He Turns the Mess Into a Message After All {for ALL of Us}

I am reading Psalm 139 when I pause and look up.  There’s this moment – one I can’t adequately describe  – when I know: I love each and every one of these women.  Like…really love them.  

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I want to sit beside each woman in the room and read this Psalm to her.  Look in her in the eye and make sure she believes it – deep, deep down.

Before emotion overtakes me, I continue speaking. Except, I am not really speaking at all. I always have a plan and notes; I glance at them intermittently. But, I never really know what the Spirit will bring.

We close with selfies…it is part of His message. (This is my selfie with Tyla Boyd who led worship. She’s amazing!  You should look her up and buy a Forever Redeemed t-shirt!)

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I walk to my seat, remove my earpiece, and sit down. I feel this mix of joy from the gift of sharing his Word with these women. And of burden for each tear shed and head bowed.

Tyla closes us with Jesus Loves Me and those words sink deep into my soul…yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me.  The Bible tells me so.  It’s my niece Chloe’s favorite song, which makes it all the better:)

We pray and dismiss.

And then they come. One by one.  Hurting and broken. Stories of divorce and shame and loneliness.

“I am going through a divorce.”

“ I’m rarely in pictures because of my appearance.”

“ I apologize over and over for myself.  You spoke directly to my heart. “

I pray with one woman immediately as her anguish is tangible.

One gal takes my picture…”I plan to look at it when I think I am not good enough, and I want to give up,” she says.

I give a long hug to a woman who silently cried the entire time.  I don’t know the source of her tears, only that her life is hard.

“I plan to quit mentioning that I am divorced. I want to stop apologizing for being me.”

“I’ve been divorced for 10 years. God does bring blessing, but I am lonely a lot.”  Tears slip down her cheeks.

Later I get a message from a woman, mother of four, who ran late because of her kiddos’ schedules. Went to the wrong church. Almost gave up and went home. But decided to come anyway.  She’s thankful because God had a word waiting just for her.

And another very young woman who feels she’s not pretty anymore. So very critical of her appearance (and she is so pretty!)  She’s decided to repeat Psalm 139 to herself in the mirror.  To claim it and believe it.

Women of ALL ages – hurting, lonely.  Feeling less than.

I bite my lip, overwhelmed by the brokenness in this world.

Friends, we may all look like we have it together, but we do not.  That woman that just popped into your mind? The one you SWEAR has it all together? SHE DOES NOT. I promise. And even if she does – maybe she’s Miss Perfect 2016 – it does not matter. Her story is not your story.  Walk in his path for YOU, not for her.

And I tell you all of this because…

I lost Sarah a long time ago, beginning in about 2007 – almost 10 years ago. Pieces within me broke as life rammed me from so many sides. This girl I knew so well slipping away…

I’ve hardly known myself for the past three years especially.

But, as I stood on a stage Tuesday in Tennessee, I found her. There she was – so unexpectedly. I wasn’t delivering a message to those in front of me; I was talking to myself. Every single word. I felt like “me” again. The same but different – in a good way.

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And as I greeted sweet woman after sweet woman afterward, I knew…all that stuff you’ve read about how God will take a mess and make a message (I’ve always laughed at that)…how He will redeem the broken and wastes nothing (I always WANTED to believe that)…

IT IS TRUE.  I promise it’s true.  Yes, it took almost 10 years…so God might not be in a big hurry…but HE REDEEMS.

I am not sure what you’re walking through today, friend. But, that girl who used to be you? She’s still in there.  Sure, He’s refined and chipped away at her character and beliefs.  But, the little girl whom he crafted in your mother’s womb? Whom he fearfully and wonderfully made? The heart of her is still in there.

I pray you find her, embrace her, love her, and live out exactly what He made her to do.

Meanwhile…I am celebrating my spunky, Husky-jeans-wearing, third-grade self who just got pink and blue glasses with her initials in the corner.  I really like her! And I am so glad she’s back.

