The Brokenness of Joseph  2

 

 

“But Joseph replied, ‘Don’t be afraid of me.  Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.  He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.  No, don’t be afraid.  I will continue to take care of you and your children.’ So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.”

— Genesis 50:19-21

 

Guerlande moved to the brothel when the options of putting her son through school grew thin.  She kept her profession a secret from her family. Nadia had worked in the brothel for many years.  Her skin shows many scars, one a thin line running down the side of her face. When I first met them, their living conditions were deplorable and their pay wasn’t that great either.

 

What kind of future is there for a prostitute in Haiti?  Where is the hope in such darkness?

 

Two years ago Nadia and Guerlande, along with five others from the brothel, were presented with the opportunity to leave their past behind and become Beadmakers,  I’ll never forget the moment when they were presented with the question, their eyes clouded in confusion, unable to even comprehend life outside of prostitution. Guerlande and Nadia were the two that took the risk.

 

God is the author of the most radical stories.

 

I just returned from Haiti, where I spent another week with Nadia and Guerlande.  When I look in their eyes of these two women, I can hardly believe they’re the same. They’ve dared to let God begin to heal their deep rejection, to face the scary unknowns of a new life. Their faces light up with smiles, they take pride in their work and they are so talented.  We are teaching them new things, but instead of just listening to our directions, they give insight and suggestions, confident of their skill.  They have escaped the hell of a corrugated metal building with crude spray-painted numbers on the doors. Instead they’ve found freedom and value in their gifts.  They have been changed because Jesus hasn’t given up on them.  Light is breaking into the darkness and God is writing a new story.

 

Two years ago, I left a group of women who were empty and searching, but this year I left two ladies full of life and hope.  But how?  How have they risen from such adversity?

 

Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers who were jealous of their father’s love for him.  He had been beaten and abandoned in jail.  He had been falsely accused, all while living alone, in a foreign country.  He had every reason to be broken beyond repair. Yet, in the midst of it all, he clung to hope as God blessed him and placed him in a place of prominence.  And so it happened that when his brothers travelled from their homeland to find grain in the middle of a famine, Joseph was the one in charge.  When he finally revealed to them who he was, they were terrified for their lives.  But instead of hatred, Joseph responded with forgiveness and love for them.

 

Ann Voskamp writes, “What was intended to tear you apart, God intends it to set you apart.  What has torn you, God makes a thin place to see glory.  Whatever happens, whatever unfolds, whatever unravels, you can never be undone… Out of a family line that looks like a mess, God brings a Messiah.”

 

You can never be undone.

 

There are two ladies in Haiti who were torn apart.  But that was only the beginning.  Today they dare to hope and dare to dream… because what was intended to harm them, God has used for good.  There are scars and there is hurt, but there is Jesus.

 

It’s Advent and we are waiting to celebrate the birth of Christ.  Psalm 119:30 says, “Break open your words, let the light shine out, let ordinary people see their meaning.”   The promises are there for us, too.  God can take what is torn and broken in your life and He can turn it into a gift.  Jesus is our Savior who takes what was meant for harm, and transforms it for good.

 

 

{Hello.}

Today is the last day for you to get my Jesse Tree Advent Story! For $4.99, you’ll get 25 days of devotionals to correspond with this series.  Why not begin a new spiritual rhythm this season? Go here to find out more or here to get your download.

 

The Blessing Of Abraham  0

 

“God told Abram, “Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home for a land I will show you.
I’ll make you a great nation and bless you… All the families of the Earth will be blessed through you.”  Genesis 12:1-3

The creek that runs through Crazy Woman Canyon winds down from the mountain and into the town of Buffalo, Wyoming.  We made our way deep into the canyon, following the Clear Creek the entire way.  The road is narrow, forced to follow the path of the rushing water along the way.  But there are several pull offs, because it’s inevitable that at some point you’ll want to get out and explore. We crossed the rushing water, Peter in the lead, testing out the rocks first before he’d let us step on them. We had to shout in order to be heard above the roaring water.  Even in the middle of summer, it was icy cold and the kids had a contest to see who could leave their bare feet in the longest.

 

When we returned to town later, we went to the city park, where Clear Creek ran right through the middle. It was the same mountain stream, but everything about it was different than in the canyon.  We were able to let the kids explore on their own, the current slowly meandering and pooling.  We sat on the shore while they played, the gentle sound of running water relaxing us.

