A Promise When You’re Tired of Waiting  1

 

I was just a kid, sitting in church with my little flowered dress and tights. My bangs were feathered and I probably rounded it out with a pair of stick-on earrings.  The choir sang a song about “God working everything out and making it good” based on Romans 8:28 and I remember breathing a huge sigh of relief.  It was a promise I knew I could cling to— my life was going to be great.  Because I loved Jesus, I was guaranteed a carefree life.

 

“That’s why we can be so sure that

every detail of our lives of love for God

is worked into something good.”

-Romans 8:28

 

It’s obvious from the “that’s why” at the start of the verse that it was never meant to stand alone, but I blissfully missed that part.  I also failed to look around me… the friend on my left whose parents were divorced and the friend on my right who had recently found her dad dead when she walked in the house one day after school.  Nevertheless, I was confident in the verse, like a protective bubble surrounding me that I would be blessed and happy.

 

Therefore, you can understand why I became quickly confused as the years went by and things happened. Loss.  Confusion. Rejection. I managed to sweep it all under the rug until the day I held my baby for the last time.  My questions about God all rose to the surface, like an exploding pressure cooker.  No longer did I have the luxury of believing that life would easily work out for my good.  How exactly would I reconcile my false beliefs?

 

Even if you’ve never stepped foot in a church, the name Moses probably rings a bell.  He’s the one who led the Israelites out of slavery from the Egyptians, leading them through the desert for forty years.  They were going to the Promised Land in a roundabout way… years of hardened hearts and disappointing decisions made the journey much longer.  Through it all, Moses led them, often feeling overwhelmed and unqualified.  Toward the end of the forty years of wandering, in the Desert of Zin, the accumulation of anger, exasperation and frustration came to a climax and Moses, acting in a lack of trust, disobeyed God.  As a result, Moses only saw the promised land from a distance.  He died before the Israelites actually entered it.

 

It sure doesn’t seem like God worked out that detail of Moses’ life for a greater good, does it?  I’ve always felt a deep sense of disappointment in the ending of Moses’ life, his old, feeble eyes sweeping the landscape, knowing that he would never set foot in the place he had longed for the past forty years. If only things had been different.

 

Fast forward hundreds of years when Jesus was walking the Earth.  The disciples were just beginning to realize that Jesus was the Messiah and Jesus was beginning to reveal to them the suffering He would have to endure.   “Jesus took Peter and the brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain.  His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes.  Sunlight poured from his face.  His clothes were filled with light. Then they realized that Moses and Elijah were also there in deep conversation with him.” (Matthew 17:3)

 

The fancy, theological term to what happened is Transfiguration, meaning Jesus’ appearance changed. It’s a mysterious, amazing story, but today it’s not where I’m focused.  Because did you see it?  Moses was there!  On a mountain in the middle of the Promised Land.  He may have died without touching the soil, but the first time he sets foot in it not only is he is with Jesus but also in deep conversation with Elijah!  Never in a million years could he have imagined it.  God— not cornered by the constraints of time or a finite understanding of life—  knew that Moses would most definitely stand there with Jesus many years later. A lifetime of feeling unqualified and  reliant upon God, a lack of trust that God would provide… and still, God untangled the messiness and redeemed Moses’ life hundreds of years later.

 

My lack of understanding of a guaranteed easy life could have been remedied if I would have zoomed out a bit from Romans 8:28. There’s a deeper and wider meaning:

“Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting,

God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along,” Paul writes.

“If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter.  

He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.  

He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition,

and keeps us present before God.  

That’s why we can be so sure that every detail of our lives of love for God is worked into something good.  God knew what He was doing from the very beginning.  

He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love Him

along the same lines as the life of His Son (Jesus).  

The Son stands first in the line of humanity He restored.  

We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in Him.  

After God made that decision of what His children should be like,

He followed it up by calling people by name.  

After He called them by name, He set them on a solid basis with Himself.  

And then, after getting them established, He stayed with them to the end,

gloriously completing what He had begun.”

Romans 8:26-30

 

And there it is, “God knew what he was doing from the very beginning…”

 

He knew what He was doing in Moses’ life… and He knows what He’s doing in your life.  Those things you’re waiting for?  The circumstances in your life that don’t seem to lead to anything but failure and sorrow?  Every detail will be worked into something good.  Maybe you’ll see it in a few minutes or days.  Maybe in a few years or at the end of your life.  Or maybe it will be redeemed generations from now, after you’ve left this earth.  Our finite minds can’t even conceive of how God shapes our lives and how He will work out each little detail.  We don’t have to work it out… we simply need to believe it and watch it happen.

 

So may you, with eyes of hope, still believe that God is working out the details of your life into something good. Trust Him to do what He says He will do.

 

 

Hello.
I’m Sarah and I write about the hope & joy that can come even in the midst of deep grief and sorrow.  It’s a privilege to have you along for the journey.  Would you like to receive encouragement from me to your inbox?  Click here to join me.

