How To Be Less Afraid In A Very Scary World

The mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. An evening shopping trip turned deadly at a neighborhood Walmart. A routine meeting at the UPS office leaving people dead and in shock. Las Vegas, New York City and countless others just this year.

Where are we protected? Where can we shop, work, seek entertainment, or go to school without the threat of unexplained violence? Can we freely walk through our neighborhoods, travel cross-country, or have an adventure without running the risk of death. Are we safe anywhere?

And if not, how do we be less afraid in a world full of scary things?

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My Year of Rest – Finding Healing in a Hard Surrender

Loss has piled up on me and the heartbreak has been great. Over the past several years I have been hammered by the reality of this fallen world and the messiness life can bring. Pummeled with trials, we have had little rest in between; few seasons of calm. Desperate to find joy in the sorrow and beauty in the ashes, my husband and kids have been the best life-givers and smile-bringers this world could provide. With them, I have also had my youth group.

For seven years I have served in the best youth program this side of heaven (at least in my humble opinion). The students I first mentored have now graduated high school, bright futures awaiting them on the other side of teenage life. My first year serving, I was scared and timid, doubts running rampant through my head. Would the kids like me? Would I mesh with the team? Would I even enjoy the activities and the retreats away? Would I know what to say and how to lead?

And most of all, would I have impact?

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Does Time Really Heal All Wounds?

“Time heals all wounds.”

“This year of firsts is always the hardest.”

“Hang in there, it will only get easier.”

“At least this isn’t your first holiday without her.”

People mean well. We really do. Desiring to offer comfort, we oftentimes reach into our pocket of go-to phrases. Bits of advice that feel like a reassuring pat on the back. A slick balm to hopefully ease a stab of pain. We want to make it better. We yearn to help each other move to a brighter side of life. Let’s face it – grief is a downer! For the past couple of years I have often felt like the sad one. The downtrodden sour puss. The weary raindrop among the happy parade. There have been times I believed I should not be THIS sad anymore.

Does grief really get easier with time?

Today marks two solid years since I held my mom, witnessing her say goodbye to this world and hello to heaven. 730 days since I saw her face, whispered encouragement into her ear, prayed for her healing. The first year was a blur in some respects. Cleaning out her house was arduous, but occupied my mind. Putting her affairs in order was taxing, but a distraction. Through the busyness, holidays came and went. Her void was palpable. Her lack of presence a sharp pang of reality. Among the demands jockeying for my time, I forced myself to feel the emotions. I gave myself space to mourn her loss. Denial frequently looked like a better companion, but reality made its way into the depths of my heart. Year one was hard. Really hard.

After honoring her first anniversary, I believed the second year would dawn brighter. At least that is what I had told myself, along with dozens of other hurting people before me. Believing that, like my pocket-full-of-wisdom, time could soften my pain. Years gone by would become less intense. Even that the passage of time could heal my brokenness.

But the truth is…

No amount of time can heal my heart. Only Jesus can.

In the midst of my mourning, God has reminded me:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

“[I] heal the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

“Cast all your anxiety on [me] because [I] care for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

God alone will carry my burdens. Rest will come from Him. My brokenness will be bound back together by His loving hands. My fear and anxiety are cast away. His right hand will hold me. I don’t have to be dismayed in His presence. Where my burden can feel heavy, His is light. I am not forgotten. And He alone is what can make my heart whole again.

Just as July 20th will always be a day of remembrance, other holidays will continue to be hard. Mother’s Day will forever be a day I ache to be with Mom. Not only next year, but in five, ten, or even fifty years. Celebrations will forever be sprinkled with the dream she were beside us. Does the pain get less intense over time? Perhaps. Does the reality of her death get easier to grasp? Maybe. Will everyone who experiences loss feel this exact same way? I don’t think so. Grieving looks different for every person ever created.

Let us free one another by recognizing that, just as God specially created each one of us, our mourning will be just as unique. No two people will walk through loss exactly the same way or on exactly the same timeline. Our family is a testimony to that truth. If you still feel the sting of death today, even years after your loss, that is okay. If you still cry walking into a place that brings back memories, there is nothing wrong with you. If you find yourself pausing during celebrations, wishing your loved one was with you, you are not alone. It is okay to still feel the loss, to wish things had turned out different, to desire to see your loved one’s face again. But just remember…God is there in the midst of that sorrow, waiting to lift you out of the despair. He has not forgotten your grief.

