain herself as her Daddy steadies baby Owen on her lap. He’d spend the next year on that lap, being petted and talked to.

She’s the absolute BEST big sister.

She’s wearing purple pajamas and her cheeks are rosy. Her blonde curls fall across her shoulders. She squeals in delight, tip toeing down the hall, knowing the Easter Bunny arrived in the night. She’s just turned three.

She’s a delight – and always thankful.

We sing Happy Birthday quietly.  She lays on the couch, looking longingly at her butterfly cake.  I am not sure of the year, but she holds her ear tightly and smiles ever so slightly.  Birthdays and earaches seem to go hand in hand for her, but she still smiles. Always smiling.

She’s tough.

We visit her classroom and meet her teacher, Mrs. Lauderman.  She smiles, taking it all in. She’s found heaven.  The next day I walk her to the door, helping her put her backpack and lunchbox in her designated cubby. A kiss on the cheek and “I love you, Mom!” Is met with “Have a great first day, Hannah Banana!  I love you!”  Without a backward glance she hurries into her room.  I walk to the van in tears. I am equal parts proud of her bravery and confidence and sad that she’s so ready for this next season of life.

She’s a learner who keeps an open mind and welcomes new experiences. 

I can’t remember the word.  It’s a simple word. One she knows well.  She takes a deep breath and begins to spell…my heart drops.  She’s out.  It’s 3rd or 4th grade, and she’s beyond disappointed. We get in the car, and she tells me… Mom, I know how to spell it. I really do as tears fall from her eyes.  I turn and comfort her, and then we make the five year rule.  Will anyone remember who won this spelling bee in five years? No.  Then, we let it go. (That’s still our rule.)

She gives grace to herself and others.

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She dances across the stage to the drum’s beat while the strong voice belts out a song we call “Don’t Lose Your Indian.” Contemporary movements mixed with tumbling.  I wonder how a girl so young can confidently perform a solo in front of such a large audience.  I want her to do well, but her “place” today is irrelevant.  This is my girl.  A dancer, doing what she loves.

She’s dedicated, persevering through pain and long hours of practice.  

The scrunched nose and furrowed brow tell me she’s concentrating with every fiber of her being.  Her fingers move along the strings as the bow slides back and forth.  She loves fiddle tunes – just like her great-grandaddy.

She loves music.

Her eyes are wide and chin quivering as she promises to take care of Owen. Her Poppy is dying, and she knows she must stay behind while Mom and Dad go to be with him. I can barely look her in the eye. She’s young but must shoulder the weight of losing one of her most favorite people. She learns in this moment to hold back tears and take care of others.

She’s still a caretaker.

She presses her face to the window, watching as the plane lands in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. She has almost 50 hats in her suitcase for those who have cancer. She plans to teach crochet to teen moms and build a house.  But, she soon forgets her “to-do” list as she embraces the country and her people.  She will return.

She desires to go into all the world, loving and serving others.

She hands me a gift for Mother’s Day. By now, we’ve weathered divorce together. The bracelet is beautiful, but my eyes focus on the hand-drawn heart with the words “we’ve got this.”  Her belief in me is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given.

She loves well.

She rounds the corner smiling, carrying her books.  I look up from my computer and see a high school sophomore.  Time stands still.  I look down and back up at her.  I can hardly believe that in just a few days she will be 16…

The little girl fishing at the campground, dancing on the stage, making faces at her Aunt Dawnna, holding onto her brother, sharing words of faith and confidence, grieving the loss of a Poppy and a marriage, learning at school, going into all the world, and loving others to a fault…God has grown that little girl into a young lady who is beautiful inside and out.

And, today, we celebrate the gift of Hannah.

Happy 16th hannah

Happy 16th Birthday, Gracie. You make me better, and I am so proud to be your momma. My prayer is that you always hold tight to faith and family, knowing how very much He – and we – love you.

Keep dreaming,

Mom

To the Single, Divorced, or Widowed {He is STILL at Work}

I wrote this on March 18, 2014.  And I love that my Facebook memories reminded me of it today. Some days I don’t feel like I have “healed” or am healing.  Some days I feel guilt for the part I played.  I don’t feel strong or adequate. But, reading this post – my own words from two years ago – evidences God’s faithfulness to and love for me.

