One of the things I learned last semester about myself is just how easily I can be cheered, if only I will allow myself to be. There are so many small things that surround me that I can view as blessings, if I only will take the time to stop and notice them with an thankful heart. Some of these moments from last semester I was able to immortalize in the form of mediocre phone photographs. This hodge-podge collection of hum-drum photographs serve as a reminder to me that there are so many reasons to rejoice, be they ever so small, if I only will let my heart be glad. So friends, here are some of the things that made me smile, and perhaps they will do the same for you.
The semester is already off to a running start. I have thus realized that my idealistic intentions of editing the things I wrote over break into perfectly crafted bits of text is utter nonsense. Therefore, I am going to be posting some things I wrote before they are completely outdated. Here is the first :)
I was swaying back and forth on the bench swing, feet unable to touch the ground. I was taking a moment to just breathe. My last final exam was the day before and I had since been busy relocating my things from the old apartment to the new. It felt weird to simply sit still. No worries of homework to finish, no need to hurry. I had a chance to sit and simply “be.” How I had missed this!
The sun was beginning its descent over the apartment complex below and my mind was drawn back to humid August days. I moved on campus about a week before most other new students arrived for orientation. The university grounds seemed dead then, and I often would spend my evenings on this same bench, watching the sunset, praying and wondering what the semester would hold. And now I knew.
As the sun traversed closer to the horizon something beautiful began to happen. A flock of birds cut across the sky in a “v” formation. They were flying into the sun, like a group of cowboys signaling the end of a western movie. It seemed fairly fitting.
Another group soon followed them, each bird bouncing to the beat of its wings within the designated pattern. The birds were just silhouettes now against the blue and orange sky. Birds have long been creatures that make me smile. They are a reminder of God’s tender care for me, and I see them as living works of art that are somehow able to defy gravity. So at this point, I was already smiling. However, my smile would continue to stretch, for the birds kept coming. They dominated my entire field of vision, as formation after formation streamed across the sky. Just when I thought they were finally finished, I would see more tiny dots coming out of the north-east, morphing into sleek avian shapes as they passed before me.
I counted at least sixty “v” formations, not counting the stragglers who apparently missed the memo.
I finally grew too cold to remain there on the bench. The light was waning, but as I left to go inside, the flow of birds was not.
It’s difficult to explain how this made me feel, or just why.
But if simple words can attempt it, it made me feel awe, as if I just had stumbled in to some sort of complex aerial performance. I would have been pleased to have only seen those first few sets of birds, but instead I witnessed more than I could count journey pass. It was a sweet ending to my semester. A semester in which I had many times of weakness, but God showed how great He is in ways better than what I expected. Like the birds, His goodness just kept coming. That did not always mean that the problems were alleviated, but rather that when I looked upward I saw something good. Something beautiful. Someone majestic.
I began the semester knowing I could not make it through successfully without the LORD’s help, and at the end of it I was just as certain of that fact. So, as the sun sets on my first semester back in school, I want to express my gratitude for what He has done, and who He is. I look back in thanksgiving and forward in hope.
I realized it last autumn. I knew time would whittle down from a seemingly impenetrable chunk into a little sliver that would soon disappear. Yet now I find myself moving to South Carolina in only two weeks. It hasn’t quite sunk in yet that I’m headed to Columbia International University to finish a bachelor’s degree.
I wasn’t initially going to mention all of this here on the internet, but it occurred to me that there are a few people in my life, both near and far who might want to know.
These people have agonized over the possibilities, offered advice, pointed me to opportunities, and went with me before the throne of God to ask for wisdom. I specifically remember dear people in England encouraging me while I worked at reception, hashing things out with me and sitting with me late at night urging me to pursue things I felt were too difficult.
The people who encouraged me and the God who provided for me helped me to get to this point.
I sound like I’m graduating, not going back to college with plans of graduating at the not so tender age of twenty-nine! However, it took a great deal to arrive at this point.
