Hope is a Choice: The Story of a Haitian Prostitute  2

I never expected to find myself in Haiti, let alone at a table full of prostitutes.  But in a strange twist of events, on my fourth trip in just three years, there I was.  The stories from that week have made such a profound mark on my soul that it has taken me nearly a year to process them, the words just now leaking out onto the screen as I type.

 

I was simply invited along for this journey, and I can take no credit for the planning or execution of the plan or the hours of work that have gone into it.  I can only tell the story, my eyes brimming with tears.

 

We sat around the table with a simple invitation that would change everything.   “What are your dreams?” we asked.  The look of confusion in their eyes broke my heart.  Dreams quickly die in their line of work.  But we persisted and they began to open up.  Finally, we asked them, “Would you like to become Beadmakers?  If you could learn to make beads and be paid reliably, at a fair price, would you leave the brothel?”

 

It took a few tries until the question sunk in, but a faint glimmer of hope began to show in their eyes.

 

Rose-Merline (Of course this isn’t her real name) was there on the first day of training.  She spoke a bit of English, and was so proud to listen to our words, understanding before the translator repeated them in Creole.  She was excited and she moved quickly.

 

A little too quickly.

 

That first day, we meticulously taught them how to make beads.
How to cut.
How to measure.
How to glue.
How to roll.

 

Rose-Merline tried so hard.  But her beads came out wonky.  She rolled them too loose and there were gaps.  There weren’t fat in the middle and skinny on the ends.  She forgot to wait until the glue dried, so they all stuck together.

 

The other ladies started to laugh at her.  They had caught on quickly and she lagged behind.  I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but from the look on her face, I knew it wasn’t kind.

 

After a few hours, we handed each lady a bag of supplies and instructed them to continue to make beads at the Brothel, bringing them back to us in the morning.

 

But Rose-Merline refused the bag.  In her broken English, she told us her beads weren’t good enough and she wouldn’t be returning for the training.  She looked at us sadly and walked away.

 

There’s a bit of Rose-Merline in all of us.  Her language, her upbringing and profession may be vastly different, but we all know the sting of rejection.  We enter a place where we long desperately to belong, to prove that there’s a place at the table for us.  And when it becomes apparent that we’ve read the situation wrong, or we’re obviously not welcome, the shame burns on our cheeks and in our souls.

 

So.  I’m going to break a writing rule.  I’m going to tell you the ending of the story.  It just doesn’t seem right to string you along.  My story doesn’t have a happy ending.  It doesn’t wrap up into a neat little package.  Rose-Merline didn’t return to the training and she didn’t become a Beadmaker.

 

Soon after our conversation and after the ladies left for the day, our team felt unrest in our souls.  Rose-Merline’s words were weighing on our hearts.  We called a driver and we asked him to take us to the Brothel.  We packed a bag of supplies and we drove to the crude building where she lives and works.  Immediately, people from the streets surrounded our truck, wondering what the Americans were doing.  We peered inside the gate and we could see the ladies already making beads.  We found Rose-Merline and we surrounded her.  We spoke words of affirmation to her, saying we believed in her, that if she continued to practice making beads, she would get better.  We encouraged her to return to the training, to become a Beadmaker.

 

Her eyes lit up and she hugged us.  She just needed someone to believe in her.  If only for a moment in her life, we wanted her to know she was worth more than the few dollars she made each day.  Perhaps she had never been told that?  Perhaps no one had ever taken the time to hand her hope?  I’ll never know.  We pulled away, waving from the back of our truck, watching her wide smile.

 

She didn’t return. But you already know that.

 

I’ve wrestled with this story for months now, because I so desperately want the ending to be different.  And I’ve realized living in the grips of bondage for so long, with overwhelming obstacles, makes it desperately hard to believe there are any other options. Rose-Merline couldn’t hear the invitation over the noise of the lies.  Years and layers of decay and shame in your soul can do that.

 

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  

Psalm 34:18

 

But you?  Today?  I can give you these words.  You are worth more than the rejection and shame you feel.  Though you believe you’re fragile and unloved, the Holy Spirit draws near.  Though your heart is shattered, though the layers are deep, He doesn’t pull back.  He pulls you close.

 

There is a place at the table for you.

 

P.S.  Need a reminder of hope?  You can buy your own necklace made by our former brothel ladies!  I can’t even type that sentence without crying.  God is so good.  

 

Hello.
I’m Sarah and I write about the hope & joy that can come even in the midst of deep grief and sorrow.  I’d love to have you join me.

The Bible is full of verses that speak to our deepest hurts.  I’ve chosen a few of my favorites for you to post around your home. You can get them here.

Holy Week: Nourishment for Your Soul  0

 

There’s a card in my recipe box from a decade ago when the kids were toddlers.  At the top, in big letters, it says “Meals the Kids Will Eat.” It includes spaghetti, grilled hamburgers and chicken & noodles (with peas).  I remember meals being exhausting and frustrating as we tried to coax each kid to eat a few more bites.  I can’t say that things have changed much over the years…. they still gobble up homemade pizza but choke down vegetable soup.  Only half of them will eat broccoli and the other half of them hate potatoes (Also, to further illustrate my point, I feel like you should know I have three kids).

