Remembering My Dad {7 Years}

I noticed it while looking for a sweatshirt yesterday.  It was on the bottom of the stack, folded neatly.  Subconsciously, I knew it was there.  I’ve kept it, but not worn it, for years.

Edison sweatshirt

Seven years to be exact.

The sweatshirt I wore as I raced down I-77 and ran to ICU, wanting to see my dad alive one last time, knowing he had few minutes left on this earth.

It was the sweatshirt I had on when I leaned over him, telling it was ok to go on home.  We’d be there soon enough.

It was the sweatshirt I had on when he took his last breath – a small sigh as he left his earthly body.

It was the sweatshirt I had on when my good friend, Chad, came to get him – and the one I had on as I rode silently to my mom’s house – minus my dad.

This sweatshirt…serving as a memory. And even when the past is wrought with hard and heartache, memories are good.  I’ve come to learn that.

I have other memories of him in my house.  A peaceful picture of him – hands folded, eyes closed – taken the last time he camped, which he LOVED.  It hangs with our family pictures.

hallway pics

 

The picture and poem I purchased from the funeral home sits framed in my hallway.

pic of dad and poem

I look at these three things and smile.  Dad’s been gone for seven years today– seems like seven minutes most days.  (And if you’ve lost someone, I bet you can relate.)

I love telling stories of him and how he tried his darndest to parent me – a strong-willed, bossy, independent, know-it-all child who challenged him and my momma at every turn.

I love hearing stories of him – the way he took in relatives, treated the kids on his bus (just one of his jobs), and loved others – in such a simple, unsuspecting way.

I’d love for him to meet his new granddaughter, Chloe.  He’d love her and her unique personality.  Her giggles and smiles.

I’ve written about my dad on his birthday and this, his death day, for years.  And today I don’t have much to add.  I remember the story the same way; I remember my dad the same way.   A good dad who loved and cared for us well.  (I am still a Daddy’s girl!)

So I will keep it simple.

We love and miss you, Dad (and Poppy).  Every single day.

We remember you everyday, but especially today.  This will always be your day in our hearts.

Oh, the One Word for 2015 {What a Process}

The One Word.

I’m guessing you’ve seen something on Facebook or Instagram about choosing one word for the year instead of making a laundry list of resolutions that you (probably) won’t keep.

I love this idea because I am a resolution maker and breaker –planning big and failing quickly.  But, this year?  No energy for all that.  I need to lose weight.  I need to keep better track of my nickels and dimes.  I need to declutter (physically and emotionally).

Sound familiar?  Me and most of country have similar thoughts about 2015.

I believe in goals. I believe in writing down intentions.  For sure.  But, making new rules and resolutions feels like pressure.  And while I often do well under pressure, I cave under pressure when it has to do with self – ugh.

So.  The One Word – great solution.  I’ve chosen one in the past.  Hope 2013 and Abide 2014.  Easy peasy – choose a word.

Except.

ME choosing a word seemed a bit pointless.  I really wanted God to choose it.  It’s my 40th year of life; I do NOT want to find myself on January 1, 2016, 40 years old, and making the same old “resolutions” again.  And, OBVIOUSLY, I am powerless to break any of these cycles left to my own devices – as my life and weight reflect.

Me choosing?  Not so successful. So…

In November I began begging God…help me find my one word.  This year starts a brand new life in so many ways.  The first year I am single.  New home, new job.  About to turn 4-0 for heaven’s sake!

I made a list of words.  I answered all the “reflective” questions on various blogs.  I sat in on an awesome Fuze call with The Storytellers …”Finding Your One Word.”  I answered all the call’s prompts.  I made lists in my notes app on my phone.  I took pics of signs and verses and plaques…could my one word be on one of these?  I processed with my friend, Krysten, who said – maybe you don’t have to pick a DANG one word if you don’t want to {LOVE her}. Amen!

I ran words past my best friend.  I think she’s probably tired of hearing all my one word blah, blah, blah, but we processed through quite a few words.

January 1 came and went.  I love lots of words…brave, thrive, release, simple, quiet, shine, be, rooted, dwell, breathe, fearless, alive, renew…

Aren’t these GOOD?

I want to be brave and thrive.  I have so much to release – trust me on THAT.  I want to BE this year – a simple, quiet, rooted in Him life.  I often just need to stop and breathe…seemed like a great word for my year.  I have lots of fears that hold me back and keep me fat, so “fearless” seemed perfect – maybe.  I want to renew and shine and dwell.  Really, I do.

See?  This is WHY I don’t make resolutions!  (Or, fail at the ones I make.) I do not know how to stop – and breathe and dwell and rest and simplify.  I love a good plan!  I love creating a concept or a program or a….well, plan.

Anyway.

I read this in a note from She Reads Truth and it resonated:  This year, instead of resolving to finally get it right, let’s resolve to walk with Him as He makes it right.  Instead of determining to get better, let’s determine to get closer to Him through His Word.  Instead of making a list of all that we will do on our own, let’s notice all that He is already doing and let’s JOIN Him in that. 

So freeing.

I heard this from Ann Voskamp and it resonated:  I can’t meet the needs of other people unless I release my grasp on the things I think I need.

So true.

