Ordinary Places

Ordinary.

That word just makes me flinch. I’ve tried my whole 24 years not to be ordinary, boring, and unexciting.

Don’t lie and tell me you haven’t kinda always combined ordinary with boring.

I just finished reading Shannan Martin’s new book, The Ministry of Ordinary Places. I started reading it because I simply love Shannon Martin and her heart, but I was also curious. In my mind, ministry and ordinary don’t go hand in hand.

Then I started it.

From the introduction, she had me hooked:

“I always thought being called by God was a rare and special thing that happened to only a slim percentage of unlucky people….”

She writes, “Whenever (“the call”) popped up, I kindly reminded God that I’m not that kind of woman. I’m indoorsy, with a sensitive gag

reflex and a mortal phobia of outhouses. I’m not the best choice for a day trip to a state park, much less a mission field”.

I sympathize with her, but I feel the opposite way. I feel the call to go, but circumstances have kept me from going to the mission field

long-term. I am much more comfortable on the mission field than I am in suburban America.

This idea of ordinary places mattering and staying vs going is not a new dilemma in my life. I feel like it’s a constant battle to be content.

Recently, I found peace in being right here (Mansfield), right now. Shannan Martin just drove the feeling home into my heart with these words:

“God got busy shrinking the world as I knew it down to a pinhole, one solitary shaft of light. ‘The souls exists and is built entirely out of

attentiveness,’ wrote Mary Oliver. Rather than feeling stuck in a problem-sodden world I would never be able to fix, God was caring for my soul

by pointing me towards my corner of it and asking me to believe it was enough”.

That challenged me. Was it enough? Could it be enough? If I were to stay in America, in Mansfield, Ohio, for the rest of my life, would that be enough?

I just got back from a JH retreat. I’m a small group leader for 6th grade girls.

It was exhausting and life-giving all rolled into one. They have SO much energy! It’s like most middle schoolers are the energizer bunny with no

off switch. I drank A LOT of coffee that weekend, but I had that in the back of my head.

If you were to stay, right here, in Mansfield, for the rest of your life, would that be enough? Would listening, loving, and pointing these girls toward

Me be enough? It’s not as extraordinary as helping starving orphans in Mexico or loving on kids in Africa.

Would this-sacrificing sleep to love on a girl who may not know what that looks like-be enough?

Would simply giving a hug and smiling to a girl who may not have had a great day be enough?

Would complimenting a smile or anything she does well to a girl who never feels like she’s good enough be enough?

These thoughts were going through my head this weekend.

I say I’m content and at peace with staying here-right here-indefinitely, but would that be enough?

I really struggled with that, but then I held a girl and she was holding back tears. I looked in her sweet face and I got a glimpse of the fact that

she had the weight of the world on her shoulders. She was hugging me like I was her lifeline.

That broke me.

I remember what it was like to be in middle school, everything is so confusing-so hard.

Hugging her tightly, wishing I could carry part of her burden, I realized I’m starting to believe this is enough.

This life of “ordinary” is enough.

“In a world that pushes us toward bigger, better, more costly and refined, seeing the humble as radiant is an act of holy resistance.

Jesus dealt in seeds and sails. He spoke through dust and sermonized in spit. Set against a backdrop of faithlessness, lawlessness,

and low-grade despair, he brought faith and healing through the overlooked, unspectacular elements of everyday life. He’s right here, in

every dull, dusty corner, and even more in every one of us bumbling, regular, milk-mustached kids trying to masquerade as big shots. This is

why we need him near, and why it matters that we stick together”.

When I read that the second time (yes I read the book twice in two days), it stuck with me.

This is my corner of the world.

MCS. These girls. My bible study. Mansfield.

This is my corner of the world.

These are my people.

My heart is still in Ukraine and scattered all over this world, but this is my corner of the world right now.

Holding that girl in my arms, and just sitting on the sidewalk with her, I started to believe that this is enough.

So if you need me, I’ll be circled around a bonfire loving people in my corner of the world.