So, here’s a little thank you to those who have spurred me on in the right direction, even in the smallest way. It made a difference. I’m thankful for this opportunity and I’m looking forward to what lies ahead. Here’s to new adventures!
PS It’s late, please excuse any silly spelling or grammar mistakes ;)
The day we moved into this two bedroom apartment I told my dad that it felt as if it were a mansion. Two weeks later it still does. I marvel at the open floor space, the living room in which my family can gather and more kitchen shelves than I have had the privilege to employ in many months.
A few weeks ago I was feeling a tad discouraged when I went to the storage building that holds most of my family’s earthly possessions. I gazed up at the rows of boxes that escalated to the ceiling and despaired of ever finding specific objects in these containers labeled cryptically “Sarah’s Stuff.” I’d stared like this on many occasions during the past few weeks and left with no success. I could climb up there, but the weight of the boxes certainly would cause some sort of disaster when I tried to retrieve them. On this day however, my uncle was present and he began the search. Soon down from the mountain came some of the items I had specifically wanted: a suitcase full of journals and my paint case. I was ecstatic. Later that afternoon I was overjoyed when my library card fell out of a stack of papers when I was cleaning the RV. I left that day feeling a bit blissful because of these happenings. I felt God was encouraging me by helping me find those specific things I had given up on finding until the day I unpacked everything.
The weeks that would follow brought new finds. My wok! My yarn! My winter coat! A movie I wanted to rent but had no idea we even owned! Each discovery left me excited.
All of this sounds a bit ridiculous, I know. You might think I’m being a tad silly and melodramatic.
When I told my dad that the apartment felt like a mansion he laughed and said, “It’s all about perspective, isn’t it?”
There have been times in my life when moving into a two bedroom apartment with three other people would have seemed like being shoved into a cage, and finding all of these everyday items would have been meaningless because they were regularly at my fingertips.
The difference is that now I am looking at things from another angle, from a place where these little things come with great happiness.
However, I am not always so quick to take a viewpoint of thankfulness.
I sometimes look at situations from my fleshly point of view and I’m displeased. I grumble. I want people to pity me. I feel trapped.
Perspective is a funny thing. Have you ever been able to look at mountains from an airplane window? One of the most beautiful sights I have beheld in my life was the view of the Alps as we flew above their frosted peaks. The beauty of these giants elicited praises from my weary heart. Those were real mountains, but mountains are often used as a depiction of a struggle to be overcome. Those struggles don’t look so beautiful and awe inspiring when you are hurrying along on the ground and run into one that must be crossed.
This is when perspective matters. When I come upon a struggle it is as if I am at the foot of a mountain, standing so close that the entire thing cannot fit into my field of vision. It is there I have a choice. I can choose to view this struggle from an eternal perspective or from ground level perspective. The eternal perspective is the big picture take on things, such as remembering the view from an airplane. I might not be able to see the entire picture from where I stand, but God can. He knows what the scene looks like and that there can be beauty in it, beauty that will point others to Him should we choose to walk in obedience. He knows what is waiting on the other side, and what will happen along the way.
Sometimes I dig my heels firmly in the dirt and stubbornly refuse to follow God’s prodding to move to where I have a better view, or to remember His view. I stand with my nose pressed against the cold stone of the mountain and whine because I cannot see past it. But when my selfish heart gives way and I walk in obedience, then the same situation looks better because I am taking on an eternal perspective. I’ll take the airplane view any day.
“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
(Colossians 3:2-4 ESV)
Here is another post I remembered today… I wrote this at the beginning of last summer (2012). Here it goes:
The longer I live, the more I see how temporary life really is.
That’s one of those obvious things that I’ve always known. But it eventually slapped me across the face leaving me a bit dazed at the revelation.
Let’s back up a little bit.
Confession time. This is actually a little bit embarrassing. I have always been somewhat of what might be described as a “pre-hoarder” type. I have jokingly attempted to excuse this behavior by citing genetics (my great-grandmother’s house was so crowded with objects that it was barely navigable). I was the type of child, who for memory’s sake, saved everything, even the self-decorated headgear strap that I so loathed (incredibly repulsive, I know).
