Category: faith & serving

Just a Coincidence  1

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What if?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

How could I ever describe this as simply coincidence?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

The Real Reason I Can Make You A Mocha  4

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I KNOW.  It’s so embarrassing.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What would happen if we quit believing the lies?

 

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

 

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

 

But it never happened.  Somehow I was skipped over.

 

The prayer time ended and everyone returned to their seats.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Letting Go {Taking my Son to Haiti}  2

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The first few nights after William was born five weeks early, I slept in a room just off the NICU.  They told us we could stay there until someone with a more serious case came along, since Will needed help that was non-life threatening.  His early birth meant that he needed a little kickstart to his lungs, but he was otherwise healthy.

 

After a few nights, a more critical case was admitted, and Peter and I opted to get a hotel room just a few miles away.  I remember crying hard that night, feeling the distance of just a few miles.  I knew he was getting the care he needed, but he just seemed so far from me.  My sweet baby had always been with me.  I had carried him in my womb for many months, my very body cradling him.  Yet within hours of his birth, I had been forced to let him go, the unknowns looming like a deep, dark cloud.

 

Those first few days watching him in the NICU, God whispered gentle words to my new-mama heart.  I could try as hard as I could to hold him close, but the essence of being a Mom is letting go.  We love and we nurture, we hold them near in our hearts… but ultimately we are preparing them for their own adulthood. The dependence they have on us wanes as life goes on and –though it breaks our hearts– we must have courage to let our children grow up.

 

I didn’t fully grasp that until he slipped from my body, until the reality came fast and hard in the form of an ambulance ride, our beds miles apart.

 

A few weeks ago I took William to Haiti.  And if I were to lean in and tell you the full truth, it scared me to take him.  Exposing him to poverty at such an intense level was overwhelming to me and I didn’t know what to expect.

 

But again, God whispered gentle words to my Mama-heart. He reminded me of the cost to raising brave kids, of the sacrifice to expose them to things I wouldn’t have chosen.  He reminded me of those first early days when I had to let go and how firmly Jesus had held us.

 

We had an incredible week together in Haiti.  Beyond what I could have asked or imagined.  And Will fit in so easily.  There were dozens of kids hanging off of him at all hours of the day.  “Where is my friend, Williams?” they would ask.  With a soccer ball in his hand and a grin on his face, he would win them over, especially when he let them touch his hair.

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Having him with me was one of the biggest gifts I’ve received since I’ve become a Mom.  We had some hard talks about some hard things.  We laughed a lot and appreciated one another in new ways. It was so good.

 

On the last day, we were waiting for the plane to come and pick us up.  It was a small plane, just a six-seater, and since there were eight in our group, we had to take two planes. With a shiver, I asked if Will and I could be split up.  Just in case.  And when that plane took off, with him in it and me still on the ground below, I fought tears harder than I had all week.  All of a sudden I was that brand new mom again, leaving him behind in the NICU. Unsure and wavering.

 

Because letting go is always hard.

 

It’s trusting God over and over … and over….  again. It’s choosing the hard over the convenient, the holy over the safe.  It’s admitting when I mess up and apologizing when I get it wrong.  It’s listening when he talks, guiding him to make his own conclusions instead of jumping in.   It’s learning to surrender what I want and instead letting God work through him in ways I never would have imagined.

 

Sometimes letting go is slow and unnoticed, little moments at random times.  But sometimes it leaves us breathless and aching, like watching an airplane take off while still on the ground.  There’s so much that could happen, so many unknowns, and it’s hard to trust God with the heart of our kids, even when we know the depth of love He has for them.

 

My plane landed just 10 minutes after his plane and as I stepped into the airport, Will had the biggest grin on his face.  “Mom! The pilot let me fly the plane!”  He was absolutely giddy.

 

What if I had said no?  To Haiti, to the hard, to the heartache, to the plane?  What if I would have let fear ruin his chances to discover the lavish gifts God gives us?  What if I hadn’t trusted God in a million different ways between those NICU days and today?

 

Because a twelve year old flying a plane for a few minutes over the glorious mountains of Haiti?  It’s a wild dream.  And I’m learning that wild dreams only happen when we have the courage to live with our hearts and hands open.

 

The fight to let go is never easy. I’ve gotten it drastically wrong more times than I’ll ever get it right.  But slowly, Jesus is showing me that if I trust Him with my children, He can do so much more in their lives.  He redeems my need for control and lets me learn again.

 

Sometimes the letting go is slow and small, other times it’s loud and wild.  But always it’s worth it.

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May you, today, have the courage to live with your hands open to the adventures of life.  May you trust God with what He has given you— saying yes, even as you fight fear.  And may you recognize the big and small ways of letting go, with the courage to proclaim that God is good.

 

P.S. Want to know more about the ministry we serve with in Haiti?  It’s called Waves of Mercy.  I would love if you would support them by giving directly through their website -OR- check out Haiti Hoops Boutique, an Etsy store by my friend Neile. One hundred percent of her profits go to Waves of Mercy.

