Dear Single Sister

Dear Single Sister,

I have a confession. Or maybe three or four.

Sometimes I don’t like being single. I know I should be content, should count the gifts. And I do. But then I come home to an empty house, or wrestle my way through a tough financial issue or google how to fix a leaky sink. I kill a ginormous spider with an entire can of Raid and think how nice it would be having someone to walk with me through those things, to be strong when I’m not, to care for me, and to challenge and teach me.

Sometimes I wrestle with the collision of my relationship status and my calling. My heart bursts when I think about how much I desire for the people around me to love Jesus. I want so desperately to see the harvest the Lord has in store here, for His glory to burst forth like water overflowing. I want to be obedient, to keep tasting of cultures and languages and passport countries other than my own. Yet the desire to get married often equals needing to leave the field in my mind. What would I choose? Can I somehow have both dreams?

I have a wedding board on Pinterest. I love weddings, partly the thought of my own someday, and partly because I still hold on to the dream of being a wedding and event planner when the door opens for a career change. But sometimes I realize that the dream of getting married is more than just a dream. It becomes an idol in my heart, something I demand from God and hold against Him for not giving me. Marriage is an amazing gift from God but it will not ultimately satisfy my heart. Then I step back, delete that Pinterest board, or at least stop looking for the latest fashion trends and color schemes. I spend more time with my first Love, letting Him remind me of the depth of His love for me. Yet I still hope. I believe that God is the author of the love stories I see around me every day, and that it isn’t wrong to keep asking Him, to surrender the dream and desire and ask Him to fill me up with His desires.

Despite only receiving a card from a boy once in my life (and that not until college), I love Valentine’s day. Maybe that’s weird. Yeah, just a bit. I think it’s because I have a much bigger picture of love and think we should celebrate it. I’ve had amazing friends through the years. My parents and siblings are simply the best. I love getting a day to tell them in fun ways through cards and special meals and flowers or chocolate. (Plus it was my grandma’s birthday. So it always meant a party and cake!)

There are parts of this single life that are painful- things people have said to me, the lies I’ve believed about myself, being left behind. I grieve those parts, but they do not define me. My hope for you, single sister, is that you do the same. Be sad about the hard and messy parts, but find the joy too. Singleness itself, like marriage, can be a gift but there are gifts to be found in the midst everyday ordinary of our singleness too. God’s love for you, for me, is so completely beyond my comprehension. Can we just rest in that for awhile? His kindness in sending Jesus to purchase our freedom is a gift undeserved and yet made available to us. His power is at work within us to do far more than we ask or imagine. This life and our relationship status is temporary, yet His love is everlasting.

hot-chocolate-2037706_1920

The Power of Little Things

This is the chair where I meet with Jesus, morning light peeking through the leaves of the jackfruit tree outside my window. I’ve dreamed about this spot for a long time, my own little space where I can curl up and sing softly praises to my Savior, let His Words of Truth cleanse my soul. It is the perfect chair- cozy and wide and sturdy, rattan to remind me of Asia.

There’s a spot on the ledge for my coffee mug, my memorial stone from the week in Thailand last August when ‘tumor’ and ‘surgery’ and ‘benign’ became part of my vocabulary, part of my story. In those scary moments when I felt so alone, God took me to a place of complete dependence on Him because I had nowhere else to go. Now when the fear threatens to grip my heart as I stare into the foggy future, I sip coffee and remember to hope, to trust, to hold tight.

I light my candle and let the gentle scent rise as incense to my King. It reminds me that Light pierces the darkness, always. Light breaks through victorious, our All-Consuming Fire is working, refining, drawing. In the nations where it feels like the darkness is winning, He cannot be conquered or extinguished, even in the places where it feels like the faintest flicker can’t keep going.

The picture frame was a rare find in the little dollar store in the mall. It holds a memory, a moment I treasure with my little nephew tucked in beside me with a new book, my just-born niece cozy in my lap. I can’t help but smile and thank God for the gift of my people, those dear ones He has placed in my life.

