I grew up Presbyterian, handbell and children’s choirs, Sunday school and church picnics. I went to Catholic school, kneelers and religion as a subject, catechism and rites. I was blessed to be given an upbringing… More
A year ago today I walked, no, floated on cloud nine, in to our church ready to start my new job. I was giddy with anticipation and ready to reap the rewards of my saying yes to what was not only a great offer, but an incredible challenge. I have learned so much in the past year, and I feel confident that this learning will continue, but I feel like this anniversary is a good time to take a moment and record a few things I’ve learned.
1. Nearly a year before I told my friend, Jen, who worked for the church that she had my dream job. Little did I know that Jen’s world would change so dramatically in the next 12 months. Jen followed God’s call to a new chapter in her life and her absence left an opening at the church. The position was reworked a fair bit, but the shoes she left to fill were some pretty special ones. I knew it was a compliment when people assumed I was “New Jen” even though our duties weren’t exactly the same.
It was a challenge for me to work out what it meant to come in behind someone who impacted others so greatly, and who has such a big impact on my life. There are 100 things I find easier than sorting our social dynamics, and this one presented a lot for me to sort out even in my own mind.
There are still days that within myself I find it a challenge to fill her shoes. On those days I go back to a conversation she and I had where she talked about a sense about feeling like she wasn’t exactly fitting into the mold she thought she should be fitting into. I can’t remember the exact words, but I replied to her that we aren’t made in a mold, we are hand-crafted. We aren’t made to fit into some shape defined by those around us. We are made to fit into the palm of our Maker’s hand. So stop trying to cram yourself into some mold that was never intended for you anyway.
Soon after I started someone asked me what I did for the church. I explained in great detail, and the person nodded along and when I finally took a breath, they replied, “Oh, so you’re new Jen.” And I just smiled and shrugged and said “Sure.” If I am to be mistaken for someone else, I am happy to be mistaken for Jen any day of the week. I am so thankful for the honest conversations we’ve had and the timeless truths we’ve passed back and forth which resonate in the moment and reverberate through the years. But the best part about my friendship with Jen is how she encourages me continuously to be comfortable being me.
One year into working at church and I am settling in to just being comfortable doing my job as myself. Right or wrong, this is where I am.
2. My official title is “Director of Children’s Ministry/Assistant to Worship Ministry and Facilities.” I have THE longest title at the church. I will often joke that I don’t need a desk plaque, I need a desk plank. What this means mostly is I have a variety of hats and sometimes I have to wear a few hats at once. All of a sudden, 37 years into my life, it almost seems like my inability to focus on only one task at a time is an asset, as if I was designed to be able to hop from one track quickly to another.
There have been positions I’ve held where my inability to focus has left me feeling crazy and there are times when I REALLY have to push myself to block out the world and see only the task at hand, but one of the nicest things I’ve experienced in the past year is I am able to see things I always thought of as a weakness be used as a strength.
3. This is a job. There is the old running joke, or well worn punchline, delivered to those who work for the church, in particular pastors, that they only work one day a week. This couldn’t be further from the truth. To get to Sunday there are 100 million things that need to be accomplished, by everyone who works there. I have day in and day out tasks that are routine and mundane.
And, hold onto your chairs, y’all, there are some tasks that I don’t enjoy. Just like there are some tasks that you do at your job that you don’t enjoy. I LOVE painting sets. I don’t love washing paintbrushes. I LOVE helping plan an event. I don’t love forms. I LOVE making worship slides. I don’t love learning new software and programs. There are times just like when I worked in early childhood education or as a receptionist or as a paralegal that I have to stop and tell myself, “Sarah, do it as unto the Lord. This one little thing matters to Him so do it well for Him.”
It is precious to imagine that I sit around all day eating candy and praying (ok, come on, I work in children’s ministry, I do both of those things daily), but let me be clear, this job is work. Hard work.
4. This is not just a job. Even in the mundane, gotta be done things, I am so blessed by the tasks at hand. Each week while I make the worship slides, I get a sneak peek into Sunday’s service and whether the finance office likes listening to it or not, I will be singing the songs over and over. There has never been a seemingly banal activity like making song lyrics satisfy a good number of qualifications, (accuracy, phrasing, font size, spacing, contrast, punctuation etc) which in its forcing me to focus ushers me straight into the heart of worship and prepares me for Sunday’s message. This position is of tremendous value to me in this way.
And, all the times in all my jobs before when I’d wish I could look at someone and just say “Can we please stop and pray about this right now?” Oh, I can’t tell you how precious it is to me that I work in a place where that won’t get me ostracized or reprimanded.
One more example of this is that I finally work in a place where it is ok to ask for help. Every other job I have worked there is a learning period, but when that time is up, you better know your stuff and if you have a question, you better find the answer yourself and not admit to anyone that you didn’t know. I can not tell you what a relief it is to be able to admit that I need help to a coworker and to have them be ready and willing to lend a hand or point me to the answer, and to do so without shaming me for asking. It is as if they just understand what everyone else wishes their jobs understood, that helping one another makes everything run more smoothly. When I said that Jen had my dream job, I can’t tell you how right I was.
5. I have never been so busy in my whole life. People have observed that somehow even though they see me eating an absurd amount of candy, I have managed to stay a reasonable size. The reason is simple. We have these huge sets of staircases which I am booking it up and down 20 plus times a day. I have something to do all the time.
A few months in, Pastor Roger asked me to tell him the three things I value most. The third thing I told him was what I explained that I don’t believe I treat it as valuable even most of the time, but its absence from my life devastates me. Rest. I told him that I was becoming quite aware of the suspicion that he and Pastor Jim and Pastor Kerry would likely all agree that it is mind boggling how fast the past 20 years of their ministry together had flown by. Time is set to warp speed as revival became VBS became back to school became revival became Christmas became special event nights because Easter and back around to VBS. And that’s JUST my church speed. I have two kids who are shooting up before my eyes and I don’t want to turn around in a few years and wonder how I missed their childhood.
Rest is necessary. Rest is good. Rest is nothing to be ashamed of.
6. This has been maybe the biggest human lesson I’ve learned this year. The people I work with are people. I say that kind of tongue in cheek, but seriously….there are perceptions and images. There are stories you’ve heard and stories you’ve told. At the end of the day, the people who work at church are just people…for better or for worse. That means that just like Jesus got hungry, so do they. That means just like Jesus hurt over the grief of His people, they hurt over the grief of their loved ones, too. Jesus was fully human, and so are the employees of the church. It has impressed upon me the importance of valuing the things for others that I want others to value for me.
