Hope & Encouragement in the Waiting

The close of 2017 might have left you wanting. Perhaps you have a dream yet to be realized, and you look to the new year with expectation, yearning, longing, and hope. Maybe it’s for a new desire, fresh vision invigorating your heart, or, on the other hand, maybe you have been waiting on the Lord’s movement for weeks, months, or even years.

For our family, the past five years has been filled with waiting of different kinds. Being in a long, arduous, international adoption process, we have prayed each year would bring us closer to bringing home a little girl from Bulgaria (you can read more of our story here: Our Adoption Journey). At other times, we have waited for God to bring healing in relationships, our loved one’s bodies, and for family who are hurting and broken.

For you, maybe you desperately desire to have a biological child of your own. Perhaps your season of waiting is for a spouse, a new job opportunity, a relationship restoration, or for your illness to be cured. For others it might be waiting to see how God will work things out for good, when your circumstances seem hard, isolating, and unchanging.

Whatever your wait, In Due Time might be the book for you.

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The Day I Lost My Baby Weight & My Friends: The Comparison Killer

Cradling an infant at 23 years old, we were new to town,  and I needed friends. BAD. While most of our college buddies were starting careers, getting married, and traveling to fun places, we were knee-deep in caring for a colicky, beautiful, little girl who never slept.

Longing for a place to belong, we settled into a new church community, and within those walls, we found everything we needed – solid preaching, great music, a good children’s program, and lots and lots of newborn babies.

At first our Sunday morning conversations felt awkward, shallow, and forced. Content to just “press through”, we kept attending and trying to reach out. Making friends with a few people, we started to feel more comfortable, but overall, there was an invisible wall between me and some women in the class.

Several months into our daughter’s life, the sleep deprivation gave way to postpartum depression. Feeling like a caged animal in our tiny apartment, I desperately needed some outings, some companionship, and some authentic community. With my husband’s urging, I stepped outside my comfort zone and attended a women’s event one evening.

Walking into the chatter-filled room, I scanned to see if any of my friends were there. Finding a familiar face, I took the seat beside another new mom, eager to share stories about life with little ones. A few sentences into the conversation, she said something I will never forget…

“Sarah, do you want to know why some of us don’t like you in this class?”

Me: (awkward, long pause)…um, yes, I guess I do. *Gulp.*

“Well, it is because you had a baby three months ago and have already lost your baby weight [Side note: I hadn’t]. Some of us in here are still struggling after 9 months, and we don’t like you for it.”

She got up and walked away.

Why do we hurt one another so much? Why do we let petty, insignificant things keep us from experiencing true community? Why do we make judgements, instead of celebrating who God made each of us to be? Why do we use the measuring stick of comparison on those we are called to love most?

Using other people to determine our worth is killing our communities, restricting our impact, stripping us of joy, and, most of all, causing us to forget who we are in Christ.

 

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We are loved (Romans 5:8), chosen (John 15:16), and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). We are forgiven (Hebrews 14:16), justified (Romans 3:24), righteous and redeemed (Colossians 1:22). We are the aroma of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:15), and are uniquely designed (Isaiah 64:8). And we are FULLY QUALIFIED (2 Corinthians 3:5).

Our worth is not measured by the size of our clothes, the number of kids in our minivan, how much money we make, or the applause we get online. It isn’t about our ministry numbers exploding, our marital status, or the color of our skin. It isn’t about the spiritual gifts we have received or the number of people we’ve led to Christ.

Our worth lies solely in our citizenship in heaven. In Christ WE ARE ENOUGH.

So let’s make a deal. As a generation of Christians, let’s fight the temptation to compare our bodies, our families, our vocations, our ministries, and our assignments. Instead, let’s make church a safe place, a resting spot, where joys are celebrated and struggles cradled; a place where we call out the gifts and talents in one another, celebrating the obedience and Kingdom-building impact happening in our midst.

Through that edification, our communities will see an unleashing of men and women who know who they are in Christ, and behind them will be an army of believers who remind them when they forget. And the world will be changed for today, tomorrow, and for eternity to come.

And that, my friends, will be a beautiful sight to see.

What is one way your community supports and encourages each other well?

Finding Joy in a Sorrow-filled Christmas

Maybe your Christmas season is filled with illness, divorce, conflict, or death? Perhaps, like many others, you find the cheery “Merry Christmas” greeting hard to return, as you fight the unforgiving lump growing in your throat? For lots of people, the months have been hard and the year is ending with disappointment, betrayal, or sorrow. The holiday season dawns difficult and joy is hard to find.