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4 More Things My TBI Has Taught Me

It’s been almost 22 months since my accident. I think when I hit the two year mark I’ll stop counting but right now, it’s still pretty relevant in my life. I’m not to the maximum recovery mark yet. Here’s just a few things that I’ve learned about myself and God though this hard-oh so hard-but holy season.

  • It’s okay to not be okay.

The longer this season goes on, the less I believe this until I’m hit upside the head with reality of this. It’s been 22 months, for Pete’s sake. I should be okay, but there are times, I’m still not okay.  I started It’s Okay Not to Be Okay by Sheila Walsh. She hits me upside the head with this fact when she says, “The scars tell God’s love story. Some of our scars show on the surface, but some are hidden deep inside, wounds from things that were done to us, or from choices we’ve made and secrets we’ve kept. The love of God invites us to bring our scars into the light. We don’t have to hide anymore. It really is okay not to be okay.” Regardless of whether I feel like I should be okay, it’s okay to still have bad days-to still have days where it takes everything I have to breathe and remain standing.

  • I”M NOT CRAZY. I’m not alone.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m the only one in the world that has gone through this because my brain works so much differently than the rest of my family. I can say or do something and everyone looks at me with a puzzled expression. It is so hard to let people into my brain, and I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. At times like this, the tendency is to isolate myself, but that further feeds my anxiety and depression. I’ll found a support group of people who have suffered a TBI. They offer suggestions of things I haven’t tried yet and remind me that I’m never alone.

  • Life looks totally different now, but that’s okay.

They say comparison is the thief of joy and they are correct. I definitely don’t have an area of my life that even closely resembles“put-together”. It’s hard not to feel jealous or sad because it seems like everyone else my age has at least one area of their life going for them. I’m challenged to take a deep breath whenever I’m tempted to feel that way and remember that 22 months ago, I almost died. Yes, my life looks totally different because things that were important then are not important now. It’s okay to still be searching for that spark and not have life figured out. I’m breathing. It’s a good day.

  • It’s okay to need A LOT of rest. And I mean A LOT.

Sometimes, I forget that I have a TBI and I try to do everything, then my body knocks me on the ground with a headache that won’t quit. In those times, I find that I sleep for hours and hours. When I wake up, my first instinct is to be upset at myself for the hours “wasted”, but then I realize that my body needed that. I remember then of the need to pace myself and my energy so I don’t hit that wall again. The key is to REST. A lot. Like crazy amounts. Like newborn baby or cat amounts.

Remember God.

I just finished Remember God by Annie F. Downs.

OH MY GOODNESS!

The way she is honest and vulnerable with her story makes me cry.

Her story speaks to my story in that I also wonder if He is truly good and truly kind. If He doesn’t just tell me what I want to hear without any plans of following through with what He says. If the things I hope are in His script for my life, aren’t simply just vapors of hope.

I had hoped to go back to hospital nursing a year ago, and it seems like every step forward meets two steps back. I’m still moving forward just a whole lot slower than I had hoped or envisioned.

I had hoped to be overseas at this point, but my car accident threw a wrench in those plans 21 months ago.

At times like these, I return to the question that’s been mulling in my brain for the last 21 months-is God good? Annie takes it a little further-is God kind?

If I’m being honest, I still struggle with this. At times, I see God’s goodness, but the longer I’m in this wilderness, I tend to forget.

Forget how honesty God has spoken to me my whole life.

Forget how graciously He saved me 21 months ago.

Forget how sweetly God has loved through the hard times.

She asked this question that rocked me: Am I fully persuaded that God is for me and He will answer my prayers and fulfill His promises?

Fully. Persuaded.

Am I fully persuaded that He even hears my cries?

Am I fully persuaded that He is good?

My word for this year is expectation.

We are 10 months into the year, and God is bringing me around the mountain again. Things I had thought I handed over to Him, I realized I hadn’t handed it over in totality.