But that’s not all. It also means that we don’t always approach situations with the same thought process or opinions. It means that we don’t all keep our desks the same level of neat. It means that there are preferences and partialities that we have which lead us to moments where we REALLY get one another, and where we really don’t get each other as well. I mean, there are Mac users and PC people.
We talk a lot about unity and loyalty around church. This is something I am still working out in my head, because there is the initial concept and there is the deeper harder ramifications of what it means to work and serve in unity with people, real honest to goodness PEOPLE.
Here is the key…I have worked at jobs where we are sitting in team meetings discussing social dynamics and doing little ice breaker games and I was just overwhelmed by the thought of, “We’re all supposed to be passionate about the same thing!!! How can we not just put the passion in front of the preferences and get over ourselves and work together???” The key is this, yes, I have learned that the people I work with are people, but more importantly, and oh I so hope it is like this for others who work for other churches, the people I work with are people with a common passion, a baseline measurement which at any moment we can grab a hold of and swing back into sync. That baseline is to bring glory to Him. It is to honor Him first. Let me encourage you…if you go to my church, you have a staff which is committed to putting Him before themselves, and who is willing to live in the discipline of the Holy Spirit, like Hebrews 12 talks about…and learn from their example if you don’t already know…holiness is worth it.
7. I am in my position by God’s will, not my skill. I lived so many years so very confident that if only people would notice how amazing I was and would take me on as the leader of this, that or the other, I could straighten out all that ailed the world and every organization or team would be set right by coming under my authority. Over and over I am reminded as I do this job, there are so many things I need help on. There are so many things that I will be learning for decades to come. Each day teaches me to rely less on my own strength and more completely on His. This is all joy, to let go of my way, my talent, my offering, and to just stand empty handed ready to put my hands to whatever He has for me. I hope I always choose to present as my offering not what I can bring to the table but rather what He places in my hands.
So one year in and this recap is full. It doesn’t even begin to touch the personal lessons I’ve learned about trusting God, about valuing others, about maintaining relationships, about being brave, about loss and about miracles. But let this little pile of seven stones serve as a reminder when I pass this way again of all the things He has done for me. ❤
Week before last a friend asked how she could pray specifically for me and I gave her a list of 26 things that were occupying space in my head and heart.
As the list grew, I thought, “You know, this is a lot of things!” When someone asks what they are can pray for you about, generally they are expecting maybe 2 or 3 things tops. Not 26 things. And if I’m honest, the last things was a sort of summation of all the things that I hadn’t listed yet, but was starting to get scared that I’d never be able to stop listing prayer concerns.
A few days later I found myself in tears over those 26 things, plus more that I hadn’t laid there for that dear patient friend. Kermit tried his best to comfort me, but his attempts were getting neither of us anywhere and eventually he just fell silent and listened as I listed all the things that I could do nothing about. About just how powerless that made me feel. It was incredibly cathartic.
There is great comfort in that story about the man who throws starfish back to the sea one at a time and cheerily says “Made a difference to that one!” But after a tsunami hits and every starfish in the sea is on the beach alongside the most horrific sea monsters of the deep that we didn’t know existed, and those are only the decoration in front of the wreckage of homes and lives and families torn apart, that story doesn’t really feel like it has the same impact. And while the tsunami wasn’t hitting me, it seemed like everywhere I turned, be it family, friend, coworker, acquaintance or just flipping on the news, starfish were raining down.
I wanted to close my eyes to it. I wanted to not feel the hurts of those around me. I wanted to run away. What was I thinking, signing up for decades of ministry? What is ministry if not a constant barrage of starfish?
A few nights later, I had this world shifting conversation with God. In this tone of voice like I had brand new information for him, I told Him I couldn’t look at it anymore. The brokenness of the world just broke my heart. And He replied, “Yeah, it breaks mine, too.” Then a pause for me to hear what He said, followed by “And I didn’t close my eyes and I didn’t run away.”
Oh. There I had allowance to say I’m not ok with the things people do to one another. I am not ok with sickness and injury. I am not ok with Columbine today any more than I was nearly 20 years ago. I’m not ok with comfortable blindness which allows us to ignore our fellow man, be they at close at hand or on the other side of the world. I’m not ok with it.
Understanding that He is not ok with it either, oh, it changed my perspective. So I could go out and pick up a starfish and fling it. And another. And another. As much as I was asked to do for those 26 things, no more and no less, I did them. I didn’t like that there was so much debris on my beach, but I could at least see a place to put my feet down for a second. I could breath again.
As I inhaled and exhaled I watched the flick of my wrist and the arc of the little creature. Sometimes I thought it was a good throw and on other occasions I started to think, well, I could have done that better. I could have had a better attitude. I could have smiled more. I could have at least kept my mouth shut. My brain and body were sore from being intentional and accountable all the time. I started to worry what others thought of how I threw starfish. Those little nags were enough to make me uncomfortable.
Just in time. Just in time I was given a penny for my thoughts and received a wealth of kindness in return. I can’t put down a clip of the best words or the most meaningful exchange, but through reflection and remembrance and the counsel of someone who is well beyond where I am, this is what I walked away with.
Caring about people is hard. The stories of hurt and brokenness don’t stop, they become novels and series and volumes and libraries. We do what I already know to do with them, file them on His shelves and trust Him to use His pen to work these things out.
But the process is hard work. And in the process of doing the right thing, of helping people to the cross and then allowing them to cling and cry to Him instead of us, turning to walk back down the road to find the next person and the next and the next, you can find yourself at times feeling lonely. And hurt. And sad.
What I heard was this person I respected admit that they’d felt hurt. They’d felt lonely. They’d made hard choices that they knew hurt feelings, but were the right choices.
What I heard was Sarah, you don’t have to try to be too holy to be hurt. You need to be smart and aware. You need to learn from each story for the next. But being sad, getting your feelings hurt, having emotions that wouldn’t fit with the perky pastoral portrait, it isn’t a sin. It’s just saying that there is stuff you need Christ for, too.
In this morning’s sermon, I heard the retell of Peter telling Jesus “Not I, Jesus! I will never fall away! Even if everyone else runs, I never will!” Oh there I stood a few weeks ago, declaring, “All the starfish in the world may lie at my feet and I will throw them all back in His power and will show the world I can do it with a right mind and a smile!” Because, what would I be saying about God if I felt bad that the creature was there in the first place? What would I be saying about God if someone knew I cried about starfish?
This is what it would say. We need a big big God. We need Him because as much as we hate children being shot and cancer and abuse that carries on in the lives of children while services designed to defend them ignore it for generations…….He hates it more. We can’t fathom the disdain He feels for the depth of our shattered existences.
It would also say this. I need a big big God. Because even while I claim this holiness life, I need His grace so badly. Holiness is no release from grace. It only shows where His grace can go deeper.
