The #Blessed Life I Never Knew I Wanted

A #blessed life. At times, we’ve all wanted it, strived towards it, and coveted it in other people. Visions of beautiful kids, a Pinterest worthy house, a tropical vacation, and flawless skin consume our minds; not wanting to admit it, inwardly our flesh craves comfort, security, success, accolades, adventure, intrigue, beauty, and acknowledgement. A quick search of Instagram produced 62,858,002 posts tagged #blessed. Scrolling through the pages you see pretty people, pretty decorations, pretty achievements, and 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, and 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?

This doesn’t mean we can’t buy nice face wash, and it certainly doesn’t mean we can’t pursue a dream or start a business. I don’t think it means we should hide our pretty things and pretend like they don’t excite us either. Let’s not let this prevent us from stepping into a calling because of how it might be perceived, 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 back to our Creator and be used for His good purposes; so we can, and always should be, thankful, celebrating with one another as these blessings 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 live.

Instead, let us be a generation of people that seek God first, our motivation being love, our intentions being pure, and 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 the nicest homes. 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 other people look at my life, they see Jesus before they see me.

Will you chase after this #blessed life with me?

Learning to be Thankful When Life Hurts

I had a breakdown outside of Safeway the day before Thanksgiving. Running to my car in the rain, I slammed the door behind me to endure my ugly cry in solitude. The trip should have been painless; I just needed to pick up a few last minute items. Yet, stopping by the florist department on my way to the checkout counter, set me heart into a tailspin. As I delicately placed a bouquet in my cart, the tears welled behind my eyes. Realization hit hard – while most of my friends were baking pies and cooking with their moms that afternoon, I was left to only deliver flowers to the cemetery. Holidays are hard. Triggers are everywhere.

Wiping my eyes in the parking lot, I pondered this question…

How do we be thankful when life hurts so bad?

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Why I Teach Them How to Fall: A Lesson Learned On the Slippery Slopes of Life

Skiing down the majestic slopes of Mt Hood, my little girl raced ahead of me, weaving in and out of passing skiers. Uncontrolled in her movements, I watched in horror as she entered the tree-lined bank, crashing into a twisted heap of skis, legs, and gear. Rushing to her side, I found equipment littering the landscape and fresh tears falling down her cold, pink cheeks. Sprawled flat on her back, she muttered this one simple question,

“why does it hurt so bad to fall?”

Bending down, I gently picked her up from the ground. Dusting the fresh powder out of her hair, I looked intently into her eyes and replied,

“because I haven’t taught you how to fall properly.”

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My Bitter Root of Unforgiveness

Strong. Fortified. Impenetrable. Deep. The roots of our tallest oak tree spread under the surface of our yard like a maze of power. Unseen from the eye, they are hidden beneath layers of rock, soil, and mud. How vast they travel no one knows, until a bulge happens under the sidewalk or across the yard. When the root finally pushes through the surface, it is obvious and intrusive. No longer hidden from the world around it, the damage must be dealt with swiftly, to lessen the blow to the surrounding landscape or to a pedestrian passing by.

There are deep roots in my heart too.

Wounds happen, words sting, friendships fail, opportunities are lost, and we mess up from time to time. Living in a fallen world with broken people insures that. Not able to escape the ugliness of human nature, we grow weary from feeling slighted or forgotten. Consumed by continual disappointment, certain people reinforce long-formed hurts, growing deeper and more complex as time goes by. Yet sometimes we forget that we have done our fair share of hurting too. That other people might have been pushed down by our words or inclusiveness. Forgetting that our bitterness is hurting us more than them, our heart is weakened by holding on to the pain of past deed or present circumstance.

My bitter root of unforgiveness can’t be ignored anymore.

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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.

 

 

 

Running Towards Grief

I AM A RUNNER. 

When stress overtakes me…I grab my sneakers and hit the pavement. When people hurt me…I desire to seek refuge as far away as possible. When life gets hard…I search for the greener pasture. This is a part of my DNA. My makeup. For as long as I can remember, my propensity has been to run. Flee. Take flight. Escape the uncomfortable.

On the other hand…

MY MOM WAS A FIGHTER. 

When stress overtook her…it motivated her to dig deeper and challenge the obstacle. When people hurt her…she confronted them, desiring reconciliation or at least a chance to be heard. When life got hard…She rose to the occasion, passion pulsing through her veins. This was who she was. Her default. Mode of operation. For the 34 years I knew her, she stood up, faced the hard, and conquered the awkward.

The summer after my senior year in high school, I came home from a month-long camp to find a friend problem waiting at my doorstep. As teenage drama happens, people misunderstood people, circumstances got twisted out of focus, and real feelings got hurt along the way. All the while I was living on the Slovakian mountainside.