I’m expecting God to move, but I’m still holding my breath.

I’m not quite believing that the wilderness could end sometime-that I’m not going to be wandering forever.

As I processed this week and listened to this book, God reminded me of the manna he sent to the Israelites in the wilderness. It didn’t look anything like they expected it to.

Maybe the manna doesn’t look like anything I expected it to. Maybe God’s bringing me around the same mountain to cement the idea that He is God.

I think one of the purposes of the wilderness is to desire God above anything else.

A wise friend once said, “if you aren’t willing to let that thing-whatever it is-go,?you desire that thing above God.”

Maybe the purpose of the wilderness is to rediscover the love of God and how sweetly He loves.

Maybe the purpose of the wilderness is to remember God and cling to Him.

This is my prayer during this season-that I remember God. I remember the things He has done. Remember that His plans aren’t my plans. Remember that He is good-in totality. He is kind-completely and effortlessly-no matter how it turns out.

Maybe I’ll go back to hospital nursing. Maybe I’ll go overseas. Maybe I’ll get married. Maybe I’ll move out on my own. Maybe I won’t do any or some of those things, but even in that I’ll remember the manna. I’ll remember that oftentimes, God’s provision doesn’t look like we think it should.

I’ll remember that God is good. He is kind.

He is God.

Fall Favorites

Fall is my favorite season.

Here are a few of my favorite things that make fall extra special in my mind.

  • Pumpkin Spice Chai

I didn’t want to get a pumpkin spice latte on precept. I didn’t want to fall into the stereotype of “that girl”- you know what i’m talking about. Sometimes, I do things that fall into that stereotype unashamedly but this one wasn’t a high priority. The barista ended up convincing me to try the chai.

OH MY GOODNESS.

My life changed at that moment by creating my new “fall” drink. It’s like a pumpkin pie in a cup.

  • All the Colors!

One of my favorite things about fall is all the colors. Brown. Green. Red. Burgundy. Yellow. Orange. As the leaves start to change it’s like the trees are on fire with colors. I mean, there are the typical colors and then there are every shape imaginable of those colors. It’s like God created the world to put on one last show before it goes into hibernation.

  • Coffee. Cider. Chai.

All the hot drinks. The weather is just getting cold enough that hot drinks are necessary but warm enough that you can still be outside in a light jacket. Or you can cuddle up with a book, a hot drink, and a blanket by a fire and the world feels right.

  • Bonfires.

There is no better feeling than curling up with a blanket and cup of coffee or cider by a fire. The fire can be inside or outside. You can curl up with a book or maybe some friends are by the fire with you and you talk-like really talk about the hard and holy things. There is nothing more comforting than knowing you are not alone. I think camaraderie over hot drinks and around fires is one of the best types.

  • Blanket Scarves and Sweaters.

Oh I wait all year to wear blanket scarves. I mean, I just love wearing scarves so I’ll wear them regardless of the season, but blanket scarves are thicker so they won’t work in most other seasons because it gets too warm. This year though I wore on hoping for cooler weather. It worked! The next day was perfect weather to wear one. Sweaters. Enough said. Fall means sweaters.

  • Josh Garrels.

Josh Garrels and other acoustic mellow artists are all I listen to in this season. For some reason, they speak to my soul and provide the perfect soundtrack to falling leaves and conversation.

There are many more things that I love about fall but here’s a few of my favorites.

Dear Younger Me

I’ve been out of middle school for some time now. Not as long as some, but it’s been a decade.

A decade.

I don’t feel that old. Sometimes, to be perfectly honest, I still see myself as that awkward 12 year old, unsure about everything (even God), and trying to belong somewhere. In a couple of days, I’m going to be a small group leader for 6th grade girls.

Here’s some things I’ve learned since then that I wish someone told me in middle school.