At best some days I am just a big ol mess, and it was an encouragement for me this week to hear someone else that I respect admit that they need Him, too. I don’t want to minimize the power He has to change people and grow people and heal and restore people. I just need to go on record and say this…
I am not done yet.
And that is just my need of Him, a need He is ready and able to meet.
Just like all those other starfish. Just like the ugly monster from the depths of the sea.
I need grace, too.
A piece of trash sat on the floor under a chair. He probably couldn’t see it, but I could and it was distracting me.
“Can you pick that up for me please?” I asked?
“I didn’t put it there,” the student replied.
I knew the answer was coming before I asked it because probably 75% of the times I asked if a kid could throw something away, hang something up or get something off the floor, I was given the same answer. In essence, that is not my fault and it is not my problem. And every time I said the same thing.
“I didn’t ask who put it there. I asked if you could pick it up.”
And with a deep sigh, the student moves reaches under the chair to get it.
Why didn’t I try to find the responsible party and make them fix the mess they made? After all, we all have to be accountable for our things and respectful of our surroundings. What lesson does that teach the child who threw their trash on the floor and left it? This is their problem and they should have to deal with it like a decent human being who doesn’t throw trash on the floor!
Sure. I get that. I really do. We have to make it clear that those who make messes are trained to not make them in the future. We need classroom rules. We need boundaries.
But we also need each other. We also need to be willing to care for our surroundings beyond just picking up our own junk. We also need to be willing to reach out and see a mess we didn’t create and help, because this is our classroom and these are our classmates.
This is some incredible confession here and I ask for your mercy as I speak it. In the past few months, and forgive my lack of being specific here, I had something cross my mind occasionally when I looked at a certain situation I saw near me. I would shove it out of my head because it was very obviously not what I was intending to do. I thought, that is just an idealistic daydream solution to this situation. One friend made a joking suggestion to the solution that was dangerously near what had crossed my mind. A week later a friend from a different area in my life made the same joke. And then asked if maybe it wasn’t such a joke after all. Peculiar.
A few weeks ago, it became clear that there needed to be a solution. Someone needed to pick something up. Someone needed to help out. And here came the question…
“Sarah, will you pick that up?”
“No. I didn’t put it there.” I replied.
“That’s not what I asked. Will you lean over and reach out your hand and pick that up?”
“No. I don’t want to do that.”
I could feel the raised eyebrow so I avoided the eyes.
“And what lesson does it teach others?” I began to prepare my defense, “And what are people going to think if I go around picking up other people’s things? And to be frank, I am tired and I don’t want to go through the hassle of bending over and then going all the way to the trashcan and all the way back to my desk.”
“You know who you should talk to about this? Kermit”
“Well, I don’t want to do that either.” I replied, because let’s be honest, Kermit is good and Kermit is bold and Kermit puts others first and because I already know what Kermit would say.
So I had the conversation with Kermit. Kermit’s first point….in essence…was that if we look at the things we’re asked to do as messes, as problems, we’re a billion miles away from who we are supposed to be as Christians. It was not language I had placed on the situation, but it was the attitude of my heart a the root of my fear. He talked to me for a while and said things I already knew and already believed and already agreed with and then he ended it with this. It would be wrong for us to not do something and let something bad happen when we can do something about it.
And so we walked out of that conversation with me willing to help, but with a lot of limitations placed on what I was going to feel good about. The thing was, the limitations I placed did not make me feel good. they made me feel exactly the opposite.
“Ok, I will do what you’ve asked….this much.”
“You know that’s not what I am asking.”
I only struggle this hard with something when on the other side of obedience to the task is unimaginable blessing. I only struggle like this when to refuse would be to lose. I knew she was right. In that conversation, my heart stopped dragging its feet. My mind knew before what the right thing to do was. My heart wanted to do the right thing. But my attitude, was being a real pain in the butt.
A few days in I was working through these thoughts with a friend. I was busying myself trying to find a solution within my parameters. I am busying myself to find something that is easier on me. I am avoiding conversations I should have and having conversations that I know won’t lead to a fix. I want a good, healthy, whole solution. Let me be clear about that. I wanted good. I wanted healthy. And I wanted whole. I was not looking to solve the problem halfheartedly just to make it easier on me.
And that friend spoke straight with me. She got real and without directly quoting her, she gave this message….Why you, Sarah? Because you are the person for this, and you know it. Because He asked you to do it, and you know it. Because we heard Him ask you and you aren’t going to wriggle your way out of it. And honestly, the reasons you are giving are crap reasons and sound like things you should probably be working on being better at anyway. So go…do…it.
By Thursday I had been able to process all that has happened over the past few weeks. I was able to see the path that had led people to perfect positions and my own journey to the first steps of blessing.
In the rearview mirror of reflection this is what I read.
God does not ask us to sit at our desks with our feet up. God has tasks for us. This is a hands on class and we are all responsible and sometimes, maybe even often, He is going to ask us to do things we don’t want to do or things that are inconvenient. If you are being asked to do something and your only argument is your own comfort and convenience, you might need to ask just whom exactly do you serve?
There plain as day in that rearview mirror I read this….
Either my God is inconvenient or my god is convenience.
He never asked us to be comfortable for our glory. He blessed us with comfort to return that blessing back to Him.
Don’t believe me? Go read Philippians 2:6-15. I was going to copy and paste it here, but I thought….that seems a little convenient. Here is this morning’s challenge on the topic. Can you be inconvenienced enough to open your Bible and read 9 verses?
A few years ago I resolved to run a 5k. I didn’t want to walk it or run/walk it. I wanted to run the whole thing from start to finish.
I’d worked hard in the months leading up to that New Year’s Day to lose weight and had some pretty proud moments. I was certain if I stuck with it I could do this. So one cold January morning, in Ohio, where it makes this Virginia chill look like a balmy beach vacation, I took to the roads.
My knees ached. My lungs screamed. My neighbors watched out the windows.
I ran 1 mile and made it back to the house where I drank 64 gallons of water and nearly died on our recliner.
Oh. Running is hard.
A couple of months later, my friend Heather asked me to lead off her Autism Run which she coordinated. It was so special to have that moment be in support of such a lovely friend and her sweet son. I completed that 5k….but I walked part of it. Not exactly what I was looking for.
A few months after that I ran my second 5k. What a thrill! I ran the entire thing and in victory celebration…I barfed off behind the football bleachers. Because, oh yeah, running is hard. I was super lucky to win a Nike hat that time.
Well, at that point I figured I was pretty much a pro at the running thing so my next goal was to run a trail 5k. I sort of think I was trying to break my ankles and be done with running, because that is super possible when you’re running like slanty on wet hills with every gnat in our small town biting your legs the whole way. Not only did I run run that entire race, but I beat my best time and dropped my time under 30 minutes, which for me was huge. And then I barfed again.