It shows me how he’s worked and given me a “new” normal. How He’s changed my heart, my theology, my priorities, and more.  I remember the night written of here; I couldn’t stay alone. And now I travel alone, stay alone, walk forward alone because of Him – and a deep knowing that He is there.  The Sarah of now is a shadow of the Sarah written of near the end of this post, but only because of His redemptive work in my life – work that I had to walk into and through in faith; work He orchestrated, motivated, and empowered.  (And, friend, if you read this in 2014 and feel you’ve not “progressed” or “healed” or maybe even “regressed,” will you make time for a heart to heart with God or a trusted friend?)

Last night I spoke with a friend who is here – in this blog – in my 2014.  She’s not sure how to function or find a new normal. She’s not sure she can or ever will.  But, I know there’s a hope and a future – a comeback- for her.  That’s the God we serve – even if we can’t see or hear it in this moment.

So, this repost is for her – and for all of you who weren’t single, divorced, or widowed in 2014. For all of you who thought this would never apply to you. I pray you realize it applies to all of us as we walk one another home, for we all know a single, widowed, or divorced. May be we embrace her today…

to the single divorced or widowed

To the one who is single:  never married, divorced, or widowed…

I am sorry.

I am sorry for the first night you spent alone.  The first night after your husband took his final breath.  The first night without a roommate. The first night after you or your husband moved out.

 

I am truly sorry.

He took his final breath.  You arrived at home {perhaps} to a house full of people, but eventually, it was bedtime. You entered a dark room – no one in the bed next to you.  You could and can hear the silence. You run fans, read books, watch TV – sleep never comes, and if it does, it’s fitful.  You can smell him.  Sometimes you awaken and think…is he still here?  For all the times you still miss him – even if you’ve “moved” on…

I am sorry.

You did what the world told you to do.  High school diploma, college degree, gainful employment.  Finally, you can rent or buy your own place!  You’ve arrived!  Your first home or apartment is so cute.  Then, night falls, friends go home, and silence reigns.  What you wouldn’t give for the return of even the most nerve-wracking roommate.

Weeks pass.  Years pass.

The next logical step {culturally} is marriage, but you’ve found no one – no one’s found you.  “Not good enough, not pretty enough, just not enough” floats in and out of your head daily.  You always thought you’d be a wife – a mom – or something – but you weren’t “chosen.”

Lonely. People surround you, but often you sit at home and wonder…is this all there is?

I am sorry culture communicates that the natural progression for you should have been marriage and children, leaving you feeling as if anything less or different is “wrong” or “failure.” Shame on us.

And I am sorry. 

After years on the mission field, you’re burnt out…spent and hurting.  You’ve experienced more loss at age 36 than most of us have experienced in a lifetime.  You’ve sacrificed much on behalf the Kingdom.  You’ve loved and given and sacrificed more than most can fathom.  Deciding to move “home” – back to the States – is heartbreaking and gut-wrenching.  And here you are.  Back in a place where you no longer feel at “home” missing those who have been a daily part of life for years.

I am sorry for every night you have felt alone, staring at the ceiling, missing the little people who captured your heart.  I am sorry for each bump in the night that carries you back to gunshots and lost babies.

And to the one {like me} who has spent years married.  Always having a companion – for better and for worse – {mostly} feeling protected.  As you lie down night after night alone – sometimes with kiddos giggling or crying in the next room – and sometimes completely alone – I am sorry.  You never planned to be a single or a single mom.

Your feelings of betrayal and loss are indescribable.  Even though you’ve been hurt, you still miss what once was.  And if you’ve done the hurting?  The cheating and the walking out?  Life still hurts because you had no idea how far sin could and would take you.

Sinner or sinned against – loneliness resulted. And I am sorry for the nights you spend alone – unable to sleep, wondering how life ended up this way.  How this could have become your story.  How the wedding planning and aisle walking became gavel-pounding finality.

Single girl, widow, returning missionary, divorced one…I never understood your pain until today.

And for each time you felt abandoned, alone, helpless, and lost…I am sorry.

I am sorry for the times I hurried past you in the grocery store or church pew and didn’t even smile – much less say hello. For the times I didn’t understand you and didn’t seek to.  For the times I listened with my ears but not with my heart.  For the times I was so wrapped up in me, failing to extend love and comfort and words to you.  For the times I thought of you and felt prompted to check in and didn’t…

I am sorry.

I wept for you this morning as I wept for myself. I prayed for Him to comfort you as only He can.