 

Well, hello!
I’m so very glad you’re here.  I hope you’ll stick around so we can get to know one another a little more.  Go here if you’d like to receive posts from me via email. I have a few printable verses I’d love to send you to encourage your heart.   –Sarah

When Seasons Change  0

 

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Today I was mesmerized as I looked out the window, watching the leaves falling off the trees, the sunlight filtering through the barren branches….  And my thoughts wandered back a few weeks, to the brand new “Church on the Hill” in Port-de-Paix, Haiti.  On Sunday nights, each American is asked to come on the stage and share something with the people.  Anything.  It’s a wide open platform and there are a million things to choose.  It’s hard to know what to say and what will be relevant because I tend to think I don’t really have anything of significance to tell a group of people who have lived such adversity.

 

I started picking up red, yellow, and orange leaves in our yard a few weeks before we left and I carefully pressed them in a few old books.  I do that almost every fall, out of habit probably, because the beauty of the leaves always feels fresh to me.  Each year as the green turns to all different colors I am amazed.  The changing of seasons always seems so significant.

 

Obviously, the seasons in Haiti look a lot different than those in Michigan… and I decided it would be fun to take the leaves to my friends so they could see them.

 

I tied the leaves on a string and I carefully slid them into my journal, hoping they wouldn’t crumble before Sunday night.  I held them as the service began and I watched the joy on the people’s faces as they worshipped and prayed.

 

So desperate for God to move in their lives.
So dependent on Him for the most basic of needs.
And yet so hopeful, so confident in Him.
I don’t know all of their stories, but I studied their faces.  I realize it’s easy for me to pencil in details that I’m not fully aware of, that the time I spend with them is so brief, but each time God uses them to teach me something so profound.

 

I walked up on stage, smoothed my page of words, and took a deep breath.  I held up my leaves and explained the changing of seasons, and I told them I wished they could experience the beauty of the changing leaves in Michigan, except that they would freeze in about half a second.  They nodded and agreed with me.

 

Though the seasons in Haiti may be different than the seasons in Michigan, there are still seasons.  And in our lives, there are seasons.

 

Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastics 3 that there are times for every season.  Seasons of sorrow, seasons of joy.  There are times of birth and times of death, times of planting and times of harvesting.  There are times we laugh and times we cry.

 

Seasons.

 

I looked at their sweet faces and said, “I don’t know what you are facing right now.  It may be a good season, or it may be a hard season.  But no matter what, God is always God.  And He is always good.  He is not surprised by our hard times or our questions.  When we are brokenhearted, He is near to us.  In every season, He is with us.”

 

But here’s the thing.  I had watched them worship just moments before.  I had watched them praying and lifting their hands to Jesus.  And I saw them living out those words before I said them, believing that God would take care of them no matter the season.

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And as the wind blows through the trees today and I watch the leaves swirl and fall, I wonder if we believe that message ourselves.  We, who insulate ourselves in our warm houses and firm beliefs and full bellies.

 

As things spiral out of control around us, do we have the courage to believe that in every season, He is with us?  That He is near us?

 

You see, after Solomon wrote about all the different seasons in life, he wrote one of my very favorite verses.  In Ecclesiastics 3:11, he wrote, “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time.  He planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”

 

There is beauty in every season, if we only have the courage to look for it.  There is hope in every season, though we may have to search a little harder to find it.  And there is longing in every season, because we were made for eternity.  It’s planted in our hearts.  As God’s people, in every town, city, and country around the world, we must dare to trust Him with our lives.

 

“When things are hard and you are discouraged,” I told them, as I held up the string of leaves, “I want you to picture these beautiful leaves.  I want you to remember that God is with you in the good and the bad.  Trust in Him to guide you, to be your refuge, and to always praise Him.”

 

I slipped the leaves to Pastor Handson after the service.  “You can have these,” I said, thinking of the millions more falling, ready for me to rake when I returned home.  He grinned wide and thanked me.  A few days later, my friend Ricardo said to me, “You left the leaves at church. Do you want me to get them for you?”

 

“I did that on purpose.” I answered him.  I wanted my Haitian friends to remember.

 

And I want YOU to remember.

 

Those words weren’t only for Mr. Daniel, Lovely, Sonel and everyone else packed in the Church on the Hill.  Those words are for you today, my friend.  Look at the leaves and dare to trust Jesus.  There is always a season… and in every season there is beauty because there is Jesus.  His presence in our lives does not change. He alone can hand us hope and peace.  And in your very soul, He has planted eternity.  Trust Him to do the work from the beginning of time to the end of time.

 

You can rest in Him.