 

“In the past few years, I’ve made a point to pay more careful attention to the answer when I ask my kids ‘What do you want for dinner?’ says Jenny Rosenstrach in her cookbook How to Celebrate Everything. “What I’m really asking is: ‘What foods will someday have the power to transport you back to your childhood?’”

 

I remember Sunday dinners.  Somehow my mom found a way to get dinner in the oven before we left for the early service.  We’d walk into the house after church, the smell of roasted chicken and potatoes hitting us at the door.  To this day, mom always makes me the same apple spice cake with cream cheese frosting for my birthday. Cinnamon rolls at Christmas.  Hot chicken salad.  Grilled cheese with homemade bread.  Sugary cereal on vacation. (She would like me to tell you that she made us plenty of vegetables and healthy foods… but I can’t seem to remember those).  Even as an adult, when I go home, I want the meals that take me back to another time.

 

Our souls long for those familiar rhythms of childhood dinners, don’t they?  For many of us, those times were simpler, the memories bring us comfort and peace.  When everything seems to be a rushing, swirling mess all around us, wouldn’t it just be nice to have Mom hand us a big bowl of homemade chili?

 

Just before He was arrested, Jesus sent two of His disciples to make preparations to celebrate the Passover meal.  It was a familiar meal to them; one they had all grown up celebrating with the same foods and the same rituals.  I can’t help but wonder what Jesus felt as He sat with His closest friends.

 

What a pivotal night— a significant in-betweeness—  He must’ve felt, torn between the memories of the past and the expectation of what would quickly come.  I wonder what memories of His childhood years flooded back to Him…  His mother, Mary, bent over making the unleavened bread, the bitter herbs, the lamb?  His Father, Joseph, leading his family through the history of the meal, recounting how their ancestors had fled Egypt, no longer slaves?

 

As they sat down for what we would know as The Last Supper, Jesus looked at His disciples and said, “You’ve no idea how much I have looked forward to eating this Passover meal with you before I enter my time of suffering. It’s the last one I’ll eat until we all eat it together in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:14-16 MSG).  Jesus, who knew all that would transpire over the next few days, took the time to be intentional, to build into His disciples one last time.  He took what was familiar and He brought new meaning to it— a New Covenant.  A new way to live.

 

Don’t you wonder how the disciples looked back on their final Passover with Jesus?  Before everything changed…  before Judas betrayed Jesus, before Peter would deny Christ, before Jesus was arrested and crucified. The Last Supper was the peace before the storm.   Familiar rituals and familiar foods ushered in the most turbulent, life altering events of their lives. Jesus nourished their souls as He prepared to die.

 

“Open your mouth and taste,

open your eyes and see how good God is.

Blessed are you who run to Him.”  

(Psalm 34:8 The Message) 

 

Today, under my Bible and notebook as I write, there’s a grocery list and a meal plan.  We’ll celebrate the Seder meal on Thursday, on Sunday family will gather for a traditional Easter meal.  I’m struck with the enormity of Jesus’ last meal and the power of rituals.  I’m struck with the power our childhood meals have to evoke emotion and comfort.  And I’m struck with the simplicity of the meal He shared and the meals my kids ask for.  Nothing fancy, gourmet or time consuming.

 

I find myself falling in love with Jesus even more, as I think of His last meal and the way He loved, even when the cost was so high.

 

So I’m curious about you.  What meals do you remember growing up?  What are your soul foods? What meals evoke strong memories to you, so that no matter where you are, you feel like you are home?  And what does it mean to you that Jesus was excited to share His Last Supper with His disciples, while looking forward to His next meal— One that will include us—  when He returns?

 

It’s impossible for me to know your details.  I’m well aware that your childhood memories of food may be a painful subject.   I also realize you may not be familiar with this story of Jesus and His disciples.  So today, no matter what, may you know that you are deeply loved by a God who is waiting for you to run to Him, no matter the cost, no matter the circumstances.

 

It’s Easter.  Let’s celebrate Jesus, who nourishes our souls.

 

[Want to read the Easter story?  It’s found four times in the Bible, written from the perspective of four different writers.  The details of each story are a bit different, but the basic outline is the same.  Find it in Matthew 26:17-28:13, Mark 14:12-16:20, Luke 22:7-24:49 and John 13:1-20:31.  Bible Gateway is a great way to read the Bible online if you’d rather read electronically.]

 

Hello.
I’m Sarah and I write about the hope & joy that can come even in the midst of deep grief and sorrow.  I’d love to have you join me.

The Bible is full of verses that speak to our deepest hurts.  I’ve chosen a few of my favorites for you to post around your home. You can get them here.

Hope When God Seems Silent  4

 

A yellow dog showed up at our house the day of our son’s third birthday.  I remember him gleefully looking up at us as he hugged the dog, “You got me a dog for my birthday!?” he exclaimed, pushing all his other gifts aside.