Because we all know Jesus can and will fill this loneliness.  That only He is {ultimately} enough.  But, I understand that you might not want to hear that right now. {I don’t either.} For now, you need time to be mad – to feel alone – to kick and to scream.  And sob.  To feel the weight of your past.

And, that’s ok…really, it is.

But, sweet sister, I pray that someday soon both of us can look to the future.  I pray someday we wake up and realize…our lives are not over.  Perhaps they’re just beginning.

He is sovereign.  He knows us and loves us.  (1 John 3:1)

We are NEVER alone. (Hebrews 13:5)

He sees YOU and ME.  {I know this in my head; still praying for it to resume in my heart.}

And just so you know… I didn’t make it last night; I had a friend stay.  As the sun set, bedtime neared, kiddos slept, and the house creaked, I caved.   I stared at blank ceilings asking the same questions over and over.  I’ve never lived alone and couldn’t stomach the thought of that new season beginning last night.

And if you’re married – happily or otherwise, I know you still experience loneliness.  I know what hard work marriage is {and NO ONE is cheering you on louder than me}.  I know some days you feel invisible even in the midst of your husband and/or children.  I know you, too, wonder…is this it?  Why do I feel alone?  This isn’t what I thought it would be.  Why are some days so hard?

Or, maybe you don’t – you live in wedded bliss.

Whatever way – happily married…struggling married…single…widowed…divorced…

You are NEVER alone.  And, no, this isn’t it.  We are not home yet.  I pray you continue loving and persevering and praying and surrendering.

May we all walk alongside one another, loving and extending grace regardless of labels.

God has a plan. I can’t see it  – maybe you can’t either, but I will always believe in and cling to a God who is working all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3

When You Don’t Make the Team {And Start Placing Blame}

His phone vibrates as he places groceries on the belt.  Oh my. It’s from Sam. I don’t know if I should look.

Look! I encourage him.  

I’m nervous.  

Oh, I am sure it’s fine.  

He face drops as he scans the list messaged by his friend. Number by number he searches for 37 – his tryout number – and it’s not there.  

When You Don't Make the

He continues placing items on the belt, one by one, focusing on the yogurt and taco seasoning.  I tell him I’m sorry as I load bags. I can’t look at him.  My heart is so sad. Neither of my kids knows what it’s like to NOT make the team. We’ve always been on the list. I am not sure how to parent this.

I spring into action, texting friends, trying to find options.  Maybe there’s another team.  Maybe it’s a mistake.  I am a fixer, and I so badly want to fix this for him.  But, after a flurry of messages, the fact remains:  No baseball this year.  

I complain to my mom and friend about the way of athletics in this day and age. Exclusivity.  If you don’t play year round or have the money for training or take your kids to the fields everyday to practice, then you don’t stand a chance.  Plus, my kiddos go to one of the biggest schools in the state; he’d have made it at a smaller school. Blah. blah. I know it’s partially true, but I am really just a momma who is hurting for her son.  

We drive home in (mostly) silence.  I am fighting tears. I have no idea why this makes me so so sad. I tell myself, Lord have mercy, Sarah. It’s ONE sport for one year.  Owen lives a life that kids in other countries would LOVE to live.  This frees him to focus on tennis and guitar.  What in the world is wrong with you?  

I admit to myself and God that I feel it’s my fault.  Owen didn’t make the team because he was so well-adjusted in another town, but I moved after the divorce. He doesn’t have the advantage of living with his dad and going to the park to hit balls. (Which is not his dad’s fault necessarily; it’s the fault/consequence of decision, space, and time.) Why don’t I keep up with all things baseball? Why didn’t I have him in the right leagues at the right time? Why am I not friends with all these parents who get together and help their kids on weekends?  


Dang it. None of this is Owen’s fault.  It’s my fault.  My decisions, my parenting. My lack of interest in baseball.  I should have advocated, taught, sought, tried, and whatever-ed.

And some of this is true.  Owen will forever be affected by the decisions – good and bad – his parents made and make. It’s unavoidable.  

But, it’s not all true. And I can’t fix all things. In fact, I shouldn’t fix all things.

