I’m Not the Brave One

“You guys are the brave ones”. It is a phrase that follows our description of rural village life, pioneering in an area yet untouched with the Words of hope. We tell stories of no running water, walking and praying, sharing accounts of miracles when Jesus walked the earth and in our own lives with our neighbors and friends, and even fellow workers will tell us we are heroes.

I like hearing these words, but I’m not brave. In fact, most of the time I feel exactly the opposite of anything resembling courageous, and I wonder if people would still tell me this if they could see how much time it takes me to get ready to make a phone call in Khmer, or how I have shrunk back in fear rather than take steps to cross thresholds and share with people.

The truth is, I am not the brave one. At least, what I do does not make me brave. I join a long list of brave ones who live obedient lives every day, who work hard and sacrifice and love deeply.

You mommas who are staying home to pour your energy into your little ones, or who work to provide for your family, you are brave.

You dads who show your sons how to treat a woman right, to live with integrity in a world that shouts that the opposite is acceptable, you are brave.

You teenagers who defend the defenseless, even when it is unpopular, you are brave.

You mighty prayer warriors, on your knees for your children and grandchildren, for those working in foreign lands, for your neighbors and your country, you are brave.

You college students who give up the successful, common-sense choice of a career to follow the passions the Father has put in your heart, you are brave.

You there saying no to one thing in order to say yes to another, even when no one gets it, you are brave.

You in the trenches, in your home country or in another, putting one foot in front of the other and saying over and over again your faithful yes to Jesus, you are brave.

Right where we are, we can let courage and fear both reside in our hearts as we take the next brave step to obey our Father. His Hand tight over ours, helping to fight that battle along side of us, pushing us forward and giving us the endurance and patience that we need. My role and job do not make me the hero, the brave one. It is the mighty Rock on which I stand that can give me the courage I need for each day.

  

Linking up with Velvet Ashes
  

Amazing Body, Amazing God

Psalm 139:13-16 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous- how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day passed.

My teammate and I have been participating in an online summit all about women’s health, and hormones in particular. Stick with me, for all of you who just read that and got worried. 😉 It was incredibly fascinating to me to learn more about how our bodies are created to function with natural rhythms and cycles, how so many things like our hormones work without outside intervention but can get terribly out of whack because of external or internal stressors. I was reminded of just amazing our God is. He is the one who thought up adrenal glands, and the immune system, the liver to get rid of the toxins in our body, and the cells and the tiniest building blocks within us that keep us going.

When I used to think of my body, all I could see were the outward imperfections. Too tall, too skinny, not skinny enough, not curvy enough, or whatever it happened to be at the time. I sat through health class, listened to the advice of the world of whatever was popular then- eat this, don’t eat that, exercise regularly. I knew it was good to eat well (whatever that really meant) and to take care of my body, but I definitely didn’t stop to think about how intricately designed this body of mine is as part of God’s creation. Often we marvel at the beautiful flowers that open up in the spring time, gaze at the fall leaves and their vibrant colors or a gorgeous Midwestern sunset and feel our hearts brimming with praise. But do we do that with ourselves and with each other, remembering that we are part of God’s precious creation?

We do not worship our bodies, but we bend our knees to the Creator of these bodies and give Him glory by taking care of them. Sometimes we think that things like “self-care” and really focusing on nourishing our bodies is selfish and time-consuming. But I am coming to believe that this is what God wants for us, to do things that give us energy and strength so that we feel good and are able to steward this earthly tent that God has given us.

I think the first step in this process of glorifying God with how we care for our bodies is acknowledging God as the creator of our bodies and asking for His strength to do that well. Maybe we can already point to different systems that need some tender, loving care and maybe we are totally overwhelmed with not knowing where to start. But it is so important, at least in my journey, to start by giving our Father praise for His attentive design in us and really looking at what I think about my own body.