 

We stared at him blankly.  We had no idea where the dog had come from.    He just happened to have great timing by showing up to a party he hadn’t been invited to.  We broke the news to William gently, telling him the dog could stay, but only until we found out where he belonged.  We crushed his heart, but what in the world!?  What kind of dog just shows up on a birthday?

 

Our searches left us empty handed and eventually we realized the dog was here to stay.  We named him Hank and he stole our hearts.

 

A few years later, we found ourselves in a place of deep grief after we buried our third child.  William had just turned five; Kate was almost three.  Unable to process what had happened so suddenly, we decided to take some time away as a family.  We took Hank to ‘Camp Kennel’ a few towns over and drove away.

 

The moment we pulled into the driveway three weeks later, we sensed something strange had happened.  On the floor was a new dog bed and other obvious signs that a dog had been living in our home.  A note was taped to the door, “I’m out on a walk.  Love, Hank”.  We looked at one another in confusion.  We had picked up Hank from the kennel on our way into town, just a few minutes prior.  He was currently running through the yard at breakneck speed, revisiting his favorite spots.

 

That’s when our neighbor came walking up, with a yellow dog on a leash that looked just like Hank.  Only it wasn’t Hank.  It just really, really looked like Hank.  Somehow, as our community had scrambled to surround us, she had gotten the message that she could help by taking care of our dog, which she had done so faithfully for the time we’d be gone.  As it turns out, a different yellow dog just happened to run away at the same time and when she saw him in our yard, she assumed it was our Hank.

 

And just because this story couldn’t get any more confusing, when we checked his collar to see where he belonged, we found not only a phone number, but a name.  Hank.  The Hank-imposter was also named Hank.  I know.

 

When Hank-but-not-our-Hank’s owner came to get her dog later that day, she innocently said to me, “Oh! We had lost hope that he was going to return!  My kids have been taking it so hard.”

 

That’s all it took for my fragile world to start spinning.  I looked at William and Kate playing in the backyard.  I had just mustered the courage to go back into the house, with the empty crib and the endless reminders of the daughter we had buried.  How could I be happy for her kids, rejoicing over a lost dog, when my own kids had lost their sister? My heart was crushed.

 

I wonder if you’ve ever been confused by the way God is working in your life.  When the plans you have come to a rushing and disappointing halt, in spite of the prayers you’ve prayed.  What are we supposed to do when we’ve taken all the right steps and done all the right things, and yet, somehow, we find ourselves holding a broken heart, a shattered dream, a bleak future? How do we live when life doesn’t seem fair?

 

There was no one who championed Jesus like John the Baptist.  He was driven in his message and focused in his mission.  As he preached a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins, he fulfilled what Isaiah had prophesied: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” (Luke 3:4).

 

Yet, just as Jesus’ public ministry was ramping up, John was sitting in prison.  This man who spent his time in the wide open spaces of the desert, wearing an outfit of camel hair and a leather belt was confined to the darkness of the dungeon, relying on his disciples to bring him news of the outside world.  Things were not lining up like he had planned.

 

John’s disciples came to Jesus with a message. “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask,” they said.  “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:20)  If Jesus was proclaiming liberty to the captives, why had his biggest cheerleader been left to suffer in Herod’s prison for such a long time?

 

Jesus didn’t give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.  Instead he gave evidence.  “The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.”  His words echoed Isaiah, a fulfillment of prophecies John would have recognized and understood. And then he added, “God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.” (Luke 7:22-23, NLT)

 

I find it so easy to follow Christ when my life follows my plan.  I dive into the hard work when there’s clear direction and purpose, especially when it allows my life to stay on its own happy course.  But how easy it is to abandon the plan when life takes a turn I wasn’t expecting.  When the disappointment comes and I find myself in the bottom of a dark, dank dungeon of questions and disappointment.  Are you, like me, ever tempted to echo the words of John the Baptist, “Are you the One who is to come or should we expect someone else?”

 

There were a lot of things about brokenness I didn’t understand that day I stood in the yard between the two Hanks.  My sorrow was fresh and deep. I felt like I was alone, dangling off the ledge of a cliff. I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to survive.

 

In the moment of my raw soul honesty, I struggled to make peace with God’s answer to the prayer for a lost dog and apparent decision not to answer mine for my daughter.  I felt forgotten. I wonder if John the Baptist felt the same way?

 

“There are very few places where the soul is truly safe,

where the knowing,

the questions,

the longings of the soul are

welcomed,

received,

and listened to

rather than evaluated,

judged,

or beaten out of us,”

says Ruth Haley Barton.

 

What do we do with our stack of unanswered questions?  Perhaps, like John the Baptist, we bring them to Jesus.  We sit and confess our fears to Him, our longing for more, our lack of understanding. And then we wait.  We give Him space to move into our lives, and we see that not only is He working in the souls of others around us, He is working within us.  He doesn’t scold us, doesn’t reprimand us for our clumsy sorrows.  He simply invites us to draw closer. To lean in.

