Things I Love For The Nostalgia Factor aka The Blessedly Same

I should probably start with a list of what HASN’T changed for me since January 2018. That list would be a lot shorter.

Since January 2018 I’ve moved four times, gotten engaged and married, started (and ended) my career as a nanny, and am now, ever so feebly, beginning a new work as a freelance writer.

A couple weeks after ending my nanny career, I picked up a 20 hr/wk barista job. I hoped this would bring structure to my writing weeks in addition to being an outlet for my ever-increasingly extroverted heart. 

That second goal was achieved abundantly. I have about a dozen new best friends in the warm, coffee-filled space that is Two Mile Coffee Bar located in the 95th Street Metra Station (come visit me and drink coffee, yayyyy!). However, that first goal of structure for my weeks has been a *S T R U G G L E.* 

While this barista job is delightful, it was an addition to All The Completely New Things I’ve Started This Past 18 Months. It wasn’t connected to my old writing routines or my inspirational spaces. It was providing structure but not a structure I was familiar with. How do I find connection within myself when the very thing I’m feeling disconnected from IS myself? This question was hurting my brain so I avoided it. I did a lot of Beach Bumming and Netflix Bingeing. Still, (not surprisingly) nothing. 

Then one day about two weeks ago when I was particularly stressed about the disconnection I’ve been feeling, I went out on a long(ish) run. Exactly two miles into that run I was stopped in my *actual* running tracks as the Chicago skyline came into view. In all my hours of training for the Chicago marathon last year, I saw an awful lot of this skyline. It was a familiar, nostalgic sight and as I stopped to take a picture of it, I felt my anxious heart ground itself just a bit. A sense of calm washed over me as I realized that in all the Very Strange Newness in life some things remain Blessedly The Same.

Thus began my quest to discover more of those Blessedly The Same spaces. I began a list in my phone to add to every time I experienced that sense of grounding. I’m sure there’s a therapist term for this but for now I’ll call it: 

Blessedly The Same: Things I Love For The Nostalgia Factor That Are Helping Me Reconnect To Myself

  • Hotel or gas station coffee in all its nasty, nostalgic glory
  • When Adam and my cars are parked next to each other on the street because it feels so randomly meant to be – like us
  • FRIENDS or The Office theme songs (blessed college memories)
  • Dutch Blitz & McDonalds Carmel Frappes that my sister and I spent an entire happy, relaxed, connected summer partaking in
  • The Chicago Skyline (as previously mentioned)
  • The warmth on my hands that quickly spreads to my heart while holding a fresh cup of coffee (are we seeing a theme yet?)
  • Grocery shopping at Aldi
  • Sitting in my bed in the morning with my journal, bible, and coffee – a routine I started when I was 16 years old. I’d like to give a huge *THANK YOU SHOUT OUT* to my parents who encouraged, modeled, and joined me in early morning devotional spaces in my teen years. This space helped me connect to myself then and it’s still helping me find my way to my truest identity in Christ now. 

Instead of continuing to add new things to my life, I’ve gone back to some good ole things. As I write this, I am sitting at my own kitchen table. I moved here from my bed where I was sitting for a while with Jesus and my journal. I’ve had two cups of coffee, I’m still in my pj’s, and there is some very nostalgic worship music playing in the background. This is me.

I am a word girl but sometimes words don’t cut it. Sometimes we need help finding our way back to the words through familiar spaces, some things that are Blessedly The Same.

Next time I’m feeling anxious and disconnected I’ll reference my little iPhone list: maybe I’ll go for a run to check out the skyline, maybe I’ll open space for Jesus while sitting cross legged in my bed, maybe I’ll go snag some nasty gas station coffee, or maybe I’ll walk outside to see if Adam’s car is parked near mine. ITS THE LITTLE THINGS, OK GUYS. 

What random things are nostalgic for you? What have you found to be grounding as you move into a new season? Seriously, I wanna know. Hit “reply” to this email and your words will come straight back to me. I promise I’ll reply and you will most likely make my entire day for a long time to come.

Talk soon, Sara

Dad Jokes & Generational Blessing

One of the gifts Dad has given our family is a killer dad joke repertoire. He has about six jokes he cycles through. Here are a couple golden examples:

Q. Why shouldn’t you play water polo with dolphins?

A. You might defeat the porpoise.

Q. Have you heard the weather forecast for Mexico?

A. Chili today and hot tamale.

I had a friend in the army named Harry. His last name was Beard.

