Phone note #1

Allow me to introduce you to the little (or long) musings that have been stored on my phone over time. Some were written with intent to publish to instagram or here on the blog, some were simply to get thoughts out of my head, and others a combination or no clear intent at all.

I hope to be sharing these periodically -and without edits from the transfer from phone to blog- as a little exercise in vulnerability, so thanks in advance for following along.


A phone note from September 2017:

For some time now, God has been nudging me to care for those around me. Especially those I have been quick to reject.

It is easy for me to avoid people who rub me the wrong way. I often think, “Jesus wouldn’t want me to associate with these people,” when their negativity or anxiety or deception or arrogance permeate the atmosphere. Everything about interacting with these individuals feels toxic and inauthentic to me. So I actively avoid. I avert my eyes, turn around, walk the other direction.

However, God revealed to me that people live from their own experience and I should not judge others (ever, but) for living as they have been taught.

For example, even after Jesus completed his ministry on earth, the Jews still wanted to adhere to the religious rules from before his time because that’s how they understood faith. However, the Gentiles, knowing Christ-followers were not bound to dietary rules and sacrifices, demonstrated their faith in other ways (see Romans 14:1-3).

It also happens that of the active-avoidance situations God has shown to me so far, almost all of the people are non-believers. This means that many of the people I have been avoiding because they cause me discomfort actually may not know there is a Savior who loves them and gave His life to make them whole, complete, and blameless in His sight. They are forgiven; they can be made new.

I believe that God wants me to reach those around me who don’t yet see His hand reaching out for them. This means I need to be OK with being uncomfortable.

Right now, for me, this is loving God’s children who others are rejecting out of fear of being relationally hurt and abused. This is loving God’s children who are living in crippling anxiety and fear. This is loving God’s children even though I may be hurt in the process, yet trusting that God does not leave me in the storm. This is the testimony I want to share.

SET

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After my old routines

I feel simultaneously very much at home and overwhelmed to be writing again. So much has happened in the last 40-or-so days and I don’t know where to begin.

Difficulties — great. Blessings — unimaginable. Growth — still being processed.

While I have plenty of stories to tell – about health, mental health, perceived control of life events – I think this space would be better held by where I’m going. So here are a few things I’m committing to, starting today:

  1. Gratitude – if you’ve been following my occasional posts since the beginning, then you may have seen this post about my history with gratitude journaling. I have gotten so out of the practice of journaling (for several years I used to also journal nearly daily notes, questions, praises to God), but it used to bring me so much perspective. So I’m jumping back in to gratitude journaling! With no parameters other than one entry each day…
  2. Asking more questions – I’m currently “reading” via audiobook The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. I’m less than one hour into it and already loving it! Perhaps a review will come later, but for now I’m trying to live a curious life because God and his creation are so much more complex and expansive than I’m currently pursuing in my daily life. I also believe that people want to be truly known, and we can get to know others by asking questions, rather than making assumptions (which I’m good at because I usually like to believe that I’m right, which is dangerous).
  3. Praying (for the intentions on my prayer list) – I think baby-Christian-me was better at the routine of prayer than toddler-Christian-me. Baby faith-filled Sarah had so many environmental assets to stimulate my relationship with Christ, while toddlerhood seems to be lacking. However, I recently heard a message at church that stopped me. The pastor basically said that when we feel far from God, it’s never that He moves farther away from us, but that we ourselves have moved! Yikes. Better move myself back toward the foot of the cross in humble repentance of my wandering. I also have beautiful friends who are believing for life change and I want to be in communion with God in these things.

While I crave new beginnings that magically align with the new year, a changing season, a semester of school, Christmas, or some other socially acceptable “fresh start,” I believe that God gives us a fresh start at any time. That’s why I’m starting today, February 11th, that has seemingly no great significance. Because why not!?