Everyone is different. We each have different bodies that respond differently to situations, we have different stressors and different circumstances, different challenges and different areas that we can potentially work on. So here’s another important key. Know yourself. Don’t just follow someone else’s diet plan or exercise plan, because those might not be the things that you are needing! I think this has really been missing in a lot of health circles. Until we really understand our own body’s needs and rhythms, then we might just be putting a bandaid on something and not really getting to the root issues. Sometimes we need those band aids in order to address emergency situations, but I think we also need to take responsibility to understand who we are and how we can best take care and nourish our bodies for His glory.

I’m so excited to keep learning and growing myself as I understand even more how God designed my body to function and how I can work at taking care of it. Thoughts, opinions, comments, questions? Are there ways you have learned to praise God for how He created you?

P.S.- I’ll try to follow up with a post as I put some really simple, practical things into place in my own life.

Let It Rain

As a farm girl, my life revolved around the seasons. Planting in the spring, harvesting in the fall, and praying for rain to come at just the right time. When the seed was fresh in the ground, we prayed for the gentle, soaking kind of rain that lasted for days, filling in the cracks and seeping in down deep to allow the seeds to sprout and the roots to hold on, firm and sure. A hard and fast rain too soon could wash away the crop, bringing destruction in the vulnerable time right after planting. It was the gentle rains that brought a smile to my dad’s face, the ones that let me know that those seeds had a chance to make it all the way to harvest time. 

This is what I’m praying for right now in Cambodia, in the places where precious seeds have been planted. We are praying for a raining down of the Holy Spirit, a soaking into the dry and thirsty ground. A sure and steady dose of His presence in the darkness, pushing away the fear and death. A lasting shower of power to turn away from tradition to hear the truth and follow after the path of life. 

They are predicting a hard drought this year, a tough time for the rice farmers and those who diligently plant tapioca and corn, who tend the orchards of mangos and longan. May this not be a picture of the spiritual realm in Cambodia in this season. As we pray for rain in the physical sense, let’s pray for that soaking rain of the Spirit over this land and this people. 

Joel 2:23 Rejoice, you people of Jerusalem! Rejoice in the Lord your God! For the rain he sends demonstrates his faithfulness. Once more the autumn rains will come, as well as the rains of spring. 

  

Recent Favorites Roundup

I love getting recommendations for books, movies, music and blog posts from people because it gets me out of my normal ruts and sometimes I discover new favorites! I thought I would offer the same here, with a few of the things flowing through my iPod, Kindle and computer. Feel free to comment with your own suggestions! 

What I’m Reading

I’ve been making more time for books again this year, which makes my little heart happy. Here are a few I’ve read most recently: 

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown. I had no idea how much I would enjoy a book about rowing, which I knew nothing about, although I should have known since I’m a sucker for anything where the underdog wins! Brown did a fantastic job explaining the ins and outs of the sport, delving into the personal lives of the nine young men who poured their hearts into each race, and the cultural and political climate of the time which influenced the Olympics that year. This was a great way to get in the mood for the Games this year! 

Social and Cultural Anthropology: A Very Short Introduction by John Monaghan and Peter Just. This book was recommended by a friend and I was a bit worried that it would be way over my head, but I loved all of the real-life example the authors shared from their own fieldwork experiences. So much of the study of anthropology has application for my current work, and it ended up being a fun read! 

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstronecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon. I am currently working me way through all 672 pages of this book. I was drawn to it by the description of both mother and daughter standing up for women’s rights and stepping into areas that had previously been closed off to women- particularly writing and publishing. While I do think both of these women should be applauded for the work that they did, it has also been fascinating and eye-opening to see how far these ideals took them. Both desired to be completely free of the shackles of the traditional roles of women, which included leaving behind the commitment of marriage in order to pursue love however they saw fit. I’m not finished yet, but I feel like I am learning a lot about England in the late 1700s and early 1800s and about two women I really knew nothing about. 

Find me on Goodreads to check out the other books I’ve read so far in 2016, and I’ll check out your lists too! 