I had accomplished what I’d set out to do. For the first time ever I had completed my New Years Resolution. It was an incredible feeling. Well, not the barfing part, but the rest of it felt awesome.
Usually I set vague resolutions that weren’t particularly quantifiable. This year I will be nicer to my brothers. This year I will keep my notebooks neater. This year I will be a better wife. This year I will lose *coughcough* pounds. This year I will eat some pudding. I mean, just sort of like general, sure, this year is gonna be super cool and all that.
Last year, though it felt very much like all the rest…a statement made that couldn’t be quantified or qualified….I decided that in 2017 I wanted to know God in a new deeper way. My friends, at the end of 2017, I can tell you that on more than one occasion did I find myself so overcome by the adrenaline rush of what God had done in my life that I was certain I might be right back behind those bleachers hoping no one would see me losing my lunch.
2017 has been an incredible year. Incredible. I can’t even begin to put it all down and keep it to a reasonable length. But suffice it to say this, for the second time, I kept a New Year’s Resolution. But really, I think I had very little to do with that one.
A few months ago I gave myself a writing challenge. A couple of weeks ago I knew my 2018 resolution would be to finish this writing project. I thought a few times wouldn’t it be neat to finish it before the ball dropped, to be so ahead of the game that I didn’t even have to wait for a new year to accomplish my goals. But alas, midnight came and went, and I was far closer than I anticipated, but still not finished.
My fears were probably right. I wouldn’t finish it until February and that is IF I don’t give up.
But at 1:45 this afternoon on January 1st, I finished my project. For the third time I have met my New Year’s Resolution and this time in RECORD time. I am officially the New Year’s winner!
It felt like a goal I thought I’d never meet, but I did.
And I recognize that this may not be the most interesting post I’ve ever written, but dang it, I’m writing it anyway, because when I started this blog….it was because my pastor looked at me and said “Sarah Kinzer. The writer. Keep writing.” And it felt like a vague New Year’s Resolution. You can read about it in that first post I wrote… Been Some Time
I’ve written and I’ve posted. I’ve journaled and I’ve put together papers and sermons for classes. But today I feel like I followed that advice finally.
And that makes for a darn good feeling.
I am intensely proud of myself today.
And I didn’t even throw up.
A few weeks ago when I was just starting to get in the holiday spirit, I thought of the Hummels. Not those breakable collectible figurines, but the poor sickly ones which brought about the downfall of Beth March.
Little Women was a favorite story of mine. I have read the printed pages a handful of times, listened to it as an audiobook too many times to count and ever since Winona Ryder took up the task of Jo, I have watched it each year about this time.
But the part that came to mind this year, even before I watched it was not the damaged dress and the singed bangs, not the romance that was not to be or the ice skating disaster or the manuscript in the fireplace. It was the Hummels.
They came in my mind as they came into the story, shrouded by back streets, a walk to reach, unexpected to find this second family of mother and children tucked in the attention of the Marches or myself. I found myself rolling the story through my mind and getting hung up right at that point where Jo opens her eyes on Christmas morning. She pauses feeling a little sorry that there are no presents, but then slipping her hand under her pillow she finds a Bible. Her sisters each rise and find their own copies and they spend some time reading quietly together. They head downstairs to discover Marmie is gone, she’d gone off with a beggar who’d come to the door according to Hannah, the servant.
When Marmie returns, here is what follows…
“Merry Christmas, little daughters! I’m glad you began at once, and hope you will keep on. But I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little newborn baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there, and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?”
They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour, and for a minute no one spoke, only a minute, for Jo exclaimed impetuously, “I’m so glad you came before we began!”
They set out and care for this family with what little they had to offer, which was richness to them, but nothing to us. They kindled a fire in the hearth and warmth in the children’s heart. That poor mother called them angels and found hope kindling inside herself while Mrs. March promised continues help, a promise which she indeed kept.
At the end of the little story of that Christmas morn, we read…
“That was a very happy breakfast, though they didn’t get any of it. And when they went away, leaving comfort behind, I think there were not in all the city four merrier people than the hungry little girls who gave away their breakfasts and contented themselves with bread and milk on Christmas morning.
“That’s loving our neighbor better than ourselves, and I like it,” said Meg, as they set out their presents while their mother was upstairs collecting clothes for the poor Hummels.”
They began their day reading and then rising to start their holiday, they put it into actions. At the end of the experience it is all tied up, back to the source of the inspiration for the action.
Oh, how I wanted that when I was young, to have the opportunity to find someone to care for at Christmastime. I wanted to be happier with an empty stomach headed for bread having handed off my plateful of cakes and sausage. But it has been years since I thought of the Hummels.
I had a brief wish I presented to God, that I would have an opportunity to know something of that. That I would see someone who like that mother needed caring for, and even someone who looked more like that mother than I could understand. I have had the privilege of hearing about other people’s Hummel experiences over the past week. I have seen good will to men performed by those around me. I am so proud of my friends. I have seen my prayer answered in my own season and know there is more answer on the way.
Tonight I was thinking on the Hummels again and there was that conversation with God again. And hears what resounded in my heart….”I am Emmanuel. God with us.”
Oh, he came to save the likes of me. He came to save me! Oh how glad I am of that! But He is God with us…us….corporate…together. He came to be with us, so really is it that big of a stretch of the imagination to suggest that we be with one another?
When we are looking at how to hold Christmas in our hearts, how to honor Emmanuel, perhaps what we should do is stop looking at how to make it the most possession gaining experience for our children and consider how we might make it a moment to love our neighbors better than ourselves, like Meg point out.
There are a few more days. There are a few more chances to make this Christmas be the one that stands out as the year you started the tradition of overwhelming generosity, of promised and delivered continued support.
Make this the year that you involve yourself in the business of the us that God came to be with.
I’ll close with a passage from another classic Christmas tale….spoken between a soul who never took time to rest his eyes, his heart or his mind on his fellow man and spent eternity mourning his mistake, and the man awaiting salvation.
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,’ faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
`Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. `Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’
It held up its chain at arm’s length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.
`At this time of the rolling year,’ the spectre said `I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!’
God with us.
This isn’t about Walmart greeters or Starbucks cups.
Sunday before last we had some visiting musicians at church that played “Mary Did You Know.” Now, time for a little confession…I believe that Mary Did You Know is
one of the top three worst Christmas songs ever… every bit as good as Little Drummer Boy and Do You Hear What I Hear.
While they were playing the song, for the first time, I could imagine Mary there, holding that baby. I mean, we read that Mary wrapped Him in swaddling cloth and laid Him in the manger. But realistically, she must have held that sweet little thing, nuzzling Him, tracing the outline of a little nose, touching ten tiny fingers, leaning into Joseph to show him the dream that rested on the infant’s face.
