Who Speaks for God?

Here’s a thing, ya’ll. If you are not involved in a small group of some kind, you are totally missing out. As someone who stood skeptically on the sidelines with a “I’ll wait and see” attitude as our pastors rolled out the plan for 3G (Grace Growth Groups), I can testify that I now realize being a part of a group of people dedicated to loving God and growing together in knowing Him is one of the greatest blessings of my life.

Today our 3G was full of laughter and conversation, then focus and thoughtfulness as we discussed the sermon from this morning and sought to apply it to our lives. As we talked over 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 a question was asked, “Who speaks for God in your life?” The context was a discussion of how we can keep the “unseen things” of verse 18 in front of our thoughts.

That question continues to rattle around in my brain, though we said our goodbyes and went our own ways several hours ago. Clearly, God speaks through the world He has made and even more so through His Word. But God hasn’t designed us to be solitary, lone-ranger Christians. We need those around us to remind us of what we can’t see – the “unseen things” that give affiliations the perspective required to appear “light and momentary.” So who speaks for God in my life?

For me, the answer is found in family and friends (particularly those who are willing to NOT agree with me all the time), church family (like my fablous 3G), authors whose books point me to Jesus (like Grudem, Welch, and DeMoss who I’m reading now) and even musicians (like the Gettys, Steven Curtis Chapman, Andrew Peterson, and the whole gang at Sovereign Grace Music) whose melodies and lyrics direct my thoughts to the unseen realities of life. And I need them all.

Contemplating the upcoming move to Texas has made me realize this so much more. I can’t do life without people speaking for God around me. The books and music will travel with me, and the family and friends will be accessible (thank you, Face Time) but this is the first time ever, that I’ve actually had to stop and contemplate where to worship. In the Wild West of CA there wasn’t much of an option, and the rest of my life I’ve pretty much lived here. So my question is, “Who will speak for God to me?” Where will I choose to plant my spiritual life, and what will keep me there when it’s different from what I’ve known before? Tough question – but one I’m excited to prayerfully consider and contemplate.

For now I’m thankful for those here who live life with me and speak truth to me. What an incredible blessing is the church!  And particularly my 3G (though I’m prolly slightly biased).

Just a Little Lie

One of the great joys of my life is the opportunity to teach middle school students on Wednesday nights at my church. The years between 9-14 are some of my favorite. As I like to put it, they are old enough to have great conversations and still young enough to not think they know it all (nothing against my fabulous highschoolers, of course).

The last couple weeks we’ve started a new study using the book “Lies Young Women Believe” as a base. There are a few (brave) dudes in the class so we’ve modified it to “Lies Young People Believe” and I promised them we’d skip over all the girly bits.

This week, I got to teach on one of the big lies we find ourselves believing about God – God is not enough. It was so encouraging to see the kids engage with the Scriptures and speak up willingly about their own struggles to believe what is true. However, I didn’t anticipate the importance my own (re)study of this lie and the truth that combats it would be in my life.

As I find myself contemplating a move to a new State (this summer), beginning  the pursuit of my Masters Degree (this fall), continuing to ween off of some long-time medications (this spring), and getting involved in a new business (also this spring) I seem to have more frequent opportunities to give into these two lies. “If only” is a phrase that pops up in my mind again and again.

“If only I didn’t have to leave my family to go to A&M.”

“If only I could get completely off this medication right now.”

“If only I was less afraid of meeting new people.”

I could add more.

But, as I found myself teaching Wednesday night, “if only” is a cleaned-up way to say “God, you are good but I need this other thing too.” God plus my family. God plus being medication free. God plus the personality of a social butterfly.

Ouch.

That’s another thing about teaching middle school kids, their honesty inspires your own. In the two days since I’ve taught, I see where I believe this lie in so many areas – way more than I care to mention here. Thankfully, I also got the chance to teach how to combat this lie – and I’ve needed that desperately.

God’s Word is full of teaching about the reality of God being enough, but the one that’s been on my mind most is Psalm 73:25 “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”

This is what I want for my heart. This is what I want for my kids. Thankfully, this exactly what the Holy Spirit can work in me. Which is great news for my lie-believing self.

Dear Jerry

Hey Jerry,

Sorry I didn’t get you down from the shelf last week. I totally forgot about you, buddy! I’ll do better next Tuesday.