Heading off to college, I was content to just let things play out. After all, I’d probably never see these people again, right? Mom couldn’t have disagreed more. Before I could raise my hand to object, the phone dialed a few numbers, and Mom was slamming my car door shut as she drove out of the garage. By the end of the day, I had made four house calls, talked through the disagreement with each friend, and felt a burden lifted. That day allies were restored, relationships salvaged, and wounds forgiven. With Mom behind the wheel, my running days were coming to an end. Quick.

Yesterday would have been the perfect day to just hide away and pretend like it wasn’t happening. Try to stay comfortable and just move on. Staying extra busy, I could have glossed over the hurt, stuffing it a little bit deeper into the corners of my soul. Being the one year anniversary of Mom passing away, I had navigated 365 days without the lady I turned to in my deepest pain and brightest joy. Grief is just plain hard. The hurt cuts to the core. Doing most anything to make it go away, this monumental marker felt like an enormous end-cap to the hardest year of my life.

But just like Mom that summer day in high school, God had other plans for my troubles…

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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.

 

When the World Rages On

Ding. My phone lit up at 5:45am this morning. One of my favorite people in the world was in a rage. Literal, chemically induced, uncontrollable rage. Anger, aggression flowed out of her in rapid torrents. Out of control, she cried out to God, “Why did you allow this pain in my life!” Flare gun prayer shot straight to heaven, she yearned to hear an answer.

While the world raged on.

Why does this world hurt so bad? Why are we exposed to pain and disappointment? Who is in control of this chaotic, pressure-filled globe we call Earth? Will there ever be relief from our suffering?

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What If I Became the Biggest Obstacle to My Husband’s Dreams?

For the past several years, almost every date night involves one question coming up. Some nights we cozy up around an intimate table tucked in the corner of our favorite tapas restaurant. Conversation ebbs and flows around our routine topics: kids, work, church activities, dreams. As I sit across from my husband, a look of wild abandon begins to fill his eyes as he leans back in the booth and slowly crosses his legs. This is when I know the question is coming.

“Would you ever consider moving to ______?”

The above blank is filled in with some exotic, far off country. A place where suits and ties are traded in for hiking boots and sunscreen. A land where poor farmers need loans to sustain their families, where kids run wild and free in grassy plains, where babies sleep under thatched roofs and mosquito netting at night. His wonder-lust dream began in a quaint apartment in Northern Switzerland six years ago. Collectively we had decided to spend his last semester of graduate school studying abroad. Spending most of my childhood traveling internationally with a peace organization, it didn’t take long to convince me we should take our three tiny children to Europe. Exhausted by the demands of a full-time MBA program, images of grandeur in the Swiss Alps brought us an escape. Though a world traveler myself, Michael had barely left the country, apart from our honeymoon to the British Virgin Islands.

Packing our bags and loading our tiny humans onto a sea-crossing plane, we were excited about the adventure that lay ahead. The first weeks were rough navigating lost luggage, a non-English speaking village, and jet-lagged kids. Learning to ride multiple buses into school left Michael stretched, questioning whether he was cut out for an international lifestyle.

As the days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months, I witnessed Michael’s eyes being opened to the broad, colorful world around him. It was like watching him fall in love for the very first time all over again. A long-time prayer of mine was being answered – he was developing a global worldview, a life beyond the borders of the great state of Texas.

After trying to secure a job abroad, we returned to the states with this new passion for the world. Knowing God would take us somewhere, we waited to see which quadrant of the map we would land. That May he was offered a job in Oregon. It was not quite Switzerland, but new territory to us; a place to conquer and make a new life. Jumping at the chance to live back in a picturesque setting full of new people, places, and amazing surroundings,  we have settled into life here over the past several years. As routine has set in, the date night question has begun to pop up with renewed frequency.

“Would you ever consider moving to _______”?

Sometimes the blank is filled with Papua New Guinea, Ghana, or Nepal. Occasionally Italy, Romania, or Singapore. In these initial moments, I have trained myself to stay quiet, keep my opinions to myself. To just let him dream. My response is always the same: “It never hurts to apply.” It has become my go-to phrase. My auto-reply laced in love.

Knowing that 99% of the time he won’t get an offer for the job. Not because I don’t think he is worthy. I will be the first to admit I am married to one of the smartest, wisest, and most ridiculously handsome men alive. His resume is impressive, his experience unmatched to many. Landing international jobs is extremely difficult and hard to come by. If he were to apply and receive an offer we would have to discuss, pray,  and then mutually decide if this is really the direction God wants us to take.