Most days, I fight to understand, fight the ugly that keeps pushing through in my heart. I wrestle with the brokenness I see around me, despair over lack of fruit and lack of energy and the fear of all the rest of me that might be lacking. I question and doubt, allow faith to rise in my heart and then wonder yet again. Sometimes I listen and sometimes I’m too quick to speak, to fix or control. Deep joy and deep sorrow reside together, one overpowering the other depending on the day.

Yet, in this spot, with all these precious little things, I get to pause. I get to delight yet again in all of these small gifts undeserved, and feast upon the true source of joy and hope, my firm foundation in the midst of the chaos.

mood-1693832_1920

Do You Pray for Your Tuk-Tuk Driver?

We’ve worn a path between the guesthouse and my sister and brother-in-law’s apartment, walking the same familiar streets every morning the last two weeks.  There’s the corner grocery store, aisles bursting with special imported goodies and all the staples. There’s the little roadside cart; the scent of fresh coffee grounds invites us from afar. Near the last corner we greet an elderly couple as they sit outside their home with bowls of soup and rice. Their son The Barber just invested in the little carts we call Tuk-Tuks so he can transport customers around the city. If he’s not busy when it’s time to run an errand or see the sites, we’ll all pile in his Tuk-Tuk for a ride.

He loves to chat as we weave our way through traffic. “This person was very old,” he informs us as we pass the black and white funeral tent. He always seems to be in the know. He’ll practice his English and ask clarifying questions. “You really only have one word for all the forms of rice?”

One day on our way home from an outing, he wanted to know more about what I was doing in Cambodia. I gave him the easy answer first. “We teach English at a local cafe.” But then I added the true reason, why we deal with hot season and constant rains and ants and the nitty gritty hard and messy of life here. “We are people who love Jesus and want to share about the hope of Jesus with the people here.”

He turned back to look at me. “Jesus?” I realized he probably had never heard the name before, he was learning of Jesus for the first time. The traffic picked up and he had to focus on the task at hand. But my heart stirred as I realized all the people who are along those worn paths in my life, the streets I walk every day. Do I pray for my Tuk-Tuk driver, the cashier at the little corner grocery store, my favorite barista? Do I care enough to stop, to know their name and their story, to share my heart and the heart of the Savior?

Who are the people you see daily? Let’s take time to pray for them today and share the hope that we have. 

img_0890

Top 5 Books of 2016

I LOVE to read and somehow managed to consume 45 morsels of (mostly) delicious literary goodness in 2016. How that happened, I’m not totally sure, but I promise you I did work and do other important life things.

Hey, I use Goodreads to track all the books I read. I would love to have you join me and feel free to share your recommendations and favorites.

Here’s a roundup of my top five favorite books in 2016.

In no particular order:

These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

This was one of my favorites growing up when my dad used to read the entire series to us. It had been a long time since I read this particular gem for myself, so when I saw it at the bookstore in Phnom Penh I splurged. So worth it.

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

Montgomery didn’t write many books for adults but I fell in love with this one. Maybe I could identify with the heroine- an old maid who allowed others to dictate who she was and her worth. I laughed often, something I don’t usually do when I’m reading. It was perfect for indulging in right after I turned 30 and had a crisis in my singleness. 🙂

Looming Transitions by Amy Young

It is not often that I get to read a book by someone I know. I love Amy and her blog and posts on Velvet Ashes and this book did not disappoint. I have to admit I was a bit afraid to read it because I thought maybe that would mean changes were coming (something I’m not a huge fan of) but this book is an excellent resource for anyone going through transition or preparing for a change. It is helpful even when everything feels pretty stable, because, hey, change is pretty inevitable.

Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist

Shauna has a really poetic writing style and I identified with so much in her book. It is probably one of my favorites because it was exactly what I needed in the season in which I read it.

The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

This has been on my to-read list for a while, so when I saw it was available from the local public library while I was in America, I snatched it up. It was a fascinating and in-depth look at the making of the atomic bomb, and I enjoyed learning about this aspect of World War 2.