(And it is always sweet to make new friends! )

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Accepting Me {God Doesn’t Make Mistakes}

She smiles while waiting on customers and flipping pupusas. My friend speaks to her in Spanish; her face lights up as she rapidly replies. I’ve heard her speak English, but I jump in with my limited Spanish. She’d delighted to speak her native tongue.

We learn her name is Rebecca. We ask if we can take her picture…not wanting to forget her or this moment. She replies (in Spanish), “Of course, I am very beautiful!”

She’s smiles hugely and poses for her photo.

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It’s just one moment in time. A sweet, older lady proclaiming her beauty, happy to smile for the camera.

But, the moment is profound for me.

It’s God saying…this is what I have been telling you for a few months, Sarah. And you aren’t listening, so I sent an angel – in the flesh – to you in person. (And a HONDURAN angel at that! God is so awesome:)

Here’s the truth – you won’t find me in pictures. I take tons of pictures of my kiddos and my niece. I love pictures. But, I am ALWAYS behind the camera. And if I let you take my picture,  it’s a high-angled selfie that omits my body and camouflages my double chin.

And when my sister INSISTED on a family picture at the beach, I hid in the back.

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Because that’s what I do: avoid pictures or hide in the back.

Of course, you’re onto me, right? You know my photo avoidance has little to do with a photograph and everything to do with shame and insecurity and failure.

Half-marathon. Huge weight loss. Divorce. All the weight is back plus a few bonus pounds. And I do not want that failure  – those choices – that image to be recorded for everyone to see.  (I know  – I see people every day in person…as if they don’t see the real me;)

So, here I am.  My highest weight ever. Preparing to meet with a publisher. Preparing to speak at a church girls night out.  Praying over messages and outlines and ideas, asking God to bring me just the right words- just what his girls need to hear.

And so He speaks – over a period of weeks. He doesn’t give a message that I am interested in sharing. In fact, I look up and ask him, “why do I get the hard ones? The ones where I have to do the work and admit my faults? Can’t I just speak the words?” (I know. This is dumb. No one wants to hear the words from someone perfect who is not living what she’s sharing. But still. Man. I am SURE there’s something ELSE to say.)

But, God reveals his message in small pieces for weeks – even if I am mostly unaware. Until that moment comes when I look up, and say, “I see what you’re doing.”

Just so happens (actually, nothing ever just so happens in my world!) I am leading my ministry team through I Want God by Lisa Whittle and this week’s’ chapter? I Want God More Than Popularity. And these words…which I’ve never noticed in my previous readings…jump off the page: He knows we will have to consider our image above everything else and that will extinguish passion flames and truth-telling and free speech. (101)

See what happens when one is preoccupied with image? Or appearance? It’s serious when we let anything hold us back from passionately sharing Him. I know this to be true.

Then, I see this post shared again and again on Facebook.  I remember ignoring it a few years ago. (I’ve always been an “ignorance is bliss” kinda gal).  I click on it.  So You’re Feeling Too Fat to be Photographed.  I read these words…Life doesn’t wait until you “get thin” enough to capture it. Life is happening… it is happening right now and the only moment we are guaranteed is the one we are living….you’re feeling too fat to be photographed? OK… but you’re the only one who notices. The rest of us are too caught up in loving you.

Can we agree on this? It’s true, right? Y’all don’t read my words and think…she’s fat. In fact, that sounds ridiculous. And I am NOT living life to the fullest as I sit and wait on the magical day when I will look exactly as I always dreamed. I am actually wasting days and gifts.

And then God sends Rebecca. Smile engulfing her face as she unabashedly says,  “Yes! Take my photo! I am very beautiful!”

I want to weep. Or scream “I hear you!” Because as I watch Rebecca I know…

I DO NOT live out of who He says I am. I live from the cultural standard.  I’ve known this for awhile, but refused to acknowledge it. To give it to God – or even ask His opinion. I keep waiting for “the moment.”

You know “the moment,” right? The one where you say…I will do _____ when I get through ______. Or when I am ________.   I will write a book when I lose 100 pounds, and I am not too embarrassed to promote it. I will invite more friends over when my I have time to redo my kitchen or mow the lawn. I will go back on the diet after I get through this busy summer.