 

 

Well, hello!
I’m so very glad you’re here.  I hope you’ll stick around so we can get to know one another a little more.  Go here if you’d like to receive posts from me via email. I have a few printable verses I’d love to send you to encourage your heart.   –Sarah

A Mom & Son Trip: Our Next Daring Adventure  6

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On Friday, I will board a plane to Haiti.  I have been meticulously going over details for weeks and as we wrap up preparations, I want to make sure I record what’s going on in my heart.  This will be my fourth trip in 3 years… the first I attended a funeral, the second a wedding.  Our third trip was in the middle of a presidential election (that never resolved) and this time may be the most devastating in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.

 

But there’s another detail that makes this trip different.  This time I’ll have my son William by my side.  And because I am a Mom, this makes me so emotional.  About six months ago, as Peter and I were praying about this trip, we sensed that God was prompting us to ask Will to go.  He has been asking for years to travel to another country, so when we presented it to him and he said yes with wide eyes, it was an answer to both of our dreams.

 

If you were to peek into my heart and my brain, you would see my swirling thoughts and emotions.  Most of my thoughts are just details: food.  lesson plans. passports. underwear.

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But there are a few other thoughts when I wake up in the middle of the night:

 

I’m crazy excited. I cannot wait to take Will to the place that has my heart. I can’t wait to see him walk those roads and love those kids.  As a mom, more than anything I want to guard against the sense of entitlement that comes with being an American.  I want my kids to grow up with a heartbeat for the poor and powerless, to have their hearts break for the things that break the heart of God.  I want them to experience the phonemenon that having less does not mean less joy.  To have this opportunity to go with him to Haiti is unbelievable.

 

But I’m also apprehensive, and doing my best to be brave.   My default is to protect my kids, so exposing Will to such deep poverty makes me anxious.  We’ve done some intentional things to develop compassion in our kids, but we still become so sanitized.  On our living room mantle is a big framed print that says, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” (Helen Keller).  In my heart of hearts, it’s what I want our kids to live out, but I would be lying if I said it was easy for me.  When I get apprehensive about the “what ifs”, I imagine the end.  What do we as parents desire for William?  We want him to choose the daring adventure, every time.  That means that I must be brave.

 

I’m praying big. We are on the precipice of some amazing years with Will. These are the years he’ll begin to form who he will be in adulthood.  So I’m praying that this trip will be formative to him.  God has a way of speaking so clearly when so many of our familiar scenes are erased.  I’m praying this will bring our close relationship even closer.  I’m so overwhelmed with the gift of being able to serve alongside him.

 

At the same time, I’m keeping my expectations low. I’ll just tell you right now I’m so bad at this.  I’m the queen of daydreaming something grand and then when it falls flat, I get so disappointed.  I know that this trip could have huge implications on Will’s life.  I’m confident that he will thrive and we will have an amazing week.  But I also know there are going to be some hard moments.   As his mind processes so many new things, I’m going to be tempted to tell him how to process.  But I can’t.  I’ve had some wise people warn me that this trip may not immediately affect him and to not be disappointed with that.  The implications will work themselves out in time.

 

I’m doing my best to step back.  When the hurricane hit the country of Haiti just a few days ago, I started to have doubts.  But God gently reminded me that our surprises are no surprises to Him.  He does the work He needs to do, no matter what.  So I’m relying on Him.  I don’t know what kind of devastation we’ll face when we get there.  I don’t pretend to think we’re going to go and fix anything.  My prayer is that I’ll step back and see how God is working.  I simply want to be an encouragement to those who are there doing the hard work day after day after day.

 

I’m packing a lot of food.  Seriously.  We bring mostly our own food, which usually is not a big deal.  But anticipating what a 12 year old boy will need for a week makes me dizzy.  He is hungry all. the. time.

 

I’m asking you to pray.  I know you will, without me even asking.  It’s why I value you all so much.  I will do my best to post to Instagram next week.  I’ll share the stories I can, while allowing Will to share his stories also.  damaska_family_2015-341-of-475 It’s going to be incredible.

 

P.S. We will be in Port-de-Paix, Haiti, which is in the northwestern part of the country.  While the hurricane did very much hit that region, it was not hit as badly as the southwestern portions.  I am quite confident that it is safe and good to continue with our trip.  Peter and the girls will remain in Michigan, keeping the home fires burning.

 

 

Well, hello!
I’m so very glad you’re here.  I hope you’ll stick around so we can get to know one another a little more.  Go here if you’d like to receive posts from me via email. I have a few printable verses I’d love to send you to encourage your heart.   –Sarah

How to Give What You Can’t Afford  1

 

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Eliza and I had a marathon grocery shopping trip.  My list was two pages long and I even went to the trouble to group all the like items together, in hopes that it would keep me from constantly backtracking to pick up butter when I had already made it to the cereal aisle (I hate it when that happens!).

 

In spite of my meticulous planning, I hadn’t realized that Friday morning at 10:00 on a holiday weekend was going to be insanely busy.  To top it off, it was like a meandering family reunion, aisle after painful aisle.  Old friendships were rekindled, new friendships formed over what brand of cake mix was the best deal, and carts seemed to block my every move.