 

“The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor,” He whispers to us.

 

The Bible doesn’t record how John received the message.  Though his life ended brutally in the dungeon, his voice still calls out to us in our desert.  And you and I?  Our stories aren’t over.   We must cling to hope, even when God seems silent. It is possible, even when you feel disillusioned and alone.  You may find it hard to see it clearly, but the truth is, He is always at work.  Even when it takes a couple look-alike dogs named Hank.

 

 

Hello.
I’m Sarah and I write about the hope & joy that can come even in the midst of deep grief and sorrow.  I’d love to have you join me.

The Bible is full of verses that speak to our deepest hurts.  I’ve chosen a few of my favorites for you to post around your home. You can get them here.

working through grief as time marches on  4

 

Shortly after we lost our daughter, our three year old Kate said, “I’m so happy that Annie is with Jesus. But when He’s finished being with her she can come home.”

Today, March 9, 2017, would be Annie’s 8th birthday.

 

I’m never quite sure how to face these days.  Should I be sad?  Should I be grateful?  Should I be extra weepy? Should I be normal?

 

Like so many other things, there’s no manual.  No right or wrong timeline of how I should be feeling and experiencing.  There’s no measure of “normal” and it often makes me feel a little out of control.

 

Yesterday the wind blew with great big gusts.  Limbs falling, trash cans rolling in the streets, leaves swirling all around the yard.  My emotions on  surrounding these days feel unpredictable like the wind.

 

Those first few years were so intense with grief.  Every day was so heavy, so focused on getting through each moment and surviving.  The sorrow consumed me.  But eight years later, it’s not like that anymore.

 

Grief has become a familiar friend almost.  I can barely imagine my life without it, actually.  Talking about our loss, processing things about our loss is a normal part of our life.  There’s a constant tension between moving forward and remembering.

 

The capacity of my heart to feel sorrow has increased immeasurably.  But at the same time, I’m finding that joy can be experienced more than I ever thought, too.  Losing a child has given me perspective on things I never even knew existed.  Above all, I am filled with gratitude for the richness Annie’s life has brought to mine.

 

A friend texted me earlier this week to check in on me, to see how I was feeling.  “I’m thankful the years of intense grief are gone, but I also strangely miss them,” I told her.  Maybe that doesn’t make a lot of sense?  But it’s true. I miss being so sure and focused on what really matters in life.  I miss being so desperate for God.  I miss the intensity of the pain, because the memory of Annie was much sharper.

 

However, as time marches on, I gain perspective.  The scars of losing Annie will always be a part of me.  Sometimes the wound gets ripped open again and the suffocating sadness rushes back.    But more often, time has given me the gifts of hope in my sorrow, of joy in my grief.  It has given me the gift of empathy, to be able to come alongside others who are hurting, to say, “Me, too”. It has forced me to be okay with having unanswered questions, to trust that God’s plan is bigger than what I can see with my own eyes.

 

“He shot his arrows deep into my heart.  

The thought of my suffering and hopelessness is bitter beyond words.

 I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.  

  Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:

The unfailing love of the Lord never ends!  

By His mercies we have been kept from complete destruction.”

Lamentations 3:13, 19-22

 

After her husband’s funeral following a long battle with cancer, Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “Now I am setting out into the unknown.  It will take me a long while to work through the grief.  There are no shortcuts; it has to be gone through.”

 

Dear Friend, I don’t know where you are on the journey of grief… but she’s right.  There are no shortcuts.  Bravely face it.  Lean hard into God and trust Him to lead you each step of the way.  Dare to hope, even as you grieve your loss. It is God’s very nature to be merciful, so you can confidently know that He is full of mercy and He showers it on you.  He is a God who loves those who are brokenhearted.  Find rest in His love and mercy for you today.

 


[The truth of Scripture brings healing to your soul, so you need a list to turn to when you hope seems lost. Start with these: Matthew 28:20, Psalm 46:1-5, Romans 8:26, Isaiah 41:10, Psalm 18:2, Psalm 62:8, Psalm 34:18, Psalm 73:26, Matthew 5:4.  My favorite versions are the New International Version, The New Living Translation, and The Message.]

Just a Coincidence  1

I passed up the good chocolate at the grocery store this week.  I’m not going to lie… it was a hard choice.  But my cart was full of too many essentials to justify my craving so I kept right on walking, even though there are plenty of ground breaking studies on how chocolate improves brain function and energy levels and godly parenting.

 

Imagine my surprise when a Valentine’s Day box from my in-laws “for the kids” arrived the next day. Inside was a bag of my favorite dark chocolates…with MY name on it.  Literally.  My mother-in-law wrote it in sharpie.

 

It wasn’t life changing or anything, but it was definitely a fun coincidence.

 

On a recent episode of “This American Life”, they asked people to submit their best coincidence stories and after receiving over 1300, they decided they should do an entire show.