I will do this when I get through that.

The problem is…there’s always another this and that. They never cease.

And I spend day after day, reading his Word. Writing what He places in my heart. Serving and loving and living…and never acknowledging the elephant in the room…the feeling that I feel less than. I feel life is on hold until I lose the weight.

An attitude and way of life that looks at my Creator and says…You made a mistake. Sure, you gave me certain gifts, but I can’t use them because you made me bigger than all the other writers and speakers.

And while I know I have free will and I don’t believe God ever intended for me to gain this much weight, the truth is…he doesn’t want me to stand on the sidelines while I deal with the consequences of my own poor choices. He wants me in the game. He has plans for me. Fat or skinny. And I am letting fears and others’ opinions paralyze me. Make me inactive.

He wants me to be like Rebecca.  Yes, you can take my picture because this is ME right now in my journey. And I am accepting and loving who God has made me in this season. And thankfully he’s not finished with me yet, but for right now, I am THIS girl.

And she loves Jesus and his people more than anything. No amount of weight should or will keep her from sharing Him.

Sister, what’s holding you back? What moment are you waiting on? Why do you run from the camera – or why do you think you need to be front and center? What’s holding you back from being who he made YOU to be? Why do you compare yourself to other girls? Do you think God made a mistake when he made you tall? Fat? Skinny? Lanky? Awkward? Smart? Big nosed? Did he really mess up?

I don’t think so. In fact, his word has much to say about you and me, friend.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. Psalm 139:14

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me Psalm 139:16

Please don’t life keep passing you by. It’s time to move forward in His promises, sure of His love, confident in His grace and mercy, filled with His hope.  Don’t let another day pass. Be strong and courageous for the Lord your God is with your wherever you go!

Nothing is Too Trivial or Mundane {He’s Preparing You}

She prays, “Senor Jesus, thank you for the life of Hannah. And for the value she’s brought to us.”

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My friend whispers the translation in my ear, but I know “gracias por la vida” and tears slowly drip as I realize that this little girl living in a small barrio in Honduras is thankful for my daughter. That she was born. That one day when she was seven she decided to enroll in a ballet class. And that when money got tight, and I was unable to keep her in dance, a lady named Dee Ann decided to keep her there.

All those decisions. Those seemingly unimportant, daily offerings.  A generous lady, Hannah’s hours of ballet. My rides to and from class. Miss Allison and Miss Michele teaching and correcting. So normal and unexciting. Long hours, hard work, no instant gratification.

Until…God calls Hannah to Honduras and combines it with it her love of dance. And He calls a woman and her family to the mission field in 2011 and then introduces me to this woman (Brittany) in 2012.

That would lead to a friendship.  That would lead to a conversation during lunch at a retreat in 2015. That would lead Hannah to Jardin de Gracia to teach ballet. (With many more “that’s” in between.:)

The orchestration of our week in Honduras could not be accomplished by us. There’s absolutely no way. The road began for Hannah almost 10 years ago. The road for me almost five.

But He knew.

He saw a group of tutu-ed girls prancing around a tile floor in a building tucked into a poor barrio thousands of miles away. And He began sewing, creating a tapestry called my life, Hannah’s life, and – best of all – their lives….Gina, Naomi, Angelina, Suany…He is writing their stories too. And His composition included Hannah alongside them, even if for one chapter.

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And I do not know why I am amazed at His knowing.  I know he knows, but when I step back and trace the threads He’s woven into the tapestry of my life – of Hannah’s life  – I still stand in awe.

I stand in awe of His work in our hearts as we lived life alongside the Fosters for a week. I stand humbled by Hannah’s role in the stories of these sweet little girls.  Because, friends, this is really about them. About Gina and her mom, praying for ballet – something they could not afford. About Angie leaping across the floor, confidently and proudly. About the laugher as they danced and hugged and about the fervency with which they spoke prayers of thankfulness.