 

I had no choice but to get in the zone.  I stacked stuff in the cart like it was my job (because it kind of is).  I tuned out Eliza’s constant chatter just enough to stay focused, yet engage her at all the right pauses (she doesn’t take many). We kept going and going and going.  And when the last thing was crossed off the list, there was absolutely no room left for one. more. thing.  I know this for sure, because I had to make Eliza carry the last two items.

 

We unloaded everything onto the conveyor belt and I watched the eyes of the young cashier widen at the sheer number of items I had packed into the cart.  All I had to utter was “Eleven year old boy” and she quietly nodded in understanding.

 

Suddenly Eliza was by my side, with her new wallet she’d purchased at a garage sale the day before.  It has a monogrammed “M” on it, of course.  She motioned for me to lean down to her and put her hand up to my ear.

 

“I want to help you pay,” she whispered sweetly, pointing to the small mountain of pennies, dimes and nickels inside.

 

I truly tried to keep a straight face.  But the contrast between what she had and what I was going to need to pay was so huge that I had a hard time holding in my laughter for her very serious request.

 

There was a time, after Jesus taught in the temple, that he sat down and watched the people going in and out, attending to their own lives.  He watched them come in and put their offering money in the boxes, many of them making it apparent that they were giving large amounts.  But then there was a widow who put in two very small coins.  And Jesus called His disciples to him, pointed her out quietly and taught them what it means to live in an upside down kingdom.  “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together,” He told them.  “All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford— she gave her all.” (Mark 12:43-44)

 

And I think about Eliza and her purse full of coins she was willing to give to me—  and I wish I hadn’t laughed.  Because Eliza didn’t understand the gap between what I needed and what she had.  She was simply willing to give it all.

 

Somewhere along the lines, we realize the chasm between what little we have and what is needed…  and we start to believe the lie that what we have to offer won’t ever be enough.  We become afraid to give of ourselves generously.  Giving freely can make us feel vulnerable. It can shape how valuable we feel. So when we only have broken pieces to offer, we quietly hide them away, hoping no one will notice.

 

But what if we dared to give like the widow, not some, but all?  What if we gave until it hurt? Not just out of our abundance— but out of our poverty?

 

In our families.
In our time.
In our marriages.
In our finances.
In our church.

In the world.
In our souls.

 

Are we willing to give what we have to God when it doesn’t seem like enough?  When our lives are a mess and we don’t have it all put together, will we be brave enough to still give out of what we lack? Can we truly trust God to use our broken lives for His kingdom?

 

The truth is, we don’t know the end to the story.  We don’t know how the widow ate her next meal or if she went hungry.  The brilliant writer of the story left that part out, because he knew it didn’t matter.  The lesson is not in having a comfortable, wonderful, happy life… it’s learning to live dependent on God, willing to give what little we have, even if it doesn’t seem like much of anything.

 

May you surrender your broken “not enoughs” and find a way to give extravagantly today.  May you see the stark difference between what you have and what is needed and believe in God, who promises to transform it into enough.

 

Well, hello!
I’m so glad you’re here. I hope you’ll stick around so we can get to know one another a little more.  Go here if you’d like to receive my posts via email. I’ll even send you a little thank you gift!  –Sarah

Why you must fight for the heart of your child  2

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My older two kids are hovering around the double digit mark (Will is 11, Kate is 9) and I have lots of memories of who I was at their ages. Will is more like his dad every day, so I’m not always able to pick out the behaviors that take after me.  But Kate.  Oh boy.  She gives me flashbacks all the time. Sometimes she’ll let me sneak a peak into her journals and I’m shocked at how similar they are to my 9 year old ramblings.  Or I’ll slip into her room to turn off her light as I’m going to bed and she’ll give me a sheepish grin.  It takes me right back to those nights that I just couldn’t stop reading, even when my parents insisted that I go to sleep.

I love being a mom to elementary students, but I realize every day that the stakes are higher than I ever imagined.  It seems like every time I turn around, there’s something else we need to guide them through.

But there’s one resounding thought in my head as we have conversations about a million different things: As I fight for the heart of my kids, I also have to fight for my own heart.  Because if it’s not in me first, my words will fall on deaf ears.

Kids today value authenticity.  And if I don’t practice what I preach, there’s no way my words will hold any weight.  Now that may seem almost impossible, but the truth is, whatever I want my kids to become, I must lead the way. Sitting back and hoping that my kids turn out to be decent adults is not an option. It’s something that must be intentional, a goal we actively work toward together.

It doesn’t mean I have to be perfect, but it does mean I need to be honest.  With myself, with others around me, with my kids.  Because the truth is, if I waited until I had my life figured out, I would never  accomplish anything.  It just isn’t going to happen.  But if I’m willing to be honest, to have the hard conversations and not shy away from where I feel most inadequate, then I have a shot at fighting for the heart of my kids.