God reminded me that He works all things together for the good of those that love Him. That those words and this verse aren’t just platitudes we get in a text when times are hard, but a promise from the Creator of the Universe.  That I have to trust Him with Owen, with Owen’s future. He is the great Redeemer. Owen isn’t destined to a horrible life because he didn’t make the team.  Or because his parents are divorced. The Redeemer has a plan and purpose for Owen’s life that goes way beyond the decision of a middle school baseball coach and an insecure momma.

God doesn’t need me to fix it. He needs me to love Owen through it.  So many great stories in the Bible are about going THROUGH, not around or over or under. Through the Red Sea. Through the desert.  Through the cross.  Through the sacrifice. Through the storm.  Through the flood.  Through the whale’s belly.  Through the years of slavery.

And in the midst of all the “throughs,” HE is there.  Sovereign and loving.  

This morning I remind both kiddos that while they are not chosen for some things, we serve a God who is greater than baseball or dance.  We have to trust that God knows best even when we don’t understand what He’s up to.  


This life we get to live is a privilege to be stewarded well for His glory, not our own.  So many around the world do not live as we live – and while that doesn’t make it hurt any less when we aren’t chosen, it does keep our lives in perspective.  We do not live in the here and now only: we live and love for a purpose greater than ourselves.

I don’t know what you weren’t chosen for, friend.  I don’t know how you’ve felt cut down or cut out.  It hurts, huh?  Whether you’re 13 or 40, you want to be on the team.  But, I pray you know that you are chosen by the Creator. You were formed and purposed by Him, fearfully and wonderfully made. And maybe it doesn’t feel like it right now, but I promise you: He has a plan and purpose.  His timing is always perfect.  We trust in Him, knowing that he sees the entire tapestry while we only see our thread.

A side note:  God is faithful.  I get a text from a friend this morning: Your Owen is my mind this morning.  Praying for boys is a special privilege.  I don’t hear from her everyday – not even most days.  But, God knew my little guy needed some prayers. He knew my friend, His servant, listens and follows well, so she’d pray the minute He laid Owen on her heart.  Thank you, Lord, for caring about the smallest details.  When this world has much bigger problems than middle school baseball, we thank you for caring about the small.

Should We Be SELF Confident? {What Even is Confidence?}

I can see my young self so clearly…walking to the board with my new pink and blue glasses.  It is third grade, and Miss Melton is teaching us to multiply.  No one else knows the answer. But, me? I know it. I (almost) march to the board, proudly writing the correct answer, basking in Miss Melton’s accolades.

Suddenly, I know…I can do the work IF I want to.  I am capable.

So, I begin trying a bit harder in school.  And like a duck to water, I become a learner.  (In fact, my Strengths Finder lists my greatest strength as”Learner.”) Something about learning and knowing generates a new self-confidence in third-grade Sarah. She’s chubby.  She’s teased about it.  She recently did a forward roll in gym class and ripped her hunter green corduroy pants straight up the crack and had to wear her jacket tied around her waist for the rest of the day. But, still…she’s smart.

And I carry “smart” through middle school, high school, and college.  I am not the prettiest;  I am not the skinniest.  I am not the anything-est. BUT.  In most cases, I am one of the smartest. I set my sights on valedictorian and do not give up until I cross the graduation stage.  I set my sights on top scholar at the School of Journalism at WVU, and by golly – DONE.

From this, confidence grows, branching and blooming in all endeavors. I take on problems with books and (later) Google.  Jesus. Faith. Marriage. Childbirth. Child rearing. Weight loss.  I read all about it.   I am sure of myself. Give me a task, and I know I can do it – or at least learn to.

Parts of that girl remain in me.  Thankfully, she’s lost her need to be the brightest bulb in the room and the arrogance that accompanied it.

In some areas of life I am still what culture would define as confident. In other areas? Not so much.  Learning is now my hobby, not my measuring stick.  I love it just as much, but the pull and motive are much different.

self confident

How did I lose this “confidence”? What even is confidence? Where does confidence come from? I ponder these ideas as I study Hebrews because it keeps coming up. The author is writing to a group of “newer” Jewish converts.  The audience is well-versed in all things Jewish, temple, and Old Testament, but the idea of a Messiah named Jesus is new to them. They grapple with relying on the old when there’s a new way. So, the writer of  Hebrews keeps reminding them…Jesus is better and above the rituals, the angels, Moses, Abraham, etc.

The author mentions having this confidence in at least six verses…

Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear, what can man do to me?”