(Dad insists this was a real person.)

At the first hint one of these jokes is coming, members of our family will give each other a knowing look, eyes will roll, and guests are warned.

Dad has a similar routine when he receives a Word from the Lord. A family dinner rarely goes by without Dad sharing something God has been teaching him. As Dad continues to delight in a particular phrase or verse we often hear it repeated again and again. Through the years this repetition was often met with exasperated “can we eat now?” whines from the pack of teenagers at his dinner table. The older I get the more I see how deeply these moments have rooted our family in the love of Christ.

I was sitting in my living room the other day, wrestling with emotions related to my current job transition and as true as he was sitting next to me, “Sara, surely goodness is CHASING you,” came from my Dad’s mouth. This was one of the Words he received from Psalm 23:6 that was repeated to me often. This repetition had rooted me in Love.

When Dad shares these Words, he doesn’t preach them – they overflow from his heart – a heart of joy, a heart met by God, a heart that longs for his family to know the supremacy of Christ. His words are thick with emotion, frequently accompanied by a tear or two, or ten.

Ask anyone in my family and they will tell you several other Words that my Dad repeats often, through tears:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Matthew 13:44

“For the joy that was set before him, Jesus endured the cross.” Hebrews 12:2

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13

No matter the faith journey my siblings and I have taken these Words have left us without a doubt in the existence and goodness of God. Try as we may, we cannot shake their grip. They have been engraved on our hearts. These Words hold the promise that “all your children will be taught by the Lord and great shall be the peace of your children,” (Isaiah 54:13) which was another verse my parents prophesied over us as we grew.

To any parents who are wondering if God hears your prayers for your children – have you told your children your prayers for them? Have you spoken them as often at the dinner table as in your prayer closet? Have you shared what God has been teaching you, His child? As hard as they may roll their eyes, the Words of God will not leave their hearts. Your words will reap the blessing of God.

“So will My word be which goes out of My mouth; it will not return to Me void without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11

Thanks, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.

Dare to Live Beloved

In 2016, Jesus and I set out on a journey of my learning to be kind to myself. In July of that year I wrote, “Be a Friend to Yourself.” In February 2018, I wrote “Be Loved (If You Dare).” Now we’re here – April 2019 – and I feel as though I’ve barely taken my first steps on the journey.

Let me tell you something I know for sure: kids are the clearest lens into the heart of God. Watching a toddler grow is slow, delightful, unbelievably frustrating yet deeply inspiring work. When a toddler tries something new it doesn’t matter how comically they fail – the enthusiastic cheers of caregiver and onlookers explode into shouts of “HOORAY!!” accompanied by thundering applause. This toddler is learning that the goal is not perfection, the goal is to try and to grow. They are learning that simply being human is met and sustained by Love.

What does a person look like who is being transformed not just by the existence of Love, but by the deep knowledge that this Love is directed toward them? Could they look a lot like a brave, joyful toddler who trips over their own feet, unfazed because of their mother’s strong, knowing arms setting them upright again?

As I have become more aware of how tragically unkind we are to ourselves, I have begun to see how deeply this self-perception of “unworthy” is rooted in our hearts, minds, and even our bodies. Tendencies as simple as apologizing for talking too much, staying in a job we hate, or indulging in unhealthy eating patterns can point to a lack of belief that every part of us is beloved by God.

This weekend, take note of the little things. The quiet criticisms you make that no one else can hear. The assumptions you have about how people view you. The mediocre habits you keep that show how little you value yourself. Noticing these practices is often the hardest step because they have become so comfortable to us. Ask Jesus to show you and to make these practices repulsive to you as He brings healing, speaking the truth of your belovedness.

Lord Jesus, may know Your love like we know the air we breath. Lead us into deeper gladness than we thought possible as we encounter the kindness You have lavished on us. It is that kindness that leads us to repentance. Thank You for Your unending patience. Amen.

from Admitting to Embracing my journey with anxiety.

I’m writing this from my bed where I sit with feverish chills and a thermometer sticking out of my mouth for the fifth time today. I’m sweating profusely under five layers of blankets and Adam’s hooded sweatshirt made for the arctic. Still I can’t get warm. 

Yesterday I had my first hyperventilating panic attack while out on a run with Adam. I’ve run in the cold dozens of times and we had dressed for the weather. This time I was coming down with the flu but didn’t know it yet. When the cold wind hit my face and tore down my throat making it hard to breathe, I began to panic. My body was having a difficult time regulating my temperature because it was busy fighting the fever that was coming on. We made it home, and after about five minutes of deep breathing, I had settled down. My first reaction was frustration with myself. 