How can Christmas be joy-filled when grief is real and ever-present?

Back when our girls were little, the pleasures of Christmas were found within the stockings under the tree, in the delightful squeals of children unwrapping presents, and tucked inside the delectable treats and goodies scattered around the kitchen. Christmas meant family and family meant peace, happiness, and unity.

Scattered in those years, life happened and heartache entered the picture. Divorce, dysfunction, disease, and death crept in and Christmas became a juggle of emotions; reality of loss overlaid our day of happiness. Yearning for the past, it became easy to wish for simpler years, for holidays that felt alive with anticipation and wonder; when Christmas was truly the most wonderful time of the year, and all felt right in the world.

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In seasons of hardship, our propensity can be to run and hide. Avoid the cheerfully decorated shopping malls. Skip the company Christmas party. Spend Christmas Eve at home instead of in a candle-laden church pew. Occasionally these practices are best. Honestly, sometimes we need to protect our hearts in these fragile moments. You may be in this fresh season of grief. Cut yourself some slack. It is okay. For a season.

For the rest of us, where can we find Christmas joy when our hearts hurt with the things of this world? How can we engage with the people around us and see the gladness of Jesus when our hearts don’t feel happy, our families have conflict, and our circumstances are complicated? Unlike a faucet, we can’t turn off our emotions at the leisure or convenience of others. We shouldn’t have to pretend, feel guilty, or ignore the pain within us. Acknowledging the hard, while still experiencing peace and joy, can be our anthem this year.

It comes down to seeing the gift of Jesus for who He really is in our life.

The Old Testament book of Isaiah was written over 700 years before the birth of Christ, yet it perfectly describes the coming of our Messiah. The following are just a few of the prophesies fulfilled:

He will be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14)

He will come from the line of King David (Isaiah 9:7)

He will be beaten and struck with a willing spirit (Isaiah 50:6)

He will make a blood sacrifice (Isaiah 53:5)

He will take our place (Isaiah 53:6)

He will heal our broken hearts (Isaiah 61:1-2)

“Instead if their shame, my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; and so they will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs.” (Isaiah 61:7)

Thankfully for us, Jesus didn’t stay a baby in that manger. Growing in God’s likeness – being fully man, yet fully divine – He lived a perfect, sinless life. Suffering on the cross, He bore the punishment for our sins, dying the criminals death that you, I, and the world deserve. Bursting from the grave three days later, He conquered death and ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of our Father. He made eternal life available to all who call on His name. Death, disease, heartache, conflict, and grief were conquered once and for all.

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Because of Jesus’ journey from manger to cross to heaven, our weary world can rejoice. Our hearts can feel heavy, yet hopeful; sorrow-filled, yet alive. We can grieve, yet be in gladness. Joy can still be found this Christmas season, no matter what our circumstances bring.

All because our true Hope was born this Christmas Day.

***

I’d love to hear what is hard for you this Christmas season and where you find joy in the midst of your current circumstances? And know, dear reader, I will be lifting you up as this season unfolds.

*For practical advice in how to best love someone who is hurting this Christmas season, I highly recommend reading this article by Desiring God. What Grieving People Wish You Knew at Christmas

 

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?

Continue reading “My Year of Rest – Finding Healing in a Hard Surrender”

How a Prayer For North Korea Impacted My Faith and Possibly Changed the World

Tucking my daughter into bed, I asked the routine question, “Is there anything you want to pray about tonight?”. With the start of school on the horizon, I anticipated prayers like “for my electives schedule, “for my best friend to get my lunch period”, or “for so and so to be nicer this year”. Pondering for a minute, she answered instead…

“I want to pray for North Korea.”

Surprised at her request, I asked some follow-up questions, gaining a much deeper picture into the heart and mind of my child. As I listened to her concerns, not based out of fear but on knowledge of the situation, I realized why God deeply values the faith of a child. Bold, unwavering, and full of trust, she believed her prayers could make a difference. The cause wasn’t too hefty, too complicated, or too messed up for our all-powerful Creator.

My girl had just massively challenged my own prayer life. And possibly changed the world in the process.

Continue reading “How a Prayer For North Korea Impacted My Faith and Possibly Changed the World”

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?

