The Secret to Thriving in the Midst of Sorrow  1

 

 

 

 

Once there was an old woman who loved to name things.
She named the old car she drove “Betsy.”
She named the old chair she sat in “Fred.”
She named the old bed she slept on “Roxanne.”
And she named her old house “Franklin.”

Every morning she would get out of Roxanne, have a cup of cocoa in Fred, lock up Franklin, and drive to the post office in Betsy.  She always hoped for a letter from someone, but all she ever got was bills.

The reason the old woman never got any letters was because she had outlived every single one of her friends.  This worried her.  She didn’t like the idea of being a lonely old woman without any friends, without anyone whom she could call by name. 

So she began to name things.  But she named only those things she knew she could never outlive.  Her car, Betsy, had more get-up-and-go than anything around.  Her chair, Fred, had never sagged a day in his life. Not one creak or moan had she ever heard out of her old bed, Roxanne.  And her house, Franklin, had been standing straight for over a hundred years and still didn’t look a day past twenty.  

The old woman never worried about outliving any of them, and her days were happy.
— From The Old Woman Who Named Things by Cynthia Rylant

 

I sat through two unrelated funerals last week— one on Thursday, one on Friday.  Two women sat alone in the front row of each, newly widowed.  The one from a husband who quickly died of a newly diagnosed cancer; the other just six weeks pregnant with their first child.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned as I watch my pastor-husband speak words over grieving people, it’s that grief doesn’t play favorites.  No one gets a free pass from sorrow.

 

C.S. Lewis wrote, “To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements.  Lock it up safe in a casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless— it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  To love is to be vulnerable.”

 

I watched those two fresh widows at the funerals of their husbands.  I haven’t buried a husband, but I’ve buried a child.  It’s not the same, but it’s not altogether different.  And while my eight year grief is familiar, I don’t have to look hard to find someone who is just experiencing it fresh. The ache for it all goes too deep for words.

 

We live in a world awash with sorrow.

 

That’s exactly why the Old Woman Who Named Things named only the things she couldn’t outlive.  My kids giggle when I read it to them… but the element of truth is never lost on me.  There’s a message to the book that makes me squirm a bit.

 

Because it’s vulnerable to love someone.  It feels like a risk because it is.  When the sorrow comes, we can be tempted to never fall for that trap again.  The memories that brought joy and laughter turn to tears and sadness.  The days turn into something we just try to survive, one lonely step at a time.

As the story goes on, the old woman was out washing mud off of Betsy (She’s the car if you’re not keeping up) when she sees a shy brown puppy in the distance.

 

“The old woman gave the ham to the hungry puppy and told it to go home.  She told it that Betsy always made puppies sick and Fred never allowed puppies to sit on him and Roxanne wasn’t wide enough for a puppy and an old woman to fit on, and besides all this, Franklin couldn’t tolerate dog hair.”

 

You can see where this is going.  The old woman kept thinking about that puppy, kept telling herself she might not outlive a puppy and therefore couldn’t risk naming it.  The dog kept returning each day and each day she would tell it to go home, stubbornly refusing to name it.

 

She thought she was pretty clever, that her heart was locked up safe… until one day the dog didn’t come to visit her.  And the old woman was shocked to discover that she was sad.

 

“The old woman made a decision.  She locked up Franklin and drove Betsy to the dogcatcher’s kennel.  
She said to the dogcatcher, ‘I’ve come to find my dog.’
 He asked her what color it was.  
‘It’s brown,’ she said.
He asked her how old it was.
‘About a year old,’ she said.
Then he asked her what its name was.

The old woman thought a moment.  She thought of all the old, dear friends with names whom she had outlived.  She saw their smiling faces and remembered their lovely names, and she thought how lucky she had been to have known these friends.  She thought what a lucky old woman she was.

‘My dog’s name is Lucky,’ she told the dogcatcher.”

 

You can guess the ending, because it’s a happy one.  It’s the ending we wish for sweet old women who name things.  But when we’re the one crying tears for the ones we’ve lost, it doesn’t always come so easy.

 

If we are people who live in the intersection of sorrow and hope, how can we continue to love and also allow room for our hearts to be broken? How do we let others see our heartache, without isolating ourselves from those who want to help?  How do we give ourselves the grace to enter into our sorrow without being afraid of the future? How do allow Jesus to redeem our sadness?

 

James writes to us,

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.

You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.

So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely.

Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”

(James 1:2-4)

 

I won’t even pretend to assume anything about where you are in the journey today.  But can I gently whisper to you a challenge to find a way to do more than survive in your sorrow?  I believe Jesus wants us to thrive, no matter what circumstances we’ve faced.  I believe He gives us just what we need to make it through each day.  When we live in the intersection of hope & sorrow, we don’t move on from our grief, but we do move forward in life.  Let Christ do His work in you.