 

 

{I read through a lot of Scripture as I wrote this post.  If you would like more  references, contact me by using the form at the top of the page.  Also, thanks to Lisa Harper, who mentioned this concept in her recent interview with Annie F. Downs, and got my brain rolling!}

Three Ways I Instill Hope in My Kids  0

 

Her comment hit me like a kick in the gut. She and her husband, along with her kids, rarely go to church and haven’t expressed a commitment to Christ, yet she was talking about how her kids had recently communicated an interest in Jesus.  “I guess we’re doing something right,” she shrugged.  And she left it at that.  That was the end of the conversation.  They weren’t planning on making any changes to their lifestyles or pursuing deeper conversations with their kids.  For them, it was enough to leave the mild interest lie dormant, as she patted herself on the back.

 

There’s certainly hope attached to their style of parenting.  Hope that their kids will turn out okay.  Hope that they will be kind and decent.  Or is there a deeper, more intentional hope as they journey through parenting?

 

I don’t want to be a parent who guesses.  I want to be a parent who instills intentional hope into my children. I want to do whatever I can, even when it costs me or when it’s inconvenient, to lead them to the heart of a perfect, loving, compelling Father.

 

I’ve been sitting with a new friend each week for an hour.  She doesn’t often talk much, but she lights up when she sees me.  We make brownies and play computer games.  She’s in fifth grade.  She struggles with making friends and is trying to make a way in an often cruel world, where popularity trumps everything else in life.   In a moment of honesty, she told me about Madison.  She told me how she built up her courage and spoke to her, even though Madison is one of the ‘popular girls’.  “And she’s been nice to me!” she said, here eyes wide in unbelief. Then she paused.  “She’s different from all the rest of the girls somehow.”  A smile spread across my face and I blinked away tears.  “You should try to find out what makes her different,” I told her.

 

Because I know that Madison is part of a family who is pursuing Christ.  Her parents are raising her to build intentional relationships— in their family, with others that surround her, and most importantly, with Jesus.  And as a fifth grader, without even using words, others know she is different.  Madison’s parents are hoping, too.  But their hopes aren’t fickle like the wind, they are on a clear, straight path.

 

And it makes all the difference.

 

I don’t just want to hope that my kids will be ok…. I want to instill hope in them.  I want to do all I can to show them what it means to have an authentic, growing faith in Jesus.  The difference might seem subtle, but it isn’t.

 

“There are two powerful influences on the planet— the church and the home,” say authors Reggie Joiner and Carey Nieuwhof. “They both exist because God initiated them.  They both exist because God desires to use them to demonstrate His plan of redemption and restoration.  If they work together they can potentially make a greater impact than if they work alone. They need each other.  Too much is at stake for either one to fail.  Their primary task is to build God’s kingdom in the hearts of men and women, sons and daughters.” (Parenting Beyond Your Capacity*, p. 33).

 

How exactly do we work to instill a deeper hope in our kids? Here are three quick ways:

I build intention in my own life.  If I want kids who love Jesus, they have to see me loving Jesus first.  If my desire is to have kids who serve others, they have to watch me serving first. If I want my kids to develop habits of faith, they must see it reflected in me first.  My kids have a front row seat to my life— both my best and my worst.  They see where I spend my time and how I love others, how I mess up, and the way I react…. and if they don’t learn it from me, chances are it won’t become part of their own lives.

Peter and I find ways to put them in environments that foster relationships with others who share our values.  Inevitably, there will be times that our kids won’t want to share something with us, and that’s ok.  I certainly didn’t tell my parents everything, especially during my teen years, so why should I expect my kids to? So we surround our kids with other adults who align with our beliefs— coaches, small group leaders, parents of their friends who we know we can trust if our kids ever confide in them.

 I shift my focus to raising adults, not kids. The bulk of my children’s lives will be spent as adults.  And as their mom during the formative years, it’s my job to raise them to be passionate, authentic adults who pursue the God who created them.  It informs my parenting decisions.  When I shift my focus to parenting adults, I can parent with their spiritual formation in mind. I fight for their hearts, not just for their immediate actions.

 

When Eliza entered Kindergarten this year, I didn’t simply hope she would learn to read.  For years we’d read books together and practiced letter sounds. Her teacher sent home books and popcorn words and we reviewed them.  Even so, when I found her on the couch this morning in her little footie pajamas reading a new book alone, I marveled as the words came off her lips with only a little help from me.  I didn’t just hope for the best, though.  It took a group— her teacher, her classmates, and us—  working together to help her accomplish this huge milestone.

 

And now that she’s mastered the basics, I won’t just sit back and let her go for it.  She has years of learning bigger words and deeper concepts.  It’s important that she has the right materials in front of her— not too easy and not too hard— to spark her interest and give her confidence.  There will be ups and downs, but as she grows, so will her ability to read.

 

She’s pretty bright (says the mom), so chances are she’d eventually pick up the concepts of letters working together to form words and sentences.  But why would I just hope for that?  Why wouldn’t I do all I can to foster a love for reading in her?

 

And if I’m willing to do all that to teach her to read, what more can I do to build in her a longing for Jesus, a confidence in His love and care for her?