You get so many great letters from the One Room students – I’ve spent the last few minutes reading over some of my favorites. Do you remember the one about how volleyball was a “girly” sport? That writer is captain of her squad this year. Or the one by a senior who was ready for some responsibility and leadership? He still drops by every week just to help out around the class. And what about that first graduate, the one who was so full of ASL dreams? She’s a teacher now, Jerry – and her ASL classes rock! There’s that one about unicorn breeding, the ones about loss, the ones about belonging, the coin collector, the cosplayer, the bold young writers who wanted to change the world.

I had someone ask me today, Jerry, just what One Room was all about. Well you know me, I could talk academics and environment and integrated learning all day long. But what I really wanted to tell her was, “Check out a blog, dedicated to arguably the most obsurd mascot a group of people ever rallied behind. Read what they write. That’s where you’ll get an idea of what One Room is really all about.”

You’ve had the front row seat on this crazy adventure. You’ve seen us laugh together, cry together, pray together, celebrate together. I’m pretty sure you watched the first week of “after class tears” that came pouting out of an overwhelmed teacher. You got to sit in when presentations were given in Swahili, and certain favored troublemakers got jokingly told off in French. I think you probably hold the record for most play rehearsals attended (and no, there is no way you can cameo as the crocodile in this year’s performance!). You’ve been hidden, photographed, decorated and enthroned and I count it among my greatest accomplishments that you’ve not yet lost one of your skeletal limbs.

Wow! This letter, which I thought would be a quick “hey there” note, has turned into a jaunt down memory lane. I better stop before it gets too sappy.

We’ve had some great times, Jerry. Here’s to at least eight months more!

Your deskmate.

PS – read Letters to Jerry, folks, and get a peek into my little world.

These Strange Ashes

I do not remember how the book “These Strange Ashes” first came into my hands, but I will never forget the first time I sat down to read it. In it, Elisabeth Elliot tells the story of her first year as a missionary in Ecuador (before she married Jim) and the trials that occurred (and they were many and significant). I got as far as the end of the introduction, where I read the sentence that has since framed my often overwhelming struggle through disappointment, pain, fear, discouragement and the numerous times I have looked at the road ahead and wondered “Where do I go from here?”

In the moments of desperation, the words on the page are vivid in my memory (right side, just over halfway down in that first copy I read).

“Of one thing I am perfectly sure: God’s story never ends with ‘ashes.'”

Never ends in ashes. How often have I found myself looking around at the tatters of life and seen nothing but ashes. How often wondered if I had reached the end of the story and perhaps there was nothing else good to come. But in one simple sentence, and a life full of faithfulness, even though ashes, Elisabeth Elliot reminds me to keep trusting in a God who always finishes the story with good.

This week, Elisabeth Elliot learned more about the fabulous end to the story than I know now. She discovered that all she had written and believed and helped me to learn was more than true, that God’s story ends in the glory of worship and perfection and the undoing of all the trials of life. She understands the ashes. What incredible joy is now hers!

I am thankful that her work continues to stand as a legacy and signpost to fellow travelers on the road. I am thankful that God used her early trials, the difficulties of that first year overseas, to teach her what to do with the “strange ashes” of life, so that many years later, her little book could teach a struggling seventeen year old. I am thankful that she now joins the great crowd of witnesses, whose example of simple trust in a faithful God encourages me to journey onward.

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Discipleship Thoughts …. and Newsies

So I started with my new discipleship group today. Three single gals, all around the same age, all (soon to be) living with family, all pursuing great careers, all sooooo happy to be sharing food, laughter and Jesus over the table this morning. What really should have been an hour and a half proposition turned into three hours of stories — learning each other and bringing the Gospel to bear on our lives. We’re journeying through a little book called The Dangerous Duty of Delight (J. Piper, Multnomah. 2001) and I’m sure it’s going to be a wonderful trip.

We couldn’t be more different – the FSU fan, the UCF fan, and me. We couldn’t be more the same. Here’s what I learned that we share.

– we are all sinners

– we all trust Jesus to rescue us

– we all desperately want to be more like Him

– we all need each other

If that were all, that would be enough. Enough that we see our sin, love our Savior and want to do more of both together.

Buuuuuuut … turns out we also share something else. A love of musicals. Disney musicals. Okay, Newsies. (and okay a lot of other musicals too)

It’s a pretty great mix … musicals and discipleship. And food and discipleship. And friends and discipleship. I can’t wait to get to it together.

Welcome to My Garden

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This is my garden.

Not much to look at, right? At least not yet. It needs a lot of work.