This sort of compulsive saving of everything has led, in the short time of my existence, to many boxes filling up our storage area. These are in turn filled with what my family so lovingly refers to as “junk.” My uncle has often offered to burn this “junk” for me, but I have repeatedly declined his offers.
Over the years my parents have urged me to get rid of some things. So, every time we moved houses, I would give in just a little bit more and part with a few more objects.
When we found out that we are going to be moving again, the sorting process began anew. That’s when I received the slap to the face. I found myself standing in a hot metal building surrounded by half a dozen Rubbermaid buckets filled with my childhood. If you are thinking that six buckets does not sound like much, well, there were more on the shelves. I stared at this stuff again and the inner dialogue began. “Why am I keeping this? I don’t use it! I just open the boxes every time we move then shove them away again into a dark corner. Why am I keeping all of this?”
The answer to this question is linked to the fact that my mother grew up in the jungle (if you are confused by this statement, let me share with you that my mother grew up as a missionary kid in Peru). When I was growing up, I loved history. I loved stories of days gone by, even as times as recent as my mother’s childhood days. She really has nothing from her childhood, and I always wished that she did when I was a child. So I saved things. Things with memories. Things I thought would be “cool” or valuable in the future.
However, that was the past me. Present me looked at all this stuff and asked, “Do I really want to cart all this stuff around with me for the next fifty years?” My younger self battled that thought with: “But if you ever have children, don’t you want them to have this stuff?” I came to the shocking conclusion that if I ever have children I would rather have their mother be someone who valued that which would last over that which was temporary. In addition, it seemed a bit cruel to leave all of this stuff behind for someone to deal with when I pass on.
Certainly, if I lived in the same place permanently and had room to spare, then maybe keeping those old toys and notebooks and posters would not be such a big deal. But they cost me time and one day, perhaps money if they have to go into a storage unit.
Life is so temporary. We’re just here for a little while. In the scheme of things, clinging to stuff is not going to lead anywhere. We need to cling to Christ and to His words. If I spend my life holding on to material objects I will be tied down to them. Worse than the physical consequence of holding on to stuff is the spiritual consequence in my heart of not being able to let it go.
With this realization I looked my younger self square in her round face and declared that I would rather be free. I would rather be free to do whatever God is calling me to do than live a life that is held on a leash attached to “stuff.” Stuff doesn’t last. I’m not that old and I have already seen how it degrades. I have opened boxes to find broken dishes, moldy books, and many dolls with missing eyeballs (that last one is terrifying, let me tell you).
Certainly, I will keep some objects; useful things, books, a few sweet memories.
However . . .
If I cling to something I want to cling to something eternal.
If I leave something behind for the next generation, I want it to be the example and the fruit of someone who obeyed Christ.
Not stuff that will rot.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
(Matthew 6:19-21 ESV)
The air conditioning unit was humming in the background and I was leaning up against a wall talking to a friend. I was a teenager at the time, yet somehow I remember that conversation. Perhaps because it was the first time I had articulated aloud the thoughts that had begun to positively govern my actions. For a while these thoughts would characterize me.
Yet, somehow in the midst of all that life brings, I stowed these thoughts in a dusty closet in my mind, only to be brought out to answer questions of belief. This seemingly harmless bit of amnesia caused me problems as I lost what had been a purposeful way of perceiving life.
I was recently sitting in a service at church and something the pastor said brought back these memories.
The monologue given by my teenage self went something like this:
We’ve been through a lot as a family. There have been so many times when all we could do is trust God. But He was always there. I can already look back on lots of the hard things I have been through and I can see what good things have come from it. What God has taught me and how He has changed me. Lately, it’s been better. Because when something bad or hard or whatever happens now, I start asking God to help me learn whatever it is he wants me to learn. I tell Him I know He is doing something through this, so I ask for His help and look to Him to see what He will do through it.