 

“Here’s a definition of coincidence that seems right to me,” said Sarah Koenig, the producer and narrator of the show. “Coincidence is a surprising occurrence of events, perceived as meaningfully related with no apparent causal connection.  It’s that middle part— meaningfully related—  that people seem to get stuck on. Because when events line up just so, you can’t help it.  You can’t help but wonder if there’s a message in that. In that way, coincidences are kind of like shortcuts to very big questions about fate, about God, even to people who don’t believe in either one.  The notion that somewhere out there, someone or something is paying attention to your life– that there might be a plan conjured through coincidences.”

 

So, friends, let’s talk about that.  Because we do have questions— big, sad, loud, bold questions— about fate and God.  We wonder if things “happen for a reason” or if it’s just by chance.  Would God really care about something as little as a bag of chocolates?  Or perhaps the better question would be, does God care enough about me to pay attention to the details of my life?

 

“Mostly what God does is love you.  Keep company with Him and learn a life of love.  Observe how Christ loved us.  His love was not cautious but extravagant.  He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us.  Love like that,” Paul says in Ephesians 5.  

 

What if circumstances we call coincidences are really just God showing up in our everyday lives— assuring us that He hasn’t left us, that He cares for us?  What if, in his extravagant love, He knows you in the deepest ways, paying close attention and slipping in details we don’t see coming?

 

What if?

 

There are small coincidences, like chocolates, but then there are big ones– big enough to cause a shift in your thinking, to change how you perceive life.  There’s a Mandarin saying, “If there’s no coincidence, there’s no story.” … so here is mine.

 

A few months ago, my son Will and I were in Haiti, getting ready to present a little Bible lesson to between 30-100 kids (they somehow multiply exponentially every 3 minutes).  We had animal masks and a painted rainbow, little coloring packets with stickers and an animal cracker snack.  We were going to teach them about Noah and the Ark.

 

My hesitation was that Hurricane Matthew had struck a few weeks prior, and though the area we visited wasn’t devastated, there had been a lot of rain and flooding.  I had been to the little town of Nambien before— houses made of tree bark and corrugated metal with dirt floors.  Kids with no shoes who rubbed their bellies and asked for food.  Mamas who hold babies in their arms when the torrential rain starts to seep into their houses.

 

 

The story of Noah is about trust and obedience.  It’s about a huge flood where Noah and his family (and 2 of every animal) were kept safe as the storm swirled around them for 40 days and 40 nights.  And it ends with a rainbow, a promise from God that He will never flood the earth again.  In America, we cute-ify the story.  We decorate nurseries with little animals, we buy plastic toys with squat little animals and a white haired man.  But in Haiti, it’s different.

 

Telling the story of Noah and the flood seemed like the worst idea in the world.

 

The morning we were scheduled to go to Nambien, I sat at a little table overlooking the ocean, praying and going over my notes.  The rain was pounding against the tin roof as I read the words I would later speak over these children.  I was worried and unsure.

 

And that’s when I looked up and saw a rainbow on the horizon.  A promise that God sees our lives and He cares.  A promise that His Word is always true and He can always be trusted. A few hours later, Will and I stood in the middle of the a sea of kids to teach them the story.  I can’t tell you if it meant anything to the sweet kids that day… but I can tell you that God spoke to me so deeply in my soul.

 

How could I ever describe this as simply coincidence?

 

How often do we miss what God is up to in our lives by merely shrugging and saying, “What are the chances?”  How often is God trying to speak to our souls, and it barely catches our attention because we’re too preoccupied and explain it away?

 

Have you ever had something that just keeps coming up?  Maybe it’s a verse or a word or a circumstance that becomes a sort of theme for awhile?  We open our Bibles and there it is, we listen to the radio and the song is about it, we sit and have a conversation and it keeps coming up.  It’s not coincidence.  It’s God.  And if we’re brave enough to sit with it for awhile, we find that He is works through coincidences in order to teach us and bring us into a deeper relationship with Him.

 

My friend, in her car alone, with tears streaming down her face, had spoken audibly to God for the first time. “I’m done.  I can’t do it on my own anymore.  I trust You.”  She walked into our small group just a few hours later, her heart shattered into a million pieces, so vulnerable and tender.  She opened up the study book and saw the word TRUST in big, bold letters across the page.  The very thing she had said to God, the very thing she was struggling with the most.  And in that moment, she discovered the way that God loves us.  Extravagantly.  Knitting the circumstances of our lives together in such a way that we would be crazy not to see how intimately He cares for us.

 

Today, may you quit trying to explain away your coincidences.  May you dare to notice the ways that God is weaving the details of your life, speaking to you through his extravagant love.  May you see the ways He is active in your everyday lives, choosing to enter into your ordinary, sacred moments.  Pay attention and acknowledge the creative ways that He chooses to enter into your days.  There’s beauty in noticing it all.

 

 

Hello.
I’m so glad you found your way to this little space.  Wherever you find yourself today, I’m praying that my words will bring you hope.

Want to read posts via email?  When you subscribe to this blog, you’ll automatically receive a sweet printable with eight of my favorite verses of Scripture.  I’m cheering for you, friend.