This garden is my new project as I look forward to spending the next 15 months in Florida, rather than moving to Texas in the fall as I had originally planned. Texas is still in the game, and I am excited about the possibility of continuing my education in 2016, but for the next year – I’m staying planted.

And I’m growing a garden. Because aproximately 450 days is plenty of time to grow stuff (or kill lots of plants, depending on how things go). It’s also plenty of time to spend getting my hands dirty and working hard and taking my time and making something beautiful.

I’m looking forward to it. Looking forward to dirt under my fingernails and sweat and all that I can learn from developing a garden over the next year. It will be an adventure, maybe not quite the one I was planning on a few months ago, but just the adventure I need for now.

To My Brother the Night Before His Wedding

Dear Dude:

I feel like I should say something to the effect of “how is this happening?” and “when did you get so old?” But you and I have spent so much time laughing at tired cliches that it seems ridiculous to include them now.

It does, however, seem like I’ve simply blinked and the time is gone. My memories of the day you were born are still so vivid – seeing you, a squirmy and blood-covered newborn, and feeling overwhelmed at how wonderful you were. How different it was to have a brother! I didn’t quite know what to do with a boy (thus those fantastic blackmail pictures of you in numerous dresses, bows and bonnets) but you helped me learn.

Through the years you’ve taught me so many things – like how to make the best French Toast (and

Christmas, back when I was bigger.

Christmas, back when I was bigger.

spaghetti), how to shoot an airsoft pistol, and all about cars (or not). More importantly than that, you’ve taught me to be kind, that it’s okay to just be myself, to look out for those that others might ignore, and that it’s cool to be a jungle gym for toddlers. You’ve shown me how to be a better big sister by loving me through the hard days and taught me forgiveness by modeling it and forgiving my many sins against you. As we’ve grown, you have become one of my dearest friends.

And now, it’s the night before your wedding day. While I am ridiculously excited to see what we have prayed about for so long finally happen, I confess to being a bit wistful as well. Since the moment I witnessed your first breath, I’ve felt that you were specially mine. And over and over you’ve made me feel incredibly loved and particularly blessed to be your sister.

Thanks for the stupid valentines and ridiculous text messages. Thanks for the coffee dates, and movie

Christmas, when he was bigger than me

Christmas, when he was bigger than me.

dates, and “come meet me in the parking lot because I locked my keys in the car again” dates. Thanks for buying me chocolate, and asking me to edit your papers, and not killing me while we struggled through homeschooling together. Thanks for asking me to be your “plus one,” and noticing when I get my hair cut, and never hesitating to help me out as soon as (or even before) I ask. Thanks for moving my furniture (a lot), and taking me to the airport, and talking theology, history, politics and sci-fi with me. Thanks for asking how you can pray for me, for being my dance partner, for offering to beat up guys who broke my heart. Thanks for being the most wonderful younger brother a girl could ask for.

As you pledge yourself to Kelsi tomorrow and move into a new stage of life, know that I will be praying for you. I’m praying that you would continue to be a mighty man of God, sacrificially leading and loving your wife and seeking to glorify your Heavenly Father in your marriage. I’m praying that you follow God’s leading on this marvelous adventure called life and that He will use you and Kelsi to spread His gospel wherever you are.

So get on with this wedding Dude! Run (or walk, please, because the last thing we need is a limping groom), run you clever boy and remember … your big sister loves you muchly and for always!

~ Sar

I Want to See Mountains

True confession time … until last year, I had never actually read straight through JRR Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring.

I’ll pause for those of you who are shocked to catch your breath.

You okay? Good.

Yes, although I had read adaptions, as well as large portions of the book (and seen the movie, of course) I’d never gone all the way through the book. (don’t ask me about when if I actually read the others in the trilogy either) What’s important is that I did read it … and loved it!

Today, as I sit on my cousin’s back porch, looking out over the Rocky Mountains, enjoying the cool weather and the softly falling twilight over the peaks, I can’t help but agree with Bilbo, as he confesses to Gandalf …

“I want to see mountains again, Gandalf, mountains, and then find somewhere where I can rest. I want peace …”

There is something about the towering bulk in front of me that makes me calm and still. I don’t know if it’s how small I seem as I’m dwarfed by something so big (though I am slightly taller than a hobbit) or if it is the feeling of protection and seclusion that comes from mountains all around. More likely it has something to do with how the mountains make me think so quickly of God.

King David said, “By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas;
the one who by his might established the mountains, being girded with might;
who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples,
so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.”