 

Today, may you find a way to thrive.  May you see the slightest glimmer of light in a world that seems very black and white.  May you have the bravery to look up and out, to take a deep breath and feel the sun on your face.  May you be reminded of what you can be thankful for and the others in your path who are hurting also.

 

May you have courage to allow your heart to stay breakable.

 


{Hello.}
I get it.  It’s easy to be overwhelmed at the grief of life.  But I believe Jesus calls us to live in the intersection of hope & sorrow, redeeming the broken places and calling us to live with hearts of joy.  I’m Sarah and I’d love to invite you along for the journey.  Click here if you’d like to join me.

 

The Love of Jesus  0

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

Matthew 1:20-23

 

Christmas is tomorrow and I am finishing up the lists that I thought would never get finished.  The gifts are wrapped, everything smells so good and the kids are so excited.  There’s just nothing like Christmas!

 

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

 

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

 

If I were to take all the stories of the family of Jesus, I could plop them on a timeline.  Abraham, Joseph, Ruth, Jonah, Habakkuk, Mary.  Of course there are hundreds in between that I missed, but eventually we would come to Jesus.  The Messiah.  The one who had been promised and who they had been searching for all these years.  He came from a line of cheaters and liars, of prostitutes and rebels.  There was sorrow, bitterness, grief and stubborn hope in the lives of those whose blood ran in His veins.

 

His life and death and resurrection changed the course of History forever.  Not just because He came, but because He came for you.

 

On that very first Christmas, there were shepherds watching the very sheep that would be sacrificed for the sins of the people.  But a new way was coming, and He had arrived!  It’s recorded that the shepherds hurried to see Jesus, then they spread the news as fast as they could. Their hearts were kindled. Years later, after Jesus had died and was resurrected, He appeared to a few of His disciples as they were walking from one town to another, only they didn’t recognize Him for a very long time.  When their eyes were opened, they looked at each other and exclaimed, “Were not our hearts burning within us?” (Luke 24:32).

 

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

 

Just like Habakkuk, when we resolve in our hearts to praise Him, even in the midst of our hard places, He promises to hear our cries.

 

Just like Jonah, when we run from God, He calls us to Him in ways we cannot expect.

 

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

 

Just like Joseph, He gives us the strength to choose forgiveness and what was intended to harm us turns to good.

 

And just like Abraham, when we open our eyes to the hurt of the world, we suddenly see that our lives can be a blessing to others, even in our grief.

 

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

 

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

The Resolve of Habakkuk  0

Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord.
Renew them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields, 
and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
able to tread up on the heights.
Habakkuk 3:1,17-19

 

Mother Teresa, the little woman who lived in the slums of India, the one who lived among the poorest of the poor, in a letter in 1959 wrote that if she ever became a saint, it would be one of darkness.  When he wrote her biography later, Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk said, “You can be joyful even if you’re suffering because you are accepting, and you are working and acting with love that gives meaning to the suffering.”

 

Even though.  Even if.  Even now.

 

There’s a blanket of snow resting on the ground of the cemetery across the street, the one where we stood to say good-bye to our tiny daughter.

There’s a widow sitting lonely as the dark grows longer each day.

There’s a couple facing another Christmas with empty arms, their deep longing for a child unfulfilled.

There’s an empty refrigerator and hungry kids who are looking for their parents.

There’s a marriage and a family crumbling and angry words that can’t be taken back.

There are war torn countries and people who have seen so much atrocity they have forgotten how to cry.

 

Even though.  Even if.  Even now.

 

We look around the rubble of our lives and our world and it’s not what we dreamed of or expected.

 

In these moments, Habakkuk’s declaration rings in our ears:
I will rejoice:
… even if the figs and olives fail
…. even if the people go hungry
… even if our livelihoods are taken

…. even if there is an empty stocking hanging from the mantle
… even if the diagnosis is fatal
…. even if the terror keeps me up at night
… even as the bombs fall and children are left as orphans
… even if my tears outnumber my smiles
Even though.  Even if.  Even now.

 

We can’t wait for suffering to go away before we praise the name of Jesus, or we may never rejoice.  Read the book of Habakkuk and you’ll realize that though the prophet is exasperated,  he does not give up.  He begs God to intervene on behalf of the people, wondering how long it will be until He listens to the cries of His people.

 

Margaret Feinberg in her book, Fight Back with Joy talks of her battle with cancer: “As my body slid through the tube, I understood why so many people have panic attacks in MRI machines.  The constricting space, the rhythmic sounds, the inability to move— all felt suffocating.  Click.  Clank.  Click.  Clank.  Listening to the clamor, I breathed deep.  My mind drifted.  Has anyone offered God praise in this place before?  I thought of Habakkuk, that brazen codger.  If he could rejoice when an entire nation crumbled around him, surely I could offer something to God in this space.  After all, I had discovered a valuable insight in this process: Fighting back with joy rarely makes sense.”

