Loving the Ordinary

Can I make a confession?

One of the reasons I was completely thrown for a loop about 18 months ago when we decided not to pursue adoption any more is because part of me could not accept that the “ordinary” American life was good enough to please God. It shames me to admit that, but there it is. I grew up on the mission field, first in Africa and then in Europe. No one ever spoke it out loud or even suggested it, but somehow this mindset grew in me. In the back of my mind I thought that living the “typical” American lifestyle was some how settling for the easy way out. I equated typical American living with shallow materialism, weak faith, and comfort. Judgmental much?

So when I found myself married to an American who had never lived overseas and settling in a small American town part of me needed to show that I wasn’t “settling.” We served in various ways in our church and became intentional about building community in our town. None of that was wrong, in fact it was all very good, but I have recently come to see that much of my doing was in an attempt to prove myself. “See God? I’m not just sitting back and enjoying the easy life here. Even my settling in this small town is for a purpose. I am working hard here for you.”

Ugh.

How prideful of me to believe that I could earn God’s favor. How self-important to think that I was somehow more holy that all the other “average Christians” around me.

Ugh.

Can I just tell you that my biggest spiritual struggle of the past 18 months has been to believe that God loves me completely with my typical ranch house in a comfortable neighborhood with two kids and a minivan? This past year in saying “no” to adoption and being so weak with my sickness God brought me to the end of what I could accomplish. He showed me that even on the days when all I could do was lay in bed while my bed while my kids watched hours of tv He loved me.

I slowly began to see how ungrateful and presumptuous I was to be constantly feeling guilty for my life.

On Sunday afternoon I was enjoying a cup of coffee on our back deck. The sun was warming me after days of rain. The trees and bushes were in glorious full bloom. My tow-headed boys were running wild around the yard with their dog and their laughter was drifting to me in bursts. Chicken noodle soup was simmering on the stove. The promise of a nap lay ahead. I tipped back my face and allowed the sun to shine bright on my face. I savored the moment, the beauty of this life, with not one ounce of guilt. I didn’t try to explain or justify or earn. I simply enjoyed.

Maybe my life does seem ordinary and cliche. After all I have two kids, a dog, and a house with a picket fence. But I know this, it is the life I have been given right now. To not love this life is to believe the lie that God does not love me. So I grabbed my camera and captured the plain old ordinary beautiful breathtaking moment.

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Hope

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. -Romans 15:13

On Friday night I found myself sitting across the table from two ladies from my church who I admire as wise women of faith. It was the monthly coffee gathering for the women in our church and I had claimed an empty seat at a local restaurant eager for an evening of conversation and connection. As conversations ebbed and flowed around us one of the ladies looked me straight in the eye and asked, “So Sarah, what kinds of things have you been thinking about recently.” And it all came flooding out. I shared of my struggles over the past 18 months or so. I shared of feeling like I had lost my identity and was trying to find it again. I shared of feeling like I wasn’t enough for God, like I had failed him in some way. I shared of my struggle to believe in God’s love for me.

As I talked part of me wondered what these women would say. Would they tell me to buck up? Would they tell me to pray more or have more faith or read my Bible more? Would they tell me that I needed to find new ways to serve God?

Both of these women looked deep in my eyes, straight down to my soul, and said “Me too.”

Both of these women looked deep in my eyes, saw my heart, and said, “You are so loved by God.”

They shared with me their own struggles and doubts. They were honest with me about their own questions. Turns out we have been reading many of the same things (Ann Voskamp for the win!) and so we talked about our own 1000 gifts lists.

I asked, “But is it okay for me to just want two children?” And the wise woman with 7 children said, “Yes! Of course!”

The other woman, a counselor by profession, who I know has walked through many dark valleys of her own said, “Sarah, you are a deep thinker. I see God using the life you have lived and the way you think about things. I see how he uses those things in our church body and in your parenting. ”

For some reason these simple words, at this time, were incredibly freeing. I felt a great weight lift and as our conversation continued I felt joy and hope returning. I was so thankful for these women who listened, who shared honestly yet hopefully, who encouraged. That is what the Body of Christ is for. That is why we weren’t meant to follow him on our own.