Honorable mentions (it is hard to pick just 5!):

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon

VERY long (672 pages) but interesting.

Rome 1960 by David Maraniss

I love sports stories and anything having to do with the Olympics. This isn’t one of the more well-known Olympic games but it was a great look into some of the stories and what was happening in the world at that time.

Afton of Margate Castle by Angela Hunt

This medieval fiction book was set in a time period I don’t often read about, by an author I have liked for a long time. And it was free on Kindle.

What were your favorites in 2016?

img_0690

 

 

 

Return to Praise

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the year my teammate and I spent living in a rural border village. In many ways, it was one of the hardest years of my life (except perhaps 2016), and it is only by God’s grace I survived. I had a lot of unhealthy emotional patterns, and the Enemy of our souls was out to kill and destroy. There were so many daily frustrations and challenges that, individually, would have been stressful but combined drained much life out of my soul. That maybe sounds like I’m exaggerating, but I was in pretty sorry shape when we finally made the decision to move.
Every day my teammate and I would brew coffee and sit on the tile floor of our shared bedroom to pray. Sometimes (maybe often) we would cry together, broken-hearted over Cambodia and our own hearts, completely devoid of energy and saddened over the lack of fruit, or just plain homesick. We cried out to Jesus in those prayer times, speaking words of Scripture and claiming those promises for this village and our own lives. We clung to the gifts, even when it was difficult to see them, turning them into words of praise. We turned on music when it felt like the words wouldn’t come, soaking and listening and allowing the lyrics to speak our prayers for us.
There are many painful memories and hurtful things from our time in the village, but those prayer times are actually a precious memory to me. God was teaching me about worship. He was teaching me to draw close to Him in the pain, to keep my eyes on Him because He is worthy of worship even from the wilderness.
Jesus is reminding me of these memories and bringing me back to a place of worship. I’m not musical by any stretch of the imagination (my family normally ends up doubled over in laughter over our poor attempts at “Happy Birthday”), but I’m starting to incorporate singing into my daily time with the Lord. I’m beginning my list of the things I’m grateful for each day after a stretch of pausing that practice, and my eyes are opening even more to the tender ways God cares for me in the littlest of things. He is drawing me into a new place of worshiping Him no matter what the situation is around me or whether I’m “feeling it” or not.
I’ve been challenged recently by these two quotes:
“The stability of the world depends on the rejoicing in God’s works…. If on earth, such praise of God does not come to pass…then the whole order of nature will be thrown into confusion”.
– John Calvin
“Praise Him in the midst of the darkness. Praising God while the tumult swirls is true spiritual warfare. And wait in anticipation for the day you see God more clearly”.
– Mary Demuth, Beautiful Battle
img_0412

The Gifts I Didn’t Want

My grandma used to make things easy and give the same gifts to all of the granddaughters at Christmas. One year when I was about 6 or so, all I wanted was a Barbie doll, and I was so looking forward to the fun I was going to have after unwrapping this gift on Christmas day. We had gathered in my grandparents’ living room and wrapping paper already littered the floor. I watched as my younger cousin opened up her gift and it was exactly what I had longed for- that Barbie with the fun clothes and long blonde hair. But the gift I opened up first? A Barbie coloring book. No, I thought, this isn’t what I asked for! I’m embarrassed to say I burst into tears in disappointment and jealousy. My grandma was kind and patient and said with a twinkle in her eyes, “Sarah, just wait! There’s another present for you to open”.

I do this too with my Heavenly Father and the gifts He gives to me. This year I have been far more likely to throw a toddler tantrum as I unwrapped less-than-ideal situations. I have stomped my feet as I watched others around me get the answers to prayer or their longed-for desires- a spouse, a baby, successful ministry opportunities, good health. I have cried over my singleness, my brokenness, my loneliness and the silence. These are the gifts you are giving me, Jesus? NO, this isn’t what I wanted!