Continue reading “The Impact of Christian Teachers Who Don’t Talk About Their Faith”

My Yes Doesn’t Mean God Says Yes Too: Loving and Losing a Little Girl We Never Knew

Flashback to 2009. Living in Austin, Texas, my husband was attending a rigourous, full-time MBA program. With little income for the next 20 months, we rented an old house as close to campus as we could afford. Selling a car, we paired down, content to wrestle through the next two years of whatever adventures lay ahead.

Two precious little girls filled our home, and dreams of a third were fresh on our hearts. We knew we wanted to try for another biological child, and weeks later the test came back with joyful news. Excited, we began to prepare for her arrival.

About halfway through this pregnancy, I began researching adoption agencies. Though a weird thing to do while carrying a child in utero, I filled out an online inquiry form and hit SEND. I wanted information on international adoption. God had lit a tiny spark of interest earlier in our marriage, and I desired to get a window into the future possibilities. Though the time wasn’t right to start the process, I knew at some point God would give the green light.

Holding this paperwork helped keep that desire alive.

Fast-forward a few years and life looked much different than that day I first held the adoption packet. Grad school graduation had happened, a cross-country move had taken place, and that sweet little baby was now two years old. After prayer and contemplation, God gave that steady green light. It was go-time. Pulling out those dusty papers from long ago, I emailed the agency, and set off on the adventure of international adoption. It was August 2012.

Like many things in life, adoption is hard. The process, the emotions, the financial requirement, the transition home, the healing. All of it. Walking beside several close friends who have adopted, we have cried over doors being closed, rejoiced when new ones opened, lamented as timelines got extended, and watched families lose hope only to gain it back on the other side. It isn’t for the faint of heart or the easily discouraged.

As of today, our family has been in process over four and a half years. We’ve dreamed, we’ve prayed, we’ve sometimes been low on hope and weary. After this many years, bumps in the road have oftentimes obstructed our view of the finish line, not sure if our family would ever see the day a referral would grace our kitchen table.

Two months ago it looked like that was all about to change…

Through certain events that can’t be shared here, we were made aware of a little girl that needed a new home. On paper, we were a perfect match. Pouring over her file, we prayed for her, as if she were our own. Having videos and pictures gave us a face to put with this long-hoped-for anticipation.  It brought hope in this journey, something we hadn’t experienced in a very long time. Bringing in our community, we needed their prayers. An urgency filled our bones. An assurance that we were meant to be part of her story. We truly thought she could be ours.

Last Friday the fateful email hit my inbox. This prayed-up, loved, and hoped-for girl was chosen for a different family. She was out of our life as quickly as she had entered (cue the tears.)

Y’all…Obedience hurts sometimes.

There are times where things just don’t  make sense. We hear God’s promptings, take a step forward in obedience, then feel like the rug gets pulled out from underneath us. Doubting whether it was God’s voice after all, we wonder if we made this up in our heads. Did we pray the wrong prayers? Did we take misguided steps? We can’t make sense of what He asked us to do, and we aren’t sure what plans He has for us. For her. For our future separated.

So, I have to go back to what I know…

I know that His plans are for me, not against me (Jeremiah 29:11)

I know that He loves this little girl more than I ever could (Psalm 139:16)

God makes everything beautiful in its time (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

God’s ways are not mine, His thoughts not my own (Isaiah 55:8)

He will continue His good work in us until we see Him face to face (Philippians 1:6)

I know that His word (and voice) never returns void (Isaiah 55:11)

And I know that being obedient should be my goal, not getting my dream fulfilled.

Saying YES to God doesn’t mean that we will always get what we want. It doesn’t insure that our desire will be satiated. It certainly doesn’t guarantee a happy ending to every story.

Yet, my YES shouldn’t hinge on Him saying YES too.

Sometimes it is good that we don’t always know the outcomes of things. If we had known this little girl wouldn’t join our family, we would have not pursued her. Would we have avoided this loss? Sure. But I believe God is less concerned with us going through a trial, than He is with the sanctification of our hearts. His desire is to build His kingdom here –  in our hearts, in our cities, on this earth. His goals aren’t ours. We don’t see through the same lens. His purposes are often beyond our comprehension. But, I can still choose joy, knowing we stepped out and lavishly, without abandon, said “yes” to what He was calling us to do. And that was to love and pray for this girl without boundaries for two solid months, helping bring her into the forever family God had chosen before the foundations of this world were made. We got to play a part in a story that will last for eternity. And that should be enough for me.