As this all came rushing back into my brain, complete with the memory of the ambient noise, I was forced to examine my heart. What happened? How could I forget this? I remember the joy that I was able to retain in difficult situations because of looking to the Lord for His purpose. It’s not that I have never done this in the time since, but rather that it is no longer the first thing that comes to mind when a struggle arrives. The habit has faded.
We sang “How Firm a Foundation” at our church gathering recently and the last two lines of this verse stood up and addressed me specifically:
“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.”
That was it. It suddenly washed over me anew the remembrance that God is refining us for His glory. He is taking something tarnished and making it pure. Do I truly desire to cling to all the foul, sinful parts of me simply to retain a comfort that is fleeting? Through struggles and trials He is removing the nasty bits of me and if I hang onto Him I shall indeed make it through. I haven’t met anyone yet that enjoys facing a trial, but the truth is that life is going to be difficult regardless. What a blessing it is to know that my God can use the struggles of this life for His good purposes. I’m attempting to again make it a habit to immediately thank God that He knows what He is doing when trials strike. Peace rushes in so much faster.
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
(1 Peter 1:6-9 ESV)
During the first week after I returned from England, I walked into QuickTrip intent upon purchasing a cup of coffee. Not wanting to stand in line while scrambling for my change, I began to fish it out of my wallet whilst standing next to the line of lids. A glance up at a large sign advertising the energizing beverage told me that it was ninety-nine cents a cup. Perfect. I began to reach into the change pocket of my purse out of habit for a pound coin, only to recall with a tinge of embarrassment in which country I was currently standing. I quickly grabbed a dollar instead, buttoned up my wallet and put it away, deciding I would simply throw the penny change into my purse.
I walked up to the counter with my dollar extended and the Quicktrip man told me, “That will be $1.08 please.”
I just stared at him.
He stared back.
Then it dawned on me. Taxes!
I clumsily began to dig through my wallet to find eight cents more, while even more clumsily attempting to explain myself, thankful that there was no line behind me.
“I forgot about taxes.”
How can anyone forget about taxes?*
Where am I again?
This is a multi-layered time of transition, as we have moved twice since I returned to the US and my parents already moved out of the house while I was gone. It’s as if I’m still traveling until I look out the window and see the same sort of brown winter landscapes I have seen since my youth. Many of my clothes are still stored in my suitcase, and I wake up every day to a room someone else decorated (and wonder if they would notice if I painted over that atrocious canvas). I worry about putting rings on someone else’s coffee table, and Google reviews to find the best place nearby to procure Asian food. For the most part I’m still wearing the outfits I took on the trip and I have no idea where my winter coat might be stored. Friends who lived nearby do no longer, and their absence is a very present reminder that things are different. My errands are regularly strung between four towns because there’s no such thing as a true home base at the moment, and I consequently miss my exits frequently because running on autopilot is no longer efficient.
I feel out of place, like a foreigner in the state in which I was raised. Since the end of July I have switched beds and transferred my things (those not in storage) at least twenty-two times. When traveling, the thing I look forward to about being home (people aside) is returning to that familiarity and the precious stability that characterizes “home.”
There’s that word: home. It at first seems a simple word, but lately it has seemed increasingly more nebulous. I’m not really certain where “home” is anymore. They say that “home is where the heart is?” Well, both pieces of my heart and my Google homepage are still in England. Other pieces are scattered about the US, across the globe and yes, some are still here.
I’m still on a journey.
I must tell you that as much as I enjoy traveling and am thankful for it, I long for stability. I long to unpack that suitcase and put it away until an adventure arises. I long to go through those boxes I have in storage and find things to decorate my space. I long to feel comfortable, like I actually belong somewhere and that people understand me.
But the piece of my heart that longs for somewhere I have not yet been reminds me that this experience may be God’s way of reminding me that this earth is not my home.