 

Wendell Barry writes,
“It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

God called Abraham to leave all that he knew.  He stripped away the familiar— his home, his country, his family— and called him to a life of utter dependence and obedience.  And Abraham took the risk and said yes.  He dared to give up the calm waters for the white waters.  The unknown obstacles must have been enormous.  The fear must have been overwhelming.  But he did it anyway.  At 75 years of age, he took his wife, his nephew, his livestock and his family, stepping into the unknown.

 

D.L. Moody, a theologian, wrote, “Faith is the gift of God.  So is the air, but you have to breath it; so is bread, but you have to eat it; so is water, but you have to drink it.”

 

God has given you the gift of this Advent.  He has promised to bless you.  But you must open your eyes to the blessing.  You must dare to live with your heart and hands open to receive, even when your heart has been broken into pieces.  We hear the whispers to huddle in, to protect ourselves and live closed.  The grief is too much.  The anger is too real.  The stronghold is too big.  But it isn’t true.  Jesus came to heal, to bring peace.  His life is a gift to you.  You can let go of it all, because He has come.

 

The rocks in the stream— the obstacles in your life—might threaten to overtake you, but they are the very thing that allows your soul to sing.

 

When Eliza was born, I would get up to feed her in the wee morning hours.  I’d drag myself out of bed and bring her out to the couch.  It was dark and quiet.  Suddenly I would hear it— the first chirp of a bird, calling all the other birds to wake up.  Immediately, the air would be filled with all of these beautiful songs.  Have you ever heard it?  Every morning I would wait in expectation for the first brave bird. In those days, just eighteen months after Annie died, my heart still felt ripped to shreds.  The full force of the loneliness of grief was still hitting me.  In spite of the fact that we had three healthy, living children, we were still so sad.  So I would sit on the couch, listening to the birds, crying for the baby who had been taken from me.  In many ways, I felt like I was in the middle of a never ending dark night.  But I also knew that God was calling me to rebuild, to catch the song of the birds and to welcome a new day.

 

I had spent a lot of time surviving, collapsing into bed each night simply thankful I was one day closer to heaven.  And while surviving is a natural response to grief, and is necessary, there was a day when I knew that I didn’t want to simply survive for the rest of my life.  I was aware of the fact that I have been given this one life to live and I didn’t want to waste my years by only surviving.

 

So we live in this delicate tension of life and loss, where no one quite knows the rules.  The amazing thing about our heartache is that when we allow Jesus to heal us and bless us, we suddenly open our eyes to the hurt in the world.  We realize that we ourselves can be the blessing to others.

 

Nicholas Wolterstorff wrote a book called Lament for a Son, which he wrote when he lost his grown son in a mountain climbing accident.  He says, “And sometimes, when the cry is intense, there emerges a radiance which elsewhere seldom appears: a glow of courage, of love, of insight, of selflessness, of faith.  In that radiance we see best what humanity was meant to be… In the valley of suffering, despair and bitterness are brewed.  But there also character is made.  The valley of suffering is the vale of soul-making.”

 

God blessed Abraham and in turn, Abraham was a blessing to others.  He does the same for you.  It’s the strangest thing, but to the tip of my toes I know it to be true.  When you allow God to use your heartache, you will bless others. Sit with a piece of paper and test it out yourself— how have others blessed you?  A kind word, a note, a gift?  Pass it on to someone else, even when your heart is heavy.  When we live as blessed people, we can freely give blessings to others.

 

 

{Hello.}

This blog series will only highlight a few days of the Jesse Tree, but if you’re looking for something a little more family friendly to read daily, I’ve also written a printable devotional.  For $4.99, you’ll get 25 days of devotionals to correspond with this series.  Why not begin a new spiritual rhythm this season? Go here find out more or here to get your download.

 

The Jesse Tree: An Advent Series of Hope for the Weary  0

I have a disco ball.  Truly, it’s Kate’s, but I insist that she leave it in the dining room.  When the air starts to get cooler in the fall, and the earth tilts just a little differently, I put the disco ball on the table and the room is awash in small dots of light.  It doesn’t work in the summer, just in the winter months.  Small bits of light to remind me that there is always beauty to be found when I search for it.