See? They – we – need to hold fast to this confidence – the confidence with which we originally answered Jesus when he called us to him. That confidence we felt when he placed a call on our life to follow him no matter the cost.  A confidence that spurs us toward his throne of grace and has great reward. A confidence in what we do not see, saying boldly and surely: I will not fear.

Wow. What a word.  It seems our relationship with Jesus hinges here, huh?

It’s important for the audience – for us  – to place full confidence in Jesus and nothing else.  Not brains or beauty. Not wealth or wisdom.  Not others or offices.  Nothing but Jesus.

Nothing but…a certainty and assurance of one’s relationship with God, a sense of boldness that is dependent on a realization of one’s acceptance by God, and a conviction that one’s destiny is secure in God. (from biblestudytools.com)

Sister, what if we lived fully confident of our Jesus? Assured of our relationship with him with a sense of BOLDNESS that can only come from knowing deep, deep down that we are accepted and loved by Him.  With conviction that our futures are secure in Him.

What would THAT look like? To live with God-confidence, not self-confidence?

I can’t imagine.  I am so conditioned to place my confidence in myself and in books and learning that I often struggle to let go and let God. To say….I can NOT do this, Lord.  You’ll have to do it through me.  And even more than that, Lord? I confidently believe you can and will.  

It’s new for me this kind of confidence.  But I pray for you and for me that we get it.  That we listen to the author of Hebrews and hold fast to our confidence in Him.

Confidently and with Love,

Appetite, Approval, and Ambition {Can You Relate?}

Today begins Lent.

Because Lent identifies with Jesus’ 40 days of testing in the wilderness, I decided to revisit those passages this morning: Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13.

Do you realize Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness being tested by the devil?

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. Luke 4:1-2

40 days of testing.  Not just the three tests we read about in the Bible, but 40 days and nights of NO FOOD (wow) and constant temptation. What must that have been like?  All we know is that when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. Luke 4:13

So, sister, there is NOT ONE temptation that Jesus has not endured or does not understand.  And this passage ends with an inevitability: Satan will return at an opportune time. As if 40 days was not enough, he will be back.  And when he comes back, chances are high that the temptation you face will fall into one of three areas:  Appetite, ambition, or approval.

I learned of the 3 A’s of temptation yesterday as I read Sarah Bessey’s Why Lent Matters to Me.  She linked a resource that included this…

appetite ambition approval (1)

He was tempted at three different levels: Appetite, Approval and Ambition. Although we have come two thousand years since Christ, our temptations remain the same.  

This stuck with me.

In verse 3, Satan says, If you’re the Son of God, command the stones to become bread.

I thought of my own temptations…appetite is no brainer. I have struggled with my weight for many, many, many years.  That’s a daily, hourly temptation for me.  And our appetites aren’t just about food.  They can be about money or people – just about anything we desire more than God.

And Jesus says, Man shall not live by break alone. (verse 4)  And that’s that. Our source of life is not of this world; it’s Jesus alone.

Then, Satan promises Jesus the kingdoms of the world – glory – if Jesus will worship him.  (5, 6)

Ambition? Have you seen the self-help section at Barnes and Noble? Have you glanced at the New York Times Bestseller list lately? Live your best life, be the best you – that’s the theme of 95% of books.  All having to do with our ambition to be more and get more.  Achieve. To avoid what Brene Brown calls FOMO: The Fear of Missing Out.  We join Facebook groups, check Twitter, and scroll Instagram in fear that we will miss out on what all the other __________{whatever group we identify with} are doing.  Our culture tells us we need to want and have it all.  Again. Satan knows it.  He knows it’s part of our DNA.

But, Jesus says You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve. (8)  Not man.  Not culture’s idea of greatness.  Not the FOMO.  Jesus. {A relief!}

Finally, Satan tells Jesus…if you are the Son of God, throw yourself off the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem (where all worshippers can see) and the angels will save you {my paraphrase}. Satan even QUOTES SCRIPTURE, reminding Jesus of the promise “he will command the angels concerning you, to guard you.” (Psalm 91:11)  This is about approval – Jesus proving to the world at the temple that he’s the Son of God, gaining their approval.

Approval?  Don’t we all struggle here? We all want others’ approval – even if you say  I don’t care what anyone else thinks, you do.  Sure, you can come to a place where the opinions of others do not guide or shape your decisions, but deep down, we want approval.  Affirmation.  Satan knows that about us. We are made in the image of Christ, and what might tempt him, definitely tempts us.