What do you think about these three spaces I’m moving toward? Are you yearning for direction or peace or wisdom? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

-SET

After Awe of my weaknesses

Today I’m in awe of the way God confronts us. Encourages us to take a second look. Exposes us to ourselves. Let me explain…

I’ve been battling a lot with identity recently and feeling the growing pains of spiritual maturity. The messages I’ve been absorbing through Scripture have been strengthening my trust muscles. They’ve put hurdles ahead of my cognitive distortions, forcing me to slow down my warped and racing thoughts.

Typically they would go something like this:

I don’t have enough time to get this done. If I do [undesirable task] then I can do [somewhat less undesirable task]. I have to do everything myself. I can’t possibly do it all. If I can check three things off it’s been a good day. I’m self-sufficient. I can’t ask for help. I need to ask for help but I don’t want to bother, seem incompetent, take up their time. I can do this on my own.

Sound familiar? These are lies and deceptions and I’m willing to bet I’m not alone in this type of distorted thought cycle. I was speaking with non-Christian friends this weekend about a confrontation I experienced recently with someone in authority over me. I explained that I had realized how I allowed the hiding of my weaknesses (thoughts that “it’s all good. No need to ask for help. I can do this independently”) to amplify emotions in situation far out of proportion, instead of just communicating my perspectives and needs in the advising relationship. I also shared that I experienced so much personal (spiritual) growth through processing (praying) about this experience.

Well, I believe God has been extremely patient with me and also chuckling to himself as he’s watched me exercise my trust muscles and clumsily bump over hurdles.

Today I ran into this online sermon (highly recommend!) that addressed how we’re trained to think about our strengths and weaknesses. Most people boast of their strengths (“everyone look at me being amazing/successful/beautiful”) and mask their weaknesses (“I’ll just pretend I know what to do/met this achievement/always look this way”).

However, the pastor said that we as Christians are called to relate to our strengths AND weaknesses as gifts. As an example, if my strengths are perseverance or leadership, I need to acknowledge among others that yes, indeed, I do stick it out when things get hard or I really do enjoy facilitating discussions among my peers at school or work. It can be hard, especially for us who have trained up in the area of humility, to accept our strengths. But it’s often even harder for more of us to expose our weaknesses.

In my weaknesses, such as my lack of self-advocacy when I recognize I do need help, I need to be forthcoming with fellow believers. It’s time to expose the shame I feel around my inability to meet my own needs. By stating plainly my weaknesses, the Holy Spirit working in me can bring them into the light.

I don’t share these things to boast that I’ve somehow beat the system or experienced unique healing, but rather to acknowledge that we all have an opportunity to grow in God’s truth and strengthen the credibility of His Church.  We need to express our strengths and our weaknesses in a way that allows God’s Light to shine in the light and in the darkness.


I will add that as I look back at this timeline of events, I can see God’s hands in it all. Through this time of identity exploration God has used a work conflict to confront me personally and professionally, making Himself transcendent through each moment. In prayer and reflection He gave me a second look at my wrongdoing (i.e. masking my needs) and I confessed this to close friends. Then God reaffirmed the necessity of this process of publicly exposing weakness through a sermon, and I was reminded that being real among my friends helps them see the light of Christ.

This hasn’t all been picture perfect and the details are messy and more than I can reasonably write, but while listening to the sermon on a walk today, a white butterfly flew from behind me and led me for a short distance, at which time it seemed God said to me, “I make you clean, white as snow.”

I pray you find the courage to acknowledge your strengths and boast in your weaknesses, reveling in awe when God brings you closer to Himself and makes your weaknesses white as snow. 

SET

(getting) After myself

Y’all.

I need to get after myself and do some self-correction.

I posted this photo on my IG story recently:

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You might be looking at this and thinking, Now what’s wrong with that? She baked some things and posted about it. If anything, it’s just #basic.

Truth Alert! The original post was going to say “Lazy Grad School Girl’s guide to cookie baking.” Because I needed to be real on IG. Because this is what I believe about myself.