 

We’re on the doorstep of December, the month of frenzied excitement and craziness.  I cracked open the bin of decorations yesterday and the Christmas smells washed over me.  It’s the smell of nostalgia. It’s the joy and the sorrow, the hope and the grief, all at once.

 

There’s a tension to this season, isn’t there?  There’s glitter and excitement and happiness spilling over.  But often, there is deep sorrow.  There’s disappointment in the space between what we thought would be and what really is.  Our lists keep getting longer and the weariness doesn’t fade.

 

Every year the tension of December surprises me.  But there is one thing that holds me steady— the story of a baby and the generations of people who made up His family tree.  We get out our Jesse Tree with our funny  homemade ornaments and we listen to the stories again.  We remember again with David’s words in Psalm 119: 30, “The unfolding of your words gives light”.

 

Because here’s what I need to know every Christmas— I need to remember life is messy and far from perfect.  I need to know Jesus knows my sorrow and He cares for me.  I need to know He hears the cries of my heart when I hang up the empty stocking and put a tiny Christmas tree next to a grave.  I want to know I’m not alone.

 

As we begin the season of Advent, this time of waiting for the birth of Jesus, I’m asking you to join me over the next few weeks. Let’s discover the hope held out for us, using people who were in the family tree of Jesus.  People like Abraham, who held on to the promise that God would bless him, even in the midst of unanswered promises.  People like Jonah who discovered God comes to us in our storms.  People like Mary, who saw that even our empty spaces can be used by God.

 

I don’t know where you are this holiday season, but if you are in a place of darkness and sorrow, I want to whisper words of hope to your weary soul.  Though you may feel it, you are not alone.  My heart is with you.  I’ve been there.  But even more importantly, Jesus is with you.  He is near to the brokenhearted and those who are crushed in spirit.

 

So come back here over the next few weeks as we unwrap stories of those who have bravely gone before us.  Or subscribe and get posts right to your inbox.

 

And if you are hurting this season?  Let me know so I can pray for you.  Leave a note in the comments or send me an email (sarah at sarahdamaska dot com).

 

{Hello.}

This blog series will only hit on a few days of the Jesse Tree, but if you’re looking for something to read daily, I’ve also written a printable devotional for families.  For $4.99, you’ll get 25 days of devotionals to correspond with this series.  Why not begin a new spiritual rhythm this season? Go here find out more or here to get your download.

 

Jesse Tree: An Advent Story {A PDF Devotional for you}  0


 

 

 

 

 

Are you searching for meaning this Christmas season?  I’ve written an Advent story for you to use through the month of December.

 

I can feel it ramping up.  My soul is already starting to fight it.  It’s the inevitable craziness of December.  And while I don’t have a physical list of all that I need to accomplish over the next weeks, it’s starting to cycle through my mind.

 

But if I’m going to survive Christmas, I know I must learn to sit down on the inside. If there’s ever a month I must be intentional, it’s December.

 

I’ll never forget the first Christmas after we buried our daughter Annie.  I had already ordered a stocking and it hung with the others, empty.  I wanted it to hang with the others on the mantle, but I knew I couldn’t stare at it every Christmas. Something had to be done.  That’s how we discovered the Jesse Tree.  We scurried around, scouring the craft store and scribbling out little paragraphs.  We took those homemade ornaments and filled Annie’s stocking.  Each night during the month of December we would recount the stories of the Old Testament as they pointed toward the birth of Jesus.  For eight years now we’ve sat together, creating a rhythm that gives deep meaning to Advent.

 

This year I decided I wanted to share our tradition with you. I’ve taken those 25 stories and written a short devotion for each one.  Now you can join in with our family and recount the family tree of Jesus. I’ve designed it to be easily readable for families with kids, but it also works for you to do alone or with a friend.  It’s a simple way for you to incorporate a spiritual rhythm into the hustle of December.

 

The Jesse Tree: An Advent Story can be simply read aloud OR it can be kicked up a notch by setting up your own little tree and making or purchasing ornaments that go along with each day.  If you do a quick search on Pinterest or Etsy, you’ll find lots of people who sell pre-made and printable ornaments.  (Or you can always make your own like we did! I guarantee it will make you smile when you pull out your quirky ornaments each year.)