What I’m Listening To

I have slowly been discovering the group I Am They and their album with the same title this month. Each new song I listen to (thanks to Amazon Prime music) becomes a theme song for my day or week. I love the depth of the lyrics, the ways they point back to our Savior and to how much we are loved as His children. I highly recommend their album. Besides Amazon, you can also find their music on iTunes (and if you use YouTube they do have some videos on there). My current favorites are “King of Love”, “Amen” and “Even Me”. 

My friend Katy did a fabulous podcast on American Church Stories dealing with depression and the response of the church. It moved me to tears (which was a bit awkward while riding in the bus home from Phnom Penh), and touched deep parts of my heart. She is honest and open in a beautifully refreshing way. 

Where I’m Connecting on the Internet 

Velvet Ashes is one of the sites I read every day. Their theme this week was on “What If”, exploring some of the deep ways this question sticks in our hearts and minds. Each post this week was great, but the one on Friday really helped me think more about perspective and how that affects the questions I’m asking. 

I don’t keep up with Ann Voskamp‘s blog quite as often but one of her posts this week really encouraged my heart. So often I struggle with not feeling good enough and I loved how she pointed back to our Father whose power shines through in those weaknesses of ours. 

That’s it for this time! I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions. 

  

From “What if…” To Expect God

If kingdoms were based on questions, I would be the queen of “What if…” Anyone that has known me for very long will have heard this question pop up more than once in some form or fashion, and my family could probably fill pages with stories of my worries. It started way back when I was a little girl. What if robbers break into our house at night? I bugged my parents over and over to make sure the doors were securely locked. What if things are not done fairly? I think cutting pieces of pizza into 1/8ths is a little extreme on the scale of equality, don’t you? What if I don’t get the Barbie I want for Christmas? Some fears were more serious than others.

I’m not sure I ever stopped looking for things to worry about. What if I don’t get high enough grades in college? What if I can’t figure out what to do with my life after I graduate…or ever? What if something happens to my family members? You are probably getting the idea that I tend toward the anxious, the pessimistic. I’m a glass-half-empty kind of person.

My what-if questions are not usually happy. I’m realizing that, as I look at my hopes and the thoughts that flit through my mind daily, my expectations need a pretty big turnaround.

Last weekend we were getting ready to make a trip to the border that used to be our home. I woke up the morning of our trip feeling anxious, consumed with those dreaded “what-ifs”: What if no one wants to talk to us? What if the people that we have built a relationship with, who have been open before, now have closed hearts? As I lay in bed, I was asking God for a theme verse for the trip, precious words of Scripture I could put on repeat in my brain that would pour truth into all the anxious places. One popped up on Facebook of all places, something I had posted two years ago (thank goodness for the “On This Day” feature to remind you of previous posts). It comes from Psalm 31:24 in the Message version:

Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up. Expect God.

Expecting God certainly turns my normal what if questions on their head. What if God shows up in a big way? What if God answers the prayer we pray over a sick person? What if He shows us He is still at work in a little way?

I was struck with that fact that I don’t often expect God. I think of the worst-case scenario, dread what is coming, worry my little heart out. But where is my faith to believe that God will step in? To believe that He is already at work? Fears are often legitimate and bad things do happen. But when I put my energy into thinking about those things, rather than resting in the power of a God who created all the beauty I see around me and knit me together in my mother’s womb, I spend hours filled with anxiety when I could be filled with many other good things. I know that I won’t be able to turn off the what-if questions, just like that, but I need to start finishing them in a different way, a way filled with expectancy for what God can and will do.

What would happen if I expected God?

  
Linking up with Velvet Ashes

Taking the Roundabout Way

I used to shy away from the Old Testament; it felt like rules and laws that didn’t apply to me, like weird battle stories and prophesies I didn’t understand. But the more I’ve dug deep into those first stories, the men and women that fill Genesis and Exodus and even the prophets, the more I see myself in their wanderings and wonderings and everyday life.