Last week I was the guest speaker for our mid-week kid’s ministry at church.  I told them a story that I’ve told many times: The Parable of the Mustard Seed (It’s in Mark 4).  Jesus told the story to his disciples to help them understand what the kingdom of God is.  So I had all of my little props in a box and one by one I pulled them out.  I showed them the jar of mustard seeds, tiny little things.  I told them that when it’s planted it becomes a big, big bush.  Then I showed them a nest with an egg in it, because Jesus said that the mustard bush is big enough for birds to build their nests in it and they are safe.

The kingdom of God is like that.  It started as just a rag-tag group of 12 disciples with Jesus and has become one of the biggest movements in the world.  Pretty amazing.  But maybe the story is also about our own faith journey.  We pray one tiny prayer to ask Jesus to forgive us, to change our hearts and lives and actions…. and that prayer grows and grows until Jesus creeps into every part of our life and we are changed forever, in the very best of ways.

I then asked those sweet kids if they were part of the Kingdom of God and if they remembered when they had asked Jesus to come into their heart.  Hands shot up everywhere.  “Tell me!” I said.  “I want to hear your stories!”

The first little girl told me how her mom had prayed with her in the middle of the night, after she had a bad dream.

A boy told me how he’d talked to his dad and afterward he had prayed.

Another boy loved skateboarding because his dad loved skateboarding and they heard a Christian skater talk about Jesus, so his testimony prompted the two of them to pray together.

Over and over, hands shot up and they bravely told me of the time they had become part of the kingdom of God.

You know what struck me the most?  The power parents have in ushering their child into the kingdom of God.  Parents who take opportunities to talk, teach, and pray with their kids. Teachers, pastors, and small group leaders are certainly important, but at the end of the day, it’s us as parents who hold the privilege of fighting for the heart of our children.

Now, I know the parents of many of those kids.  I know just how normal they are.  In fact, I recently talked to a mom about her feelings of inadequacy and discouragement as she seeks to lead her family.  But as she matures in her faith, she is finding out what it means to fight for the heart of her kids.  And the testimony of her daughter shows me that she’s doing just fine.

All the little seeds… five minutes of listening to what’s on our kiddos’ hearts, praying on the way to school, reading a Bible story together, saying “I’m sorry”… grow to become a big tree.

One of my favorite verses is in Deuternomy 6:

Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got! Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.

So, let me tell you this:  You have been chosen by God to be the parent to your child.  He does not gift you with the life of your child and then sit back, wondering how you’re going to handle this mess.  He leads you and guides you and gives you just the tools you need, even (especially?) when you feel enormously inadequate.  He fights for the heart of your child. But don’t you for one second forget that He fights for your heart, too.  So when you feel discouraged, get His commandments inside you.  Talk to your child about them in the every day tasks— in the school pick up line and as you make lunches.  Let your kids see you on your knees, praying for them.  Write a verse out and stick it next to the kitchen sink.  While you’re at it, make an extra copy for your child’s locker.  Keep the fight on the front of your mind and see how God works.  Don’t be a perfect parent… be an authentic parent.  And never ever give up the fight.

Six Ways to Turn Sorrow into Celebration  4

We were walking around Barnes & Noble when Kate said to me, “Someday when I grow up and have kids, will you buy them a book on Annie’s birthday?”  I laughed and teased her, “Well, what if you have six kids? How would I afford that?” Secretly, I hope that someday on Annie’s birthday I can take a whole truckload of grandkids to the bookstore and buy them a book.  I hope that years from now we’ll still be talking about the ways she changed us and how Jesus has led us from sorrow to celebration.  

We celebrated Annie’s seventh birthday a few weeks ago. Since she lived just six months, we never had a chance to have even one of those birthdays with her.

We’ve done something quite by accident, at least on our part. I have no doubt that when we were so fresh in our sorrow, Jesus led us to truly celebrate Annie’s birthday.  Each year the joy in this day seems to overwhelm the sorrow a little more and it’s something we now work to intentionally cultivate.

Sometimes I have these ideas for posts and I hesitate to write them because I feel so far from an “expert” on these things.  I don’t want you to think we have this all figured out, or that if you follow my suggestions life will suddenly be peachy. It’s awfully tricky to write about grief and healing because it’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of life.  But I’m pretty sure if I were to wait until I felt like an expert, I’d never write a single word.

So, full disclosure: Sometimes we knock it out of the park and feel like we’ve conquered the day.  Other times, we end the day in exhaustion, feeling like we’ve blown it.  Honestly, isn’t that like parenthood in general?

Here are six ways we’ve turned our sorrow into celebration:

We keep our expectations low.  We try not to make birthdays so elaborate that when things don’t go as planned, we end up depressed.  We expect there to be moments of sadness, moments when things are tense, moments when we feel so happy.  In spite of our best efforts, there will always be BIG FEELINGS for everyone, young and old… because behind it all is a sorrow for what we really wish for: a birthday girl, here with us.  When I have high expectations for everything to go beautifully and perfectly and then one of my kids has a bad attitude about something ridiculous (hypothetically, of course), I’m tempted to think the day is ruined.  But I have to step back and realize that we’re all sad in our own ways and it’s hard to express feelings on these days.  So it’s important for me to keep my expectations low, which makes it easier for everyone else to do the same.