 

We’re only going to make this available on my blog for the next few weeks.  For $4.99 you’ll get a printable PDF of the entire 25 day devotional.  I’ve had so much fun writing it for you.
As you turn the page of the calendar in a few short days, I hope you find space to quiet your heart.  Let’s learn to find the difference between what matters and what matters the most.

 

You can find The Jesse Tree: An Advent Story here!

Three Ways to Claim Hope in the Middle of the Mess  0

 

 

Whenever I get my eyebrows waxed, I always think of my son, Will.  He’s thirteen now, but the story you’re about to read took place almost a decade ago. Trust me, he has zero opinions on my eyebrows at this stage in life.  Oh, but he used to…

 

I was getting my hair cut, deep in conversation with my hairdresser/great friend.  Peter was in the waiting room with the kids who were sporting fresh haircuts and suckers. We were the only ones there, so after a few minutes, Will decided to take a lap around the inside of the shop.  That’s when he spotted the cart of wax in the corner. In a gesture of kindness,  knowing I’d soon be getting my eyebrows waxed, he decided to wheel it over closer to us. The only problem was that it was plugged into the wall.

And so, inevitably, the cord reached its end and the bowl of wax went flying, splashing the walls, totally coating everything within a 5 foot radius. Including William.  He looked at us with horror and confusion, rooted to his spot.  Because naturally, he had waxed himself to the floor.

 

We rushed to him and stripped him down to his batman underwear, lifting him out of his shoes, making sure he was okay.  He was fine…. albeit very, very (very) sticky. So we turned our attention to the mess. There was wax splashed and splattered everywhere.  And it was drying quickly.  How would we ever clean up the chaos that surrounded us?

 

In a stroke of genius, Peter found an ice scraper in the car and we began to scrape and rub and mop up the coat of wax that (have I mentioned?) was e v e r y w h e r e .

 

Somehow we got it mostly cleaned up.  I have no idea how.   Will went home in his underwear, since we were forced to throw everything else away. I sat at home that night with my tweezers because there hadn’t been enough wax left.

 

When I retell William that story now, it seems almost unbelievable that my pudgy little toddler has turned into a kid taller than me.  He doesn’t remember it and shakes his head at us like he’s sure we’re making the whole thing up.

 

I’m aware as I write on this blog that most of my material begins with a story.  Something I’ve plucked (so sorry… couldn’t resist) out of life that helps me to better understand the intersection between hope and sorrow.  I am always on the lookout for a story and if I pay attention, I find them everywhere.  Jesus finds us in our broken places and that’s where He hands us hope and joy.

 

On that day while the wax hardened as it slowly dripped down the walls, nothing about it spoke of hope.  But as time has allowed me to look back,  I realize that hope doesn’t come flitting toward us in a easy, breathless way.  Hope is a daily, diligent fight.

 

In the middle of the mess, it can be hard not to be swept away.  When the allure of giving up tempts you, here are three things to remember:

 

We need God’s grace the most in the middle our messes.  William so desperately wanted to do the right thing, yet his best effort yielded the biggest disaster.  Have you ever felt that way?  You have the best intentions, you’ve been so careful, yet you’re rewarded with a big mess.  You end up frustrated, hopeless, and vulnerable.  I’m so quick to be harsh with myself when things turn into a hot, sticky mess, but the truth is, Jesus doesn’t ask me to carry that kind of weight on my shoulders.  Instead He says,

“Are you tired?  Worn out?  Burned out on religion?

Come to me.  

Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.  

I’ll show you how to take a real rest.  

Walk with me and work with me— watch how I do it.  

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.  

I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.  

Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

(Matthew 11:28, The Message)

Perhaps you feel like you’ve been rooted to the ground, looking at the mess of life as it drips and dries all around you.  Perhaps you don’t think you’ll ever recover.  When we take our disaster to God, that’s when we find restoration.  When we quit trying to run and do and prove and rush, and instead hand our mess over to Jesus, we find real rest.  We find His grace and freedom, even in the middle of it all.