 

You, as a parent, have been called to one of the most challenging, exhausting, enduring and amazing journey.  It’s as risky as it is exhilarating. But you have been called and God will not abandon you as you seek Him in raising your children.  You can do more than simply hope your kids will grow to love Christ.  You, as the greatest influence in your child’s life, can use your influence to instill deep, intentional hope in their souls.

 

 

Hello.
I’m Sarah and I write about the hope & joy that can come even in the midst of deep grief and sorrow.  It’s a privilege to have you along for the journey.  Do you need some encouragement? Here’s a printable of the verses I hold close to my heart.  

 

 

*Not to be bossy, but if you have children, you reallyreallyreally need to have Parenting Beyond Your Capacity in your regular rotation of books. (affiliate link used)

There’s Still Beauty in the Hardest Moments  0

 

 

 

I half-heartedly started to write a Mother’s Day post last week.  I copied this post from last year and started to edit it, but my heart just wasn’t in it.  I kept pushing it to the bottom of the long to-do list until it was too late.  And that’s okay.  I’ve had several years of difficult Mother’s Days, but this year I was feeling pretty strong.  I still felt empathetic toward the many women who were dreading a day that made their hearts empty, but for once, I was fine.

 

But Sunday came and it was a really tough day for me.  I was shocked.  There were any number of things that made it hard— our morning was extra busy, my kids were bickering like it was their job (Is it?  I sometimes wonder.)  When I hopped on Facebook for a minute, the faces of happy moms hugging their kids kids twisted up my insides, so I decided to stay off for the rest of the day.  I feel horrible even admitting it, because my Facebook feed is full of people I love, families I cheer on.  But the reminders of whole families can be hard.  So sometimes I take a little break.

 

We drove a few hours after church to meet my parents and we had a great time together.  The kids bounced between being their normal, goofy selves, making us laugh and overflow with thankfulness… and then testing the limits, scowling, and going well beyond the boundaries.  My patience was thin and I was struggling, but it was also a really great day with my family.

 

It wasn’t until today— A full three days after Mother’s Day that the dam finally broke.  I was listening to the last few minutes of Christy Nockel’s podcast with Kay Warren.  At the end, as she was talking about her son who died tragically just a few years ago, she said this:

 

“I would give anything if my three children were here.  I’m glad he’s in heaven— of course I’m glad!— but I wanted to live my whole life with him.”

My tears came fast and hard, taking me by surprise.  It was just a small statement cushioned between other things, but I’ve learned to pay attention to my tears and things that touch my soul so deeply. Yes, a million times over, I would do anything to have all four of my children here, together.

 

There are often days I am glad Annie is with Jesus.  In a world filled to the brim with danger and uncertainty, with horrible evil and malice, I am thankful she will never experience the brutal world my other kids are learning more about each day.  I’m deeply thankful when I think that all she ever knew was love— first from us, then straight into Jesus’ arms.  What more could I desire for her?!

 

But when she grew inside of me, when I held her for the first time, when I changed her diaper, tickled her tummy, nuzzled her close to me…  I expected her to live the rest of my days with her by my side.  I wanted to live my whole life with her.  The brokenness of our family is still so very hard for me.

 

Kay went on to say (and I’m loosely quoting since it was a podcast), “Life doesn’t look the way you thought it was going to look.  Things are broken, things aren’t right.  There are things I’d change in a heartbeat because it’s just too painful.  And we don’t know what tomorrow will even look like.  Tomorrow we may find that it’s even worse. But we must take each moment and say, ‘I am going to love this moment.’ That’s what allows us to still find beauty and joy in this life.”

 

Figuring out how to love the moments — from the beautiful, glorious ones to the hard, grief-filled ones and everything in-between… that’s the great mystery, isn’t it?  So much of life is found in that very in-between.  When I step back to search, I find that God is in all of the moments and it’s possible to still find beauty when I’m brokenhearted and downtrodden.  Even on the hardest days, I can still believe that life is good and God is good.  Life isn’t tied up in a neat little package.. and that’s okay.  It takes a lifetime of practice to lean hard into Jesus, to allow Him to teach me to find the beauty on the days when if feels impossible.

 

That’s what I’m preaching to myself today, as I recover from a very hard Mother’s Day.  Just because it was difficult doesn’t mean it wasn’t beautiful.

 

Perhaps, sweet friend, you need to hear that, too? Grief takes work, hard work.  Some days will be easier than others, because you didn’t expect life to look like this.  But you still have a beautiful life to be lived. The good, the bad, the in-between moments are all worth loving.

 

I’m praying the words of Paul in Ephesians 3 for you today…  May you be strengthened by the Spirit today— not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength— that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite Him in.  And I ask Him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love.  May you reach out and experience the breadth of it.  Test its length!  Plumb the depths!  Raise to the heights! No matter what your circumstances, you can live full lives, full in the fullness of God.  God can do anything, you know— far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!  He doesn’t push you around, He works within you, His Spirit deeply and gently within.

 

 

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. 

 

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  6

 

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.