I sat there imagining Mary and looked around for someone with a baby near me who i might convince to let me snuggle for a minute or two. Drats. None at hand.
After that morning I went from part time carol singing to full time, like it was my job.
This morning I went into work early this morning and hit play on some of my favorite Christmas music. Oh there was the best of them all, with its grit and its darkness, its admittance of struggle and shadow. It is a walk on a damp fall day, the smell of wet decaying earth around you, coat pulled tight around you for it is colder than you anticipated. Winter is coming.
I sing it all year long. I sing it in those aching times when I just long for His company and His comfort.
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel
O come, Thou Day-Spring
Come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, o Israel
I could continue but these are the two verses I always pick first. Captivity. Gloom. Death. Shadow. Who is this writer that he would make such a depressing song, 4 lines of “Look at my woe!” Followed by 2 that are just the same over and over. Over and over. Christmas should be hope and joy and love and peace. Who is this writer?
I think, perhaps, the writer is someone who knows the Bible. I think the writer is someone who knows the history of the people of Israel. I think the writer is someone who knows us.
In Matthew 1 starting at verse 18, it reads: “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).”
Joseph entered what should have been a time of celebration, the advent of his marriage, and he is met quickly by a reality which doesn’t match his expectations. He should have been joyful is instead overwhelmed by mess….divorce, presumed infidelity, shame, scandal, a blow to the pride, and trying to manage himself in a way that was to his standards, legal and upright in the sight of the Lord.
The angel doesn’t come and change the situation. He doesn’t say the pregnancy was a mistake and apologize for Joseph’s hurt feelings. He doesn’t stop what Joesph sees as the problem.
He just changes his perspective.
This mess, says the angel, this thing you see as a problem, it is the design of God to bring the salvation of all. It is the design to bring “God With Us.”
What of your life are you walking into THIS Advent season pleading God to come into? Captivity? Gloom? Death? Shadow?
Could this word not be for you? Could the mess you are consumed by be the design of God to bring about salvation? Change your perspective and like Joseph move in the direction of God’s command.
But changing your perspective is not nearly enough. We must also change our expectations.
We have been trained by Hollywood, like little Susan Walker, to think if we just believe in Santa enough, we will magically get a house far from 34th Street in a nice neighborhood and all will end in true love.
We are looking for the big flashy miracle to prove at Christmas that He does exist. We have been around long enough to know He does big, flashy miracles. We celebrate the biggest each spring. It is the shining moment, the Resurrection, the conquering of the grave, death defeated. Oh, it is glorious! Christmas without Easter, oh it is nothing at all.
So why bother to celebrate Christmas at all then?
Perhaps, just perhaps, it is to remind us, just as the Israelites needed to learn, that God did not come to be an earthly king. He came lowly in a manger. He came into a world without a place for him to be raised by parents who just months before were on the verge of divorce to a government hell bent on murdering Him.
All of this in the arms of Mary, she held this tiny baby. Oh Mary, did you know? When you tipped him towards Joseph to show him this little face, I want to imagine that you had the humanity that I have, tempted to think, “This is it? This is what the angel spoke of? This is who is supposed to save us? A baby? He can’t fed himself or clean himself! How is this going to work?”
Time never turned back. There was no big showy miracle. Just a baby.
I have to ask, are you holding a baby when what you’d really like is for God to show up like Resurrection? Even if you’ve changed your perspective, you’ve said, this mess is blessed, it is of God and I’m consecrating it to Him…are you still walking around looking for the wrong cave? You’ve run inside and there are no discarded grave clothes, just this terrible box with a little baby inside who can’t do anything for Himself.
And you stand there gesturing to this disappointment, eyes upward, and yell, “I didn’t agree to this? I have some suggestions on how to sort this out. Are You listening? WHAT AM I EVEN SUPPOSED TO DO WITH THIS?!?!?”
I’ll tell you. You don’t throw the baby up on the cross! You don’t demand what God is withholding for a later date. You don’t scream for big signs and wonders while you stand before the greatest wonder of them all. You appreciate that in your captivity, your gloom, your death and shadow, oh, He came.
You cradle that baby. You lift it up and you nurture it. You hold it as a precious fragile beginning and do everything you can to protect it. You tip it to others so they might see this sweet thing the Lord has given you even if you have NO IDEA how God will use it.
He came and He stayed and He will come again!
Is it true or is it not?
Is it true?
Or is it not?
If it is not true, than go and find comfort in the fireplace and the family and put your mind to rest that it is of no consequence, now or ever.
But if it is true….if this little baby was born God with us…..If His very nature is the answer to God’s command from the earliest history of man for the conquering of our greatest enemy, that He is with us….oh it is of EVERY consequence. Everything hinges upon it!
Find Christmas, dear one, find Christmas not just where you weren’t looking for it, but find Christmas where you were specifically saying God couldn’t be there.
And find Christmas, my friend, in the little bit of life that hardly fills more than two hands, that can’t support itself, and care for the promise of God that He has already given you to tend to.
Come and worship.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, Oh Israel.
Now, I don’t want y’all getting jealous or anything, but tonight, like, several people asked me for my soup recipe. Several. I said the directions out loud, but then one of them said I should write it down. So this is how I came to the decision to write my food blog post!
Food blogs like to give lots of info before they just write down like the how much of everything, so if you just want that, scroll to the bottom, but realistically, it’ll make more sense if you read the steps.
Sarah’s Delicious Soup.
Step 1. I knew I had some things that turn into soup and I know that soup is an easy economical choice when feeding a large group of people. Also, my kids really like soup, so even if other people’s kids think soup is gross, I won’t have to listen to my kids whine later that they’re hungry. Anyway, I had to go to Walmart to pick up my medicine after work, so I bought a few more things that go in soup in case I didn’t have what I thought I had at home. This was at around 4:30. (This is important later.)
Step 2. Drive home. Be surprised the kids aren’t home. Find 2nd biggest pot. Pour in the big box of broth from Sharp Shopper. That’s not nearly enough broth.
Step 3. Get out chicken bouillon. Add 6 more cups of water and 3 of the big bouillon cubes.
Step 4. Cut up the leftover half of the onion that looks totally fine from the veggie bin. Scrape it in to the pot.
Step 5. Add salt to make it boil faster, because who knows how long this will take and you have to be at the Taylors at 630. Shake in like 4 shakes of pepper, 2 or 3 shakes of garlic powder and 3 or 4 of poultry seasoning. *Poultry seasoning comes in a small container marked poultry seasoning and after Thanksgiving at some point it was marked down to like 35 cents a container or something, so you bought 4 and use it in most everything you cook that involves chicken. It’s like basil or parsley or like dehydrated chicken or something. It smells Thanksgiving-y.