My Three Favorite Books on Loss & Hope  0

 

After our daughter Annie died, I went through days I could only read a verse or two in the Bible (and plenty of times I just stared out the window, unable to even do that).  But there were also days I had an voracious appetite for anything I could get my hands on.

 

Before I experienced loss, I thought I had life basically figured out.  When everything changed so suddenly I struggled to reconcile my old life with the new.  I needed solid, Biblical truths to re-establish the foundation for my life.  Jesus used the words of people who had travelled the road of grief to bring healing to my heart.  I am so thankful for the gift they gave to me, knowing what it cost them to write what they did.

 

Today, I like to keep a stash of books on the shelf so at any point I can give them away to friends who are struggling with sorrow and heaviness in their lives. I get a lot of questions from people, wondering what resources I’d recommend. If you’d like to see a more comprehensive list, just click on my Resources page.

 

by Nancy Guthrie
Tattered and marked up, this book was my lifeline for the first year and I still flip through it often.  Nancy writes one page for each day of the year, split into weekly themes like “The Love of God”, “Why?” and “Finding Purpose in Pain”.  Each day is centered around Scripture— verses that have become so integral to my life that I can often turn to the exact page of the verse and topic I’m trying to find.

 

by Jerry Sittser
“Is it possible to feel sorrow for the rest of our lives and yet to find joy at the same time? Is it possible to enter the darkness and still to live an ordinary, productive life?  Loss requires that we live in a delicate tension.  We must mourn, but we must also go on living. We might feel that the world has stopped, though it never does.”  There is such loss in the world, and the circumstances may be different, but what remains the same is our ability to respond to our circumstances.  This book taught me how to allow grace to transform my sorrow, to dare to let joy enter into my vocabulary again.

 

by Nancy Guthrie
I’m excited to share this new book with you!  I know how difficult it can be to say the right thing when a friend is grieving.  I’ve been on the receiving end of hurtful advice (I just wrote about it actually).  But I’ve also been the one who desperately wants to help in loss, but everything that comes out of my mouth sounds ridiculous.  It takes courage to reach out and say something and it’s easy to let fear keep us from saying anything at all.  No one is more gracious than Nancy to help navigate what to say (and what not to say) and what to do.  She addresses heaven and hell and assumptions we might have that may not be scriptural.  There are also lots of quotes from people (including a few from me!) who have lived through the loss of a loved one and can offer advice.  It’s such a valuable resource!
Of course, if you’d like to read more of my journey and what I’ve learned about loss and hope, you can download my eBook for free from iBooks or Google Books.

 

Sorrow and grief touches us all in one way or another.  Going through loss can be so lonely, but it doesn’t have to be.  There are others who have gone before us and have had the courage to share what God has taught them through it.  I encourage you to pick up these books if you are going through a season of sorrow…  or if you have a friend walking through dark times.

 

As always, let me know how I can pray for you.  Drop me a line here.

The Real Reason I Can Make You A Mocha  4

 

I used to work in a small sandwich shop near campus right after Peter and I got married.  I still had a few years of college left (I was only twenty!) and he was working full time at a church in the next town over.

 

I loved that job. I learned how to run a cash register, how to fill the pop machine, how to make chicken salad, and how to lock up at the end of the day.  I was always striking up interesting conversations and I was given unlimited access to all the yummy baked goods in the glass case.

 

But there was this one little thing.  I couldn’t keep all the specialty coffees straight in my head.  Latte?  Cappuccino?  Americano? It was all just a jumbled mess to me.

 

So I did what any smart, capable college student would do: I always made a mocha.

 

I KNOW.  It’s so embarrassing.

 

No matter what the drink order was, I’d steam the milk, add some chocolate and pour it together with coffee.  Then I’d cross my fingers, hoping the loads of whipped cream on top would cover a multitude of sins.

 

There’s a real temptation to let fear rule our thoughts and our actions.  Instead of doing what God is calling us to, we shrink back, unsure our ourselves and our surroundings.

 

I didn’t memorize how to make all of the coffees because I was so afraid of getting it wrong, so I didn’t do it at all.  And yes, I know it makes absolutely no sense.  But isn’t that how we live life sometimes? Afraid the end product isn’t going to be satisfactory, we give up before we even start.  We start to believe the lies before we even give God a chance to whisper to us who we really are.  We get tricked into thinking we surely aren’t capable and we certainly aren’t willing to risk our comfortable lives.

 

What would happen if we quit believing the lies?

 

I was a junior in high school when I felt God was calling me into a life of ministry.  I heard His voice in a bilingual church service in Mexico.  Eagerly I went to the front of the church.  College applications had been pouring in, leaving me frustrated at my lack of direction. But that night, He whispered to me and I was ready to obey.

 

There were so many of us at the altar that night and I struggled to find a spot to kneel.  The pastors and leaders were going from person to person, surrounding and praying for each one. I kept waiting for my turn, to feel the hands on my back and the confirmation that what I had heard God speak to my heart was true.