The ballet class served to remind each of them that they are loved.  They are free. They are enough. Their efforts are appreciated and applauded.  There is hope. And so much more.

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And for their moms…a true gift.

Moms, we all know there’s nothing quite like watching our kiddo dance across the stage, hit the homerun, kick the goal, achieve an A, receive the award. Aren’t you so stinking proud when you sit in the crowd and watch your child? Don’t you want him or her to find “the thing” she’s good at and pursue it? Isn’t that why we sign them up, drive them all over the country, and sit at games and competitions for hours upon hours?

All of the time and money…it’s to help our kids find something that makes their hearts soar – to use their skills and gifts – to develop them into team players and disciplined young men and women.

We want our kiddos to be happy, to express themselves, and to feel they’re gifted.

And so do they – the Honduran moms and dads who show up to the final day of ballet class for the “recital,” taking a seat with phones in hand for recording and picture taking. Fixing hair into buns and helping with tights. Smiles beaming. Hearts swelling with pride. They’re no different from us, wanting the absolute best for their children.

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I could go on and on…it was such an enlightening, awesome week. But, if I could leave you with a few things that might sound trite or overstated, but I KNOW to be true…

Don’t stop praying for that thing you’ve been trusting Him for. It’s not too trivial. I know many who think the time and money invested in ballet class is a waste – that poor children in third-world countries praying for a ballet class seems frivolous. Sigh. If He’s laid it on your heart, keep praying. See how He works.

Notice His work. Take a moment each day, each week to see how He’s writing your story. Don’t believe the paths you’re crossing and roads you’re taking are just big coincidences.  They’re not. His work takes time. This moment came from 10 years (or more) of preparation.  Persevere. Your moment is coming.

This is not about us. Hannah and I learned so much this week. Yes, God changed us. But, we didn’t go to be changed.  We went for these little gals and to love and support the long-term missionaries who give of themselves everyday. And I pray you hear my heart – that’s not some kind of false humility.  Yes, it seems like Hannah did this big awesome thing, but truly, God did this big awesome thing in and through her because He called her and she answered. And while I could not be prouder of the young lady Hannah is becoming, I know it’s Him and that the calling and answering looks different for everyone.

Perhaps He’s teaching you something right now because He knows in 10 years He will use that skill – that experience – that refinement  – for the kingdom.  Friends, He often uses our everyday for His glory, to bring His kingdom to earth. I pray you keep on, keeping on, knowing He is always at work. Each day, each decision, each commitment could make a difference for Him. May His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

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She Blazed a Trail {And We Should Too}

I wonder how she heard the news.

You are an equal in the eyes of the law.

She was educated at an academy  – the best a girl could hope for.  She didn’t work – what woman did? And she fell in love with Henry, a fighter for freedom.  On their honeymoon, she and Henry travelled to an antislavery convention in London.  And she made a new friend, Lucretia.

Her life changed because of Henry and Lucretia. She no longer thought afternoon tea was the highlight of the day.  The oppressed needed a voice.  She gave birth seven times, but grew restless with being at home.  She wanted to be a voice for those who had no voice in a time when that was anything but popular or cool.

So, she and Lucretia joined forces and organized a convention for women –  a place for them to gather and discuss rights and oppression. And while Lucretia – and her new friend, Susan – had many issues on their mind, one issue was particularly dear to her heart:  voting.

She thought women should be allowed to vote.

Meanwhile, the war raged as North fought South; a war often dividing reformers.

But, she and her friends refused to give up, holding meeting after meeting. Writing resolution after resolution – amendment after amendment.  Forming group after group. Persevering in the face of opposition and criticism from every side.

she blazed a trail

And then…1869. She and her friends, Lucretia and Susan, founded the National Woman Suffrage Association.  Eventually, this group would secure the 19th Amendment  to the Constitution of the United States of America.  

Women could vote.

I don’t agree with everything Elizabeth did.  She disliked organized religion as she struggled to reconcile equality with the church’s mandates and oppression.

But, still. Today, I can vote.

Because women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton came before me.