I long for something better than this earth, I truly do, and one day I will see it. In the meantime I need to remember that I don’t belong here, so it’s good that I don’t feel as if I fit in with the others. I need to remember this is not permanent, so I shouldn’t build my life around things that I will one day leave behind. Just as it would be crazy to pour scads of money into decorating this apartment that I will only be living in for a few months, it would be crazy to invest the most valuable parts of my life in something that I will soon leave behind.
Even if I find a place to exist for more than one month at a time, I will still be on a journey. I will be sojourning until the day I die and start to really live. Home is with my Creator. It will be permanent. It will be beautiful. God will be there. I will have nothing more for which to hope when I reach this home. I’m excited.
But where is my home until I reach my heavenly one? I’m learning to find my home in Christ. In God I have found my one thing that never changes. I have found my stability in Him, something that means more to me with every passing day. I’m learning to long for a better country, a heavenly one, while daily traveling through this one with Him who has made a way for me to reach that destination.
“But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
(I highly recommend reading the entire chapter to get the full context and to absorb the amazing content)
*=In case you are wondering how someone could forget about taxes, in England they are already added in, so if the sign says “.99” that is what you pay!
Here is another article I wrote during my time working in Communications at Lifehope.
Read it on the website: http://news.om.org/country-article/r38059 or the text pasted below!
Thanks for your time!
City Hearts: Loving the broken-hearted
18 OCT, 2013 | UNITED KINGDOM
Their lives are not their own, sometimes by choice and sometimes because they have been sold by their families. They have been abused and devalued, treated as property, believing they only have one way to survive.
They are women who have been trafficked, and if they are rescued they must have somewhere to live and hide from their oppressors. They must learn they are valuable and that life can be more than what they have experienced, or they will most certainly return to their former lives.
City Hearts, an organisation in Sheffield, UK, provides three homes for trafficking survivors. OM teamed up with City Hearts this summer as part of Transform 2013. The participants spent most of their two-week outreach living in a house for trafficked women from Africa, Romania and the Czech Republic.
The Transform team included six ladies from four countries with the intent of making a difference in the lives of trafficked women. However, doing this proved to be more difficult than they imagined.
“From day one, it was a challenge,” Atonya, a leader of the outreach, admitted, while another participant said she learnt longsuffering. Nothing was going according to plan.
The problems the trafficked girls faced were enormous and heart-wrenching, yet they knew no other life. The compassionate hearts of the OM ladies desired to see the problems instantly alleviated.
“Your hands are tied,” Atonya said. “You choke up and bear it, but it’s OK. You let it be, and they can see your compassion.”
It also frustrated to the team to not be allowed to openly share God with the girls in the house, since it was linked with the government.
The OM ladies were still determined to share Christ’s love, and even though they had boundaries, Christ helped them succeed through actions and prayer.
“This outreach was a bit different,” Milla said. “We weren’t allowed to pray or talk about God where we worked. But actions have been speaking louder! The people we worked with were curious why we came for two weeks to volunteer, and then we were able to explain that we are Christians. All of us loved the people in the way we knew how.”
This is how they spent their days and nights at the house, simply being there to talk, play games, watch movies and most importantly, to purposefully show them the love of Christ whenever possible. This is incredibly meaningful to those who are not used to being shown such respect. They also helped in practical ways like mowing the grass, painting, cleaning the house and organising. Allowing the girls in the house to help with the work made them feel part of the success.
“I shared the gospel without words,” Kaisa said. “We were advised not to evangelise, instead spending time with the ladies, talking to them, and whenever possible, encouraging them with smiling words: ‘You are precious and beautiful.’”
One of the ladies spoke English, so Kaisa was able to encourage her and share about her faith when she asked what Kaisa is doing back home in Finland.
One of the trafficked girls confided in Atonya, and said, “Please pray for me,” which then opened the door for Atonya to do so.
No doubt the two weeks spent in Sheffield were more taxing on their bodies and hearts than they had anticipated. Changes were slow in coming and the issues were real and intense.