I researched each “potential” word in Scripture – just to be sure nothing in His Word resonated deeply – it didn’t.

I said to God – about 100 times:  I just want this year – this new time in life  – to be DIFFERENT.  Please?  Then, I dared to ask…don’t you want this to be different too, God?  You want me to steward my health and money and time better, right?  Those things are Biblical, right?

And…nothing.  No feeling of YES!  Or THIS IS IT!

Sighed.  Kept praying.

Every day of January, the word wasn’t far from my thoughts.  I got emails from my Women of Purpose sisters sharing their words and why they chose them.  I love what God is doing in their hearts.  Courage, revelation, be…so good!

My daughter, Hannah, chose peace as her word and her reasoning is beautiful.

I read blog after blog proclaiming one words.  Still nothing.  I didn’t feel moved in the least toward ONE word.

Then, while reading Common Prayer

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you: wherever He may send you; may he guide you through the wilderness: protect you through the storm; may he bring you home rejoicing: at the wonders he has shown you; may be bring you home rejoicing: once again into our door.

I’ve read this on other days without much thought.  But this day, I write in the margin:  Show me wonder today, Lord. 

I close the book and turn toward the sink…and a song I love and have heard many times comes to mind…May we never lose our wonder.

 

May we never lose our wonder
May we never lose our wonder
Wide eyed and mystified
May we be just like a child
Staring at the beauty of our King

Fill us with wonder
May we never lose our wonder
May we never lose our wonder
Wide eyed and mystified
May we be just like a child
Staring at the beauty of our King

 

Cause you are beautiful in all your ways
King of Kings
You are beautiful in all your ways
Cause you are beautiful in all your ways
Just close your eyes
Just close your eyes, you’ll see him
You are beautiful in all your ways
Open the eyes of our heart to see you God

May we never lose our wonder
May we never lose our wonder
Wide eyed and mystified
May we be just like a child
Staring at the beauty of our King

Cause you are beautiful in all your ways
Oh you are, yes you are
You are beautiful in all your ways
We give our lives to sing
Cause you are beautiful in all your ways
You fascinate me
You fascinate us
You fascinate us, with you are
You fascinate us
You fascinate us with your love
You are beautiful
You are glorious
You are beautiful
Yes you are
You are beautiful
You are glorious
You are beautiful

You are beautiful in all your ways
May we never lose our wonder  (lyrics from Bethel Music)

And as crazy as it sounds, I know.  That’s my WORD!

WONDER.

wonder with wood

 

Wait, what? Wonder?

That is not on any of my lists. What does that even mean or look like?

And I almost feel God chuckling…truly.  I know what He’s saying…Sarah, you didn’t choose this word – I did.  You asked me to choose, and I answered.

My response?  So, what do I do now? 

Recognize wonder today. 

So….that’s it?  I mean, you don’t need me to…ya know… make a “wonder” plan? Or, read a book on wonder? 

You’ve lost your wonder, Sarah.  Life has taken “wide eyed and mystified.”  You’ve forgotten childlike faith, staring at the beauty of your King.  I used to facinate you.  Return to that. 

I know it’s true.  Sadly.

And in the next few hours?  He kept confirms my word over and over…

The wonder of a little boy sleeping in my bed after he got up early to talk about the day with me.

The wonder of a verse on Instagram just a few moments later:  Be truly glad there is wonderful joy ahead. 1 Peter 1:6

wonder necklace

 

The wonder of snowflakes flying outside my window –each so different and unique.

And if you’re smiling and saying…how wonder-ful!  I was too!  In fact, I had a few thankful tears falling.  And then…

I read this: bitterness, anger, and resentment have no place in a heart as beautiful as yours.  Lysa Terkeurst

lysa quote

 

And I know immediately, deeply, surely…bits and pieces of these things are still in there.  In my heart.  And wonder can and will bid them farewell.

Who can dwell in bitterness – who can resent another – who can be angry – while looking for wonder?  While living in wonder, waking up each morning looking for the day’s wonder?  While learning from, serving, and walking alongside a King who is glorious, beautiful, and fascinating?

I hope none of us.

Wide eyed and mystified, may we be just like a child, staring at the beauty of our King.  May we never lose our wonder.  (And if you have, friend, know he can restore every, single drop of it.)

What’s your one word for 2015?  I’d love for you to share in the comments. Yay for 2015!

I’d also LOVE to hear where you’ve seen wonder today:)

 

Goodbye, Friend {You Changed Me; Made Me Brave}

As the new year began in 2012, my faith had stagnated.  Halfway through my first year of homeschooling, and I wasn’t sure I’d made the right choice.  I KNEW – KNEW I had been following His voice.  I knew life had to change radically.  Our family could not sustain the schedule and expectations.

I prayed.

I was tired of the American Dream.  Tired of following culture’s lead.  Just tired.

So, I Googled some version of those frustrations; I can’t really remember the words or the desires – exactly – but my sovereign God led me to a blog by Marla Taviano.  I started reading.

Marla was struggling too. Suddenly, I’d found a different kind of blogger.  No mommy blogger perfection to compete with or even emulate…I’d found authentic. I didn’t know her, but I loved her.