 

The secret to joy is in focusing on the Father, not on our fears. This is what gives meaning to our suffering, what brings light into the darkness of the world. On the night Jesus was born, a night that began like any other night, the shepherds were tending the sheep.  They were terrified when the sky lit up brighter than the day.  The first words they heard? “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10)

 

There is light in the darkness because Jesus has come to bring meaning to our suffering.  Do not be afraid.   You can fight for joy.

 

Even though. Even if.  Even now.

 

 

 

 

{Hello.}

Don’t miss the other posts in this series: The Blessing of Abraham, The Brokenness of JosephThe Redemption of Naomi, and The Repentance of Jonah. Want to get these posts delivered right into your inbox?  Go here to subscribe.

 

 

The Repentance of Jonah  0

“Then Jonah paid the fare and went on board, joining those going to Tarshish— as far away from God as he could get.” Jonah 1:3

 

Sometimes when God calls us, we are terrified. We are broken and unqualified, so we run. Advent can feel like salt in the wound, like all of our sorrows are piling up and mocking us. Everywhere we look, we see happy families and perfect endings. And it just doesn’t seem fair. So we run and hide.

 

Ann Voskamp says, “You aren’t equipped for life until you realize you aren’t equipped for life. You aren’t equipped for life until you’re in need of grace.”

 

Jonah had been called by God to warn the people of Ninevah, but he allowed fear to rule him. So he sailed away in the opposite direction, determined to make his own plans instead of being obedient.

 

Once, when Kate was little, but old enough to know better, I put her in a time out for something I can’t remember now. I instructed her to pray while she was alone in her room and make things right between her and God. I’m not sure what I expected, but if there’s anything I know about Kate, it’s that she never does what I expect.

 

I ventured into her room a few minutes later and sat with her on the floor, face-to-face. We were going to have a holy moment together, whether she wanted it or not. “Tell me what you prayed,” I said. She looked at me with a scowl and replied, “I just told him bad words.”

 

Running from God. No one has to teach it… it’s just in us.

 

But God has a way of calling us back to him, in ways we cannot anticipate. It’s why Jonah tried to go to sleep in the bottom of the boat while the storm raged. It’s why he found himself in the belly of a whale for three days. We think the whale was a punishment, but have you ever considered that perhaps it also rescued him? He would have drowned if if it weren’t for the belly of that whale— a place for Jonah to work some things out before he was vomited out onto shore.

 

It’s because of those dark, dank days in the belly that he turned in repentance. He turned back to God, back to obedience. Then he promptly sailed to Ninevah to relay the message God had asked him to deliver. He pled with Ninevah to turn back to God before it was too late.

 

Because it’s never too late for repentance.

 

Almost 800 years later, there would be another storm and another man in the bottom of the boat sleeping. His name was Jesus. The disciples were terrified, and they rushed to wake Jesus. “Master! Master, we’re going to drown!” they yelled above the crash of the waves.

 

Jesus responded with a rebuke to the raging waters and suddenly all was calm. He calmed that storm and He calms the storms in our lives. Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights… just as Jesus was on the cross and rose again in three days, to pay the penalty for our sins.

 

Jesus does not abandon you in your storm, both the one that you are in right now and the ultimate battle for your soul.

 

I don’t know what’s raging around you. I don’t know what wakes you up at night and what holds you captive. But I know Jesus longs to calm the storm of your soul. He is not afraid of what rages around you, He sees what you are so afraid to reveal.

 

He binds the broken and raises the dead. He feeds the hungry and touches the sick.

 

Just this moment as I type these words, Eliza is on the computer. Her headphones are in and she’s singing at the top of her lungs, “It’s the most wonderful time of the yearrrrr!” But you know how it sounds when kids have the headphones on. It’s always slightly off key.

 

I’m smiling because it seems so appropriate. The most wonderful time of the year can be overshadowed by our own sorrow and the sorrow we carry for others. The storm rages around us and we are afraid. It’s all slightly off key.

 

Listen to Jesus whisper, “One greater than Jonah is here.” His words bring light to our weary souls.

 

In those times of waiting, claim these verses in Romans 8:22-28:
“All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become and the more joyful our expectancy.

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 in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”

 

Hear Him call you by name. He is near to you this very moment. Peace, be still.

 

 

{Hello.}

Don’t miss the other posts in this series: The Blessing of Abraham, The Brokenness of Joseph and The Redemption of Naomi. Want to get these posts delivered right into your inbox?  Go here to subscribe.