Take Moses. Oh I could go on and on about this guy, how he let his temper get the best of him (you should see me when I discover the ants have taken over our precious cashews or organic honey AGAIN), how he kept trying to remind God that he wasn’t good with words, that he wasn’t good enough (hello, this is me, every day). God sends him Aaron, and together these two guys help show the Egyptians and the Israelites God’s mighty power. It takes 10 plagues and the death of every firstborn from among the Egyptians and finally Pharaoh lets all the Israelites go. It has been hundreds of years and generations of waiting for God’s promise to take them to the land flowing with milk and honey. The stories have been passed down, and forgotten by many who needed the reminder themselves during the plagues that God was coming to their rescue. It would make sense for them to get there quickly, after all of that waiting! But God had a different plan. Check this out, from Exodus 13:17-18:

When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea.

Does it feel like you are taking the roundabout way? Maybe your life has turned out exactly how you thought it would, but mine certainly hasn’t. I over analyze things anyway, but turning 30 in exactly 46 days has given me lots of reasons to reflect on my life and especially the last decade. I thought as I graduated college that I knew what was coming. I was going to do a year of overseas work to get “missions out of my system”, and then start a “normal” job and get married and do all the things you usually do in your 20s. Well, if you know my story, you know that I didn’t actually go overseas for that year, but it took 5 years and lot of lessons and stretching and amazing experiences and ones I would rather forget some days, before I actually moved overseas. The marriage and the dream job didn’t happen, but a lot of things did that I never planned on, like graduate school and an office job with an organization that I absolutely love, and living in the South and learning a new culture and meeting people who have forever impacted my heart.

I sort of feel like I’m wandering again a bit, taking the less-than-direct way of getting wherever I’m going (which feels a little fuzzy too). But here’s what God promised the Israelites, and I believe He gives this promise to us too. At the very beginning, He showed them the way, knowing which way they needed to go. He gave them a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night so they could keep putting one foot in front of the other on the path He marked out for them. Later on, when Moses like most of us, was ready to be done, questioning the way, God said to him, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest- everything will be fine for you” (Exodus 33:14). We have God’s presence with us, even if we feel like we are taking the roundabout way. And our God takes us by the hand and leads us, because He has a purpose in it all.

Have you seen God take you along the roundabout way?

  

Beautiful Feet

As of the moment I’m pushing publish on this post, there are exactly 60 days until my 30th birthday. In celebration of this occasion, my teammate treated me to an amazing foot spa experience at a fun little place we discovered in our new town. After almost 3 years of flip-flops and dusty roads, my feet are far from beautiful. They’ve carried me for hours on prayer walks, sport a pretty funky sandal tan, and have endured lots of tile floor living. Thankfully, the girl who did my massage knew what Cambodia does to feet and lots of coconut oil and grace later, I feel like a brand new person.

As I let all my muscles relax and savored air conditioning I don’t have to pay for, I thought of this verse: 

Isaiah 52:7 How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!  

If there’s one lesson that I’m taking from my 20s into a new decade, it is that we need to keep going. My job of taking the good news of peace and salvation isn’t a box I can check and be done. Sometimes I let myself think that I have fulfilled my duty, I have left my family and most of my earthly possessions, traded in comfy shoes and high heels for flip-flops and bare feet. I have completed the part of the Great Commission (Matthew 28) that says, “Go”. But I can’t stop there. I have to keep leaving my comfort zone, my house, my town and continue to let these feet carry me to my neighbor, my friends, my enemies, with the Gospel. This applies to all of us, I think, whether we are in a little Midwest town or a gigantic Asian city. Where do your beautiful feet need to take you today?  

Ode to My Backpack

I suppose it is strange to be thankful for a backpack, but I’m about to retire this trusty friend that has stuck with me (like literally had my back) for 15 years. Yes, almost exactly half of my life. So, here’s a farewell letter as a way of saying thanks.