The first post I read:  January 24, 2012 – The Story We Never Told  

I learned quickly that her husband, Gabe, had been sick. Money was tight.  And Cambodia her heart.

I followed along; it felt like each post became a conversation with her – my new friend, Marla – whom I’d never met.  I didn’t even comment on her blog.  Just my heart friend.  {I know, it’s a bit stalkerish!}

Then, this post in February:  Read Along Details Coming Soon! 

I clicked over to Amazon.  Bought the book, and thought…no way. I can NOT do that.

But, why not?  Stagnate faith.  Feeling God calling me to different.  Resisting at every turn because I like food and stuff and my sweet little American Dream life too much.

So, I read along and wrote along.  (My first post can be found here.)   And life slowly began to change; my heart began to change.  The way I talked to and taught my kids began to change. Priorities were upended. For example:  Hannah was about to turn 12.  She’d been reading Katie Davis’ book and had decided on her own to forego gifts and ask birthday partiers to give $12 to Amazima (Katie’s ministry) instead.

Our hearts were changing.  And…

A day or so after Hannah’s birthday, we get this in the mail…

Marla photo

 

From the Tavianos.  Who I know are struggling financially.  And, I’ve only talked to Marla a few times through her blog comments, yet she cares enough about my heart, about Hannah’s heart, about efforts in Uganda – to give.  A simple gesture.  (You can read about that gift here:  Unexpected Gifts in the Mail )

This was also the moment (return address!) I realized she lived in Columbus, Ohio – so close to me!

God birthed a friendship of sorts.  I read Marla’s blog and commented.  She read and commented on mine.  We became Facebook friends.  I wanted to share 30 stories on my blog in November 2012, and Marla helped me find 30 people, introducing me to her friends (who have now become my friends).  She also shared her own story.

We were online friends.

Then, something weird happened…

I landed at the Columbus International Airport after a trip to Honduras.  I “checked in” on Facebook, and Marla commented something like…we should have coffee while you’re in Columbus sometime.

Huh?  Meet someone I met on the Internet in person?  That sounded like a Dateline NBC waiting to happen.

A few more times she offered to open her home or meet at the nearest coffee shop …and then finally, my friend, Jen, and I found ourselves in Columbus with an offer to have dinner with Marla and her family  – at her house.

I asked my reluctant friend…will you go with me?  You know, just in case she’s an ax murderer?  I mean, I am almost positive she’s not. But, this is weird.  I am about to show up at her house – a stranger! (Did my parents teach me nothing about stranger danger?)

My friend (very reluctantly) agreed to go with me.  And as they say:  the rest is history.

We ate pizza and chatted for hours.  Marla talked of Cambodia; we spoke of Honduras.  Conversation laced with Jesus.  Who He is and all he’d done and was/is doing.  I left feeling closer to Jesus than I ever had.

Marla and me

 

And I wanted {want} to be like her.  Like Marla.  I wanted Jesus to pour from my being.  To be a natural part of my decision-making and conversations.

We followed that first meeting on May 13, 2013 with many more.  Each time I found myself in Columbus, I met her for breakfast or found time for coffee. I watched and learned as her family sold their home and moved to the Abbey Lane apartment complex, answering God’s call to be His hands and feet.  {In fact, I celebrated my 39th birthday in her apartment with a mix of her neighbors.}

my bday at Marlas

 

We processed life at Abbey Lane as they minister to other cultures and faiths (make NO mistake – her neighbors are not a religious label or a people group “to be reached for Jesus.”  They are beautiful, loving NEIGHBORS – people – moms, dads, sisters, and brothers whom she loves deeply.)    And through Abbey Lane, I learned much about my world and myself.  My fears.  My opinions. My suppositions about others. My ideas about the gospel and how to share it.  My ideas of “church” and how we are to be like Jesus.  My role as “Christian.” Truly, this chapter in Marla’s life completely transformed mine.

She supported and loved me through divorce.  Our girls became friends.  We saw Divergent together and closed down a Steak and Shake one night.  I attended her church three times {you’re a beautiful representation of the church, Sanctuary Columbus!).  She spoke at Women of Purpose – a local conference I help organize.  We sat in On the Border for four hours one afternoon sharing our hopes, dreams, and fears. She came to watch Hannah dance and cheered her on as if she were about to win a Tony Award.  We processed freedom and giving to the poor via email.  We dangled our feet in a hot tub, discussing Jesus and Cambodia with people we’d never met.  We debated unschooling and homeschooling and education on more than one occasion.  We danced around the Columbus Zoo during Wild Lights to win a Jack Hanna DVD.  I watched and prayed as she walked alongside a sweet family whose baby boy was fighting cancer.  I laughed (and cried) at her going away party.

at marla's

Han w taviano girlsat starbucks w Marla

Conversation after conversation about how to love Jesus and others better.  To make this world a better place.  To do kingdom work for His glory.  To love well.  To follow His will (and what that even means). I am almost sure we have processed and questioned every aspect of faith, justice, and love.

She prayed for me. I prayed for her.

And I could go on and on.  Because there is no end to the beauty of Marla or the Jesus shining in and through her or our friendship or the sovereign God who brought us together. I wish I could share all she’s taught me.

And I will miss her.  So much.