And that He alone can, and wants to, carry you through.

Today we remember my spunky, fun-loving, full-of-life Mom.  It is a hard day but a special one. I remember the things that I loved most about her, especially the way she cared for other people going through hard seasons. I think of you today too, those who have loss in your past and pain in your heart. No matter how you feel in this moment, know you are seen. You are known. You are loved. And you are carried by our good, good Father.

The Impact of Christian Teachers Who Don’t Talk About Their Faith

Coach P. and Dr. B. Two Names. Two men who taught me. Two teachers who believed the best in me. Both of these educators modeled kindness and what it meant to be a team player. They challenged me, desiring to see my potential met. Even-tempered and filled with love, they rallied students together to reach goals, to impact others, and to leave a legacy of hard work and love wherever we went.

I don’t ever recall hearing them talk about God.

Growing up in a suburb of Dallas, Texas, my upper-middle class high school oftentimes felt like a private school. We had over a dozen National Merit Scholars, a majority of our graduates went on to attend four-year university, and we produced leaders in all areas of sports, music, and extracurricular activities. Our band performed on an episode of Barney my junior year, and Jessica Simpson sang in our choir. I loved this school and my not-so typical years there.

As a teenager, I was already a Christian but didn’t care two hoots about God or my walk with Him. I was saved at age nine, on a hot, summer morning in central Texas. Standing on the wooden deck of my camp cabin, my counselor prayed with me to accept Jesus as my Savior. My sister was abroad with an international peace organization, and my parents were off on a two-week vacation, so I was sent to TBarM Sports Camp. Thrilled to specialize in gymnastics, I was hoping to learn how to land my back handspring on the beam. Swimming, games, campfires, and tower-repelling delighted my adventurous spirit as well. Being nine years old, sleeping away from home for two weeks should have been a terrifying experience, but me and fear weren’t well acquainted yet. Throughout those sticky, summer nights I heard the Bible stories, sang “Lean on Me” a dozen times, and decided that maybe God did love me after all. Minutes after praying with my counselor, I bolted off the deck to jump back into the pool. I was changed but didn’t know it yet.

Thinking back to my high school days, I can’t remember knowing any Christian teachers. Maybe it was because few existed. Perhaps it was because they didn’t talk about it. Quite possibly it was because I didn’t care. Whatever the reason, I didn’t hear people talk about God much. The only reference to Him that I recall is seeing the Young Life posters in the hallway on Monday afternoons.

Today there is a growing pressure on educators to tow the faith line. Praying on the field before games, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, or talking about your beliefs during a world religions unit, are frowned upon, if not forbidden. In a tight spot, you know that faith-based conversations and activities need to be student led and run, but you want to share the hope that you have. What can you do?

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“Alongside” Book Review and Give Away

Casserole makers. Card senders. Flower arrangers. Prayer warriors. When crisis strikes, we want to help. Deeply desiring to care for one another, we, oftentimes, come up short on appropriate words or actions. Having little idea of the person’s needs, we become frozen in our ability to help in a way that is a blessing, not a burden, to us or to them.

Deep down I believe we all have good intentions. We care. We empathize. We want to help. We just need to be taught how.

Mom was dying, and I was completely overwhelmed by the demands before me. Not having close family nearby, we were left to navigate this season on our own. Caring for our three young kids while being Mom’s primary care giver, I needed help. Honestly, I couldn’t survive without it. During this time of need, a core group of people stepped in to bless, serve, and encourage our family in ways I never could have imagined. Their selfless service to my family and Mom is a debt we can’t repay. Developing a bond that drew us together, this community took our burdens as their own, helping us focus on the path ahead. Their service modeled the love and nearness of Christ in a dark and desolate season. Not everyone played the same role; not everyone could. Depending on the closeness of our relationship and their own time and circumstance constraints, people used their gifts to serve us in a way that was a blessing, not a burden, on either party. There were others in our community who didn’t reach out at all. Deeply knowing and loving these people, I firmly believe is wasn’t due to lack of compassion, rather an inability to assess the needs and know what role they could play.

What is our role when we find someone in our community suffering? What is the appropriate way to reach out, to love, to care for them? Sarah Beckman has written a book that is a must read for anyone desiring to be a blessing during a difficult season.

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Our Terminal: A Community of Hope Facing Terminal Illness

Out of the pain of losing Mom, a web community has been born.