About eighteen months ago an opportunity presented itself for Michael to do a short-term volunteer trip. Traveling to Egypt he would be providing counsel and recommendations to lending agencies, equipping them to better support local farmers and businesses. He jumped at this opportunity to use his job skills to help improve a global community and the application was filled out.

At that time, as it still is today, Egypt was not the safest place for a fair-skinned American man traveling alone. It only took about two hours, and a CNN internet search, for me to have a long list of reasons why this was dangerous and a mistake.  I committed to praying about these worries for a couple of days before squelching his dreams of going. Sitting and spinning, agonizing and over-analyzing I became afraid. Afraid to release my husband to an unknown land. Afraid of terrorists and Ebola. Afraid of being without him for that long. Afraid that he would love it and want to move there.

After my two-day prayer period, I felt a nudge to release him to go. My fears would have to stay at bay (though I did wonder if he could at least pack a gun). He was made for this trip. It was all he had ever wanted to do.

The day came to send him off onto his great short-term adventure. I sat down one night pondering his experience, and this thought permeated my brain…

“What if I became the biggest obstacle to my husband’s dreams?”

If we are honest with ourselves, most of us would admit that we want a spouse who knows how to dream big. We are turned off by a lackluster attitude, discouraged by a zealot turned content. Couples love to dream together about the next adventure, the next chapter. We long to spread our wings, to unify our hopes and dreams. It keeps the spark alive. It casts vision. It communicates a desire to grow and reach our potential. It is fun to sit across the date night dinner table together, casting our net wide for what we want our future to be.

But oftentimes when the dream starts to become a reality…we squelch it. Not intentionally, or out of ill feelings, but because we covet a life of safety and ease. We desire consistency, calm waters, security. We do everything to create a life of routine and order.

Without realizing it, sometimes we can become our spouse’s greatest obstacle to actually realizing their dreams.

This plays out in families of all different dynamics. For me, it is my husband’s dream for adventure. For Michael, it was my calling to work in youth ministry. For others it is a mom wanting to go back to school, requiring her husband to give more of himself at home. It can be a grown child who dreams of being an overseas missionary are contrary to the “live close to home and have grand babies” dream her parents had for her. It could be one partner starting a new job opportunity, learning a new trade, or joining a new community group. In every marriage there are two people with two sets of dreams. The question becomes, “What is our role to play when our dreams look different? How can we best support one another to live out our God-ordained purpose?”

When God created Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden He said that Eve was created to be a helper to Adam. During the first few years of parenthood, I directly related this verse to mean that we were to help share the load of dirty diapers, sleepless nights, and house honey-dos. The longer we are married and the more we dream together, I have come to realize that God’s intention for this verse wasn’t just so that we would split the physical day-to-day duties of life.

We were created to help one another live out the purposes God has planned for us.

We were all created with gifts, talents, inclinations, and dreams. Experiences throughout our life have shaped our loves and preferences. Though married, we are still unique, individual people, predestined to do work God created for us to do. But we are a team. A helper. A journey-mate. Partnering together, God will lead us to seasons of growing and stretching, creating unity and the ability to live out our callings together. Side by side. And through the encouragement and support of one another.

So ask this to one another: “What are some things I feel like God has created me to do?” and “How can I best support you in reaching your potential for God’s kingdom?”

I encourage you to start dreaming together. And as you do, it never hurts to go ahead and apply. You might not get the grand adventure, but you will receive the joy of affirming the heart of your helper. And in turn, they can encourage your passion in whatever you yearn to do.

 

Jesus Has Outgrown His Manger Box

As we approach Christmas this year, the air is filled with a different kind of wonder. Yes, the Christmas lights are still twinkling and pretty, the hot chocolate is still warm and welcoming, and the entertaining of friends and family brings joy and contentment. Even the thought of presents to unwrap brings a smile to our faces. However, our perspective of Christmas has changed because our year has required our view of our Savior to change. For years we have loved Him, have always tried to celebrate His birth at this time of year, and have tried to remember the true reason for the season. It isn’t all about Santa Clause after all, is it?

This year Christmas looks different because Jesus looks different.

Over the past year, Jesus has showed up in the midst of the darkest storm of my life in a way I have never experienced before. He stretched His arms out wide and brought us deep comfort, peace and dare I say, joy, in the midst of our hardest trial and deepest pain. He brought endurance to face difficult days and rest despite sleepless nights. He brought acceptance and hope. He brought people who loved us well. He brought wonder at His character. He brought a real, living Jesus, a full-grown, perfect Savior. He brought Himself as the spotless Lamb of God who actively intervened in our world and in our story of grief and our hope of redemption.

He isn’t just a cute baby in a wooden manger to us anymore.

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