Tomorrow, Marla and her family fly to Cambodia at 8:30 am.

marla and fam

 

The Cambodia I read about in that long ago post when I first happened upon Marla’s blog.  The Cambodia that she and her family have raised money for every single day for years.  The Cambodia that was and is never far from Marla’s heart or lips.

The Cambodia on the other side of the world.  The Cambodia God has called her to.

And I could NOT be prouder to call her friend.

Dear Marla, it has been (and will be) an honor and privilege to call you friend.  To stand by and witness God’s work in and through you. Knowing you has strengthened my faith and made me brave.  Knowing you has shown me a different kind of kingdom, a different way to live, and a different kind of joy and peace.

Knowing you has shown me a different Jesus.  Thank you for following Him and loving Him- and me – no matter what.  You’ll forever hold a special place in my heart – no “other side of the planet” can change that!

Gabe, Livi, Ava, and Nina – we love you. So much! The leap you’re making evidences authentic faith in a loving God.  We look forward to hugging your necks again in the near future.  In the meantime, we text and PRAY.

kids at goodbyeowen and gabe at goodbye

 

If you’d like to follow and/or support the Tavianos, you can find them on Facebook and /or subscribe to their website.

Much love, Taviano friends.  #Cambodiaorbust

2014 Was…Just ALOT {A Poem Too!}

I tried to write a 2014 reflection using prompts from The Art of Simple Life, and I could barely remember the year, especially details.

2014 just passed. Quickly.

The highlights? Owen is in middle school.  Hannah in high school.  Both in NEW schools.  We moved into a much smaller home (unexpected blessing!).  I got a new job.  Our family experienced divorce.  We lost our church family.  My niece, Chloe, was born (after 15 years of trying).

It was just A LOT for a year.

So, in the midst of these “big” events, I can’t remember the smaller things.  The important things that comprised the fabric of our days.  I mostly went through the motions.

And that makes me sad.  I want to remember the days and hours, not just the events that pummel – or create smiles.  And it’s my 40th year of life – yep, I’ll be 40 in December 2015.

This year needs to be different.  It just does.

I began praying on December 1 for how God can make that happen – because he knows I can’t.

On December 6, I began “hand’ journaling again.  I have typed my journal for quite a few years.  But, this year, I got a cute journal and began writing by hand again. I love it.

And for Christmas, I gave my kiddos two gifts:  a scavenger hunt that lead to a poem and a gift, describing how this year will shift.  And a gratitude journal with a note.

Han and owen with gifts

Friends, as we close 2014 and look forward to a new year, I hope you’ll join me in praying for more moments and less monumental (events).  For lazy days reading and for deep discussions with your children.  For time spent serving and loving others.  For mornings (or evenings) with your Creator.  For quiet.  For being.

For simply being.

{Here’s the poem I wrote my kiddos.  It was found at the end of their scavenger hunt along with a travel journal/smashbook and a book called 1,000 Places to Visit Before You Die.}

travel poem

Han and O reading poem2014 – The Year of Adventure

 

Christmas gifts piled high under the tree,

Owen peering under, bent on his knee.

 

Hannah shaking boxes, inspecting ribbons and bows

Mom shaking her head…let’s see how this goes!

 

Gift after gift they unwrap with a smile,

Feeling as if mom went the extra mile.

 

Hours of shopping stacked up on the floor,

Boxes and paper and gifts galore.

 

Lots of stuff to wear and explore

While we all wonder…shouldn’t Christmas mean more?

 

More than games and books and shirts and shoes,

More than a long list of family to-dos.

 

When we look back to this day in December,

What will make it special?  What will we remember?

 

Our Advent time leading to this day? For sure!

Our reading and questions and Jesus so pure.

 

Our Jesse tree.  Our stockings.  The twinkling light.

We do not doubt, our season has been bright!

 

But what about the rest of the days in the year?

How do we keep this spirit and hold ALL days dear?

 

Perhaps we say no to more and more stuff?

Realizing it passes like the air – in a puff!

 

Maybe this year is about so much more

Than what we collect – what comes through our door.

 

What do you say to more adventure? More travel – a trip!

Doesn’t this idea make you want to jump and skip?

 

The years are passing, your mom is getting older

I don’t want to miss the moments -let’s be bolder!

 

Who needs to collect and hoard so much fluff?  

Let’s make memories instead of collecting more stuff.

 

Let’s travel and experience this world God made.

Let’s explore new places and sip lemonade:)

 

This year could be fun – want to give it a try?  

Just open this gift and you’ll find out why.

 

I hope this idea puts a smile on your face…

Flip through the pages and locate a place.

 

We will travel and memory make as oft as we can;

I can’t hardly wait to begin making a plan.

 

We will venture through city and country and town

What a joy it will be to explore all around.

 

Laughing and loving and making the most of our lives

As we go across country on many long drives.

 

Sure, this past year was an unplanned detour;

But, we only live once, that much is for sure!

 

So, let’s go! Let’s have fun and make memories so grand

While always remembering for what we stand.

 

Kindness and thankfulness and our Father above

The Giver of everything, especially our love.

 

I love you both with all of my heart!

I can’t wait for this brand new year to start.

 

As we laugh and love and make memories together

What else on this earth could possibly be better?

 

Merry Memory Making!