Step 6. Husband and kids arrive home. Chop up carrots while husband comes in. Husband stares in soup pot and glares at the onion. Point out that he never eats your soup, so you put onion in it. He says he always eats your soup. You say that is not true at all, or if he does he complains it’s gross. He says he used to eat it all the time with the tortellini. Point out that you can’t eat gluten anymore and anyway he always said that the soup ruined the tortellini. He says nu-uh. You say, well this soup has onion in it. Add the carrots.
This is the correct amount of time in which to allow the stuff in the pot to come to a boil!
Step 7. Cut up 2 celery stalks. Give a third to your daughter. The rest of the steps must be accomplished while telling someone to stop screaming Junie B Jones or mumbling it, but rather reading in a nice normal voice after she’s swallowed the mouthful of celery.
Step 8. Add one cup of rice. This seems like a good time to do that.
Step 9. Open a can of peas, a can of sweet corn, a can of beans. Once a guy told you he made his soup without draining his canned veggies, and his soup was good. Dump in corn undrained. Drain most of the pea juice, because pea juice sounds gross. Dump nearly drained peas in the soup. Drain like a third of the green beans because you don’t want it to turn out too green beany. Dump it in, too. It will need more veggies. Nobody wants more peas or corn. Open one of those jumbo cans of green beans and drain some of that juice off and dump it in. There. That should be plenty.
Step 10. Cut up mostly the dark meat from a rotisserie chicken. Throw some to the cats. Chase off the bully cat who is eating it all. Perform a very large begging the other cat to eat pantomime and then shoo off the bully cat again. Put the rest of the chicken in a container to pack for the kids’ lunches. Decide that people will notice if you only put in dark meat and think you’re just trying to hide that you’re not giving them white meat. Cut up some white meat and add it.
Step 11. Now here is the tricky part. Stare at the soup for a minute and wonder how long it’ll take for one cup of rice to get big. There seems to still be a lot of liquid. Free pour rice in. Like maybe another 1/4 cup. Maybe 1/3 cup. Enough so that you have time to think, “Um, I’m sure that’s good now.” Then shake in some more pepper, salt, garlic powder and poultry seasoning. Then get out the onion powder, because half an onion is probably not enough. Shake in some of that.
Step 12. This is actually the most important step in all my soups. Add 5-7 shakes of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce. It doesn’t make it taste like hot sauce. It just gives it a boost of flavor and warmth. This is like legit cooking directions because in the 90s my mom used to buy Turtle Island Soup kits and all of their soups included a tiny bottle of hot sauce to add to the pot, because it makes all soup better.
Step 13. Now you send the person reading Junie B Jones away and call in someone else. You try to get information about when their next social studies quiz is and walk in and out of the kitchen a few times before telling them that since you’ve caught dinner on fire before when cooking for life group you can’t go off and look on your computer on the other side of the house to find the info for him. So make up a quiz on the spot about the Native Americans and their languages and the Powhatan’s main town when the settlers came and be sure to point out that the Disney movie while nice and all is inaccurate.
At this point you should have let enough time pass to realize the rice got really big. Like there might not be enough liquid after all. Pour like half of a cupful of water in the soup. Not like a measured half cup, but like, half of a plastic cup. You fill the cup most of the way up but don’t put it all in because that’d be too much. Then you’re sure you’ve ruined the seasoning ratio. Shake in some more salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning. Sniff the poultry seasoning and be happy Thanksgiving is on the way.
Step 14. Turn the soup on low. Remember that you probably should have had a lid on it or something. Put a lid on it. That might keep it from evaporating. Leave it like that til it is time to leave. Stir it one more time and hope it doesn’t slosh in the car.
While it simmers you can make Mrs. Remnant’s Pumpkin Fluff and gluten free buttermilk biscuits, which are totally easy and actually good, but you need like 5 more minutes than is left after you complete Steps 1-14 in order to make sure the biscuits are all done. That turns out fine though if you have good friends like the Taylors who will tolerate your blowing into their house all like HEY CAN I USE YOUR OVEN! That’s probably because they know they can keep an eye on things so you won’t catch the dinner on fire. Which only happened that one time.
This is a lovely meal. All the grown ups liked it and everyone else’s kids didn’t seem to hate it. Just mine. So, I don’t know what happened there, because I made it just like that last month and they loved it. Eh. Shrug.
Total Time (However long it takes to get home from Walmart on Port which I left at maybe 430? 445? to leaving to go to the Taylors at 630…toldya it’d be important about going to Walmart.)
1 box of chicken broth from Sharp Shopper (maybe Swanson?)
6 cups water
3 big ol bouillon cubes
Half an onion that is totally fine
6 or 7 baby carrots
2 celery stalks (plus however many it takes to satisfy the kid)
1 can undrained sweet corn
1 normal sized can of sort of drained green beans
1 jumbo can (not like cafeteria jumbo, but like family jumbo) of sort drained green beans
1 can of mostly drained peas
3-15 shakes each of all of the following: Garlic powder, salt, pepper, onion powder, poultry seasoning, Frank’s Red Hot Sauce.
All the dark meat off a smallish rotisserie chicken minus what you feed the cats
Enough white meat so you don’t look like a jerk
1 carefully measured cup of white rice plus like…some more.
1 half of a plastic cup of water
The lid to your second biggest pot
Social Studies notes
Hope you enjoy my soup!!!
Point blank, holiness is for weirdos.
The first time I heard “in the holiness tradition” I was pretty sure I just needed to pretend it hadn’t been said. If I were to repeat that phrase to most of my friends, they’d check my pockets for snakes and tell me to go find my big white tent.
It didn’t get any better either. “Entire sanctification,” they said. I mean, come on, guys. That is neither hip nor cool. Holy Spirit talk should be reserved for Pentecost. But Pentecost came and went, and these people were STILL talking about “the power of the Spirit that lives in us.”
In my youth, after Pentecost, we put away the banners with the felted tongues of fire and began to talk about what Youth Sunday would look like this year. Growing up in a church where we prayed corporately reading lines from the bulletin, I was happy to sticker the little flames over the disciples heads and talk about how they all spoke in different languages. I could list off the fruit of the Spirit but as far as this theology was concerned that was sort of it for me.
I listened through a few years of sermons which preached from this theology and just didn’t get it. Mostly I could make everything mesh with what I already believed and rewrite the messages I’d heard to suit my viewpoint. I could hang when they referred to it as “second blessing” which was comfortable in like a folksy, NPR phraseology sort of way, but every now and then someone would say “perfection” and I’d have to sigh quite deeply to drown that nonsense out.