And someday, I pray women and girls say….I can __________ because of the amazing women who came before me back in 2016.  The women who loved Jesus in a way that we had never known or seen.  The women who opened arms to us when everyone else looked at us with disdain.

I pray that’s who we are, friends. Woman who fight for other women. For girls. For the oppressed and marginalized and lonely.  Women who champion, applaud, and cheerlead other women.

What we do matters. Our voting. Our mothering. Our teaching. Our loving. Our serving. Our sharing. All of it. May we live everyday knowing this day matters.

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On Election Day in 1920, millions of American women exercised their right to vote for the first time. It took activists and reformers nearly 100 years to win that right, and the campaign was not easy…But on August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was finally ratified, enfranchising all American women and declaring for the first time that they, like men, deserve all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. (history.com)

And today, we voted too!

(My kiddos think they’re hilarious as you can tell;)

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For the Single Mom {on Mom’s Day}

I see you. I see you cooking and cleaning.  Carpooling and crafting.  You’re wiping tears and cleaning knees. The need never seems to end.  A break isn’t coming.

And it’s not like you need a break – exactly. You love your kiddos. You’d spend every waking minute with them if you could. They’re great kids.

But, sometimes, it’s nice to have help. It’s nice for someone to acknowledge that you’re doing this alone. Sure, friends help. Maybe they even go with Dad once a week or every other weekend. And maybe there is no dad at all { I really am sorry.}

to the single mom

Still, the burden of providing and parenting rests squarely on your shoulders.  They come to you with all the questions...can I date? Does this dress look nice? Is my hair ugly? Am I overweight? Can I run track?

They come to you with the tears. I wasn’t chosen this time, Mom. I didn’t make the cut. She was making fun of me today. Why are there starving kids in the world? Where is God in this?  

They come to you for homework help. For car rides. For decision making. For affirmation. For confirmation. For love. For understanding. For all of it.

Sometimes you want to say…I don’t know, little one. I don’t know what’s best. Decisions are best made in tandem when two different people can bring strengths and weaknesses to create one solid team.

Could you text dad every time? Maybe. But it’s not really feasible. You can’t ask your friend or mom every time either. You’re the one. You’re the one who answers the questions, wipes the tears, encourages the hearts, helps with the homework.

And that’s ok – you “took them to raise.” But, sometimes, you’d just like for someone to say…I see you. I see you getting up early, working hard, sacrificing much. I see how exhausting this life can be. I know you love them deeply, but this work is hard.  I believe you want the very best for them.  I understand that this was not the plan. 

Today, friend, I want to tell you: I see you.  I feel you in my heart.

This single mom road is challenging. But, it’s ever so rewarding.

And, best of all, it teaches you that you are not alone. In the earliest of mornings when the silent house creaks and bedroom fan whirls. He is there. During the late nights when you toss and turn and the weight of “I am responsible for them” hits. He is there.

He is with you. He is with them. He is a God of redemption and love. This may not have been his plan, but He is in control.  You are not a statistic or a failure. There is no label that fits you except daughter of the King.

I pray today that you walk in that, friend.

I had no plans to write today. Most of what I feel about Mom’s Day is in this post. But, God said…there’s a single mom out there, Sarah. And she needs encouragement. So, to the one for whom God nudged me…Happy Mother’s Day. You are seen and you are loved.

Your work matters.  Your children matter. YOU matter.

Your kids will never forget this season. They may not know or understand right now, but someday, they’ll know: My mom was a superstar! My mom is a daughter of the Most High God, and I am honored to call her Mine.

When We Don’t Know the Story {Food Pantries and Job Loss}

I’m waiting in line.  She doesn’t understand his heckling.  She is paying with food stamps, and the guy behind her has seen her panhandling at a busy intersection. I’ve seen her too.  She’s not buying anything “healthy,” but neither am I.  

“Oh, you make the big money over by the bridge,” he says.

“Not really,” she says. “We get by.”

“Get a job!” he replies – ever so sarcastically.

