Monthly Archives: January 2021

Change…It is a Coming…

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If this past year and current set of realities have taught me anything, it is that there is one absolute common denominator among all people. It does not matter age, political lean, religious affiliation, skin color, primary language or educational background – every single person at some point in their life encounters a change that they 100% without question…hate. The change could be something relatively minor where you got a wild thought to try a new hairstyle – and within minutes found yourself willing the hairs to grow back at warp speed. It could be a change that you thought about long and hard – a new job, taking a relationship to the next level, deciding to get pregnant, or buying that new car you’ve always wanted. Each of those ‘good’ changes, but all with new responsibilities, expectations, hardships and cost. Changes like these are seemingly ‘in your control’ – and still they can be difficult and hard. Then there are the changes that blindside you. The ones that sneak up from behind – you had no clue they were coming. The kinds of changes that not only knock the wind out of your lungs but leave you numb and seemingly broken as you lay blasted on the ground. The changes that you have no control over – that rush in, overwhelm and leave lasting, lingering, seemingly awful affects. A pandemic, for example, that sweeps the world and altars every facet of life that you know. An election that goes far beyond 2 candidates and unleashes an anger, distrust, and belittlement of others – on all sides – that leaves your head pounding, your heart aching and your mind spinning – that ends relationships among families and friends and divides far more than it ever hoped to reconcile. Racial tensions unlike anything you had seen – with brokenness, exhaustion and anger from those who have never known anything but the like, ignorance and arrogance from those who will never hope to understand, and a lostness and ache from those caught up in the middle. Or perhaps death…of a loved one…taken far too early, for no apparent reason, wreaking havoc and forever changing the fabric of the people left behind. Changes. I hate them.

When my husband, Chris, and I got married, we were ridiculously young and relatively stupid. We were a young 20 years old respectively and had not one clue in this world what we were doing, but glory did we love each other. As a wedding gift, my mother decided to give me the hope chest you see pictured here. If I’m being honest, I found the gift kind of odd and a little irritating for a few reasons. One, the idea of a hope chest was to help a girl plan and prepare for her eventual wedding day. It was supposed to store up ideas, hopes and dreams for all the things a girl would want for her special day and start to her new married life. Its entire make up and design was to prepare you for a major change in your life. There is no other piece of furniture that symbolizes ‘change’ more to me than this particular piece. (I wasn’t a fan.) A second reason I found this piece odd and aggravating was that it was given to me the weekend OF my wedding – like less than 24 hours prior to the event. So I never actually used it for it’s ‘intended’ purpose and therefore I found it to be a super goofy gift. (I was 20 and kind of a goober – what can I say?) And then third, I just wasn’t particularly a fan of the decor painted on the front. Nevertheless, I placed a few random knick-knacks inside, sat it in my living room, and just kind of ignored it. 4 houses, 4 kids, and 24+ years later and the dumb thing still sits here – tucked away in a random corner.

It had been fine to sit in its little random spot because the area where it sat didn’t really have any purpose (seemed fitting for this piece, no?), until recently. At the start of this year, my sweet Christopher sat down with me to encourage me to finally begin to run after a dream I have had for decades. He shared with me that maybe it was time that I really began to take seriously my love for writing. Along with this encouragement came the suggestion that we finally give purpose to some space in our bedroom, and turn it into a place for me to sit and write. I ran straight into this endeavor with full gusto, and low-and-behold met up with my old friends ‘insecurities’ and ‘procrastination’ and suddenly writing needed to take a backseat until I could make the space ‘just so’. Makes sense, does it not? (We won’t mention the fact that this writing endeavor would mean a huge life change for me; my fear of said change; and how that ties into this blog on every conceivable level. No…we’ll just keep that to ourselves.). Wouldn’t you know that within moments, I was suddenly completely and totally fixated on this dumb cedar chest. My initial instinct was that this stupid thing needed to leave. I sat on the floor, and slowly began to think through where I would redistribute it’s contents so that I could finally rid myself of this wooden box. I was almost elated as I processed where and how I would get rid of it. When the random thought occurred to me – ‘you could always just paint it’. You ever have a moment where you not only begin to audibly talk to yourself, but actually get a bit snarky and seemingly start to argue…with yourself? (Welcome to a day in the life of Sarah.) I went round and round for a bit as I came to grips with both the idea of not getting rid of the chest and changing it to match my decor and my needs. How, in 24 years, had this thought never occurred to me before? A quick Google search and trip to Walmart – I found myself with the supplies I needed to transform this chest from something I really never liked, into something sweet, inviting and lovely.

After one coat of the chalk paint, it had certainly covered the chest, the cedar wood and the out dated design, but as you can see it was streaky, and still a bit unfinished looking. To truly transform the piece – it took three coats of paint and one of wax to give it a new, fresh, and beautiful new look. Suddenly, this “afterthought” of an item had suddenly become a centerpiece to this new space that I am creating. Just that simply. I love how it is turning out and yet the entire time I worked on it, I grumbled as I processed all the many ways I dislike change.