Yet, these are gifts, if I can pause long enough to see them as such. In my singleness, God is slowly, slowly teaching me that He is the tender warrior and protector of my heart. He is slowly, slowly chipping away at the thick walls of my soul, coaxing me out to know His deep love. He waits for me to finish my whining, and reminds me that I can trust Him with my whole being, with the places I have kept in the darkness because of shame or fear of rejection. Oh, the pain still tightens its grip on my heart, the anxiety rises up until all I can do is breath in and out, but He patiently reminds me that this too shall pass. He knows this pain intimately and sits with me in it, even if He doesn’t take it away like I want Him too.

did get that Barbie I so desperately wanted that year. But you know what? I should have been just as grateful for a coloring book given in love, for a grandmother who forgave my childish outburst and the family gathered in that living room. Jesus, keep teaching me to say yes and thank you to the gifts you give me.

Musings inspired by this post on Velvet Ashes: Unwanted Gifts

Thank yous 

Finding gifts in the ordinary. 

To the ants in every house in Cambodia I’ve ever lived in: 

Oh heavens, you’ve taught me patience! When you showed up in the strangest places- the bathroom, the middle of the living room floor, underneath the couch cushions, and of course the expected spots like our honey bottle left out on the table and the container of granola just waiting to be invaded- sometimes I just wanted to pull my hair out, or grab the can of Raid and turn our space into a chemical war zone. But, slowly I’ve learned to let go, to take a smaller amount of satisfaction in extinguishing you, and to not sweat the small stuff. 

To my bright pink Nikes: 

In the beginning, I chose you not because of your flashy color but because you were super comfortable. But you made starting to run this fall much more fun! I loved lacing you up and hitting the pavement (or the dirt roads) with you. I’m glad that I didn’t settle for the more subtle gray pair I thought about getting because I would have missed out on your flare for this season. 

To turning 30: 

I have dreaded you, the big 3-0, for months if not the last couple of years. Somehow entering this brand new decade that starts with you was intimidating and a bit sad as I said goodbye to the 20s and all my hopes and dreams for what I thought would have happened by now. But, dear 30, you really haven’t been so bad. Thank you for treating me tenderly in these first 9 months, for allowing my aging body to not completely fall apart just yet, for a few gray hairs to remind me of my finiteness, and the hope of things to come. 

To my cozy white sweater: 

My thin, tropical blood has been so very thankful for you! You were the cheap and bulky sweater I found in the Toul Tompoung market and squeezed into my suitcase two years ago for the trip home. I have many sweet memories of the places I have worn you each time I’ve returned and I was so happy to pull you out of the winter tote on this visit. You make all this winter-in-Nebraska weather just a bit more bearable. 

To tractors: 

Being a farm girl, I’m certainly no stranger to you. But thank you for providing ENDLESS entertainment for my 2-year old nephew, whether it is in the form of pictures or books or videos of Grandpa and his farm work, or the awesome remote control machinery videos we discovered on Youtube. I’m pretty sure my nephew thinks my name is “tractor”, at least that is what he says the minute he sees me now. But thank you for the snuggle time when we are in person, and the sweet interactions on video chats as we watch/discuss/look at you. 

To Christmas cookies: 

There’s just nothing quite like the scent of vanilla and butter and sugar wafting from the oven when it is time to make you, dear Christmas cookies. Thank you for the opportunity for family bonding, for adding a little extra padding to my waistline, and for the moments of joy you bring when we partake of you as we play a game all together on a chilly December evening. 

To Matthew’s neon socks, Christmas hats, and my dad’s childhood Santa: 

You are quirky and crazy and fun. You made decorating our slightly crooked Scotch pine oh so enjoyable, even if I had to be the one to string on the beads this year (not my favorite job). You brightened up the pictures we took, added moments of laughter and joking and sibling banter, and reminded me to slow and breathe and focus on joy and gratefulness rather than the days speeding ahead way too fast. Thanks for the memories. 


Training in Grace

For some crazy reason I decided to try and run a 5K on Thanksgiving day. After a long stretch of not feeling up to a lot of physical activity, the month before heading back to the States I had increased energy, was able to exercise more, and felt inspired. I hate running. I’ll just put that out there. Yet, setting a goal and working toward it sounded good in the midst of a lot of things not going well in my life at the time. 