 

But it never happened.  Somehow I was skipped over.

 

The prayer time ended and everyone returned to their seats.

 

I was left feeling so much confusion and doubt.  Why had I been left out?  Had I heard God wrong?  Was I trying to hear something that He was not saying?

 

And that’s how I ended up at the little sandwich shop, too afraid to make anything but mochas, too afraid to do what God was calling me to do.

 

I’d gotten stuck believing the lies that I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t creative enough, wasn’t capable enough.

 

But you are the ones chosen by God,
chosen for the high calling of priestly work,
chosen to be a holy people,
God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him,
to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—
from nothing to something,
from rejected to accepted.
1 Peter 2:9-10 (The Message)

We place far too much energy focusing on the dark instead of the light.  We too easily see what we are not, completely missing the marvelous truth of who we ARE.  Chosen by God, belonging to God, fully capable to do what He has called us to do, even when the world tells us otherwise.  The voice who whispers, “What right do you have to be here?” is not the voice we should be listening to.  The difference is night and day.

 

I don’t need any human permission to live the life I am being called to live.  Instead, Jesus invites us to be who He created us to be— something special, something extra, something beyond our wildest dreams.  At first I missed it and I wasted a lot of time believing the lies.  I’m so thankful for a God who doesn’t give up, who pursues us and calls us back to Him.  The more we listen for His voice, the more we hear Him, the more we live in the glorious freedom of doing what we were created to do.

 

May you today refuse to shrink back.  May you find the courage to stand up to the whispered lies.  May you feel your soul humming and stirring— awakening to the invitation of Jesus.  He calls you from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted. May you quit living afraid of getting it wrong and instead live wildly this one live you’ve been given.

 

 

End of Year Goodness  0

With just a few hours left before the beginning of a fresh new year, I don’t want it to slip away before thanking you, dear readers, for your encouragement.  The words that make it onto this page aren’t always easy for me to get out, but you’ve shown me that Jesus can take our hurt and make it into something beautiful… Thank you.

 

 

If you keep up with me on Instagram you’ll remember…

  • I took my son William to Haiti with me.
  • My youngest daughter Eliza started Kindergarten (she’s pictured with her older sister Kate).
  • We had two really special weddings of people we love.
  • We took a six week sabbatical in our camper, covering over 5,000 miles all through the United States.

Here are the top posts of 2016:

 

December may be (almost) over, but my Advent Series on Hope is still relevant no matter what time of year:

 

What a privilege to being writing for Seedbed’s Soul Care Collective!  My first post, What to do When Words Hurt, was published a few weeks ago, and the next few will come out in January.

 

{Did you download my new eBook?}

I am so grateful to give you this gift, an eBook of my journey through grief and joy. Even in the midst of sorrow, I discovered that I could hold tightly to the hope of Christ.  My free eBook tells the story of how I grappled with loss and grace in the days, months and years after burying our daughter, Annie.  You can find it on iBooks or Google Books.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Thank you for your support this year. Our family is thankful for you all, near and far, known and unknown. May you find deep peace tonight, remembering you are loved by the One who created you. Whether you ring in the New Year with with a loud party, a quiet fire, or asleep in your bed, may you know that our hope lies in a God who hears, a God who saves, a God who shares in our sorrow.

 

xo,

Sarah

 

The Love of Jesus {An Advent Series on Hope}  0

While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus— ‘God saves’— because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:
Watch for this— a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;
They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).

Matthew 1:20-23

 

Christmas is tomorrow and I am finishing up lists I thought would never get finished. The house is filled with people and the kids are bouncing off the walls with excitement. It’s Christmas!

 

In the middle of the ham and potatoes, the gifts and the glow of the Christmas tree, there is Jesus.

 

“Only He who has experienced it can believe what the love of Jesus Christ is,”

 Bernard of Clairvaux wrote.

 

If I were to take all the stories of the family of Jesus, I could plop them on a timeline. Abraham, Joseph, Ruth, Jonah, Habakkuk, Mary. Of course there are hundreds in between that I missed, but eventually we would come to Jesus. The Messiah. The one who had been promised and who they had been searching for all these years. He came from a line of cheaters and liars, of prostitutes and quitters. His descendants were sincere and loved deeply, they worshipped without passion and chased miracles.  There was sorrow, bitterness, grief and stubborn hope in the lives of those whose blood ran in His veins.

 

They were real people.

 

And then Jesus was born, in a crowded village, breaking into history and breathing hope into a weary world. His life and death and resurrection changed everything, of course. Not just because He came, but because He came for you.

 

On that very first Christmas, there were shepherds watching the very sheep that would one day be sacrificed for the sins of the people. But a new way was coming, and He had arrived! These tired and poor shepherds were the ones the Angels appeared to, the ones who heard the news firsthand… and their response is amazing. It’s recorded that the shepherds hurried to see Jesus, then they spread the news as fast as they could. Their hearts were kindled.