Love Always, Mom

Our Favorite Christmas Gift

Over the last few days, I have given and received some great gifts!  I now own a Lisa Leonard necklace with my kiddos names and Amazon gifts cards (times three – so excited!) But, my favorite gift I gave to my children.  It wasn’t expensive.  I didn’t have to shop for days to find it.

Here’s the letter I gave my kiddos yesterday…

emmanuel letter and packet

To My Little Ones…

By this time, you’ve unwrapped lots of gifts.  Owen got his Perplexus and new games to play.    Hannah has new clothes for school and books to read. Owen no longer has to wear too-short shirts to basketball, and Hannah will sleep deeper as she hugs her new Olaf!

I hope you like each gift!  There is lots of fun to come, huh?  

But, while you sit in the midst of wrapping paper, twinkling lights, new clothes, and board games, I never want you to forget that many others are not sitting among presents in a warm home with laughter all around, eating three meals a day plus snacks.

I can’t tell you why things are as they are.  Why we live in this place at this time.  Why some have and some don’t.  I have no answers to such hard questions. But in the midst of trusting God and His sovereignty, I know we are to be thankful, and we are not to neglect sharing what we have, being generous to others.  

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Hebrews 13: 16

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. Proverbs 14: 31

Little ones, if there’s just ONE gift I could give you this year – if I could share one prayer over your life – it would this verse from O, Holy Night…

Truly He taught us to love one another;

His law is love and His gospel is peace.

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;

And in His name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us praise His holy name.

Love one another.  First and foremost, this is my hope for you that you would genuinely love each other and others.

His law is love.  Remember what we learned about the Ten Commandments? Each of them points to God’s LOVE for us.

His gospel is peace.  His gospel:  God sent his son, Jesus, to die on a cross for OUR sins. The One who took our wrongs upon his own self has also brought us peace – in our hearts and souls.

The slave is our brother. We are all brothers and sisters trying to live in this world.  No one is better than you – or lower than you.  Equal.  

The cease of oppression becomes our prayer as we pray for our world.

And because of His love, His death for us, His love for all people…we praise His holy name.  Never stop giving thanks and praising Jesus for who He is and what He has done (and will do) for us, remembering that if He never ever does one more thing for us – His death for us is MORE than ENOUGH.

And I don’t want to remember this verse from O, Holy Night just at Christmas. I want us to live “God with us” every day….

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. (which means God with us). Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23

When I went to Nashville to see Ann Voskamp, I chose a child for us to sponsor.  I asked for a Honduran child, but they didn’t have one.  So, I glanced down at the Central American children on the table…and who did I see?  

Nehemias Emmanuel Jimenez Alfaro

Emmanuel – God with us.

See what God did there?  A sovereign pairing.  As we provide for Emmanuel each month, as we write him letters and learn about his life and his village, we will be reminded of…God with us.  

This, little ones, is my favorite gift to you: The gift of giving.  Of giving each month to Emmanuel – the little guy in Mexico and your Everlasting Father in Heaven.  

I love you very much!

Merry Christmas,  Mom

han and owen w Emmanuel

May you be mindful of “God you us” each remaining day of your 2014 and each day of your 2015.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

First Family Photos {For Those Experiencing Firsts This Season}

It might seem small to some, but to us it was huge.

Family pictures.

IMG_7244

A friend posted on Facebook that her friend, a photographer, would be in town for the weekend and had openings to take family photos.  And something in my heart said…you should ask.  My best friend said…you should do this.

I did…and through a series of God events, someone gifted my family with a photo shoot.  (Thanks whoever you are!)

It was hard.  I am not sure exactly why; it just felt weird having pictures made with three people.  (We made it four by putting my niece, Chloe, in a few!)

Firsts are always hard, friends.

The first family photos after divorce.  The first Christmas after her death.  The first birthday without him.  The first ….{insert your first here}.

But in His strength, I pushed through, resisting the urge to hide under my covers.  I smiled. I laughed.  I held in tears.  My heart filled with pride as I watched Sarah Beth (aka amazing photographer) take pictures of my children, but I also hurt for them.  I couldn’t be more thankful for my new version of family, but an ache of “this isn’t how it should be” will (I think) be ever-present.

If you’re about to experience a first, God knows.  He understands.  He will be there.  And most of all…He loves you.  He wants to hear all about it – your laments and your thankfulness.

Always remember Paul’s words in his second letter to the Corinthians:

9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Praying for your firsts!

And thankful for these pictures…

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The Family Stump {Real Hope for a Tree} {Advent}

When you open up God’s love letter to us, the Bible, do you know what you find?  You find the family tree of Jesus.  You find the stories that trace the branches of Jesus’ family…And you go all the way back to the very beginning – our beginning.  And when you’re tracing that family tree of Jesus, guess what you find?  People who were big cheaters, bad liars, weaselly sneakers, battling brothers, fighting families, and all the beaten up and brokenhearted.  (Ever know any families like that?)

...And things got so rotten that his [Jesus] family tree looked more like the stump of a tree cut right off.  But…right out of this stump. This budding branch – this green shoot of new hope, new starts, new freedom for the whole family – was Jesus!  from Unwrapping the Greatest Gift

I read this introduction and the book’s first entry on Sunday.  Nothing jumped out at me.  I loved the thought of starting this new tradition with my children, so I focused on them – on their hearts knowing Jesus and his lineage better.  On making memories. On spending intentional time together.