My brothers are the running experts, with several full and half-marathon medals on display in their rooms. They showed me warm-up exercises, the proper technique to avoid injury, and got me set up with some good running shoes. I downloaded the app they both use for tracking how much to do on what days in order to be ready to go on race day. The app even had a plan for couch to 5K in 2 months (yes, that would be me). I was set. And I started training. I ran up and down the rolling hills of Pierce County, slowly adding up the minutes I was able to run without stopping and needing a break. 

I wish this illustration ended with a successful race on Thanksgiving morning, but unfortunately a serious respiratory issue and a flare-up of some other health challenges…and travels…and life, brought my training to a grinding halt and then there just wasn’t time to prepare adequately. So there you go. 

But here’s the deal. We were talking about the idea of self-control in Sunday school this Sunday, sharing honestly about some of the places we struggle. This verse from the study sort of popped up off the page and worked its way into my heart. 

Titus 2:11-12 For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness and devotion to God. 

I’ve often thought of self-control as a matter of the will. If I decide I’m not going to do something, then I need to stick to it and will myself into shape. I’ve never thought about self-control being linked to grace. Grace brings salvation, as these verses point out, but then it is the foundation for right living. I don’t know about you, but like I can’t just jump off the couch and run a 5K tomorrow, I don’t naturally give myself grace. I am not good at living a grace-full life, or often extending that grace to others. I need training. I need practice. I need reminders to let the Holy Spirit cultivate a heart of grace, which then helps me learn how to reign in my mind and emotions and actions. Maybe grace is more about wisdom, knowing when to say yes and when to say no, than a free pass to do whatever we want. Grace teaches us that self-control isn’t about rigid rules and regulations, but safety and protection around our hearts and minds and relationships. 

I still want to run a 5K someday, and have switched my app to give me a plan for being able to complete that length in April (so if anyone knows of a race in the middle of hot season in southeast Asia, just let me know). I haven’t given up. And I’m slowly learning that training needs to happen in the area of grace and self-control too (if only they had an app for that). 

A Different Christmas Perspective

Snow is falling lightly outside the window, Christmas carols playing on the radio. I’m curled up on the couch with a real book in my hands, enjoying a slow morning.

I’m home in my passport country for the holiday season for the first time in four years, and it feels like I’m seeing everything with new eyes. I’ve missed Christmas sweaters and the scent of pine filling the whole house, dazzling lights sparkling next to all of our favorite ornaments.

Christmas was so different in Cambodia. I’m a Nebraska girl spoiled by cold weather and snowflakes, and wearing short-sleeves and sweating in December just never seemed quite right. I would hear Christmas carols playing in the fancy mall and get teary-eyed because I wasn’t at my home church to sing by candlelight on Christmas Eve. Christmas cookies took effort, searching for the right ingredients and adjusting and simplifying to deal with the heat and humidity.

Somehow, though, those little gifts brought joy. I didn’t miss the hustle and bustle of all the shopping and parties and programs, but savored the moments of reading through the Luke account of Jesus’ birth with the AC on and cup of hot chocolate in hand. Our little tree with a few precious decorations made me smile every time I walked into the room, and a pine-scented candle added a special touch as my very favorite carols played from my iPod.

Now, just as I have the last three years, I slow my heart, breathe deeply of God’s peace in the Christmas season. I am learning, slowly, to find joy no matter where I am. I can savor the familiar traditions with my family, baking cookies with my mom, and eating caramel corn next to the real tree with only the Christmas lights on, just as the new traditions in a far-away country have grown precious and sweet. So, as I add a few extra layers of clothing to stay warm against that chilly Nebraska wind, I can smile and choose joy, right here, today.