We find a way to reach out.  Serving in our sorrow is always, always a blessing— to us and to others.  It’s impossible to stay stuck when you’re reaching out.  Each year we try to take the money we would love to be spending on Annie for gifts and instead we find ways to bless others, whether strangers or friends.  We’ve done different things over the years, but our favorite is to decorate envelopes and slip cash inside.  This year we put $20s in a few envelopes, then sat in our car and watched people find them.   It’s such a blast. We sat there and yelled and cheered inside our car and it was so much fun! It’s certainly not an original concept and there are a million ways to make someone’s day.  You could pay for someone’s meal or help out a single mom.  Get flowers for someone or be creative with a random act of kindness.  Providing others with something they need gives them joy and makes you joyful, too.

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See that little tiny envelope? It has $20 in it!

We establish loose traditions.  Every year we go to a bakery and eat cupcakes.  Ok, here’s the deal.    I decided this year we could probably find something more exciting, because the cupcakes are fine, but they aren’t amazing, you know? Ohmygoodness, my kids got so mad at me!  Apparently I messed with the wrong tradition. Lesson learned. We will continue to buy expensive, so-so cupcakes and I’m going to be okay with it.  Which means…

We go with the flow.  We’ve had seven birthdays now without Annie and we no longer have the luxury of stopping everything and taking a day to celebrate.  So we found the cracks of our week, stopping to remember where we’ve been and where God has taken us.   That meant that we had our adventure earlier in the month.  On the day of her birthday, after a full day of school and practices and small group, we  declared a late bedtime and had a little party with banana muffins and pink lemonade.  I want my family to remember these days as bittersweet, heavy on the sweet and light on the bitter.  Going with the flow and not demanding that everyone should stop everything and BE SAD WITH ME goes a long way in creating good memories.birthday celebration.003

We guard against isolation.  This one is tricky.  Listen, I know how tempting it is to cut off all communication.  Sometimes it’s good to step back and just reflect.  But there’s a danger in isolating ourselves in our grief.  Others are grieving the loss, too, and it’s good to give them permission to grieve along.  I’ll often post on social media when the day is coming, even when it’s hard for me.  One year we collected books for the hospital and we asked others to give.  It was a great way for our friends to join us in our grief.  On the flip side, if you feel quiet, be quiet.  There’s also something very freeing about not blasting your feelings everywhere and being quiet. So basically, do what you need to do, but beware of isolating yourself in an unhealthy way.

We work on extending grace to others. We’ve all had it happen.  Someone says something that offensive or makes it worse and I just can’t believe they would have the audacity to be so unhelpful.  Those are the moments I have a choice.  I can be angry and let it take over my thoughts… or I can be gracious to them, realizing that they most likely did not try to offend me.  In fact, haven’t we all been there, when we desperately want to say something to help, but instead we end up saying something crazy or stupid?  At those moments, I must choose to extend the grace that Jesus has shown me.   It’s not easy, but it’s what I would hope others would do for me when I make the same blunder.  I have to work to see the good intention behind the hurtful words.

 

So another birthday has come and gone, filled with joy and sorrow, good and bad.  We made some good memories and we powered through some hard moments.  We ate the cupcakes and stayed up late, which seemed like a good decision, but ended up making the next morning a little rough.  Whatever.

birthday celebration.004Someday, when I load up all my grandkids to buy them cupcakes and books, I’ll remember the first hard years, squeeze them a little tighter and be thankful for the ways we intentionally celebrate how God is holding us until the day we can all be together with Him.

May you, in your hard anniversaries, have the courage to face the days with hope that God will turn your tears into joy.  May you see that His good gifts don’t end in death. He will restore you if you just hold on.

 

P.S.  A few weeks ago, I wrote for the #oncomingalive project.  If you’d like to take a look, you can find it here.

The Power of Naming our Gifts  11

IMG_1042Peter and I were at a conference a few years ago and the man speaking to us asked us to write the full names of our children on a sheet of paper.

So I wrote:

William Thomas
Kate Lillian
Annie Jane
Eliza Grace

You’d think that something so simple wouldn’t be that big a deal, but as I sat there, I stared at their names, a million memories flooding through my head connected to each one.  I thought about the conversations Peter and I had about what we would call them.  I remembered driving our extended family crazy by keeping those names a secret until the kids made their official appearance into the world.  We held their names close and treasured them.

Annie was born by c-section and we have this incredibly precious footage of her first hour, while I was still in the recovery room.  Peter was left alone with her and the camera is pointed on her little body stretching for the first time, her eyes blinking slowly, his hand resting on her stomach.  “We think we’re going to name you Annie Jane,” he says softly.

I will never forget those first few times we looked into each of our children’s eyes and said their names out loud.  Something about the tiny bundle of blanket with such a great big name seemed holy.