{I read a great post about these three A’s here. So worth the time.}

Friends, as we sit here looking at the 40 days ahead, I pray we consider Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. I pray we ask him to reveal our appetites, our need for approval, our ambitious motives.  I pray we move through the next 40 days in a new way, intentionally focusing on Jesus and laying down ourselves for His glory.

If you’d like to join me and a few friends on a journey through Hebrews over the next 40 days, you can read more here. Here’s the first verse:

Lent Feb 10 (1)

 

Over the next 40 days, I’ll share a verse a day on my Facebook,  Twitter , and Instagram (@sarahfarish).

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You can these verses – and about 35 others – each day.  I pray your time reading, writing, and meditating on one verse a day helps you to know him more.  Because as we know Him more, we can’t help but love him more.

How are you observing Lent? Are you fasting? I’d love for you to share in the comments, so I can pray for your wilderness.

Giant on the Inside {That’s You, Friend}

I sit in the the room against the wall.  The teacher calls out the moves and counts. I am clueless, but my girl is not. She knows what each French phrase means. This has been her life for years. He calls the steps – the room listens and executes. Like clockwork.

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The teacher, Joe, commands the stage as he walks back and forth, mic in hand, directing the class…jump, turn, plié.  The music stops and starts as groups change and the dancers begin again. And again. Each time expected to be better.

Lyrics…make believe people can fly. Dancers…leap into the air.  Storytellers – that’s what they are.

The music stops. Joe asks for attention. He wants them to understand the song. The words. We can’t feel what we don’t understand (truth, huh?). Do not get caught up in the steps. Feel and dance the lyrics – the music.

I’d been scrolling Facebook, but Joe has my attention. His body language and voice change. And I know…he believes what he’s saying. He believes in my daughter and the over 200 others. He truly loves dance, feels it’s art, and wants others to embrace it as expression, storytelling.

That’s conviction speaking.

Portray the music in the movement he tells them.  Motions? Steps? They’re no fun to watch. Those who feel the music and portray it in movement? That’s a joy to watch, and they make me feel it too.

Joe begins the story told through lyrics…there’s a giant in all of us. We let the presence or words of others dictate who we are.  We let our inner voices take over, making us hard on ourselves.  Don’t allow that; be a giant – confident in who you are and where you are. Not where your neighbor is, but where YOU ARE.  Be a dreamer – a giant.

giant on the inside

He goes on, but I lose him as I look across the room. I wonder at the story of each teen.  As a women I often struggle with comparing and poor inner dialogue.  I am betting these girls struggle with the I am not good enough –less than – inferior.  And Joe knows it. He’s not just teaching dance.

He tells the story of “Giants” by Matt Nathanson – their song. I am captivated by his speech – or sermon – because it’s filled with Jesus whether he knows it or not. I don’t get all he says, so I Google the song…

I don’t want to see the wires in the circus anymore
I wanna dream and make believe people can fly
I don’t need to be reminded what it takes to kill the fun
I got a head full of sharp knives

Don’t look up at the wires. Don’t look down at them. Confidently walk across, chin up. Dream – outrageous people-can-fly dreams. Don’t be so hard on yourself. See you as God sees you. Don’t take those sharp, harsh thoughts that others and culture have laid down in your brain and live out of them. Be who He says you are.

The world don’t speak for us. They lack the confidence
Yeah, we’re only hearts and bones and blood.
But we are giant. Giants

Friend, do not allow the world and this culture to speak for you or tell you who you are. Let Jesus tell you. Define you. Call you. You don’t need self-confidence; you need God-confidence – confidence in who HE IS and who he fearfully and wonderfully made you to be. You’re heart. Bones. Blood – his creation, made in his image for His purpose. And when the Spirit breathes life into you? You’re heart, blood, and bones that can change the world.

You are a GIANT. Not because you’re awesome, but because HE IS. And you’re not a giant who towers over others. No, that’s not his way. You’re a giant who stands tall on His behalf, walking where others won’t or can’t.

You know,
Everybody’s scared of things that they don’t understand
And all the living they don’t do.

Isn’t this so true? We have the fear of missing out – the fear of not being enough – the fear of all the living we DO NOT do. We fear refugees and poverty. We fear political systems that “seem” unfair. We fear other races and other belief systems. The unknown. Presidential elections.  The future.  All the things we don’t fully understand.