I sat through conversation after conversation and explained how holiness is simply spiritual maturity. It is just learning to act like a decent human being. Sometimes I could badger people into agreeing with me and feel like a conversation winner, and sometimes they just looked at me like I had two heads. Life kept moving on, I behaved like a decent human being (for the most part) and I felt fine enough going to a church in the holiness tradition, because yo, check me out, I’m super spiritually mature.
There came a day where I finally had to have a conversation with myself. “Something has changed in me. I am waiting for it to go back to what it was, but it’s not going back. I know what these people would call this from the pulpit, but I am NOT using those theological terms and I am NOT ready to address the difference publicly. I might need to take a minute and think about, what even is holiness?”
I studied. I prayed. I engaged in conversations. I listened more carefully to the sermons being preached in my presences and I got online and dug into sermon archives to see what I’d missed the first time listening through. I beat my brains against the rock of this theology trying to see just how it could be so, how what I was experiencing could be what these words were describing.
And one day it came to me….
And for the friends I have who don’t really get what I’m talking about when I start talking about holiness, this is what I’m trying to say.
I pushed out to sea in a boat built for me by God sent to carry me across the ocean which separates here from eternity. The horizon stretched out beyond me, unimaginable that I’d ever reach it. I sat in that little boat, and watched as I drifted away from shore. I peeked over the edge and could see the bottom with shells and rocks and I dipped my arm in and tried to reach over the edge to grab a particularly pretty one, but my arm was not long enough.
“Strange,” thought I,”but this ocean seems deeper than I imagined.” And that thought began to needle at me. Because I understood what the water was. The water, that which held my little craft aloft, was grace. It was cool and it was shiny and it was constantly in motion.
It started out as a shallow curiosity, just how far below one might find the sea floor. Wasn’t it Paul who’d said, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Paul wants me to figure out how deep the ocean is! Well, if anyone could figure it out, I am super smart AND super insightful, lots of people have said so.
I reached in my gear and pulled out a ruler. I’m even equipped to measure this! I reached my arm over the edge of the boat again and find that the boat has continued to pull towards the horizon. Deeper and deeper still the ocean grows and my silly little ruler is to short. The further out I traveled, the more this bothered me. This ocean…this bottomless well of His pardon….I should be able to grasp it’s depth, certainly! If thousands of years ago Paul could grasp it, surely I can with all my modern book learning.
I look up and see my Savior approaching, walking on the water towards me, and I know this may be my only opportunity. I call to Him, even when He is a long way off, “How deep is it?!?!” No reply. I draw breath in all the way to fill up my belly, “How deep is it?!!?” I bellow. He just continues to draw near.
Now all I want to do is figure it out before He reaches me. I scramble about the boat, looking for a yard stick, a fish finder, something, anything that I can use to measure better, but all I can come up with is this one limited little 12 inch ruler. It is obviously not enough, but it’s all I have. I drop my arm back in the water, stretching that ruler down as far as I can. I have to have an answer. I have to be able to properly thank Him for the depths of this ocean.
He reaches the boat and I sit up, dripping wet from all my leaning. He reaches a hand towards me, but we have a conversation to settle first and my hands are gripping that ruler tightly. It is my only means of measurement and if I let it go, I will have no way to solve this.
“It’s really deep,” I say, unable to look at Him, embarrassed that I couldn’t figure out the answer, ashamed of how stupid I must seem.
“Mm-hmm,” He replies, seeming almost uninterested in my intense theological quandary.
“I was pretty sure I could figure out how deep and how wide and how vast this ocean is, but this ruler is like, super short. I don’t want to complain about the gear in my boat, but I sort of fill unequipped to measure this.” I shifted uncomfortably on the boat bench.
“Mm-hmm,” He replies again.
“There is still time though. The horizon is still a long way off. Do you have anything with you that can help me? Sonar? One of those tiny submarines that I’ve seen on the Discovery Channel?” He looked at me quizzically and smiled. “I thought not,” I sighed.
He walks alongside of my boat while I consider my situation. After some time, minutes, hours, days, years, I don’t know which, I turn my face to Him again.
“It’s really deep, isn’t it?” I ask again.
He nods and smiles at me, “Mm-hmm.”
I look at my ruler and then at the ocean. I look at the face of my Savior and see His hand still out-stretched.
I reach once more over the edge of my boat…and release my little stick.
I don’t even notice it floating away as I place my hand in His hands, rise up, and step out of my boat. I have seen that the depths of the ocean of grace are not found by my limited understanding of measurement.
The depths of the ocean are found in walking on water in the company of my Savior towards a beautiful horizon.
There are no felted tongues of fire, no snakes, no tents. There is no hard to explain theological language to comprehend. Just me and Him, not worried about how strange it appears to see the two of us, wrapped up in conversation now, strolling further out to sea, foot to wave, together, hand in hand.
That, my friend…that is what even holiness is.
When I first meet Pastor Vic he asked where I was from. “Washington Court House, Ohio,” I’d replied, prepared to explain the usual answers. No, the whole town is not a courthouse. No, we didn’t live in a courthouse. Yes, that was it’s whole name or you can just say “Court House” and we’d know what you meant.
Instead, he said “Really? I sang at a small church there once.” He couldn’t remember the name of the church and after suggesting a few without him finding anything that stuck out, I closed up the conversation and moved on with my kids off to the rest of my Sunday.
We had that same conversation a few more times after that. The last time he shared it, he said the name of the pastor that he’d been invited by, a name I knew from the church history of our church back in Ohio. This pastor in this new church I was attending, had come and sang in my church in the middle of nowhere Ohio. My church.
This has remained as the first moment where I really began to see just how sweetly the story that God has written over this move and this chapter in our lives. One could call it a coincidence. And maybe that’s all it is. Maybe I search too much for meaning in meaningless things. Regardless, this was one of those moments where I feel the breath of God on my ear as He leans in and softly says, “I see you there, Sarah. I have had plans for you for a long time. I know what I’m doing. You can trust me.”
There have been many of those moments over the past few years, where I have seen the words on my pages and recognize the handwriting.
This morning I climbed in the car with two friend to go call on a third who is laid up with a bum ankle. I questioned the direction we were taking and tried to convince them of a right turn when they went left. Set comfortably in the backseat, it didn’t take but a moment to figure out I didn’t have the wheel in my hands, so to just relax and see how we’d get where we were going.
We rolled past JMU and bounced over train tracks as their chatter turned towards the old days in the history of our church. They indicated that the church was really close to us, we could drive past it if I liked. Oh, I liked.