But something [SOMEONE] pushed me to change those words around. And is now pushing me to reconsider those words altogether.

I am NOT lazy. We are not lazy.

I’m a full time graduate student. I’ve successfully taken above a full load of credits every semester of graduate school so far, participated in anywhere from two to four different research labs in a given season, and support K-12 schools several days a week through my school psychology practicum experience. All the while, I mostly maintain healthy friend-, family-, and Jesus relationships, invest in my local church community and get poured into there too. I am not a lazy grad student. Or a lazy baker.

If you’re a student.

If you work a full time job.

Or multiple jobs.

If you’re a full time parent.

Or a working parent.

If you dedicate your time to serving others.

If you continuously learn more about yourself or the world around you.

Volunteer. Caregiver. Artist. Employee. Lover.

You are not lazy.

I’m asking to join together and remove this L word from the descriptions we use for ourselves and one another. My quick baking strategy is not lazy, but perhaps a simpler way to shape a large batch of cookies. The world demands a lot of you and me. And sure, you may have a laid-back day where you pop a bag of popcorn, turn on Netflix, and cozy up under a blanket in the afternoon sunshine. But I’m willing to bet you are not inherently or chronically lazy.

While there are biblical ramifications to what we might think of as lethargy (see Col. 3:23, Eccl. 9:10, Gen. 2:15, Prov. 13:4, Eph. 5:15-17 for examples of truth of work and laziness), I wonder if enjoying a simpler day can be one way to recharge to more effectively do the work we’ve been called to.

Also, this is not who God says you are! Lazy is not part of your God-given identity. This is what God spoke to me less than 24 hours after I shared that photo on my story. Our identity is in Jesus. We are Beloved. Saint. Children of God. Appointed. Redeemed. Ministers. Members of the Body. Blameless. Heirs. Forgiven.

We often feel rejected, guilty, chained down, under rules, or orphaned rather than feeling at home in the identities previously listed. In my last post, I discussed ways we can pray into the roles that we play in the world, inviting the Spirit to enter in and set the stage ahead of us in everything we do. As Christ followers, we need to quite literally follow Jesus and allow his vision and heart to guide us and affirm our true identities, rather than believing our own eyes and emotions.

Join me in getting after those earthly identities we mistakenly yet very seriously believe about ourselves, and replace them with the Truth as the Spirit reveals them to you.

Lord, I pray that myself and anyone who reads these words would increasingly walk by faith, believing that I am who He says I am. I am loved, not lazy. Thank you for creating me in Your likeness.

SET

PS – Check out the popular worship song, Who You Say I Am, by Hillsong Worship that further communicates our identity in Christ:

After the stage lighting is set

What is it like to be a graduate student and a Christ follower?

I know this pattern very well. As a full time graduate student in a very rigorous (top 10 in the field) program, my role in this season is to be a student. I’ve played the part of a student in various capacities for nearly 20 years, over 80 percent of my life. I can dedicate 24 hours a day (minus sleep, I prioritize sleep) to my studies if I choose. Student life first, Christian life currently on Thursday nights and Sundays. Or…

If my day-to-day role is a student, I’m wondering if my purpose is something different. Greater. Transcending. Maybe my purpose is tied more closely to that second identity I mentioned, Christian, and my role as a student is the space where I get to act out God’s story, standing in awe of the way He moves mountains right in front of me.

Just think for a moment. “Being a Christian” is not the same type of role as “being a student.” In a play, the producers would never cast “the Christian” and “the student” as defining identities of two separate characters. The Christian would always have a role: friend, waitress, teacher, partner, doctor, musician, student. Our Christian identity has to describe the role that we’re in.

I heard recently that God doesn’t place light on accident. He is purposeful about setting lights where He wants them to be, much like a crew designs lighting on a theater stage. In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus says in his sermon,

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

As a Christ follower in graduate school, I am the light among many people who don’t know Jesus as a friend, let alone their Savior. God has placed me in this role as a student for a purpose. His purpose. I need to be diligent about shining God’s light in a space that can be confusing, dark, and uncertain. Something that recently came to my attention is the need to be steadfast in prayer over my various roles within the academic world.