On Sunday after church one of the women came up to me and told me that as she was praying she was led to Romans 15:13. She showed me in her Bible how she had circled the verse and wrote my name next to it. She told me that she would be praying the verse for me, inserting my name into it:

May the God of hope fill Sarah with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit Sarah may abound in hope. -Romans 15:13

What a privilege to be prayed for in that way! What a way for God to show me he loves me!

Evening Prayer

Last night, before sleep, I penned this prayer:

Father,

Grant me rest tonight.

Allow me to sleep as one who is loved completely by you, secure and without regret.

Show me the good I did today. Show me all the ways I was enough, and more.

If I failed, do not allow me to despair. Instead give me courage and strength to try again tomorrow with joy.

Thank you for this life. This snug home. This husband who is my rock. These children who bring so much joy. This town where roots and community are beginning to grow. These friends who love me deeply. This church family who labors beside me.

You have me here and it is good and who am I to constantly question whether it, or I, am enough?

Guard me tonight. Fill my mind and heart with peace from your Spirit. Allow me to wake with joy tomorrow.

Amen.

Questions of Lent

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Last week was too much. Too many commitments. Too much running around. Too much emotional stress. Too much conflict.

Not enough space. Not enough peace. Not enough rest.

So I got sick. Again.

I long to be like the women of faith I have encountered this week. They are steadfast in their praise of God, in spite of their many hardships and trials. They look at me and say, “God is good. His steadfast love endures forever.” And all I want to do is moan and complain. How could I be sick again? How can I know that God really does love me?

As I lay in bed, trying not to feel sorry for myself, I reviewed my three words for the year:

Peaceful, Present, Purposeful.

I had been none of those. For a whole week. I allowed my circumstances to control me. I allowed myself to react to the circumstances and take my emotional turmoil out on others.  I forgot to make space in the day to care for myself. I forgot to make space in the day to seek peace and purpose. I forgot to count my gifts and see how God was loving me. I forgot to pray.

It’s Lent. The time of year that I actually look forward to spending in more spiritual awareness and discipline. Well, let me tell you, my sin was very present last week. There was no hiding from the ugliness. There was no pretending that I was anything but spiritually broken and weak. I am full of doubt and anxiety. I worry about even the most mundane of things.

I pick up a new book by a blogger whose writing has comforted me over the past 18 months or so, ever since I read this post and could only sit at my computer and cry because I felt that God had spoken directly to me through her words. “Do you believe God will be absolutely in love with the life you’ve lived? Not because of how impressive you are, but because of how desperately God loves you?” (Micha Boyett) Her book is called Found: A Story of Questions, Grace & Everyday Prayerand I have been eagerly waiting to read it.

In the first few pages she says “I need to know how to love God when all I have to offer is my daily chaos. Mostly, I long to know a quietness in my soul, true contentment, despite my spiritual unimpressiveness. I need to believe that my simple life really is a gift and really can be holy.” (pg. 8) I sit stunned for a moment. Because this is exactly how I feel. This is the cry of my heart. God, can you love me if all I have to offer is the simple chaos of this typical suburban life? God, can you love me if I decide that it is impossible for me to keep the dog we just got? God, can you love me if I never end up leaving this small town, or adopting any kids, or doing anything to impressive for you?

I yearn for quietness and contentment to take the place of guilt and anxiety.

I think that Lent is the season for those kinds of questions. Lent is the time to feel the deepness of need. It is a time to yearn. I am learning to let the questions linger.

I am learning to take my youngest son for a breakfast date to Panera and just bask in the joy of spending a quiet hour with him sipping tea and eating a toasted bagel.

 

Seeing some light

The weather has been warming.

The days are lengthening.

We are finally seeing signs of spring.

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We are getting out; working in the yard, taking hikes, riding bikes, stretching our legs and our lungs.

I feel like we are finally seeing some light literally, figuratively, spiritually.

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