 

 

The Redemption of Naomi  0

“When they arrived in Bethlehem the whole town was soon buzzing: ‘Is this really our Naomi? And after all this time!’
But she said, ‘Don’t call me Naomi; call me Bitter.  The Strong One has dealt me a bitter blow.  I left her full of life, and God has brought me back with nothing but the clothes on my back.  Why would you call me Naomi?  God certainly doesn’t.  The Strong One ruined me.’
And so Naomi was back, and Ruth the foreigner with her, back from the country of Moab.  They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.” Ruth 1:20-22

 

There’s a temptation to succumb to the bitterness when we’ve done all the right things, followed the right plan, think we deserve better. The wind is howling outside as I type these words, and I’m watching the snowflakes blow in waves across the hardened crust of snow.  When life gets hard, I just want to harden.  I fight getting stuck in my sorrow.

 

Naomi had left with her husband to escape a famine.  They had settled away from home, their sons got married and life was good.  But tragedy struck and within a short amount of time, both her husband and sons died.  She was left alone, with two daughters-in-law and no where to go.  And so she went home.  She convinced her one daughter-in-law not to come with her, but Ruth, well, Ruth was stubborn.  She refused to leave Naomi.

 

Naomi had left full of hopes and dreams of a better life.  But she returned empty, defeated, and sad.

 

Frederick Buechner says, “The sad things that happened long ago will always remain part of who we are just as the glad and gracious things will too, but instead of being a burden of guilt, recrimination, and regret that make us constantly stumble as we go, even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead.  It is through memory that we are able to reclaim much of our lives that we have long since written off by finding that in everything that has happened to us over the years, God was offering us possibilities of new life and healing which, though we may have missed them at the time, we can still choose and be brought to life by and healed by all these years later. “ (from his book Telling Secrets)

 

We can be so empty, but that doesn’t have to be the end of the story.  If Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10), well, he’s not just talking about the few who make it through life unscathed.  He’s talking about us all.

 

Ruth returned with Naomi to Bethlehem at the time of the barley harvest— a time when the land was full again.  They had left at a time of emptiness, during a famine, and so happened to come back when it returned to fullness.  Landowners would leave the grain the harvesters had missed, for the poor, the alien, the widow and the fatherless to gather.  And that’s how Ruth ended up picking grain from the field of Boaz.  And that’s how Boaz learned about Ruth and how Naomi discovered hope again.

 

Boaz, actually a relative of Naomi, was their Kinsman-Redeemer.  He was responsible for protecting family in need.  Kinsman-Redeemers would provide an heir for a brother who died or redeem a relative who had been sold into slavery, they would protect those in their family who were needy.   Boaz was Naomi’s kinsman-Redeemer, able to rescue them from poverty by marrying Ruth.  Later he and Ruth would have a son named Obed, who would one day be the great-grandfather of King David… and eventually a man named Jesus would be part of their family line.

 

The entire book of Ruth is a testimony of redemption and transformation.   It’s the story from emptiness to fullness, from destitution to security, from desperation to peace.

 

There’s a clear turning point in the story of Ruth when Naomi is awakened to the hope that her life could be restored.

 

“Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, ‘Why, God bless that man! God hasn’t quite walked out on us after all!  He still loves us, in bad times as well as good!’” (Ruth 2:20)  That’s the moment she realized she didn’t have to be known as Bitter and her story didn’t have to end in heartache.

 

Don’t ever believe that God will leave you for empty.  He is a God of restoration and redemption. He will not walk out on you.

 

Jesus looks at your life and He has compassion for you.  He longs to take you in His arms and heal your heart.  Without Him, we are so broken.  But He whispers words of joy to our weary souls. He can take what brings us the most pain and sorrow and transform it into something beautiful.  He redeems us.  He wraps us up in His love and suddenly we see His pain for a broken world.

 

When we read the book of Ruth, we see the foreshadowing of our Kinsman-Redeemer in Jesus, the one who can take us from desperation to peace.  Naomi had every right to be bitter.  She lost it all— her family, her land, her home— but her bitterness was transformed when she trusted in the redeeming work of God. And Ruth, her daughter from another country,  was the one who kept pressing on, unswerving and selfless. She clung to the hope that God could and would use the harsh circumstances of their lives.

 

Jesus heals our broken hearts.
He is healing me.
He is healing you.

 

We may feel the weight of our sorrow daily, but we are changed people because of the way Jesus restores.  Jesus looks at us and He doesn’t shake his head at our hardened, crusty hearts.  He doesn’t see a wasted life. Instead, He hands us love and hope.  He takes our wounded lives and speaks words of truth, like salve on our souls.  And, if we open our eyes, we will see him bring good in ways we would have never imagined.  He is our Kinsman-Redeemer.  Our Rescuer.  Our Redeemer.

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.