Category: life & everyday

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 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. 

Three Ways I Instill Hope in My Kids  0

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And it makes all the difference.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

My Three Favorite Books on Loss & Hope  0

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

End of Year Goodness  0

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

 

 

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

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

Here are the top posts of 2016:

 

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

 

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

 

{Did you download my new eBook?}

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

 

 

 


 

 

 

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

 

xo,

Sarah