But, when my son, Owen, read these words aloud last night, I held my breath.  Suddenly, we weren’t a mother, daughter, and son squished together on our sofa starting a new tradition, learning about Jesus.

We were…are… a broken family.

We were…are… the stump.

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And my head takes this and runs with it:  Stumps aren’t beautiful like trees. Stumps announce rather loudly – the rest of me is missing.  Cut down, blown over, hauled away, and changed forever.

Who wants to be the stump? My heart laments as I listen to my children read.  I wanted to be the tree!  I remind God – again.

And my Hannah reads…When their family tree crashed to the ground, it crushed all of their hearts.  The stump – and all of their days – felt utterly hopeless.  Like their hearts had been cut right out of them.  

And my thoughts continue..Yes, yes it did.  Thanks for the reminder (or not).

And her words continue…Out of the stump of every family tree – comes the shoot of Jesus’ forever-love.  Jesus would go to impossible lengths to rescue you.

Gulp.

I know – He is saying – change your perspective, Sarah.  It’s ok to be the stump. It’s a chance to be new – to grow again.

From stump to tree to cross…the redemption story.

God doesn’t cut off all the big cheaters, bad liars, weaselly sneakers, battling brothers, fighting families, and brokenhearted from His family tree – He makes families just like these perfectly His!  He adopts all the messy and broken and imperfect people into His tree and His story and His heart, and He gives us His family name…

Cheaters, liars, sneakers, brokenhearted…any of that sound familiar?  Yes. I bet so.  It does to me.

But, did you read the rest?  He doesn’t cut them off.  Does NOT.  He makes them HIS.  He adopts the messy, the broken, the imperfect – just as they are – even the ones you don’t like – into HIS tree, His story, giving them His family name.

Really?  {I know this.  But something suddenly sounds different.}

Right when I decide to quiet myself and my family – stump and all.  Right when I decide I don’t have to be all or do all or understand all. Right when I decide I am tired, and I no longer can or want to keep up with whatever or whomever I am trying so dang hard to keep up with.

Right when I decide He is enough. This Christmas and forever. (Although I am SURE He will need to remind me.)

Right THEN, He speaks….

Jesus comes right to your Christmas tree and looks at your family and says, “I am your Rescuer, and I will set you free from all the brokenness and sinfulness and sadness. I’ll be the Gift, and I’ll take you.”

He sets me free from all brokenness, sinfulness, sadness. He is the Gift, my Rescuer. In fact, He finished that work two thousand years ago on a cross.

Who knew when I picked up this book  - when I decided that this Christmas needed to be different – that a mom living on a farm in Canada had written the words I’d need to hear long before those words landed in my hands.

Who knew I was white-knuckling hope.  Holding on with all I had, choosing to believe that He is a God of His promises even though I felt left and forsaken.

Who knew I would leave the church for a season, rejecting what the “church” had become to and for me.

Who knew that the marriage I fought for, the stuff I collected, and the image I crafted would pass away.

Who knew that a stump could transform into a tree once again.

He did. My Creator knew all along.

And He has known all along what you need, where you are, what it will take, and where to find you.

As our family grows from stump to tree again,  I am sure there will be pruning – some branches cut that I think need to  grow.  Still…

We will be a tree again.  We will.

For the Bible tells me so.

**from excerpts from Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room {Advent} {Just Say No to Busy}

It’s almost December.  The month in which we sing…

Joy to the World!  The Lord has come, let Earth receive her King!  Let every heart prepare Him room, And heaven and nature sing…

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But if most of us are honest…it’s also a stressful month:  tree decorating, present wrapping, gift giving, cookie baking, family visiting, party going, people pleasing, schedule stressing….

You know what I mean?

This season inherently creates stress.  We feel pressure to attend the parties, bake the cookies, buy the presents, light the candles… because have you seen Facebook and Pinterest?  And do you know how my family does it?  And have you been to the bookstore?  And have you seen the commercials? There is a LOT to do!

That’s the way Christmas is for many.  I can’t buy groceries without seeing all the baking, wrapping, decorating, and doing options.

But.

(And this isn’t meant to sound trite or to belittle the way you celebrate Christmas.)

What if ….

This year, you celebrate as YOU think Christmas should be celebrated?

You love baking?  Then bake away – and smile big – and share some with me;)

You love gift giving?  Then shop and give – and bless many!

You love holiday parties? Then attend and smile and hug and light up the room.

But, what if not? What if your baking skills are at best ok, and you don’t like it much anyway?  What if your funds for gift giving are sparse?  What if holiday parties make you break into hives?

Then…don’t.

Take a deep breath and decide:  This season will be different.  I will not rush and spend and bake  – unless I love it.  Unless I can.  Unless I feel compelled.  Unless it feels like a gift of this season and not a burden.

This year, I find myself a single mom.  I can’t do it all.  I don’t even want to do it all. What I want is for my sweet kiddos to embrace this season for what it truly is…

A time to celebrate our King – the One we worship.  A time to acknowledge He came and is coming.  When their voices sing “Joy to the World!” I want them to mean it.  To mean, HE is the joy to the world. He is the reason for our joy.