When Mom first got diagnosed with terminal cancer in February 2015, I searched far and wide for resources to help navigate the journey. I wanted to find stories of other people who had walked a similar journey, anyone who could provide me a window into the future. I desperately needed to find redemption and hope when the circumstances seemed void of it. My search came up very short. Feeling like I was in uncharted territory, I turned to a few friends who had walked this road before me, knowing not everyone has people who can support in this way.

After Mom’s death, a deep desire has been birthed in my heart. Knowing others were experiencing similar grief, I yearned to create a space where people can gather when a terminal illness enters their world. A central hub of resources and information. A place to share the ups and downs of our stories. Most of all a corner to experience HOPE.

After walking Mom through her final stage of life, I was able to see gifts, big and small, that were given to us during those months. The word “terminal” began to take on a new meaning to me…

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The Nuances of Being a Nice Girl

Imagine being an 11-year-old girl walking into her first day of middle school. The unfamiliar sites, sounds, and smells bring anxiety, excitement, and a healthy dose of fear. Will I be able to open my locker? Will I have a friend to sit with at lunch? Will I survive dressing down in PE? Will I be prey to the notorious middle school mean girls?

Being a middle schooler has never been harder than it is today.

During my junior high career, I managed life fairly well. Being both a cheerleader and band member, I straddled a wide divide of friend circles. To most, I was known as being a “nice girl”. Making good grades, kind friends, and staying above the fray. Do I have regret, sure. Do I wish I could redo some conversations, definitely. The most blaring injustice I committed was my keen ability to be silent.

One fateful week in early February, the student council was prowling the halls with Valegrams in hand. Being a gifted, cheesy poem writer, I had been asked to write a poem to be given to a certain boy from a particular girl. After writing this labor of love, I handed the masterpiece over to the proprietor, soon to realize the poem was going to be signed from someone else. A girl who had no idea she was sending this. Someone who often was the center of teasing. A person who needed to be defended.

And I let it slide. Not wanting to ruffle feathers, I stayed silent. Maybe she wouldn’t find out I was the one who penned the poem. Maybe she wouldn’t be upset after all. Maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t really matter.

As I sat in math class, on Valentine’s Day,  I shifted nervously in my seat watching the Valegrams be passed out. To my horror, the boy receiving the card read it aloud in front of the class, sending the unsuspecting girl into a hysterical fit of sobs. In that moment reality hit like a dagger to my heart….My silence had made me a mean girl.

Our daughters don’t have to be silent. They can adopt the nuance of being nice.

Nuance = a subtle difference in or shade of meaning, expression, sound.

What if our daughters shifted the meanings of their words to bring life? What if their expressions reflected compassion, love, and friendship? What if the sounds coming from their mouth were joyful noises instead of  insecure jealousy? What if they gave voice to the bullied, included the outcast, showed compassion for the lonely? What would it look like if our teenage daughters embraced the nuances of being nice?

Change would begin to happen. The climate of our middle schools would shift. Students would start to believe they are good enough. Valuable. Loved. Cherished. No longer would the middle school years be clouded with a veil of insecurity and sadness. Our hallways would look different because nice is contagious and preciously rare.

In four days my oldest daughter will take her first steps into an unfamiliar middle school hallway. Some moms and daughters have collectively decided that this class of girls will CHOOSE NICE. When others slander, they will speak up. When others insult, they will encourage. When others isolate, they will include. This is a new class of girls who will commit to loving well, despite their own insecurity. Instead of waiting for others to set the tone, they will be the cultural trend setters. Will it be hard, yes. Will they be ostracized for it, maybe. Will it make a different, absolutely.

And we can’t challenge our girls to choose nice, if we don’t choose it first. Will you join us in this pledge to adopt the nuances of being nice? The return is well worth the things we have to lay aside.

 

 

 

“Give Your Child the World” Give Away

Growing up my parents sent me and my sister on trips across the world. Starting at the tender age of eleven, I began participating in international peace camps through an organization called Children’s International Summer Villages (CISV). My travels took me to far away places such as Brazil, Sweden, Belgium, and Slovakia. Living for a month at a time with children from around the globe, I fell in love with various cultures, people groups, and places. Beginning to see other cultures in light of my own, differences weren’t obstacles to our friendships. Skin color didn’t determine the depth of our relationship. Language barriers couldn’t stop lifelong bonds from forming.