The very first job God gave Adam after He created the earth was to name the animals.  And when I think about that, I wonder why.  Surely, God deserved that job since He did the hard work of creating.  Instead, He turned to Adam and handed him the sweet privilege of calling out giraffe and spider and chicken (or something like that).

When William and Kate come home from school each day—  him at 2:25, her at 3:50, I try to be wrap up my task at hand and look into their eyes.  They both have so much to say, if I’m willing to listen, because there’s something important about naming our days.  Recounting what happened matters to them. Sometimes I forget that and I get frustrated as I try to finish up just one last thing (except there always seems to be another “one last thing”).  But when I let the day slip away without letting them rehash it with me, we both lose out.  They love to name the day.  When I have the discipline to listen, I learn about what’s important to them, what pressures they’re facing, what joys they have.

Is it possible that in our Naming— in the big ways and little ways— we are in fact calling out gifts?  If we take the time to name the good, we are practicing our thankfulness?

I’m smack in the middle of a book that has gotten under my skin in the very best way.  It’s called “Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World” and Kristen Welch has opened my eyes to all the ways we find ourselves entitled.  She writes about a man named Robert Emmons from the University of California, Berkeley who has worked as co-director of The Gratitude Project.

He says this: “In all its manifestations, a preoccupation with the self can cause us to forget our benefits and our benefactors or to feel that we are owed things from others and therefore have no reason to feel thankful. Counting blessings will be ineffective because grievances will always outnumber gifts.”

There’s something good about naming our gifts or counting our blessings or whatever you’d like to call it.  But it becomes something powerful when we name it out loud, when we talk about it as a family or write it down.  The words slip off our tongue and we are reminded of  God who trusts us, as He did with Adam, to Name. It causes the bad to fade and the good to brighten.

Our kids don’t learn this naturally and neither do we. Because our natural intent is to focus on what we don’t have, rather than what we do have.  There is always something to be thankful for, but it’s often hiding behind the much bigger thing that we don’t have or think we need.  Thankfulness hides behind “if onlys” and “as soon as”.  If we can train ourselves to dig for the gifts, to name the blessings, we begin to see we are owed nothing.  Instead, God has given us such gifts of grace that we don’t deserve.

Kristen says, “How often have I given thanks to God or to someone else and then turned around and complained or asked for more with the next breath?” The truth is, life is hard and when everything grinds to a halt, we have to work hard to give thanks.  And sometimes I talk myself into believing I’m owed more.  The grief of my life lies just under the surface and bubbles up much more easily than the gifts that take work to uncover.

However, the work of naming the gifts brings life to my soul and redeems my pain. It takes the sting out of my suffering.

I found that piece of paper with my kids’ names on it the other day.  I had it in my Bible and it fell out as I looked for something else.  Not only had I written the names of my children, but next to them were the words I first thought of when I looked at their names.

Joyful.  Wise.  Empathetic.  Thoughtful.  Funny.  Gracious.

We name our children when they are born, but we continue to name them as they grow.  And as we name them, we practice gratefulness and teach them to be thankful.

When Eliza prays, every statement begins with “Thank you.”
Thank you that you will take care of us.
     Thank you that we will have a good dinner.
     Thank you ….

How she calls out gifts and thanks God is not lost on me.  In the little, everyday after-school moments, as well as the big, life-changing ones, may we have the courage to name the gifts.  Not only for our benefit, but for the ones who are watching us so closely. And may you see that God has created you to Name.  He hands you the gift, much like He did to Adam.  Let the words slip off your tongue and you will see just how good He is.

 

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I’m excited to co-host a blog hop today inspired by Kristen Welch’s “Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World”.  Be sure to check out these great articles on gratefulness by others on our team:

Inspiring an Attitude of Gratitude – by Alison

Rasisng Grateful Kids – by amanda

Why You Can’t Buy Gratitude At The Dollar Store – by Andrea

Missing – Gratefulness in our home – by Ange 

Choosing Gratitude – by Angela

Gratefullness – by chaley

5 Steps to Gratitude-Fille Family – by Christa

Practicing Grateful Parenting – by Dana

Sing a Song – by Hannah

Cultivating gratitude in our family – by Jamie

Gratefulness In Our Home – by Jana

Gratefulness In Our Home – by Jana

Let It Begin With Me – by Jen

Choosing Gratefulness – by Jennifer

Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World – The Book – by jeri

Eradicating Entitlement – What are you rooted in? – by Jessica

Gratefulness in our home – by Kate

The Problem With Entitlement is that it begins with us – by Katelyn

7 Unusual Ways I Know How to Be Grateful – by Kathryn

Raising Grateful Kids – by Keri

How My Children Remind Me to Pray with Gratitude – by Kishona

Grateful – by Kristy

Entitlement: The Ugly Truth of a Beautiful Lie – by Leigha

The Most Important Thing You Can Do To Raise Grateful Kids – by Lindsey

Dear Son: How Do I Teach You To Be Grateful Without Guilt? – by Marie Osborne

Gratitude, A Practical Definition – by Mia

Cultivating Gratitude in Our Home – by Nancy

Learning Gratitude through Chronic Illness – by Rachel

Being Grateful – by Rebecca

I’ve Found Something I Can’t Live Without – by Sarah

The Power of Naming our Gifts – by Sarah

Outfitted – by Sarah Jo

Growing Gratitude in our Family – by Sondra

Teaching Gratefulness – by Stephanie

How Grateful Looks From Here – by Alison 

Fighting Entitlement in Children and All of us – by Leah

Entitlement Problem – by Karrie

Grateful Today – by Krystal

Letting Go of the Frenzy of December  0

 

IMG_0155 (2)It’s the first week of Advent.