Not the latest and greatest gift.  Not the perfectly iced cookies.  Not even the running to and fro to parties.

He alone is the reason for and gift of this season.

A season that I LOVE – I am Christmas’ biggest fan.  I love my Christmas tree.  I bake because my Hannah loves it.  I love shopping to find the PERFECT gift and watching eyes light up on Christmas morning when the wrapping is undone.

Yet.

I do not want to get lost in my to-do list this year.  (As has happened most years.)

I want to make memories today and tomorrow –and throughout this season  - that someday we will look back on and say…remember when?  Not remember when I got the new eye shadow palette from Urban Decay or the new Skylanders game, but remember when we had a Jesse tree?  Remember when we read and prayed each night?

Because the truth is…I can’t tell you what I got for Christmas a few years ago.  But, I remember making candy with my family and giving it to everyone we knew. I remember losing the directions for our artificial tree and my dad drilling new holes to fit the branches.  I remember Christmas Eves at my aunt and uncle’s home and Christmas mornings at home.

And most of all…I remember Advent.

The weekly lighting of the candle at the churches of my youth.  I can see my little self sitting on the wooden pew – not older than 6 or 7  – as the acolytes lit the candle in the wreath on the table near the altar.

So, this year, Advent will be intentional for Hannah, Owen, and me.  We will sing Joy to the World, taking the directive for every heart to prepare Him room seriously.

If you’re not familiar with Advent, the word means “coming.”  And the celebration of Advent focuses on anticipating, longing for, His coming – both His birth and His second coming.

Because this baby born in a manger on Christmas Day died for me and you just 33 short years after His birth.  And after three days in the tomb, he rose again, promising us that he’s conquered death and will return again, allowing those who follow Him to live with Him for eternity.

That’s the meaning of Advent  – of this season – a time set aside to focus on Him and His coming.

If you’d like to join us in preparing Him room, we are using a few resources.

Our family: Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.  This is a beautiful book  I purchased at a local bookstore for $12.  Each day includes a scripture reading, Bible story reading, thoughts to discuss, and family activities.

Me:  I purchased the Advent book from She Reads Truth.  And while there’s not time to get this book, I highly recommend the She Reads Truth app for your smart phone.  Each study costs either $0.99 or $1.99, and they are worth every penny.  For Advent, you can purchase O Come, Let Us Adore Him for $1.99.  Each day includes scripture, a short devotional, and comments from other readers.

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If you’d like to know more about Advent, I love these resources too:

Advent:  for the ones who know longing by Sarah Bessey

Advent 01: Hope from Ann Voskamp

Favorite Advent Resources from Tsh Oxenreider

The Season of Advent (and printable guide) from The Village Church

While I never know how much time I will have to write, I pray I am able to share what our family learns as we progress through this season of miracles.

Let every heart prepare Him room!

Watching God Work {from Michigan to WV to Honduras} {Amazing}

I am that lady.

And with those words, a widow connected to a missionary who had worked to continue the legacy her late husband.

The widow had never met the missionary – only communicated with her when the missionary sent her an email on the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death, describing a house she planned to build in her husband’s honor to continue his legacy.

This story of Veronica and Jen began in that meeting (you can read about that beginning here).

And it continues today.

I am sitting outside the worship room in Valley of the Angels.  The doors are open – my feet propped on the threshold.  Veronica is at the front, sitting alone, singing…

This is my desire to honor you, Lord with all my heart, I worship you.

She’s in Honduras for the first time with her new husband, Steve – a gentle soul with a quick wit who loves and listens well.  And on Wednesday, Veronica and Steve joined our Women of Purpose team to build a house in honor of her late husband, Jeremy.

And this is a story only God – Creator of the Universe – could have written.

Here’s the short version…

Jeremy died suddenly at the age of 31 from a heart attack.  His widow, Veronica, began blogging to process her grief. Jen, a missionary in Honduras, read her blog upon recommendation from a friend.  God prompted Jen to build houses – in Jeremy’s honor – for men who are committed to raising Godly families.

Men who need a hand up, not a hand out.

Jen called it King’s Quarters – after Jeremy King and our King Jesus.

Three years ago, Jen and a short-term mission team built the first King’s Quarter for Freddy Moncada and his family.  And after connecting with Veronica in person (she and Steve recently moved to West Virginia from Michigan), we invited her to come along with us to Honduras to meet Freddy and see the first house built in Jeremy’s honor.

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Freddy with Veronica and Steve

When we arrived, Freddy was delighted to see us and remembered Jen immediately.  He also remembered Jeremy’s story and was anxious to tell us how he had stewarded his gift well by expanding his original house, making a woodworking shop in the home.

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Freddy and a man from his church, building cabinets

 

Veronica and Steve talked with Freddy, and it was so sweet to see him explain to them that he is continuing Jeremy’s legacy.  Freddy has become a successful cabinet and furniture maker, which provides for his family.

Veronica and Steve also came with us to build the second King’s Quarters for Arlin, Kenia, and baby Ismari.