Dear Gray Backpack, 

Yeah, I was never one to give names to inanimate objects but here I am writing a letter to you. We’ve had some pretty grand adventures, you and me. I still remember how proud I was the night I was presented with you at youth group at 15, a prize for raising a certain level of money for the 30-Hour Famine for World Vision (do they still do those things anymore? I know, I’m getting old). You didn’t get much use at first, I mean where exactly can a homeschooler tote a backpack of books except for occasional trips to the library? But all you had to do was wait and your travels could only grow from there. 

Your first real test was that maiden day of college, as I packed you full of new and used textbooks and bravely set out for the first day of classes. Could I do it, could I take tests and take notes in class and survive? Soon I was fully in the swing of things, leaving you in the front of the cafeteria with all of the other backpacks and messenger bags with no worries of someone stealing you, slushing through rain and snow with you to go to and from class, to study sessions and even on a trip over spring break to Chicago. You stayed strong and were put to good use through 4 years of college and then 3 years of graduate school.

Your first trip out of the US was that summer to Ecuador. Do you remember when I sent you through the airport security scanner, scared to death because I had no idea what I was doing? Soon both you and I became a pro at going through security, finding a place to squeeze you under the seat or in the overhead bin. After that first trip you faithfully carried all my belongings through the streets of Quito, Rome, Phnom Penh and Bangkok, to the beach of Sicely and Elephant Island. You made countless trips to Dallas and Omaha, back and forth from my Midwest home to my southern home. On one such trip someone saw your sturdy bottom and unique design and asked me where she could find such a great backpack. But of course, you are one of kind and probably by now rather an antique. 

You’ve handled the rigors of bus travel across Cambodian countryside with style and grace, dealing with the dirty floors I set you on, taxi drivers reaching to grab you in order to get my business. I’ve stuffed way more than I should have been able to inside of your canvas interior and you’ve helped me get all the precious goods from the big city to my village home countless times. 

And now your straps are wearing out, beginning to rip and I’m afraid that soon I won’t be able to use you anymore for fear of a complete tear. So, dear backpack, you are being given permission to retire, after 15 years of faithful service. Thanks for all your help and companionship through my adventures of the last decade and a half. I can only hope your replacement will last half as long as you have!

Yours, 

Sarah

  

Thirsting for Joy

  
My soul was thirsty as the pastor preached that Christmas Eve. He spoke of joy and I realized that was what I needed, and I latched on to that word like it was a big jug of water out in the middle of a dry desert. It became my theme as the calendar turned from 2014 to all of the blank pages of 2015, and I decided I was going to figure out how to get this joy, how to make it a reality in my life.

Rather ironically, most of the last year joy was the last thing residing in my heart. It was squeezed out by jealousy, sadness, apathy, bitterness and all of their cousins and friends. I said goodbye to familiar routines and places and people and launched out to a completely new and remote area to begin a work I’m not the least bit qualified to do. I watched my teammate go through some pretty significant health crises, learned I don’t do well with no running water, saw relationships start and end. I rode in a bus for 9 hours at a time making way too many trips back and forth to the big city, spent way too much time feeling guilty for needing to rest, and paid way too much attention to the expectations of others and what (I perceived) they were thinking of me.  

And then I fell hard as the pedestal called perfection crumbled beneath me. I had bought into the lie that labeling myself “missionary”, being the good girl, earning the graduate degree, would set me above the rest. I wanted to be known, loved, valued. I didn’t want brokenness, depression, burnout. The weight pressed in, the darkness weighed heavy as I looked at my failures, the words that should have been spoken and weren’t. I heard the Enemy’s whisper, “You messed up. You should have… And you didn’t. You aren’t good enough for… You’ll never do this.” I fought his lies and ended up bruised and bloodied. Joy seemed impossible in the midst of it all. But even in those moments when my feelings told me God was far away, He wasn’t. Words jumped off the page from His Word when I needed comfort, needed to hear and see truth. He sent gifts of comfort, rain that washed my through my soul and filled countless buckets for our empty tanks. 