Change, is hard. It requires…something. It requires you to let go of something…or pick something up. It requires you to lose (or possibly gain) something or someone into or out of your life. It means extra work (I love the way the chest turned out – but it took days to transform it) . It means facing insecurities and conquering fears. It means trusting when you don’t want to. It means walking blind. It means pain. It means disappointment. It means being totally and completely out of control. And again, if I am honest, it has been this frame of mind that I have allowed to circle my head these last 40 plus years of life. I have often quipped that change ‘good or bad is still change and therefore hard.’ I don’t think I’ve ever equated change as anything but negative. I don’t know if you caught it, but even in the positive changes I mentioned at the front of this piece – I quickly followed with the hardships those things would still bring with them. Can you relate to the kind of thinking? For the last several weeks I have sat overwhelmed that this seems to be a season of countless changes – both small and massive – some deeply personal – some much more of a global nature. It has been almost suffocating and like a bad mantra I have just continually chanted, ‘I hate change. Change is stupid. I. Hate. Change.’ Despite my grumbling the Lord reminded me that as far as He is concerned…

“…I the Lord do not change.” (Malachi 3:3); that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:15). He reminded me that even if I wanted to ignore or bypass those truths – that didn’t negate the fact that “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8). Beautiful reminders that while change is the prominent and consistent qualifier for being human – it was not a descriptor that defines Him – and yet He is the author of change. Scripture is extraordinarily clear that all of mankind has sinned, has fallen, is broken, and lost. If we stop to think of our true depravity – it is beyond suffocating. We are born with a sin nature. We are brought into this world – apart from the Lord with a bent for the things of this world and our fleshly desires. He is equally clear that if we don’t depart from these things then that means a life…an eternity…separated from Him. With that realization in mind – suddenly my hatred for change suddenly becomes desperation to acquire it.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17 He says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” For those in the bleacher seats…to become a new creation, to have the old things in us pass away…constitutes change. He is painfully aware of our brokenness and promises the possibility of change…“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19). Change that comes from the Lord comes in ways that don’t make sense and seem impossible…and yet…promises something new. To receive something new is a gift – always – and we know from James 1:17 that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Remember the gift may bring change, but the One giving it never changes. This world is a mess. It is NOT our home. It is a momentary breezeway on our route to our eternal destination. It is ever changing – it always has been, it always will be. The changes the Lord wants for us are not the changes of this world. The changes He wants for us are ones that bring us to a more intimate posture with Him.”Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed but the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good, and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Yes, changes – more times than not – are hard, difficult and truly things that will conjure all kinds of hatred toward them. But much like my old cedar chest…the one that had no real purpose, that had spent years cast aside, that was perceived as ugly and useless – a transformation toward purpose, beauty and new life are possible…and needed. To live as His – to do more than call yourself His but actually live it – is going to require change. It is going to require work, and the giving up of something (being right, being heard, being superior, being secure as a few). Remember…“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Don’t allow the weight of the things beyond your control to overwhelm and shut you down. Be willing to let Him move and change you – to a closer relationship with Him and a much need voice of hope to a world desperate for Him. Desperate for change. When you sense the Lord bringing you to a place of change – find joy that He is refining you, pursuing you and running after you. For those changes are put there to help you “…put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the lioness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Hated or not, ready or not, change is inevitable; either the world will change you…or He will. He is waiting to refine, strengthen, and love you – there is such hope in those changes, is there not? Change..it is a coming, are you ready?

Trials

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Trials

Several years ago I had the opportunity to go with Isaac on one of his school field trips to a local plantation called ‘Cypress Gardens’. It is filled with history of the plantation that used to be located there, and was currently visited for its butterfly house, swamps and walking trails. They had a cool ‘Swamparium’ that allowed you to see snakes, turtles, lizards and ridiculous sized fish from the lovely safety of the ‘other side of the glass’. Or if you were feeling a little more adventurous you could jump in a rowboat and go out into the swamp to catch a glimpse of one of these critters up close and personal. While we didn’t adventure into the boat, we did walk the trails seeing several baby gators, funny necked turtles and yes, even a black snake. All of the wildlife aside, I could not get over the swamp’s multitude of lily pads. It was ridiculous. And in many cases there seemed no break – no glimpses of the water they floated in. It was amazing. The ‘water’ was about as disgusting as you could imagine; covered in a nice thick, green, slimy film; a perfect oasis for the many alligators that I know lay hidden beneath. What I found remarkable, in all of it, were the countless waterlilies laced throughout the entire swamp. These waterlilies were pure white, unblemished, in full beautiful bloom – gorgeous – and all I could do was ask ‘how?’ How on earth could something so beautiful come out of something so disgusting?