I can’t hear what she’s saying, but her head is bowed. I observe her a bit longer and wonder if she’s mentally ill.  Her lack of understanding and inability to engage with simple activities suggests she might be.

I know some of her money goes to alcohol.  An addiction no different than me buying chips when I am overweight.

The struggle in my heart and the judgement from the line is tangible.  There’s so much anger directed at her.  I want to ask them…do you really want her life? Begging on a corner? No family to speak of? No home?

And I know what they’ll say – something about their  -my – taxpayer dollars supporting her habits.  I get it. I really do. But, when I look at the angry mob behind the downtrodden woman, I can’t muster any vehemence.  I am just sad.

Because I think of a blog I read yesterday. It lurks in my head all day – all evening – this morning. The post centers on how we assume things about others – often wrongly.  I have a friend who calls it writing stories.

We write a story in our head about what we see.  We think we know because we’ve gathered “evidence” by observing. When in reality, we don’t know. At all.

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This line sticks with me: “There isn’t anyone you can’t love once you’ve heard their story.”

I wonder what her story is…

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She comes to ask my class for help with a fundraising project.  One day, a few hours, raising money for about 15 local food pantries.  I look at my students.  I doubt any of them have visited a food pantry. It’s so far away from their experience.

She tells of a call she received recently.  A man requesting food for his family.  She asks his address so she can connect him with the closest food pantry; he gives an address in a nice neighborhood. Confused, she asks more questions. He has a good job. His wife has a degree and a better job.  They have two young children.

The American dream by anyone’s standard.  Nice home in a nice neighborhood. Degrees, jobs, kids.

But, his wife lost her job, and (long story) there is an issue with her unemployment benefits. They’ve eaten all the food in their home. Now, they’re behind on their mortgage and car payment and in a place where buying food isn’t possible.

The man chokes up as he asks for help. He doesn’t know the correct term for food stamps (it’s called SNAP in my state).  He’s donated at food pantries, but never used one.  One life change – a job loss – has taken them from American dream to food pantry.

And that could me – or you – too.  One “secure” job – lost.

The agency connects him to the nearest food pantry. His voice cracks as he asks if his kids must go with him. They do not. He’s relieved. He didn’t want them there.

And as I listen to this story, tears fill my eyes. I think of my friends – friends who bought gifts for my children on that first Christmas after my separation.  Who used miles to send me to Honduras. Who moved me twice. Who unpacked my kitchen and cleaned. Really, they’ve served me in too many ways to list. {And I am beyond grateful.}

But, one job loss. And before you say it, they followed the Dave Ramsey plan. No debt! Savings of three months salary. They did it RIGHT. But when no new job comes and months pass…the house must be sold. The cars too. Life changes dramatically. And it’s hard.  It’s their home  – their neighborhood. So much bigger than just “stuff.” It’s the life they built.

Without family and friends, they might need a food pantry someday too.

None of us are that far removed from need. Truly.

I share with my students how important this fundraiser is – how necessary the food pantries are – how they really aren’t immune to sudden changes in their parents jobs or this country’s economy.

After all….“There isn’t anyone you can’t love once you’ve heard their story.”

Why am I telling you this? I am not completely sure.  God began moving the words from my heart to the page, and I let Him.

All I do know is that…the next time someone with a Michael Kors purse is paying with food stamps, instead of allowing the anger to permeate your person, consider that perhaps she had wealth at one time, and because of job loss, she’s fallen on hard times.

Better yet, learn her story. Do for one what you wish you could do for many (Andy Stanley said that first:)

And, yes. I know this is a bigger, multifaceted issue than I present here. I watch the debates. I vote. I read newspapers online. But in this moment, I am removing all that to love one. To hear one.

Because, friends. Standing back in anger – complaining on Facebook – saying mean things to the person  – none of that looks like the Jesus of the Bible.

He walked up to the woman at the well. He called Zacchaeus down from the tree. He had dinner with the tax collectors.

Why?

Love. No one will know we are Christ followers by our love unless we love.

“There isn’t anyone you can’t love once you’ve heard their story.”

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. 

Processed with MOLDIV

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