“You walk in thinking you can change the world,” Atonya said, “but then after spending time with them you gain a broader perspective. You see that God has to change the individual.”
All of the participants described it as difficult, saying they were sometimes stretched to the limit.
“God walked us through it,” Atonya said, “and God made Himself solely available. God sent me some awesome girls. My five girls were absolutely prepared to serve. Even if they had issues, they didn’t act like it. This was a blessing because they can’t take them into the trafficked house. They came in with love, and a smile and Jesus on their hearts.”
What was a rough time during outreach became a time in which God showed Himself to be present and faithful. The few weeks of mission were a representation of the reality of a life that is broken and difficult.
However God also represented His real character. They saw Him bring blessing in the midst of hardship. He opened doors for His love to be shared as they worked with City Hearts, and by His grace He will continue to change the city, heart by heart.
Dear Lifehope friends,
I didn’t get to say goodbye to you all, sadly. So here is my goodbye.
My time at Lifehope is over, at least for this season in life. I just wanted to let you know that you all have been a blessing.
I did not know what to expect when I came back to Lifehope this July. In review of my time here, I cannot really think of anything truly bad to say. There were some tough spots but that’s life, and God is good.
My time here has been sweet.
You all have been a delight.
One of my favorite things during my time at Lifehope has been YOU.
God has used you all to encourage me and inspire me. He has used you to prod me and to comfort me. Your testimonies have caused me to praise Him, and your teachings have caused me to dig deeper. Your advice has helped me, your coaching guided me, your smiles cheered me.
I have so enjoyed getting to be a little piece of your lives, to hear your stories and see what you are about. How wonderful to be able to pray for you when you need it, and to be prayed for when I need it!
What a wonderful group of people you are, and this is not solely because of you. It is because I can see Christ in you. I love how during my time at Lifehope I have met so many vastly different people from vastly different nations. Each of you a work of art in how you look, speak, act, even in how and what you eat. Each of you bound to the others by your love for Christ.
So, whether I knew you well, or only smiled at you as I passed you in the hall, I am thankful for you.
I will miss many of you so much.
I will miss prayer nights, coffee breaks, random conversations in the lounge and working in the office. I will even miss working at Reception and watching you all go in and out!
My time at Lifehope has been more of a blessing than I could have imagined. Being in this community and seeing your hearts as you do your work every day has been a joy. God has used this time in my life, and I want to thank Him for all He has done. I am thankful that for a time I got to be a part of this. I walk away with many happy memories.
So, please continue to welcome the new people, even though it’s hard to say so many goodbyes. Don’t get too comfortable. Keep praying during your team meetings. Trust Christ and don’t forget that the people you pass on the way to ASDA need Him too. Keep running after Him. Keep shining His light, for oh, how this world needs it!
So, I just want to say thank you to you all, and I pray that you will continue to abide in Him and bear much fruit.
During the second week of Toolkit (initial training for new students) we have “Adventure Week.” This time that meant we traveled to Snowdonia in Wales. It was a breathtaking place, and my only wish was that there had been more sun.
Here is brief thought—a slightly edited excerpt from my journal that I wrote the last night we were there:
I’m sitting on the back step of the lodge spending time with God. The others are all relaxing in the next room, so it’s quiet here. It’s raining. The air is crisp, and I can hear the subdued roar of a river that I know must be somewhere nearby. All I can really see from where I sit is some bushes. However I know that in the darkness behind the bushes is a mountain shrouded in that veil. I know the mountain is huge and strong and steady. I know there is a waterfall that cascades down across rocky ridges. I know that it is beautiful, and it is stunning. I know that it stops me in my tracks when I look up and see it every morning.
I know this, but I cannot see it. I know this because when the sun has been shining I have studied it, and rejoiced because of its grandeur. My view is black right now, but knowing that the mountain is there and what it is like cheers me.
I know that the darkness will not last forever.
I know that in the morning I will see it.