 

Check out these posts of Christmas musings from years past, as I’ve wrestled with what Christmas looks like in a foreign country:

Traditions, Old and New (2012)

What Does Christmas Look Like? (2013)

Finding Joy in Christmas Cookies (and in Jesus) (2014)

The Christmas I Used to Know (2015)

Grateful Thanksgiving 2016

Last year at Thanksgiving, my teammate and I were back in a house we strongly disliked (no running water, critters of various sizes and shapes, piles of termite dust heaping up under our bed every night, etc.), our hurting hearts trying to be brave. We had just arrived after a month in the States, dealing with a thick layer of dirt everywhere, our front gate area turned into a chicken coop by the roving mama hen and her growing babies, and plants that had not survived the lack of rain. We gathered a few of those leafless sticks and made ourselves a thanksgiving tree, digging deep into our hearts for the good in the midst of the hard, straining to see with grateful eyes.

When I think back over the last 11 months of 2016, mostly the moments of heartache come to mind, the seasons of exhaustion and discouragement and all those times I was ready to just give up. Yet, I know there have been gifts, riches in the darkness and even the hard things have been used in my life to grow me and push me closer to Jesus.

Walk back through this year with me as I celebrate God’s goodness.

  • I turned 30 this year, a milestone that was worth celebrating. I looked back over my 20s and felt sad over some of the things I thought would happen but didn’t. There are also plenty of things that I got to see, experience, and do in that decade that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I’m super grateful for a teammate, sister, brother-in-law and nephew who made the entrance into my 30s extra special, and for all kinds of cards and messages that made their way across the ocean. 6 months in, I have to say 30 isn’t half bad.

 

  • When we left Liam, I was exhausted by the drain of village life and full of guilt for not being able to make it. But, each time we went back to visit, the Father reminded me that He is in control and is still at work there. I have been surprised by relationships that have deepened since we left, new friendships that have started, and fresh ways to pray for that area.

 

  • I was supposed to go to Indonesia this year, a trip I’ve dreamed about for a while now. But it didn’t happen. Even though I wrestled through disappointment and doubt in God’s plan, I can look back and thank God for how He ministered to my heart in the midst of the upheaval, spoke through His Word and brought me through that valley.

 

  • Having surgery in a foreign country wasn’t on my bucket list. But I am so thankful for all God’s gifts in the midst of that happening- compassionate doctors who were there on the days I needed them to be, my supervisor and her support and presence, sweet friends who walked through the whole week from diagnosis to surgery to waiting for results and sent emails and songs and prayers from afar, special treats while recovering and waiting to find out if the tumors were cancer like Starbucks coffee and real books from a bookstore and a movie theater all to myself.

 

  • I am thankful for the 34 years of my cousin’s life, the 30 years I got to know him. It was too short and yet I am grateful for the way that he impacted my life.

 

  • I am thankful for the people who gave me permission to go home, permission to be honest and broken and weak instead of putting up a strong front and pretending it was all okay, especially my supervisor, teammate, sister and the rest of my family. I am thankful for the ones who have spoken Truth into my life over this year, even when I wasn’t in a place to hear it yet. I am thankful for the opportunity to be at home now, to find healing and refreshment and the freedom to listen for God’s voice and say yes no matter what that means.

 

  • I can’t imagine my life without  two very precious people, my nephew and new niece. I love them with all my heart and am so, so privileged to be their auntie.

 

  • There was a trip many years in the making, and a dream that actually came true when my sister and I found each other in the Frankfurt airport to start our adventure in Germany and the Czech Republic. Chocolate croissants, family history, majestic cathedrals, train rides through the gorgeous countryside- yes, my heart is certainly full from that trip this fall.

 

  • The kindness of Jesus, freedom I don’t deserve but is lavished on me. The heart of the Father who delights in me, even at my worst, who rejoices over me with singing, and His abundant Grace. I am SO quick to forget the essence of the Gospel, to work it out in daily life. Yet, God is so very patient with me and it is because of Him that I can look back with joy at all He has done this year.

 

Psalm 28:6-7 Praise the Lord! For he has heard my cry for mercy. The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving. 

IMG_9160.jpg

Who can resist this sweet face? The birth of Miss Grace Elizabeth was certainly a highlight of this year.