  1. Middle School is tough but it’s not forever. It’s only 2 maybe 3 years of your life. When you’re 12 or 13, it feels like forever, but it’s not. It’s only a blimp your long life. I don’t dispute the fact that it’s hard, but it’s not going to be as long as it seems.
  2. It’s okay to like things regardless of what the “cool kids” like. It’s really okay to like other things. You don’t have to like something just because someone says it is cool or vice versa. You are allowed to like something that’s “uncool” or hasn’t been chosen by the “cool kids”. They are not in charge. Like what you like or don’t like what you choose to-the choice is yours.
  3. Appearance isn’t everything, but it’s something. Let me explain. On one hand, it’s not good to care too much about what you look like. On the other, it’s important that you take care of yourself. Balance is key.
  4. This is a time in your life where you start to figure out you like and who you are meant to be. This is a confusing time. You’re trying to figure out what you want to be involved in be it sports, music, plays, etc. This is a key time in figuring out yourself and who you want to be.Embrace the confusion. Eventually, the water will clear but you need to allow the water to remain murky for a while. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t find your niche right away.
  5. There is time for boys later. Now is the time to figure out yourself. 6th grade. Oh that’s around the time when you figure out that boys don’t have cooties. They go from being disgusting to kind of fascinating. You start to care what they think. There’s time for that later, Oh how many days I spent preoccupied by this boy or that boy. The amount of energy I spent trying to get the boy to notice me when I could have spent that energy figuring out who I wanted to be and achieving that. It’s quite a story if you meet your person in JH, but that is not typical. Your time is better spent chasing after God and who He wants you to be than chasing after boys. In the end, you’ll be more well rounded later when you meet that special person. Even now, I’m 24, but I realize the value of figuring out yourself before adding another person to the mix.
  6. Make your faith your own. Investigate the Bible for yourself and figure out what you believe what you believe.
  7. Take ownership of your decisions and their potential consequences. Think ahead and base your decisions on information you have gained. You’re old enough that you can’t just blame every bad thing on others or the universe. Bad things just happen but sometimes there’s something you could have done to prevent it.

Embracing This Life of More

These past months have been quite something. All my energy has been spent on simply surviving-putting one foot in front of the other.

A year ago, all my energy was focused on myself and my healing. I resigned myself to this life of second best. Let me explain that. I had my life planned out before my accident and then all of that seemed to have been taken away. I was striving to accept my life as it was then but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was less. I still had hopes and dreams but I couldn’t grasp them. I didn’t know if it was even possible to grab them without having them slip through my fingers. Recently, I had the opportunity to go to Ukraine. I was simply excited to travel not knowing that the country itself would stamp itself on my heart.

Ukraine.

This summer has been one of the most life-changing ones in my short life so far. This summer was hard, but oh so holy. First, I started to get back into hospital nursing, then I went to Ukraine. I was nervous and didn’t know how my brain would react. I was pushed beyond my limits but God was sweet in that. In it, God was showing me I could have a life that I had dreamt of-a life of more. Here are just a few things God is teaching me as I embrace this life of more-more love, more freedom, and simply more God.

  1. Contentment doesn’t equal complacency. This has been something I’ve been wrestling with lately. I want more out of life but it’s hard to explain because people assume I’m not content with my life. In my wrestling, I’ve come to the decision that it’s okay to have plans and dreams but to hold those dreams lightly. I’ve come to the mindset that I’ll be okay if cross cultural missions is in my future. And I’ll be okay if it’s not.
  2. God can still use me. I was terrified standing in front of people and sharing my story but it’s not about me. It’s about God. I think I knew He could use me, but I didn’t quite see how. Sharing my story and about the God I love made seeing that possible. I shared. My speech didn’t have to be perfect, but He used my story to bring Himself glory.
  3. It’s easier to embrace the new me when I attach pleasant emotions to the new me. I’m pretty sure I went through every emotion this summer from heartbreak to joy to terror to happiness to anger to surprise. I’m pretty sure I can encapsulate this whole summer using the word “surprise “. I didn’t know what to expect but God blew my expectations out of the water. I’m definitely not the same Sara who left the States. My soul is lighter and I’m learning the sweetness of trusting God. In the past year, I wrestled with accepting the new Sara because I didn’t know (believe really) that God could use me as broken as I was. God though put people in my life to show me that He could still use me, my thoughts are still needed, and He loves me-the new me-more than I could ever know. Because I’m bravely accepting the new me doesn’t mean the door is shut to everything that I used to love but I’m looking forward not behind now.