The mountains, like the oceans, like the night sky, like the sunrise, speak to me of the God who created them. They make me feel small … and I am, because God is so much greater than anything He’s made. They make me feel protected … and I am, because God has claimed me as His own and promised to be with me always. They make me feel calm, peaceful and still … and I should be, because my Savior has promised to keep me all the way home.

I’m so happy to see mountains again.

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Remember That??

Remember that time when I blogged something super personal, with a plan to follow it up with other posts about what I’ve learned through the hardest years of my life? Remember how the post sort of attracted a following and suddenly I was getting hits on the blog from all over the world? Remember how women I knew (and those I didn’t know) came out of the woodwork to tell me their stories? Remember how I freaked out a little bit and refused to even look at my blog for awhile?

Remember all that?

No?

Oh good.

I’ll pretend that I don’t remember it either then, and let’s just see if I can take my (refocused and calm) thoughts back to where I left off and start writing again. There is an urgency now that wasn’t there before, spurred on by the stories that have come to me in the last couple months. I’ve stopped counting the emails and Facebook messages that tell me about aunts, mothers, sisters, or daughters whose stories intersect with my own. What I can’t forget are the voices, some whispering or cracking with emotions, as they confess, “I’ve never told anyone this before.” Those faces I can’t get out of my head, all the tears shared and promises remembered together.

So let’s take a couple deep breaths and dive into the hard stuff. Let’s talk about fear, shame, secrets, scars, darkness and the God who radically changed everything when He became one of us. I can’t promise it will be consistent or that I won’t take every opportunity to write about the craziness of my fantastic niece or the amazing kids I teach instead. What I can promise is to keep reading the emails and listening to the stories and writing about the God who rescues, redeems and restores.

Empty and Full

*This blog post was written over six months ago, on the anniversary of the event mentioned. Over the next several weeks I hope to write more on the lessons and truths that God has uncovered to my heart in the last four years.*

“I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty.”

She was a widow, a mother who had buried her children, a woman returning with nothing to a homeland that seemed to hold no hope or promise. When she’d left it had been with husband and sons by her side, with hope of a better life and promise of return. Now, despite a tenacious daughter-in-law who refused to leave her, Naomi calls herself Mara, bitter, and her simple statement aches with sorrow.

“I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty.”

She was a survivor, a teacher in a country filled with terrorism, a young woman returning with broken dreams and confusion to a homeland that seemed to hold no familiarity or peace. When she’d left it had been with huge dreams and hopes, with excited plans and naive innocence. Now, despite a family enveloping her with love, she feels indelibly soiled by the hurt done to her. Her heart echos Naomi, sick with grief.

~~~~~

Spilt-Water-pastel-blueNaomi’s story we know, and because we know the ending it’s easy to forget that she didn’t. We read her statement quickly, there in the first chapter of Ruth, eager to move on to the good stuff … after all Boaz is right around the corner. Maybe we pause to wonder at how bitter she sounds and … is she blaming God? Really, Naomi, have some faith!

At least, that’s how I used to read Naomi’s story. Until a night four years ago, when I became a survivor of sexual assault at the hands of a stranger in a plane, thousands of feet above Central Asia. Before my foot even touched the ground in the country where I would spend the better part of the next two years, my world shrunk to a microscopic, introspective level as I wrestled through shattered emotions and the echoing question, ‘God, where were you?’

It’s been a long road since that night. A dark path through the Valley of the Shadow, where the enemy’s whispers seem insidiously to come from your own mind and you can’t see where your foot will land once you pick it up. So many things I tried, from empty distractions or throwing myself into my work to dark thoughts and endless soul-searching – but there was no help for me there.

That’s when Naomi and I became sisters. When my heart understood why she wanted to be called Mara. I wanted to change my name too.

But Naomi’s story doesn’t end with her bitter return to her home. And thankfully, neither did mine. Our empty hearts found refilling from the same well, the Fountain of Living Water. Naomi and I needed need a Savior, and that is exactly where two sad stories turn amazing.

At the end of the book of Ruth, we find Naomi cradling her grandson as her friends proclaim,  “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life …” Empty Mara is filled by the hope of a redeemer.

In the four years that I’ve struggled to come to grips with the reality of what happened that night I’ve come to the unshakable conviction that this Redeemer is my only hope as well. I can’t unmake my past or wish away anything that has been done to me. But my awesome Savior takes what is broken and heals. His grace covers my wounds. His love overwhelms my sadness. He fills the empty.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
(Psalm 16:11)