Surrendering Graciously

Surrendering graciously.

That’s an oxymoron in my life. Often when God asks me to surrender things, I give it up kicking and screaming. I try to take it back

soon after I give it up.

In this season, I’ve had to surrender some things like my five year plan. I mean, it got thrown far out the window.

My word for this year was expectation. Within that word, I couldn’t really expect God to move while still holding on to my plans.

I tried though.

Oh I tried.

This year started out with me struggling to understand why certain things happened and what the purpose was of moving forward if

it wasn’t going get me to where I wanted to be. I held onto some dreams like a drowning person would clutch a lifeboat. It wasn’t

until I gave myself permission to ask the questions-Is God good? Does he have good plans in store for me?-that I really started to let

go of things. It was kinda a forced surrender because it needed to happen and life was picking up speed.

I let go of my ambitions to return to floor nursing.

I let go of my ambitions to live overseas long-term.

And many more ambitions.

I surrendered them knowing they might not happen. I’m learning it’s hard to let go of things graciously but that’s what I’m striving to do.

Albeit, it kind of helped that so many ambitions were ripped from my hands, so I had few options but to let go.

It’s taken 10 months, but I’m finally at the place where I’m not forcing things to happen.

I’m kind of just willing to listen, hands open, to what God has for me next.

A verse that has been ruminating in my mind the last couple of months is Ps. 25:1 which says, “In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.” This

verse just captures the sense of what David was going through. I’m sure he was tempted to fight against God multiple times, but

instead of being antagonist towards God, he says matter-of-factly “In you, I put my trust.”

I’m striving to do that.

I don’t know what your story is, or what is that thing that you can’t seem to quite let go.

Let go.

Simply unwrap your fingers from it.

I don’t know your story, but I know how sweetly God has redeemed and repurposed the dreams and ambitions I let go.

Just tonight one of my girls said, “if it wasn’t for your accident, you wouldn’t be here.”

I was taken aback by her wisdom. She was right. If my life had gone on with my terms-my 5 year plan-I wouldn’t be right here, right now.

I would be missing out on a lot.

I like this version of my life. I like this version of me. I’m going to keep striving to surrender my dreams and ambitions to God graciously.

He truly has a good plan in store for me. It may not look anything like the 5 year plan I had but I think it’s better.

So here I am, striving to surrender graciously in my corner of the world that God has placed me in.

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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.

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.

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.

Ukraine

Bear with me as I’m processing the greatest and probably the hardest two weeks of my life.

  1. Language barriers aren’t everything but they are important. There were several times during the two weeks I was in Ukraine that someone just started rattling off in Russian and there was no translator nearby. I would just kinda shrug my shoulders and they would wander off to find someone that could actually help them. Or the time when kids were jumping on the trampoline and they were making me nervous but I couldn’t tell them to stop, I couldn’t see anyone nearby, and I felt like I couldn’t leave. But there were also moments also moments with a kid that it wasn’t necessary to both speak the same language. I would just hold their hand or hold them in my arms and the world felt right. My favorite thing was worship though. Some of the songs had English counterparts so some people were singing in English, and others in Ukrainian/Russian. God could understand it all. There’s really no language barrier when it come to God.
  2. Smiles mean a lot. My favorite thing, hands down, was taking pictures of the kids smiling. If I got a good one, I would show it to the mom and watch their face just light up. Their child was happy, felt safe and was loved. I assume that life with a child with any kind of disability is hard-so hard-but for that week, their kid was loved more than he/she could ever know by God and by the volunteers at the camp. The smiles communicated a lot!
  3. God’s love language to us is “crazy”. This is one I have a hard time really wrapping my head around. Some of the situations we encountered, like pouring rain on a afternoon where we had planned on being outside and no power or wifi, were some of the craziest in how they ended up working out. God used what we thought was a ruined afternoon to bring about the sweetest moments. We just had to be flexible with the craziness of life with God in the driver’s seat.
  4. God speaks through songs-even annoying songs like “Baby Shark”. Songs have always held a significance in my life. Seasons of my life are defined by key songs. It was interesting to see how captivated the littles were with “Baby Shark”. There was person with an ipad who would play different songs that the littles loved but it always came back to “Baby Shark” or something in the Baby Shark Saga. She was always surrounded by kids. I think, and maybe I’m overthinking this, but God showed those kids that we love them and He loves them through us being willing to play “Baby Shark” 24/7 (to the point that several of us were hearing it in our dreams).
  5. Sometimes the dearest friends just appear in your life. I wasn’t planning on making a soul friend in Ukraine but I did. God knew I needed someone around my own age to vent to and talk to. We met the first day of camp, ate mulberries and were inseparable after that point. I think we both needed that friendship.

Here is just a few things I wanted to share as I’m processing everything God did in my heart. It was life-changing, and I’m processing it slowly so bear with me as I sporadically process.

When God Gives You Your Dreams

I don’t know if I can put into words my experience in Ukraine. God has done a myriad of things in my heart these past 3 weeks.