Lord, I pray that students like me would come to You for guidance and for rest before we enter into our obligations of learning and leading. I know You will light the stage and write the script more beautifully than we can imagine. Help us seek You first.

If you have a relationship with Christ, you have been cast as a character in His story. If not, you can certainly ask Jesus to be your stage director and friend! He won’t say no or ask you for an audition to prove your acting skills! 🙂 Here are a few tips for letting God set your lighting and write your student script:

  1. Pray and ask God to light up the role(s) you play. In my experience, God won’t always angle the lamp just right or turn it on full volume to show which opportunities to take or which roles to play. Wherever you are, you can pray that God would be with you in your current space.
  2. Thank God for the ways He influences your work and relationships with other cast members. Your personal and professional growth, and positive interactions with other students, faculty, community members, friends and family are all amazing things to be grateful for! Moments of wonder and awe of God are plenty in the student script if we remember He’s already turned on the light and living within us.
  3. Humble yourself when you make a mistake. As students, we’re still learning new content, skills, professional ways of work. In my first week of the new semester, I’ve already made plenty of mistakes, including taking my advisor’s feedback too personally resulting in emotional distress, miscommunication, and criticizing the advisor to other students. Instead of using peers to validate my own toxic script, I should have brought the situation before God first to let him write my response.

Thanks for reading!

SET

After relationship contentment

For the vast majority of my life I have felt very content in my singleness.

Call me crazy.

While many of my friends in secondary school sought out homecoming dates and vied for attention of their rapidly changing high school sweethearts, I was mostly content being the shoulder to cry on after a breakup, and even more often the third wheel on countless awkward dates. Basically I was either a totally awesome or total loser friend, still unsure (hah!).

In college, my peace surrounding dating relationships only grew. I developed very intimate friendships during this time with people who helped me better understand, value, and invest in my relationship with Christ. I had such a quickly evolving friendship with Jesus, as well as roommates and neighbors who supported my spiritual growth so completely, that the need for any kind of partner was satisfied through Christ who permeated more of my conversations and relationships than not.

I have been utterly blessed with relationship contentment for many years. This rare unexplainable peace (Philippians 4:7) has allowed me to better cultivate myself and unload my own backpack in a sense. I explored my interests, independently chose which college to attend, took on additional projects, clubs, and activities, devoted time to friendships and family engagements. I was able to move 1,200 miles across the country for graduate school and travel to see family when I want to, with no extra supplies needed in my pack for a hiking companion. My solo excursion has been fundamentally about personal, God-ordained discovery and growth.

However, I’m also an anomaly. And I feel the weight of that. God designed humans for relationship (see Genesis 2:18, for example), so having this unexplainable peace in singleness may seem odd in Christian circles, let alone in the world. My experience doesn’t resonate with most people, with those who deeply long for intimacy, unity, partnership with their best friend. I have a difficult time relating to peers who yearn for relationship because for so long I have been content on this solo backpacking journey, where I have had the utmost pleasure meeting friends along the trail and receiving care packages of encouragement from family who know me well without having to fear that I can’t keep up with my hiking partner, or worse, holding them back from something greater.

In the last few months God has unexpectedly moved me from a place of total contentment and, dare I say it, disinterest in dating to a place of peaceful curiosity and willingness.

In therapy or principles of change in general, we would say that discomfort motivates people to change.

“We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.”

— Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, Boundaries

The pain of staying in singleness is not yet greater than the pain of changing for me. I do believe I am in a place, maybe for the first time, of openness to partnership or someone “to do life with” if God presents me with that person, but I’m not yet motivated to take specific action myself.