The days are short and dreary.  I just pulled on an extra sweater and resorted to socks and slippers. But my heart is thinking of my friends in Haiti.

And I’m fairly certain they don’t even own a pair of socks, or would, even if they could afford them.  Because pretty much, Haiti is the hottest place on earth.

One of the reasons I love Haiti so much is that it strips away all that I know or pretend to know. When I step off that plane and the first blast of hot air hits my face, I start to recalibrate.  The things I think are so important start to slip away and I’m reminded of what really matters.

The greatest thing happened because I was able to visit these people three times in just over a year… It quit being a “mission trip” and instead became a trip to visit friends.  Having so much concentrated time in their lives means I can remember their names, their stories.  The rhythms of the days, the conversations, the landmarks all run through my head almost every day and they’re reshaping my thoughts and the way I want to live my life.

I walked through those dusty streets, with four kids on a side, all clambering to get closer, rubbing their hands on my pale skin, chattering 100 miles an hour.  Adults would look at us with empty eyes, not a trace of a smile until we called out, “Good morning!” to them and their faces exploded into a smile.

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(Of course I had to include this picture. I mean, the cutest kid in the world is wearing a SANTA CLAUS shirt.)

I can’t explain it, really, but we spend our week walking and talking.  Not really doing anything earth shattering or life changing.  We simply build relationships… and they teach me so much.

I stood in front of a Haitian church full of people, talking about my Annie and what it means to be blessed.  And I cried— because I always cry— but it was more than the sorrow I feel over losing her.  Instead, I cried because I was speaking to a whole church of people who have suffered deeply.  Who have lost so much and still rejoice.  Who have gone without and still declare that God is good.

We’ve been home now for six weeks, but in many ways we are still processing what we saw and heard and what to do with what we’ve been given.  Because these trips don’t end when you get home.  They get buried in your heart and mind.

So when my inbox is flooded with black friday deals and I have to begin a clipboard of lists in order to keep everything in December straight, I find myself caught in a mental tug of war.  What really matters?  If Aldine or Lovely or Ricardo were visiting me, what would they think about my life?

We have been trained to be overwhelmed and busy during this season.  Oh sure, it’s not what we wish for, but what can we do about it?  Before we know it, we wear our stress like a badge of honor.

And I can’t help but wonder if we subconsciously pile on a layer of stress in order not to face what’s really going on in our lives.  After all, if we spend every minute preparing and rushing, then we don’t have to face our feelings of sadness, of disappointment, of emptiness that are buried under all of our errands and anxiousness.

If we keep our minds on the surface, on the next place we have to run, then we have no space in our heads to think about what it means to anticipate the birth of Jesus. When our heads hit the pillow in exhaustion, we quickly forget the significant, the eternal, instead overcome by menial tasks.

So we buy more presents, make more food and keep adding to the lists, convincing ourselves this is the way to have a meaningful Christmas… but in the end, our hearts feel hollow and joyless.

Paul writes, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God.” (Romans 12:2, The Message)

What would happen if we quieted our hearts and our minds?  If we risked buying less for everyone and instead focused on loving deeply? What if— gasp—  I decided to cross a few things off my list without doing them? Surely the world wouldn’t stop spinning?

What if I’d be intentional about giving more to others?  Not just  collecting hats and mittens locally, or giving to people around the world, though I’m certainly advocating for those things.  I’m talking about giving my time to really sit and talk to someone who is having a hard time this season.  I’m talking about inviting a family over that needs some encouraging.  I’m talking about stopping my busy frenzy when the kids come home from school, sitting and looking at them in the eyes when they walk in the door, ready to tell me about their day.

My Haitian friends are teaching me that there’s so much more to life than I think.  They, who have lost so much and have so little to give, have given me the biggest gift of all.  They’re teaching me to move slowly through life, digging through the sorrow to find the hope Jesus brings.

May you find these treasures during this month, even if it means you must cross a few things off your lists without doing them.  May you be brave enough to reach out for the great joy that Jesus is handing you… because only then will you be able to fill your hollow heart.

 

Suggested Resources:

The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp (And here’s the version we’re using as a family)
Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World by Kristen Welch (I’m part of a launch team to promote this amazing book, so you’ll be hearing more.  When you preorder, you’ll get a great Global Family Kit)