  • Just because something is hard, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I don’t love sharing my story-standing up in front of people and reliving the hardest season of my life. I grew in that area as God pushed me to share my story and glorify Him. I was able to share because God gave me His strength every time I stood up there.
  • God gave me glimpses of my dream of living overseas. Several times during the past couple of weeks, I was overwhelmed by the love of God. The simple fact that I was able to leave the country was a bit overwhelming. A year ago, I thought all my plans of living overseas were out of the question. I couldn’t see how, in the state I was in, that it would ever be an option. Now, I realize I’m not ready right now as the past two weeks and the time change wiped me out, but God, in His goodness, gave me glimpses of what could be.
  • God loves me sweetly, even while He is shoving me out of my comfort zone. The first week of camp went well. It was exhausting, but I was pacing my energy well. Then came Sunday. The Pastor asked me to share with no warning, no notes, and no preparation. Inwardly, I panicked. I don’t like speaking in front of people and definitely not without notes-my safety blanket of sorts. When the words flee out of my brain, I can look at them and remember where I was. Trying to pull myself together and not panic took a lot more energy out of me then I dared admit. On Wednesday, when I was asked to watch a child, I said yes, but inwardly, I was questioning everything. I was tired. I couldn’t speak to him. I couldn’t run after him if he took off. The time came and he just simply cuddled in my arms and laid his head of my shoulder. God never ceases to amaze me. He knew I needed baby cuddles-someone to just let me hold and love him. The Sunday before and that day, God was shoving me out of my comfort zone. He was pushing me, but that evening, He was showing me that He was only doing it because He loved me-more than I could ever know.
  • Bravery isn’t made up of the grand moments. It’s made up of the small moments of brave decisions. When the pastor asked me to come up and share my testimony, I panicked. I couldn’t do it. What if all the words flee my brain and I’m left standing there dumbfounded. I made my way up front, but in reality, I wanted to disappear. Then I opened my mouth. Suddenly, all the words I had spoken that past week flooded into my brain. I had been brave every day in telling a piece of what God had done in my life that standing up and telling them that was not impossible.
  • A smile is the same in any language. One of my favorite things was to get the kids to smile. I couldn’t really speak to them. I didn’t know Ukrainian or Russian, but I could love them and get them to smile. I could understand their smile. It meant that they felt loved and safe.
  • Jam sessions with Jesus are needed. Corporate worship is great. Slower songs with good melodies are great to offer God reverence. Sometimes, though, you need to turn up the volume, sing at the top of your lungs, and dance to your hearts consent.
  • Sometimes taking a step back is good. Taking a step back is not a defeat. It’s allowing space for you to be the best you can be. Taking time for yourself is good. You can do a million things adequately, or with rest, you could do one thing exceptionally.
  • End well. People don’t remember the middle, they remember the end. Don’t let the end trail off, but give them all the energy and love you have left. Finish well.

This is just a smidgen of all God has taught me these last weeks. I’m still processing everything and it will take awhile to wrap my head around everything God did in my heart.

A Quarter-ish of the Way To Brave

I’ve been on this journey to brave the last 30ish days. I’ve learned so much about myself and the God who holds my heart. He gives me those dreams in my heart that I hold so close. Here’s a few things I’ve learned in this journey so far.

  1. Bravery is meant to be called out in ourselves and others.

When you call out bravery in yourself, you realize that you may not ever feel brave, but you’re displaying courage by simply taking the next right step. When you see brave, say so. When you call out bravery in others, they realize that they are braver than they give themselves credit for. In turn, you realize that what you called out in them sounds a lot like something in your story, and you see bravery in yourself. Also, when we see brave, it inspires us to be brave, and as a result, there is more people who are doing brave things.

2. Being brave means you embrace being you.

“Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!”-Dr.Seuss

There is only one you. You are enough. Embrace what makes you unique-your strengths and your quirks. We all have different stories and were made to be brave. The story of your life is a masterpiece that will never be replicated. Your story will overlap with others at times and your bravery might inspire bravery in them. The people who want to be missionaries are brave, but so are the people who want to be stay-at-home parents. It takes a whole lot of bravery and patience to corral and train up littles. God made you, and He made you for a specific purpose.

Embrace it.

Embrace the adventure God has equipped you and called you on.

3. Being brave means not shying away from the hard questions.

As humans, we are notorious for shying away from the tough questions because we are afraid of what the answers will be. It takes courage to approach God with the hard questions when we think we already know what the answer will be, and we don’t like it one bit. It takes bravery to trust that even if He doesn’t answers the questions the way we want, He’s still good. Don’t be afraid to ask Him the questions you really want to know. You might not get the answer you want, but you’ll get an answer of some sort.

4. Being brave means believing God cares about your dreams.

When I was little, I feared that because I wanted so badly to live overseas, God would call me to suburban America. There is nothing wrong with that, but it just wasn’t where my heart was. I had heard story after story about people who didn’t want to go overseas and then God calls them to be missionaries. That was the foundation of my fear. Now, I realize that dreams come in seasons. My overarching dream is still to become a cross-cultural missionary whether it’s in the States or in another country, but I have smaller dreams than have crept up and surprised me. In being brave, I have to cling to statement that “ God has not forgotten you. Your life and dreams are important to God.” I cling to that like a toddler clings to his blankie.

God has not forgotten me.

I may not be doing anything like what I dreamed of, but God has not forgotten me.

I may feel like I’ve taken a few steps back since graduation, but God has not forgotten me.

Whatever that dream is that you hold close to your heart, remember this: God has not forgotten you. He hears your prayers and cries.