 

Years later, after Jesus had died and was resurrected, He appeared to a few of His disciples as they were walking from one town to another. Only they didn’t recognize Him for a very long time. When their eyes were opened, they looked at each other and exclaimed, “Were not our hearts burning within us?” (Luke 24:32).

 

Lean in, my friend. This story is for you, in your emptiness and fear. In your broken promises and tension of the season. The family tree of Jesus didn’t end with Him. He has grafted you in. There’s a place for you. Let your faith be kindled, let your heart begin to burn.

 

I don’t know where you find yourself this season, but I do know that God does His best work in weakness, when we feel like we can’t possibly go another step, He is there.

 

Perhaps you feel like Mary, with empty places and an empty heart. Allow Him to rejoice over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).

 

Or maybe you are Habakkuk, and you must resolve in your hearts to praise Him, even in the midst of broken promises and dreams. He hears your cries.

 

Do you find yourself in Jonah, exhausted from running away from God? Listen to Him calls you back to Him.  It’s never too late to run into His arms.

 

Just like Naomi, He takes your broken hearts and deep bitterness and He gives Himself as your Kinsman-Redeemer, handing you new life and healing.

 

Do you need to be reminded of Joseph, and how God’s power gives you strength to choose forgiveness? Only with Him can we stand and declare that what was intended to harm us turns to good.

 

That’s when we discover that just like Abraham, when we open our eyes to the hurt of the world, we see that our lives can be a blessing to others, even in our grief. In our unforgiveness.  In our bitterness and emptiness. Slowly, as the walls of our hearts crumble, a new day comes as God heals our broken hearts.

 

This is the story of Jesus. Feel your heart burning within you and grab ahold of it. The tree with its’ handmade ornaments will soon come down, the lights will return to the tote in the basement.  But because of Jesus, you have been given the True Light.

 

Jesus, the hope of the world, has come.
Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

{Hello, Friend.}
There are hard seasons in life.   But even in the midst of sorrow, you can hold tightly to the hope of Christ.  Want to know more? My free eBook tells the story of how I grappled with loss and grace in the days, months and years after burying a child.  You can find it on iBooks or Google Books.

 

The Song of Mary {An Advent Series on Hope}  0

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David.  His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name, Mary.  Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her:
Good morning!
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.

She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that.  But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear.  God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.” Luke 1:26-28

Something out of nothing.  Because Mary was willing to be obedient, God was able to take her empty womb and make it a place for the God of the universe to develop arms and legs, a heartbeat and skin.

 

God takes our empty places and grows miracles.

 

There’s the story of the widow who cried out to Elisha as the creditors came to take her sons as slaves.  “What can I do to help you?” Elisha asks, “Tell me, what do you have in the house?”  But all she had was a flask of olive oil.  Nothing else at all.  Think of her desperation and emptiness.  But Elisha didn’t give up.  He instructed her to borrow empty jars from her neighbors, to take her sons into the house and shut the door.  When they poured oil from their flask into the jars, they continued to fill each jar, until every single one was filled to the very brim.  The widow and her sons were able to sell the oil and pay their debts.  And not only that, but they were able to live on what was left over. (2 Kings 4)

 

When we offer our emptiness and what we lack to God, He is undaunted.  He is not stumped or disappointed that we aren’t enough.  He’s looking for our obedience, in spite of our weaknesses.

 

Even before my daughter Eliza could talk, she would sing.  She hummed and sang so often, we called it her motor.  It was our sign that all w}as right in her world. Kate has been singing “O Holy Night” the last few weeks and she has all the words down because it is what she performed in church on Sunday along with the all the other kids.  And even William belts out a few words every now and then.

 

It brings me such joy when I hear my kids sing, because I know they are happy.  Content.  They are expressing joy, even if they don’t tell me in actual words.

 

As Mary felt the Son of God moving in her belly, as she felt the roundness as He took up more and more space, she didn’t dwell on what she wasn’t. She didn’t think about her emptiness, but she allowed God to fill her.  And she found joy in allowing God to use her empty places.  How do I know?

 

Because she sang.

 

Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things!  
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the right away with empty hands.
He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful.
For he has made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever. 
Luke 1:46-55

The words came from Scripture— a compilation of the Psalms and Isaiah and a few others tossed in.  Mary was grounded in who she was and in who God is.  So when the Angel came to her in her ordinary day, she was ready to receive whatever the will of God was.

 

God wants to be with you.  He wants to have a relationship with you.  He wants to take hold of your shaky hands and lead you onto solid ground.  He wants to shower you with grace and mercy. He wants to hear you sing, even as tears run down your face.

 

When we give God our emptiness, He gives us a song. He takes our empty places and make them into a masterpiece. Just as the Angel said to Mary, “God is with you”, you can believe the promise is for you, too.

 

Immanuel has come.  God with us.

 

 

{Hello, Friend.}
There are hard seasons in life.   But even in the midst of sorrow, you can hold tightly to the hope of Christ.  Want to know more? My free eBook tells the story of how I grappled with loss and grace in the days, months and years after burying a child.  You can find it on iBooks or Google Books.