We’re more than what scares us
We’re final and fearless
We’ll dance where the ice gets thin

What scares you? What do you fear? You’re more than that, friend. HE IS MORE! He says fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)  Live brave. Be wise, but stand up tall and dance on thin ice. Walk in your call – even when it seems scary. Maybe even crazy. It’s never too big for God. He doesn’t call the qualified; he qualifies the called.

Be a giant. Allow God to make you a giant for him. Find the giant inside that Jesus is calling you to be. Stand tall, pull up your chin, look the world in the eye. And begin.

As I ponder this odd song, God reminds me of the woman at the well. She comes to the well when she knows no other women will be there. She doen’t want to interact because of her shame. Her living situation. She feels less than, inferior. She listens to the culture. But, Jesus offers her himself – living water. A new life. He calls out the giant he made her to be. To leave her jar at the well and run back to tell the village of Him. To be brave because of Him – of what he’s done. Hopeless? Shameful? No more. She runs to tell of him.

She’s such a giant! No longer running away, but running toward.

Friends, the same Jesus who approached the outcast woman at the well wants to walk with you. He wants to pull your chin up, look you in the eye, and say….you are not what they say you are. And if you are, I offer you new life. He wants to say, remove the replay of past voices; hear my voice only.

He’s offering to make you a giant for him. Instead of carrying a small jug, he’s offering an entire well that never runs dry.

I look back at the dance floor. My eyes are drawn to those who feel and dance the story. Joe’s “sermon” has changed many of them.

And aren’t those the people we are most drawn to? The ones who feel the music – live the words, His Word? Those whose lives aren’t a series of motions, but a symphony of the Spirit, living through them.

I want my Hannah to be that. I want to be that. A living and breathing Giant for Jesus. Telling his story – and living ours well. Keeping our eyes fixed on Him, the author and perfector of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)

Thank you, Joe, for teaching this dance mom. I don’t think you set out to preach, but I wanted to yell Amen.

And, girls? Live like there’s a giant inside – because there is – and his name is Jesus.

(Just a side note…Jesus is teaching me to LISTEN everywhere I go. A dance teacher. A “secular” song. I’d never have listened a few years ago. What could they offer me? (pride, arrogance, dumb). Jesus can and will teach us anywhere because he’s everywhere. Where are you seeing him today?)

Lent {A Journey Through Hebrews}

As I pray about how to approach Lent this year, God is slow to answer.  The Lent devotional options glow in my inbox; they are so beautiful.  Pages filled with Scriptures, commentary, and artwork.  I want all of them, but God never lets my heart settle on one.  I have a book of poetry to read for Lent, but I also want to be in the Word because I know the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:13

Because I am currently studying Hebrews alongside Jen Wilkin via podcast, I realize God is leading me to take a page from her book – literally – and focus on God’s Word minus commentary. I rarely do this. As I read God’s word, I continually look up word origins and commentary – and there’s nothing wrong with that. I just feel God saying…read my words.  They’re alive and active. I want to speak to you through them.

So, me, God, Hebrews, a pencil, and five of my friends.  That’s my call to Lent this year.

Here’s the daily process if you’d like to join us!

  1. Read the verse.
  2. Write the verse.
  3. Meditate on the verse.
  4. Read the verse again.
  5. Pray.

As you read and write the verse, notice what words stick out to you.  Notice who God is and who He says you are.  Insert your name into the verse while reading it.  Listen to the still small voice of the Spirit as you read, write, meditate, and pray. Write as little or as much as you feel compelled to record. Somedays you might think…nothing in that verse struck me. I don’t think I heard from God today.  No worries!  Any time spent in God’s word is time well spent as you get to know Him better, as you renew your mind, and as you store up treasures in your heart that He can and will bring to mind when you most need to remember it.     

Here’s a graphic you can save to your phone or print as a reminder. 

Lent 2016

We each have a folder with this graphic, directions, and the verses.  We also have a cute composition book to match for writing verses and recording how God is speaking. 

Our lent notebooks

 

We hope you’ll join us!  You can read the verse each day on my Facebook (like and choose “get notifications”) and (most days) download a cute graphic of the verse!

We’ll begin February 10 – Ash Wednesday.  If you’re not sure about Lent – what it is, what’s expected, why we observe it – you can find a brief, thorough description here.  We will read one (or two) verse per day, except on Sundays. You can rest or choose to read entire chapters of Hebrews to fully grasp the context of the verses.  