I’m trying to see the world with fresh, childlike eyes, while listening to God’s murmur to remain patient and expectant in this period of waiting. And while I’m not necessarily post- or “after” relationship contentment (I’m not discontent without a partner), I do believe I’m now allowing God to open my heart to the possibility of growth through partnership and dependence rather than personal development within singleness and autonomy.

Have you ever been in this place where you open yourself to take a risk, but don’t sense God providing you with a written course of action? No clearly marked trail? I’d love to know your thoughts and use my blog as a platform to grow community as I continue to process this journey with you.

Thanks for reading!

SET

*note: I anticipate this post in particular to be one of a set of reflections that unfold with time. There is much more I want to say on this topic, so please do reach out with questions or comments.

 

 

After wanting the giving more than the Giver

In honor of my upcoming role as a camp counselor this week, I though it would be good to reflect on some of the ways God has recently worked in my life.

Since graduating from college and starting graduate school two years ago, my relationship with God has been so variable. Some days we’re in almost constant communication, but more often I leave Him at my morning devotional on the kitchen table (that is, if I even make it to the kitchen table before heading out for a 12 hour work day).

In my previous post, I mentioned that this summer has looked more like checking things off, rather than deriving meaning from my daily engagements. Between the over-full-load of coursework and moving, I’ve prioritized good works — assignments, Sunday school, volunteering — over my relationship with God. I made excuses for why I believed this had to be the status quo. 

Then, I got upset with God when I spent two hours one Saturday wiping dust off every chair leg in the church sanctuary, and when I spent too many hours in a computer lab (wait, those still exist?!) running statistical analyses that may not even matter. I thought, “God, I shouldn’t have volunteered for this! Why didn’t You give me a more meaningful project?

Romans 4:16 (amplified) says,

“Therefore, [inheriting] the promise depends entirely on faith [that is, confident trust in the unseen God], in order that it may be given as an act of grace [His unmerited favor and mercy], so that the promise will be [legally] guaranteed to all the descendants [of Abraham]—not only for those [Jewish believers] who keep the Law, but also for those [Gentile believers] who share the faith of Abraham, who is the [spiritual] father of us all.”

Here, I believe the “promise” refers to God’s guarantee to us that we, in Christ, will inherit the earth. And “faith” or “trust” in God demonstrates the depth of relationship we are called to have with Him — a friendship that is far beyond a simple business exchange of works or tasks for wages or dues (see Romans 4:4).

I love this story in Romans 4, where the apostle Paul reflects on Abraham’s unwavering hope and expectance that God would give him and Sarah a child, even in their old age. Unlike Abraham, I have wavered in my relationship with God , or my faith. I have asked my Father for a paycheck for all the work I’ve been doing instead of spending time with Him and trusting that He will satisfy my every need regardless of my actions (Matthew 6:26).

The song, More Than Anything by Natalie Grant, has been playing in my head all day and only now — at midnight — I think I’ve figured out why. The chorus, “Help me want the Healer more than the healing, help me want the Savior more than the saving, help me want the Giver more than the giving. Oh help me want you Jesus more than anything,” sings to how I’ve been living at least for the past few months.

So often I want a result instead of an intimate friendship with Jesus. Relationships, unlike many projects and tasks, are ever-evolving, require perseverance, and the fruit is not often immediately or consistently visible. There is no finished product in friendship, and this is where I always feel unsatisfied in my faith journey.

However, there is absolutely nothing more meaningful or worthwhile or valuable than a relationship with Jesus. And I need to learn this not only in my head, but believe it in my heart also.

To be honest, I’m nervous about counseling middle school girls this week because I fear my heart has not been vulnerable enough, confident enough, in love enough with God. How can I be faithful with many young hearts when I haven’t been faithful with my own? Admittedly, I haven’t recently felt or trusted my relationship with God in my heart in the same way I savor my dearest friendships. I’m praying that over the next few days God will break the chains of feeling ill-prepared for camp, saturate my heart, and that I will joyfully receive the conversation and friendship He so generously offers without cost.

 — Oh help me want you Jesus, more than anything. —

SET