 

We must refuse to let the mess define our entire life.  Imagine if William would have let this one incident shape his entire life.  What if I, as his parent, had held it over his head, leading him to believe that his life would be one big problem after another, something else we’d constantly have to clean up? Ha! That sounds ridiculous. And yet, we do the same thing all of the time.  The voices in our head that tell us we’re worthless or we’ve messed up too much shout louder than the voice of who we truly are.  But what if the fight for hope means refusing to look only at what’s immediately surrounding us?  What if we strive to see the big picture of our life?  Fighting for hope means that our everyday life is full of steps backward and forward, forward and backward… but each step moves us closer to Jesus.   We trust God to work the details of our lives into something good, leaning on Paul’s promise in Romans,

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

God’s spirit is right alongside helping us along.  

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.”

As we hold the pieces of our broken life, will we dare to let Jesus breathe beauty into them?  Do we really trust Him to redeem them?  Lift up your eyes and don’t less the mess surrounding you define who you are in Christ.

 

We fight for hope when we allow others to step in and help us through the mess.  Even a decade later, I can remember the look on William’s face, his eyes locked on mine, wondering how he was going to get out of the middle of his waxy predicament.  Our reaction was exactly what yours would have been— we ran to him.  He needed our help.  And yet how often do we stand there, covered in wax, trying to convince everyone around us that we’re fine, fine and we’ll take care of everything, no problem, thanks but no thanks?  When we find our lives in shambles, our natural inclination is to retreat and avoid others, sure that we’ll only be bothering them if we let them see what’s really going on.  “Because grief is one of the most deeply isolating and lonely emotions, no one can carry it for you and no one can cure you of it and no one can relate to the exact degree that you’re experiencing it,” says Lisa-Jo Baker. “It’s a terrible devouring monster, and without people surrounding you, sitting on the sofa next to you, stopping by to chat about the kids or laugh about a story you’d forgotten, you’ll slowly disappear into a sinkhole of grief.” There are times we need to give up our control, and allow others to walk with us through our mess.  We were made to be in relationship with one another, especially in our hard places.  Allowing others to see we’re not really fine, that we actually need others to walk alongside us gives us life.

 

If we are going to be people who live in the intersection of hope and sorrow, we must learn to take a good look at the mess and claim the words of John in Revelation 21:5- “And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’”  You see, on that day as we mopped up the wax, there was plenty that was unsalvageable.  But it’s not the same with Jesus.  The brokenness and mess around you can be redeemed and turned into something good.

 

May you dare to lift your eyes above the mess in your life to see others who are willing to walk this path with you. May you quit letting it define you, instead allowing Christ to redeem your pain and make everything new.  And may you have eyes to see the stories of your own life, plucking hope out of the stickiest of situations.

 

 

Hello.
I’m Sarah and I write about the intersection of hope & sorrow in our lives.  It’s a privilege to have you along for the journey.  If you’d like to receive posts to your inbox along with some extra encouragement just for subscribers you can click here to join me. 

Blessings in the Fog of Grief  4

 

Early this morning I laced up my running shoes and did what I do several times a week. The fog was thick and as I let it envelop me, I started to think about the kindness of Jesus during this week in September when my thoughts constantly drift to the daughter we held as she breathed her last breath. Time is a crazy thing because it’s been eight years. Eight long, tear-filled years. And yet, we’ve fought for hope and joy– and God has given it to us so abundantly. The fog reminds me of just how gently He has carried us, how tenderly He has held us.  It reminds me that my tears are precious to Him and worthy of being recorded.

 

And so, on the eve of the day that I dread every year, I remembered these words I wrote five years ago:

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about fog lately.
 

I have vivid memories of riding the bus to school on those early fall Indiana mornings. I was one of the first ones on the bus in the mornings and the bus would be nearly empty as I made my way down the aisle. In the loudness of the engine and the jostle of the wheels that magnified each bump, I would lean my cheek against the window and look out over the fields. And on many mornings, we would lumber down a hill and find ourselves in a pocket of fog. For just a few seconds we would be enveloped in the mist before we would ascend the hill and it would disappear.
 

I’m an adult now, but I still love a foggy morning. I stare out the window, coffee in hand and watch the fog slowly disappear. There’s a hush on those mornings and things seem to slow down somehow. The heat of the summer, along with the fun of late nights and busy-lazy days, is giving way to something new and unknown about the approaching season. I fight against fall because it means my kids are getting older and the unscheduled summer gives way to the over-scheduled school season, but I love the mornings when I can slip away and feel the fog.
 