Over the years I have developed an uncanny way of forgetting things. From a very young age there are entire chunks of my life that I have no memory of … I have only a handful of memories from high school, no recollection of middle school (if we drove by the building today I would not even recognize it), and the things that happened before my 11th birthday are so sketchy that I often wonder if it is a memory or dream. It’s something that I struggle with still as an adult. I have no idea how this came to be my reality and usually don’t dwell too much on it. It’s really more comical now than anything. I know that my childhood included many trials, as have various periods of my adulthood. Trials that I eagerly seek to forget, but that have embedded themselves into the fabric of who I am, how I respond to events and my expectations. I can go back a bit to times of stress and busyness that have placed strain on my marriage. I remember difficulties that arose when I was pregnant with Lacie that for a time faced us with scary questions and hard decisions regarding my health and her life. I remember periods of time where God seemed so silent and my own voice far too loud. I remember difficulties with various friendships and relationships throughout the years, poor decisions that I made, getting through my college years and even having to walk away from an extremely toxic relationship. Even now, I am sitting here at the start of a new year and I find my thoughts to be conflicted, torn and pulled in multiple directions. There are the thoughts of all that this past year entailed…the trials of a pandemic that rocked our nation, affected my community, and altered my family in many significant ways. There were the trials that came with the changes of leaving a toxic work environment, helping my kids adjust to virtual learning and settling into a new home. There were the trials that rose up out of an abundance of change. As quickly as each of these thoughts and memories drift across my mind – there comes flooding in the current realities of today. There is anger amongst my friends and family unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. There is disappointment, frustration, loneliness and fear in every interchange I participate in, hear or read. There is such loss. It is heavy and seemingly hopeless. Surely this isn’t the way things are supposed to be? As much as the details of each of these things remain in the shadows of my head, and the current realities of a broken world, hurting friends and unknown future scream out loudly in front of me…they all ring out the truth of John 16:33 – in this world you will have trouble.

I have been trying to reconcile this past year and the realities of this current one all while trying to be much more intentional about being in God’s Word. One of my all time favorite books of the Bible, one I am studying again currently, is the book of James. Right out of the gate James is talking trials. Allow me to take a minute to compare a few translations that demonstrate the heart of what he is trying to tell you and I at the beginning of his book. He says to ‘consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds’; ‘you will face trials of many kinds- when you do think of it as pure joy’; ‘my friends consider yourselves fortunate when all kinds of trials come your way’; and my favorite – ‘consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.’ I hear that, I read that, I clearly see it printed before me and all I can do is ask ‘how’? How on earth can something so hard be counted as pure joy?

And then God gave me this ‘for instance’ – when I was little I lived in a home that had some pretty peculiar rules. The youngest of three sisters we each had our own room – and we were each to stay in our own room. We had to ask permission to come downstairs – and that was usually only to ask a question, never to just hang out or play or watch TV.  I never learned to ride a bike, don’t remember ever playing on our swing set (though we did have one) and only once did I ever have a friend come over. We could not even be in each other’s rooms. I often say it was like we were baby dolls placed on a shelf. When my mom wanted to play with us, she’d bring us off our shelf otherwise that is where we stayed. Now for me, as a mom of four very active children – in need of interaction, quality time, affection, conversation, and fuel for their overactive dramatic minds and hearts – I am blown away by the fact that this was my childhood. When I was little, I experienced times of great sadness and loss, times of great fear and insecurity but I can also tell you that I absolutely can look back and count it all joy. I found solace in the comfort of stuffed animals. I found creativity in the multitude of coloring books and stories that filled my shelves. I found comfort in knowing that I was not alone. I see how it shaped who I am today. I remember my dependance on God. I see how it is something that now allows me grace and understanding to those who hurt similarly and it has propelled me to a different way of living.  Oddly I look back on my childhood and it looks strikingly like the swamps of Cypress Gardens. Gross, disgusting, nothing you would want to swim in and yet out of it came something beautiful.

Intrigued by the beauty of the waterlilies I saw on that field trip, I went home and ‘googled’ how they could grow in all of that yuck. Turns out – they were designed for the yuck. Rooted deep in the ground beneath the swamp waters – they rise tall and strong so that that their blossoms and their leaves come up tall above the swampy waters. For each lily pad you see on the water – a beautiful bloom was once attached.

My sweet friend, when it comes to the trials that we face in life – find comfort in the fact that we were designed to rise above these trials. We need to root ourselves into the deep soil that is Jesus Christ – and when we do, He will help us to rise tall and strong even in the most unlikely of scenarios. We have to stop looking angrily at the trials that come our way or that were our past. We have to look for how His hand held onto us. We have to realize that He is greater than _________________ – whatever that blank may say.  A great pastor, Wayne Corderio even explained it this way (and I’m merely paraphrasing) ‘sometimes we go through times of trial where instead of God lifting us over it – He grabs us by the hand and drags us right through it. Sometimes that process of dragging us on the ground is repetitive. We are battered and beaten, but even in the dragging – He never lets go of our hand.’ It is a fair question to ask…how on earth can something beautiful come from something so disgusting? Romans 5:3-5  – ‘Not only so, but also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’ Perseverance, character, hope, endurance, and a deepened faith in Christ – each so beautiful! Yes, in this world we will have troubles…there will be trials…but we can find joy because He has overcome the world. May we rest in that promise today!