There have been some golden nuggets that have surfaced through all of the pain and frustration of this last year, some lessons I am learning about what joy really means.

Joy is not just a feeling or a choice but a fight. I don’t care if you live in a villa in the Alps or a dusty border town in southeast Asia, there are plenty of things that come along daily to steal your joy. I have to ask the Father every day to see with His eyes, to look around me and find something I can thank Him for, let go of the hold the circumstances have on me in order to let joy fill my heart.

There is joy when you come to a place of brokenness. If there is any good that has come from a lot of the messy parts of the last 12 months, it is learning that the very best place I can be is broken and surrendered to Jesus. It took getting knocked clean off my little missionary pedestal to realize that God can accomplish everything He wants to, with or without me, using my strengths or my weaknesses. Not stealing His glory, not demanding my way and my rights but being that broken vessel that lets His light shine bright.

In this joy-battle you need others to fight along with you. After being the only 2 foreigners and only 2 believers in our little town, my heart is hungry for community, and I am grateful for some changes that will make that more feasible. Even when I was far away from physical contact, I am so grateful for those people I knew I could email when the darkness was pressing in, people who spoke truth and allowed the Holy Spirit to provide conviction or comfort. I am grateful for my family and friends who prayed along with me, sometimes when I didn’t really know how to pray myself. It hurt to let people see my raw heart, to put my failures out there for others to see, but being honest opened up places for healing to come in.

My heart is still thirsty, desperate for Jesus to come in to the dry places and fill me with Himself. I am still broken, and flailing around to try and understand what it means to live that way in this season. But I am grateful, for this joy journey that is far from finished, and the God who comes alongside and holds my hand through it all.  

Photo from Velvet Ashes

 

Quiet: OneWord365 2016

  

Quiet.  

If you were to create a list of words to describe me, this one would probably land at the top. While I enjoy getting up in front of people to talk about a cause I am passionate about and catching up over a cup of coffee with a friend is delightful, I can normally be found listening rather than speaking when in a group and will give you my opinion in the minimum amount of words possible.

So why is this the word reverberating around in my brain, finding its way into my prayers these days? Teleport yourself to my dusty border-town street in Cambodia and you might guess why. The little chick that followed his mama around to nest in our flowers pots has grown up into a mangy teenage rooster who likes to try out his cockledoodledoo first thing in the morning. The motorcycles rev, car horns blast, neighbors call out in anger and good will in rapid succession. No, quiet is the last word you would use to describe this place after the karaoke gets going as the night wears on.  

But actually, that’s not even the reason I’ve been pondering this word. No, it has more to do with my heart. Much like my surroundings, my heart is anything but quiet. Fear, jealousy, frustration, lonliness; these emotions do battle with joy and some days they win a rather messy victory. A quiet heart, a surrendered and trusting heart feels like a far-off fantasy.  

As I look ahead to a fresh calendar and the 12 months of 2016, I know that my life and surroundings probably won’t calm down. There are more transitions looming on the horizon and a whole lot I’m probably thankful I don’t know about yet. I’m sure there will be incredible joys and grand adventures, plans that go according to what I’m hoping and many that don’t. In the midst of it all, I want to learn more about a heart at peace, trusting the Father no matter what. I want to still, to rest in Him in freedom without the self-condemning voices telling me all that I should be doing. I want to delve deeper into what it means to let Jesus lead me by peaceful streams and rest in green meadows, to know in all times a quiet heart.  

So while you might grin and wonder why ‘quiet’ should be a lesson I need to learn, I hope that through this year it will not just be a word that describes my lack of vocalization in most circumstances but one that reveals the condition of my spirit, the attitude of my heart.

Lord, give to me a quiet heart 

That does not ask to understand,

But confident steps forward in

The darkness guided by Thy hand.

– Elisabeth Elliot
I am linking up with Velvet Ashes as they share about OneWord365, a word each one has chosen or that has been put on their heart as a theme for the next year. Visit their website to read what others are sharing!