Please join our prayer for this season…

Lord,

We give the next 47 days to you. Help us not to conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Then we will be able to test and approve what Your will is–Your good, pleasing and perfect will. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear as we meet with You each day to read and meditate on your Word.  Have us to hear exactly what each of us most needs. Give us new understanding and transformed minds and hearts.  May we bear fruit on this earth for Your kingdom and Your glory.  We honor your 40 days of testing in the wilderness by walking through a wilderness of our own – a wilderness in which we look to you for every need instead of our usual comforts – a time in which reading your word becomes part of the fabric of our day. And we thank you – inadequately – for your death on the cross for our sins.  May we never take this season lightly, keeping our eyes focused on you, your death, and resurrection.  When March 27 comes, may we have a deeper and more abiding love for You.  

Amen.

Life-Changing Words {I’ve Heard and Said}

Rip, cut, paste, repeat.  

We talk as we create collages that “define” us.  We laugh at one gal’s baby head cut out – she likes babies – as another searches page after page for some reference to her favorite TV show.   Our differences become apparent.  One girl clips makeup ads while another chooses lasagna.  One passes me a picture of rings; they think I need diamonds.

“Giving this world more guns is like pouring gasoline on a fire.”

“I love Pope Francis. He doesn’t act like he’s better than anyone else. He acts like he’s equal.”

“Anyone want this page?  The word school is neat… Anyone love school?” (Moans and groans)

“You know you’ll work the rest of your life, right?”

“Yes, and I would rather do that than come to school. I plan to be a truck driver…I’d like to be a translator; they make lots of money.”

Looking for Alaska is my favorite; I hope they make a movie of it.”

“I’d rather open at [the restaurant] than come here everyday…I am not smart enough for all this.”

I pause.  She does not believe in herself.  I know her.  I know she could go to college; she’s intelligent enough.  I know she’s capable of more than the job she plans to keep after graduation.  But, she doesn’t know.

Hope is absent.  Expectations are low. Life is hard.  No one can blame her.

I continue to listen, cut, and paste. I hear myself lamenting my lack of creativity and artistic ability. Their conversation bounces from topic to topic.

And I suddenly remember…

I am in elementary school.   I draw a large face complete with blond hair and eyelashes. I take pride in the detailed eyes and full lips.  Perhaps I will be chosen for gifted art!  I proudly show my face to…someone.  That part is fuzzy.  And that someone tells me I am not cut out for art.  I feel my chubby cheeks smush into a smile.  Of course the face is bad!  I am no artist! I don’t even like art.

I never draw again. That one person says I am not an artist, and I believe them.  I avoid art classes throughout school.

effect of words

Then, I am a freshman at Poca High School.  Pam Absten is my teacher.  I compose a compare and contrast essay of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables.  I note Hawthorne’s voice.  His style.  Ms. Absten asks me to stay after class. Sarah, you are a great writer and thinker. Keep writing.  

I grab those words as if they’re the gospel.

I write almost everyday for the rest of my life.  Why? Because I am a writer. Who said so? Pam Absten when I was 14, and that is enough for me.  I believe.

But, I do not remember the face and the criticism until I try my hand at art again.  Until I hear my student say she’s not smart…

“Yes, you are smart.  Someone along the way told you were not, but you are.  Trust me.”

“Ok, ok, I am smart, but I don’t care.”

“Yes, you do care….”

I am not sure my words can undo the words so deeply rooted within her.  But, I hope so.

Then I wonder…what words have flown from my lips, forever planted in a heart.  I know I have shut down dreams and limited abilities with my words. Sigh.  My students. My children.  My friends. My family. I have hurt with words.

And I truly aware of the effect more than ever.  Trajectories change when we think we can’t do something. Or think we can.

Today, friends, I am begging you to consider your words.  I am not asking you to lie.  I am asking you to consider that ALL things are subjective.  Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

In the words of my student who created this pasted poem…

Every day scared of 

War, disasters, time, money, and human.

Intensifying

Fear of beautiful life

We need change, rich or poor

Let’s change the world together.

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What’s something you fear trying – or trying again -because someone once said you weren’t good at it or good enough for it?

Try it.  You get to define “good.”  Let’s change the world together.  

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. Proverbs 16:24