It is hard. The future of our story is unknown. But I am choosing to trust Him in my YES today, no matter what the outcome will be. And my prayer is that we will continue to step into obedience, unafraid of the outcome, but rather consumed with the process of surrender.

I know we aren’t along in this. I’d love to hear how God has called you to obey. When has it been hard? When it has felt easy? What has He taught you through it all?

The #Blessed Life I Never Knew I Wanted

A #blessed life. At times, we’ve all wanted it. Strived for it. Coveted it in other people. Beautiful kids, a Pinterest worthy house, a tropical vacation, and flawless skin. Not wanting to admit it, inwardly our flesh craves it. Comfort, security, success, accolades. Adventure, intrigue, beauty, acknowledgement. A quick search of Instagram produced 62,858,002 posts tagged #blessed. Scrolling through the pages you see pretty things. Pretty people. Pretty decorations. Pretty achievements. Pretty lives.

What if the #blessed life we’ve been chasing is backwards to the one we were created to live?

The #blessed life we put on social media tends to show what we have. What we think is good. What makes us happy. Not always the intention of our heart, what we consider #blessed can paint a picture into what we value, cherish, or chase. Most of the time, in my own life at least, it has been mostly about ME.

Simply put…I think we are chasing the wrong thing.

Jesus says in Matthew 5:

And he [Jesus] opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Will I say my life is #blessed when my mom dies of cancer, even if it pulls me closer to Him? Will I thank God for tight finances because it allows us to wait and see His provision? Will I have joy when I get diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, because it actually makes me dependent in a way I never knew possible? What about when I blow my knee, my car breaks down, my kid gets bullied, or my friend walks away? Where are these #blessed posts? Where are the proclamations of the hard getting re-purposed for good? We don’t see it because it is a backwards theology. 100% counter cultural. It doesn’t make sense to the world. And at times, hasn’t made sense to me.

Jesus says in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that they  [we] may have life, and have it to the full.”

Jesus humbled Himself by coming to this earth to give us life – life for eternity with Him, but also life on this mess of an earth too. The full life He came to bring doesn’t include a fancy new sofa or face wash that takes away my wrinkles. It isn’t about my children’s successes or my new dream job. It certainly isn’t about my  ambitions or achievements. Our #blessed life shouldn’t leave people jealous, coveting, or envious. It shouldn’t push friends away, cause division, or be self-seeking. The things that cause us to have a blessed life should bring people back to our relationship with our Savior. We are blessed because He redeems our pain. We are blessed because He strengthens our weak knees and feeble arms. We are blessed because He gives us courage to enter others pain. We are blessed because we have been granted the opportunity to believe in Him and suffer for Him. We are blessed because He is enough, and I am not.

So these are the two questions I have been pondering:

  • What about my life has produced eternal blessings? Things that matter? Things that last?
  • How can I use my earthly blessings to bring people back to the One who gave them to me in the first place?

Does this mean that we can’t buy nice face wash? No. Does it mean that we can’t pursue a dream or start a business? Not at all. Does it mean that we should hide our pretty things and pretend like they don’t excite us? I don’t think so. Does it mean we can’t step into a calling because of how it might be perceived? Absolutely not. And for heavens sake, please don’t hide the pictures of your beautiful children. Some of these things just make the world more comfortable. And that is okay! Others of these things could be our God-ordained calling. If so, we have a duty to step into them with obedience! All of these things are gifts that can point us back to our Creator and be used for His good purposes. And so we can and always should be thankful, celebrating with one another as they come.

The point is we have to stop CHASING after the #blessed life of this WORLD, pursuing it at all cost and for the end goal of having the life the world tells us to have.

Instead, let us be a generation of people that seek God first. Our motivation being love. Our intentions being pure. Our celebration of what God is doing being genuine. Let our desire be first and only for Him and the things He treasures most. Love for God and for other people.

The most #blessed men and women I know aren’t the ones with the biggest paychecks, largest platforms, most followers on Instagram, or nicest things. They are the men and women I have seen firsthand suffer with grace. Enduring hardship as discipline, they have carried others burdens in light of their own. They have chosen to trust God when the world says to curse Him, knowing what it means to have fellowship with the Spirit. They have lived and loved well despite their own pain or limitations. Their faith is secure. Their hope is contagious. Their joy complete.

THAT is the kind of #blessed life I want. It costs something, most of all my pride, selfishness, and propensity to compare. But my new prayer for today is that I seek Him first so that when others see my blessings they see Jesus before they see me.

Will you chase after this #blessed life with me?