“Rose…” I began to say and felt like I was about to mispronounce the street name, and then flying past my mind’s eye was Rose Ave, part of my Ohio church, a dear ministry which I just nod “right on” when I think of it. “Roosevelt Street,” I said. There was this moment of connection between the two places, as if one had passed the other and waved at a familiar face across the street.
To the right we turned. “Where is it?” I asked, anxious to see just exactly what sort of building housed this family before I joined it. “Right there, behind that tree.” As we pulled past this heavy laden apple tree, there the old church stood. They allowed me to step out and snap a picture. Back in the van I climbed and we continued on our way.
As we rounded the block, I showed them where I lived my senior year of college. “You lived right by the church!” Oh…I did. I lived right by the church, not more than two blocks away. I had no idea.
We continued our morning through stories brought about by familiar locations, our planned visit, through biscuits and coffee, pugs and cats and a lot of laughter. I looked at these three other women with me and was simply satisfied that I had found these people. I knew I had to look at that picture when I left their company, to consider the different direction we’d traveled that morning, to revisit that moment where Rose Ave recognized Roosevelt Street in my brain, to put my eyes back on that corner.
I opened Instagram and posted the picture. This building that I looked at saw the growth that demanded a much larger space, saw the hand of God and saw the brokenness of man meet. This building realistically looks like it could be housed on Rose Ave in Ohio and fit naturally there, less polished, evidencing additions built within limitations of space, worn by time, in the heart of a neighborhood that is reminiscent of Rose Ave’s neighborhood.
When I came to this church it was a long time before I could understand why this church, why these people. They didn’t look like what I imagined myself serving. They didn’t match my image of where I should be called. This morning looking at the roots of the family tree my church is built out of….the history of my church….the foundation of my church…I recognized that this place, these people, they have some Rose Ave in them.
Then there was a whisper, a breath on my ear, “Zoom in.” And I did.
There on the street sign on that corner…Roosevelt St. meets Ohio Ave.
The air slipped out of my mouth. I heard Pastor Vic telling me about his coming here from Ohio where he’d lived and about how he’d been to my tiny town in Ohio decades ago to sing one Sunday. Ohio to Roosevelt.
I thought about how just around the corner from where I lived in college was a story being written for me, about how I had no Ohio in my life yet, and that it would take nearly 10 years in Ohio to even begin to make me into who He could use at this church and how He brought us here. Ohio to Port Road.
Then I recognized the handwriting and heard the whisper as it was read to me, “”I see you there, Sarah. I have had plans for you for a long time. I know what I’m doing. You can trust me.”
I’m awake again in the middle of the night for the 12th time this week. 23rd time this week. 47th…how many days are in a week again? There tapping it’s finger on the front of my face, is a sensation with just enough pressure to make me wonder if it is a major headache brewing or if it is something more sinister which has crawled out of a bad dream and won’t let me be. I can’t sleep.
So I’ve prayed through my nights this week. For family, for friends, for miracles, for release, for lost already and looming loss, for storms which left devastation and storms on the way, for spoken and unspoken things.
A wise man spoke about putting arrows in your quiver to draw out when you are in battle. Those arrows are truth. Those arrows are scripture.
I reach over my shoulder and pull one out. Etched on the long thin line it reads “Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes with the morning.” I place the weapon in ready position, take aim at the darkness and let it fly.
I reach back again and my fingers find the next. “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Steady the bow, loose the arrow and it is out beyond me.
The last I draw out is rougher. I roll it back and forth between my fingers while I consider it, consider if it is safe to use. Consider it’s impact and implications. “We don’t want you to grieve like other people who have no hope.” I set it up to shoot and take it out and reread it.
“We don’t want you to grieve like other people who have no hope.”
It has been years since I first read this verse and feared the message communicated was “Don’t grieve, because grief is some sort of evidence that you are without hope. Swallow the sorrow. Smile.” Oh no. It has been many years since God said to me, “Sarah, grieve. You are allowed to grieve. Just, do it with hope.” I understand that it is not hope versus grief. It is hope pack inside grief, or the other way around, I’m not certain which.
How to manage this feat? How to shoot this arrow at my clock which tells me another hour has gone by and the sun has not yet risen. How do we grieve with hope? What is the difference?
Once more I reach over my shoulder and find the first two arrows, returned to the quiver. Easier in my hand they find their way to the bowstring again.
“Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes with the morning.”
Sorrow happens. A nod to that final arrow. A confirmation that grief is allowed. Beyond that is the first clue. Joy comes in the morning.
I glance out my window and see no sun on the horizon, but I am assured it will make its way, journeying the same path. Certainly if all the light of noonday were to appear in the heavens at this moment my eyes would darken themselves. No, nighttime has stars and a moon, just enough to feel my way through, just enough. The first difference is that we know even when the moon is new and the stars are obscured by clouds, we have an assurance, a basic, take it for granted, fundamental belief that the sun will rise. So too will joy. So too.
“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
There was a time when the only arrow I could find read “Ye, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” I reached again and again and it was the same, over and over. Until someone handed me this arrow and I saw, I may walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but the shadow which is over me is the covering of the Almighty. Under His wing I find protection and defense, but also the light of the world. The shadow of the Most High is no lost impenetrable black valley we find ourselves in at times. It is a place to stay, to find refuge, to rest and remain.
We all will look up and see shadow, the question is what is bigger, our grief or our God? Not what do we make bigger or an instruction to cram the responsibility of somehow growing God in our own estimation on top of our hurt, but simply, which is bigger? If the answer is honestly God then He will have no trouble defending you from your own grief.
Again I touch the third.
“We don’t want you to grieve like other people who have no hope.”
I think maybe I understand. We. I am awake tonight praying for, seeking the word for encouragement to give away. We.
We are not alone. Job’s friends sat in silence and mourned with him, sackcloth and dirt. The disciples clung to one another in the boat as the waves thrashed about. David’s men worried over how to deliver the hard news of child loss for fear of his devastation. Three went in the fiery furnace together. We.
Tonight I am awake for friends. Another night they may lay awake for me. We.
Lay down in your night, I will send you a light.
Cover your face with your hands.
Lay down in your night,
The sun will soon rise,
Morning will begin again.
Lay down in your night, the seconds tick by,
A metronome steady and true.
Lay down in your night,
I’ll keep watch by your side,
I will wait here with you.
I moved my computer off of me and fell asleep last night. I return this morning to finish this post. The sun came up this morning. It rose, and I look again to the promise that joy comes with the morning, and yet I know, for some of my friends it is still midnight.
So I go again to prayer, to looking towards my fortress, to addressing the One who casts a shadow of refuge in the valley of the shadow of death.
For the assurance of His promises, I pray to the Lord.
For the overflow of His Spirit, I pray to the Lord.
For midnight to give way to dawn, I pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear my prayer.