As I’m chasing after and embracing this life of more I realize this starts with an attitude of expectation. What’s done is done. Here I am, sitting at the feet of Jesus, patiently waiting with expectation of this life of more that He desires to give me-more love, more freedom-simply more life.

Barely Brave

I finished 100 Days to Brave. I don’t feel any more Brave but I’m now armed with the tools and a road map to be brave.

Being brave is not an immediate change. You don’t flip a switch and now you’re brave. It doesn’t work like that (I wish it did), but rather it’s a process. If you continue to take the next brave, right step, you’ll be braver tomorrow than you were today.

As I finished reading the book, here are some of the tools in my toolbox to help me be brave.

  • Prepare for change. Hebrews 13:8 states, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”. Whatever change is coming-because inevitably it will-Jesus never changes. We can be brave in the fact that even if our circumstances change drastically, Jesus is constant. That said, you need to prepare for the inevitable change by spending time in God’s Word, talking to the unchanging One, and keeping your eyes on Him.
  • Be brave in the waiting season. Waiting is hard. Be brave enough to be patient-not just outwardly, but inwardly.
  • Be brave to know when it’s better to hold on or let go. Sometimes, it would be easier to let go. Don’t let go because it hurts or because it is hard. Hold on. It takes bravery to hold onto something when it’s definitely easier to let go. On the flip side, be brave enough to let go. You can’t grab on to next thing if you’re still holding on to the last thing. Let go of that dream. Let go of that relationship. Annie compares it to monkey bars. Let go even if you don’t see the next monkey bar. She writes, “I have seen, over and over again, that simply letting go is a powerful catalyst God will use to move me toward the next best thing”.
  • Life is hard. Mike Foster, the founder of People of the Second Chance, said, “Life is messy, hard, and weird. We don’t need to be surprised anymore”.
  • Brave people don’t let failure define them. Failure is inevitable. When you fall down, get up, brush the dirt off, learn what you did wrong, and move on.
  • Embrace divine detours. God sees the whole story while we only see a snapshot. Be brave in trusting that He is good, He loves you, and He has a good plan-even if it looks nothing like your plan.
  • Brave people persevere. “Brave people realize that we rejoice in our sufferings because it leads to perseverance and perseverance produces character and ultimately, it us to the hope we have in Jesus.” Brave people don’t give up on hope because they know it is worth fighting for.
  • Brave people take care of their bodies. Jesus has a purpose for your body-with all its imperfections and sickness. He wants to use you, as you are, to bring glory to Himself. He doesn’t make mistakes. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, so respect it. Exercise. Eat well.
  • Play. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Have fun. Take pictures with the statues at the zoo. Dismiss the lie that your career will fall apart if you spend some time having fun. Blow bubbles. There is something therapeutic about carving out time in your schedule to be carefree for a moment. God made laughter. Enjoy it.
  • Brave people carve out time for a sabbath and rest. They realize that there are time that you need to stop and rest. It takes courage to unplug, and walk away from your calling for a bit, believing God will still provide.
  • Be generous-with your words, money, time, and wisdom. Nothing you were given is yours. You may think you have nothing to offer anyone, but that’s a lie. It might be a meager offering, but I guarantee that someone needs exactly what you have to offer.
  • Let’s all be brave. Bravery and courage affects people the same way being near a confetti popper will make your life different and better and more amazing. It’s kind of like a domino effect. Making brave choices in your life is going to change the world. At the very least, it will change your world.

So let’s all grab our tool boxes and road maps. Let’s continue on this adventure of brave. Let’s all be brave.