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Veronica and Steve digging the post hole for the house

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Veronica pounding nails as wall one goes up

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The Women of Purpose team building the second King’s Quarters with the help of Mark and Lori Connell

Standing in the finished house, dedicating it to God, explaining we built it to honor Jeremy, commissioning Arlin to love and serve his family well….it’s really impossible to convey.

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Dedicating the house to God

 

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Jen explaining Veronica and Jeremy’s story to Arlin, impressing upon him the importance of continuing Jeremy’s legacy of faithfulness to God. A tearful Arlin accepted this mission with excitement, asking us to pray for him – that he would stay close to God and raise his children in a Godly home.

 

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Arlin, Kenia, and Ismari with their new home!

 

I can’t begin to communicate all the “coincidences” that had to occur in order for Jen to hear of Veronica and Veronica to meet Jen and for Veronica to join us in Honduras.  The in-betweens?   The ways our sovereign God wove and connected these moments – these lives…

Veronica.  Jeremy,  Jen.  Freddy.  Arlin.  Kenia.  Isamari.  Steve.  Our team.

Unbelievable.  Amazing.  Heartbreaking. Hopeful.  Humbling.

Veronica said it best: “One of the coolest moments in life is when you see God putting the puzzle pieces together right before your eyes.”

Jen reading Veronica’s blog.  Veronica speaking at Women of Purpose and mentioning Honduras.  Veronica and Steve joining our team.  Visiting Freddy.  Building a home for Arlin.  All puzzle pieces connected and placed right before our eyes over the past few months.

The pieces made and placed by a God who knew us before we were born.   A creator who knit each of us in our mother’s womb.  The One who goes before us and stands behind.  The God who spoke this world and each of us into being.

He knew.  He planned.  He sees the entire puzzle – even if we can only see one piece.

And I believe He’s smiling as Arlin and Kenia make a home.  As Veronica and Steve build a marriage and a family.  As Jen continues serving the people of Honduras, loving them well.  As the Women of Purpose team comes to Honduras year after year to pour into missionaries.

He smiles and resides at the center of it all.  Thank you, Jesus.

Please continue to pray for our time at Revive – and for Veronica.  She will be here, loving and serving missionaries this Sunday, which is also the four-year anniversary of Jeremy’s death.

Another piece of the puzzle.

He SEES You {at Sisterhood Revive in Honduras}

Thank you…when I think of you, I am reminded of New Testament writers like Paul, Timothy, and Peter.  They wrote letters to and visited churches  - then wrote more letters and went back to check on those following Jesus.  That’s what you do for us.  You come – you share and love us, and then you come back year after year and check on us – you check on our families and our ministries.  We are missionaries, but so are you.  So, thank you – thank you.  There are no words for how much your coming means to us.

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These are the (paraphrased) words of a sweet missionary sister this evening at Revive – a four-day retreat for missionaries living and serving in Honduras.  As our team stood in front of the missionaries at the retreat’s opening, she thanked us for coming, for loving, for caring.

My chest swelled with emotion as I listened to her words seep through her choked-back tears.

It’s hard to accept a thank you when you feel so inadequate.  You feel you’re here on mission- answering His call.  And isn’t that the least you can do?  Answer the call of and follow the one who died for you on a cross?  To receive thanks for following is humbling- and overwhelming.

I think I speak for our entire team when I say that our time in Honduras is a privilege – an honor. We come because we love God and these women who serve him daily in Honduras.  We consider walking alongside these women for four days thanks enough.

And, if you’re a woman in the states who sponsored a missionary to be here this weekend, we say thanks – and we know thanks aren’t adequate.  We know you make this possible. We consider you, too, ones who keep coming back and checking in on your sisters.  Loving them.  Praying for them.  Caring about their work here.

Because…

Don’t we all simply want THAT?  To know we are appreciated and loved. To know someone sees and appreciates what we do.  To know someone cares about you while you serve either in a third-world country or in your living room.

To know someone sees past your talents – past your gifts – past your title of missionary or mother or sister or wife and friend.

To you. 

To who you are.

Not the one who writes or the one who serves in Honduras or the mom of so and so, but the one who is His daughter.  The one who loves well and lives for the kingdom.

To know someone sees your heart.

The heart that wants more than anything to follow Jesus and love others.

Tonight, as we worship with our sisters in Honduras, I am reminded that He revives us; He is our Cornerstone and Anchor.  He alone can save.  And He is the NOTICER.

He sees me and you, sister.

He sees you serving in Honduras.  He sees you serving your family dinner.  He sees you loving your neighbor.  He sees you leading the Bible study.  He sees you loving your husband.  He sees you teaching students and wiping noses.  He sees you up in the middle of night with a crying baby – a sick child.

He sees YOU.  And he LOVES you.

Psalm 139: 1-18

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
    You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too great for me to understand!

I can never escape from your Spirit!
    I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
    if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
    and the light around me to become night—
12     but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
    Darkness and light are the same to you.

13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed.

17 How precious are your thoughts about me,O God.
    They cannot be numbered!
18 I can’t even count them;
    they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
    you are still with me!

Take these promises – this  knowledge  – with you, sister, knowing you are fearfully and wonderfully made, and He sees you.

I am looking forward to an amazing weekend in Honduras!  Please join me in praying for revival.