How vividly I remember taking my sick baby to the emergency room, knowing that something was desperately wrong with her. When they moved us from the curtained room to the private room and I looked up to see the doctor with tears in her eyes and I heard the door click shut, I felt myself sinking into a deep fog.

 
And when, a mere week later, I watched the truck pull into the cemetery to dig a hole meant for my Annie, I thought I would drown in that fog and that I would never breathe normally again.

 

Shortly after Annie died, we took the kids to the doctor for their annual check-ups. Our doctor took our hands and he prayed for us and told us that the human brain will only process what it can, as it can.
 

 Eventually, the mind-numbing tragedy would become clearer.

 

The fog would slowly lift.

 
As that mound of dirt over her body slowly sunk until it was ground level and then grew grass, I experienced some of the richest times I’ve ever had in my relationship with Christ. He enveloped me and gave me peace. The words of the Bible rang deep and true and brought comfort. The notes and cards and encouraging reminders from friends were daily. The unimportant things in life were stripped away and were strangely hard to see. In my deepest pain, I was most sure of who I was.

 
Maybe you’ve found yourself in the same place as me. Or maybe your sorrow is different. Chances are, when you’ve gone through something difficult, someone has told you you’re so strong. And perhaps you, like me, look at them in confusion because you know that the total opposite is true.

 

In those early days, I felt so weak, like I was dangling off the edge of a twelve story building, my fingers slowly slipping.

 

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Psalm 91:1-4

 
When my fingers failed me, and I found myself tumbling down, down, down . . . He caught me. He gave me a refuge, a shelter, a fog.
 
I nestled into that fog, I wrapped it around me and breathed it in until my lungs hurt. I sat on the couch during nap time and I just stared out the window. I went to bed each night, simply relieved that I was one day closer to Heaven.  My sadness scared me, my grief was overwhelming, and I’m sure Peter wondered if he’d ever have his wife back. But in the midst of it all, I had Jesus. And I knew that somehow I would be okay.

 

Saturday marks three years since The Day My Life Changed. This summer, well, it’s been the hardest season yet since the days immediately after Annie died. Because the fog finally lifted.  I was forced to deal with some things that I had stuffed down deep, thinking they would disappear (and in case you’re wondering, they don’t disappear).  I’ve felt so fragile this summer . . . coming to terms with my identity now that the fog has lifted.

 

Dare I say I miss the fog?

 

But today is a new day. The season is changing and I know, know, know that the promises of Christ are still my armor and protection. A dear friend told me, “You’ll never get over losing Annie, but you will move forward.” That’s what I’m doing, slowly but surely.

 

A step at a time, I’m breathing in new air, filling my lungs with the sweet freshness of His Grace that goes before me.

 

Today, as I read the words I typed five years ago, the tears still stream down my face. My heart still deeply longs for the little girl I lost. But I resonate with the words of Jerry Sittser: “We never get over the ones we miss. We still long for them, but we can still celebrate the life we’ve found because they are gone.”

 

On the morning after Annie died, Peter and I sat in bed and planned her funeral. We looked at one another and declared that more than anything, we wanted her life to point others to Christ. That in spite of the fact she lived just six short months, our desire was for people be drawn to redemption through her story. We have been amazed at how Jesus has answered our prayer. But perhaps the sweetest part? She has pointed ME to Christ. Her life has changed mine in countless ways and I am so grateful to be her Mama.

 

May you, dear reader, find comfort in my words.  May you wrap yourself in the fog and allow God to tenderly care for you in your sorrow.  May you let go of the fear and anger and believe the words in Psalm 34:8 that “God is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those who are crushed in Spirit.” I am praying for you.

 

Hello.
I’m Sarah and I write about the intersection of hope & sorrow in our lives.  It’s a privilege to have you along for the journey.  Would you like to receive a bit of quiet encouragement from me to your inbox?

Click here to join me.

Is Hope Really Real?  0

On the first day of summer vacation, our family flew to Europe for my brother’s wedding.  After spending five days on a small island of Greece in the middle of the Aegean Sea, our family ferried to Athens for a few days.

 

Here’s the best way I can think to describe it to you:  We went from playing in the crystal clear ocean, riding mopeds up and down the one road on the whole island, exporing nooks and crannies in search of the best gelato….