Experiencing the world at a young age helped me to value all people. Most specifically those different from my mainstream, upper-middle class, white, American, Christian self.

Camps like these are rare and hard to come by. I don’t take it for granted that my parents sacrificed much to give us these opportunities. Besides a semester long stint in Switzerland, my kids haven’t grown up with the same opportunities I had. Longing for them to experience other cultures, we have had to actively seek ways to help them touch the world afar. It sounds like a great goal, but it is hard to know where to start. So the question becomes, “how can we spark a love for other cultures in the hearts of our children, when it is so far removed from our every day lives?”

Author, Jaime Martin, has found a way.

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Why We Can’t Be Happy For One Another

There is a massive epidemic sweeping our nation. Invading our homes, stealing our joy, creating havoc in the midst of our every day lives. Hardly any person stands untouched by this widespread sickness. It is called by a name we all know well: DISCONTENTMENT

Discontentment wears many faces. It looks like the teenage girl analyzing herself in the never-satisfied mirror of life. It often appears in the blank stare of a weary mom who scrolls through social media, desiring any life but her own. Too often it is in the heart of a man, trying to provide for his family, but thinking someone has it better. Easier. More adventurous. A greener yard on the other side of the longed after white picket fence.

Discontentment often shines brightest in our inability to be happy for one another.

Crying “uncle”, we blame social media, the tool that we love and loathe all in the same breath. Blaming accessibility into each others lives, we give it up for a season. Our lent sacrifice. I’ve done it. It works. Clearing my heart of those pesky little things called jealously, envy, coveting. When I don’t know what is happening in the lives of those around me, I can be content. Happy with my own blessings. Satisfied with my own life.

Honestly, it is sometimes just what we need for a short time. Hard trials and struggling seasons can call for a period of hunkering down. Kiss Facebook goodbye. Maybe for good. The real issue comes when we shelter our heart from community. When we can’t celebrate others triumphs. When anything good that happens for you, breeds discouragement for me. This shows a deeper issue of my heart. Hiding life away, removing it from the forefront of my mind, I feel better. Appear better. But the sickness still lurks in the darkest corners of my soul.

Hebrews 10:45-46 commands:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

How do we spur one another on when we hide from what is happening in their lives? How can we meet together regularly, if we feel threatened by their blessing? How can we encourage one another if I see their gain as my loss?”

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine authored a 30 day Bible study challenge. Signing up for it I was stoked to participate in this step-of-faith moment for her. Gifted and a brilliant writer, I yearned to see God bring people to this study, hungry for His word and like-minded community. As her followers climbed in number, I was giddy with excitement. Then God whispered into my ear…“Tell her, Sarah.”

“Tell her what you see God doing in her life. Tell her how her words speak truth into your heart. Tell her how God is using her to reach thousands. Encourage. Admonish. Uplift. Celebrate. Be happy for her.

And so I did. 

God spoke more into my ear that day then just encouraging this one friend. It needs to become my default. My lifestyle. God is on the move, using people all around me in all manners of ways: to reach young kids, minister to teens, care for unwed mothers, teach in the public school, home school their own kids, serve on the mission field, and even in small risks like inviting their new neighbor over for coffee. It comes in all forms, arranged in diverse colors. It looks different for each one of us.

Sometimes we feel threatened by others success. “If her ministry succeeds quickly, maybe mine will look less worthy.” “If his job pays more, maybe I am not good enough.” “If God calls that person to take a risk, maybe my faith is too weak to be used by Him.” “If God increases their platform, maybe what I have to say isn’t worth anything.” These are all lies we believe. Insecurities we cling to. Self-doubt that must be let go. We can’t live like this. The church can’t grow like this. Seeing each others callings, we need to be torch bearers. Cheerleaders. The first to raise a holy fist bump. Saying good job. Well done. Keep at it. God is on the move, and He is using you.

Our hearts depend on it. Our church body can’t survive without it. The future generation is at stake as much, if not more, than our own. What would it look like if our teenage daughters saw us wildly and genuinely celebrate each others gifts, talents, and triumphs. It would change their relationships, their schools, their hearts. Today, tomorrow, and for eternity.

So this is my start. It might be hard at first. My flesh may want to self-protect. My heart may not always feel like it. But it is what God is asking me to do. So I will pray He shows me how.

To celebrate and to be happy.