 

 

 

…to gritty Athens.  Though still pretty, it was full of people, graffiti and honking horns.  We arrived at our hotel and decided to walk to the main city square… except we took a wrong turn and ended up on a really dodgy street.  We tucked the kids in close and pushed on, walking quickly until we ended up in a huge open square, with people selling everything you can imagine.

 

 

 

A teenage boy came up to us and began to tie a bracelet onto William’s wrist.  He started to chat in broken English and told us it was a gift to us from him.  “For your sports,” he kept repeating.  The bracelet had the word ‘hope’ embroidered on it.  We told him no, we didn’t want to buy his bracelets, but he insisted.  “For your sports,” he smiled.  “No money. I give to you.”    He was such a nice kid, so eventually we believed him and started to walk away with our free gift.

 

Except that’s not what he meant.  Apparently his hope wasn’t free.  And he wasn’t giving the bracelet to William for his “sports” it was in exchange for “our support”.   When we handed the bracelet back to him and told him we wouldn’t be paying him any money, he looked as us angrily and walked away.

 

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that we thought he was handing us hope— in the form of a bracelet— for free.  But when we finally believed it, it was taken away.
I started to think about my relationship with hope— the tiny four letter word embroidered on the free-but-not-free bracelets.  So often I treat hope skeptically. I’m careful with the way I hold it, at arm’s length, so that just in case things don’t work out the “right” way, my heart is still protected.

 

Is hope really for real?  Can it be trusted?

 

The great Homer Simpson once said, “You tried and failed.  The lesson is… never try.”

 

If I’m not careful, those are words I live by.  But believe me, I don’t want to live by the words of Homer Simpson.  Very few of us do, I think (And if you do, well, you’re probably reading the wrong blog).  So what does it take to break down the walls of our heart and live as people who hope?

 

This verse sits on the windowsill next to the kitchen sink:

“And this hope will not lead us to disappointment.

For we know how dearly God loves us,

because He has given us the Holy Spirit

to fill our hearts with His love” Romans 5:5

 

I can’t help but wonder if you’ve ever felt disappointed by hope?  If you’ve prayed, trusted, believed, proclaimed… and then something goes horribly wrong.

 

You studied for the test, but still received a failing grade.
You went to the counseling, but nothing changed in your relationship.
You prayed for a change of heart, but the anger won’t go away.
You hoped for a miracle, but instead you were met with silence.

 

When someone or circumstances mess with what we thought to be true, we’re quick to turn and walk the other way, aren’t we?  Not so trusting, not so willing.  We refuse to be so naive.  For some of us, we find our waning hope affecting every area of our life.  And we just want to run back to where it’s safe and quiet and beautiful again.  Where the decisions don’t seem as complicated and the ache in our hearts can be soothed.  We tried and failed… so the next safe move seems to be to quit even trying.

 

But I believe God wants us to live in the intersection of hope and sorrow.  To cling to His promise to us, even when it seems that all has been lost.  And Romans 5:5 speaks to what we know to be true, not what we feel.  N.T. Wright says, “We mustn’t imagine that our feeling of being close to God is a true index of the reality.  Emotions often deceive.  Paul (the author of Romans) is summoning us to understand the reality, the solid rock beneath the shifting sands of feeling.”

 

Our hope is in Jesus.
Not in our circumstances or our feelings or other people.
Not in our future or our church or our government.
Not in our wombs or our parenting skills or bank accounts.
Our hope is in Christ.

 

That’s why Paul wrote in Romans 4:18, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…”

 

When we finally realize what hope truly is, it ceases to be a buzzword.  When we look for it in the world, we find it in exchange “for your sports” and as quickly as we put it on our wrist, it’s snatched away. When we look for it in Jesus, we find it transforms us. It sustains our soul and reconciles us to Christ. It comes to us in our suffering and our darkest hour and brings us peace.

 

May you today find the hope of Jesus you’re longing and searching for.  May you quit grasping for empty hope and find the True Hope that doesn’t lead us to disappointment.  May your heart be filled with the love that the Holy Spirit promises us and may you see just how dearly you are loved.

 

 

Hello.
I’m Sarah and I write about the intersection of hope & sorrow in our lives.  It’s a privilege to have you along for the journey.  Would you like to receive a bit of quiet encouragement from me to your inbox?

Click here to join me.

 

 

 

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.