It’s been a little over a year since I first embraced my struggle with anxiety. I use the word “embraced” very purposefully: to embrace is “to hold closely in one’s arms, especially as a sign of affection.”

Before that I would have told you I had “admitted” my struggle with anxiety. “To admit” is “to confess to be true or to be the case, typically with reluctance.” Do you see the life-changing difference between those two definitions of posture toward ourselves? 

I had spent my life putting on a brave face, fighting harder when the anxiety crept in, gritting my teeth to push it out, or to fix whatever issue I perceived to be causing it. I was always reacting to the fear, putting a band-aid over it until next time. 

In January of 2017, I finally let go of the fight and I started to open up to the anxiety, finding my way to it’s vulnerable root. I began embracing that fear with the love of Jesus and with the guidance of my wonderful therapist.

Some days I feel stronger. Some days, like yesterday, I feel like the more I open up, the more difficult it becomes and the more anxiety I find within me. 

Why do I share this? I share because I know someone needs to be reminded today that facing our fears and embracing our heart doesn’t always make us feel brave. Sometimes it makes us feel like we’ve actually completely lost our mind this time, but facing that feeling is the real bravery. Sometimes we need another brave, vulnerable human to look us in the eyes and remind us of that.  

Letting ourselves feel is one of the scariest things we’ll ever do. As joy and sadness try to live together in our hearts, it can feel like we’re being crushed. I’ve cried a lot of ugly tears. Every single one is held in the hands of Jesus, and I’m learning to hold them in my hands as well.

I have so much to say on this topic, but for now, I’ll say this: God made us with human feelings for a reason. When we push away the bad feelings, we also push away the good feelings, and with those, we push away our sacred humanity. He gave us capacity for joy which means we also have capacity to feel the lack, the pain, the really not-ok. Jesus became human to be near to us in every one of those feelings.

He wants to replace our roots of fear, inadequacy, and shame with roots of Strength, Hope, and Mercy. He’s not waiting for us to get it together. He wants to step in the fire with us, weep right alongside us, and teach us the vulnerable glory of being human, created in His image, His “very good” masterpiece. 

Smile, Wait, Hold On; 3 Steps in My Mediation Practice

I mediate on Your words all the day long.” – Psalm 119:15

“Be still, and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:10

“Mary sat at the Lords feet, listening to all He said.” – Luke 10:39

My understanding of meditation in young adulthood was limited to study of scripture. Studying scripture is critical and lays the groundwork for meditation, but it has only the first 10% of the sanctifying work. Smiling, Waiting, and Holding are how I enter the practice of Meditation and keep a biblical truth near my heart all day long.

Smile – When I find the truth the Holy Spirit is inviting me to embrace I always find a soft smile. The physical act of smiling relaxes our face and opens our posture. A smile prepares us to receive truth that our minds don’t fully understand. It opens our heart to embrace God’s word and let it find rooting.

Smiling as a meditative practice may sound juvenile to some. Still, connecting the postures of our body what our heart and mind is reaching for, will allow us to embrace it most deeply.

Smiling can be a useless pursuit if we only embrace it for a moment. We must enter into the second step alongside, which is to learn to wait; to wait in this posture of joy and gratitude that the smile ignites.

Wait – In the posture of openness that the smile gives, we wait. For our openness to the Spirit’s work to extend past the moment, we wait expectantly in this truth for how the Lord will use it to draw us near to Him. Waiting quickly becomes tiresome for most of us. Our smile begins to fade and our doubts start to rise. In that moment, we must also take on the third posture of holding on.

Hold On – even when our smile fades, even when our patience is fleeting, because we know His word will not return void. He cannot fail us, and He will delight in bringing the fruit of our meditation practice in our lives as we trust Him.

Lately, I have been smiling, waiting, and holding on to the reality that Jesus sings over us as part of His intercession for us.

I’ve been smiling because I find so much joy and peace in music. Strong lyrics and a beautiful voice transport me to a soul space that I can’t find any other way. With such strong reactions to human music making, I am beginning to taste how my heart might jolt and nearly stop by how much the voice of my Creator and Sustainer might move me.

I smile at the thought that there couldn’t be a richer, deeper, truer sound than the Creator of Music and Joy and Freedom Himself breaking into song over His Beloved.

I’ve also been waiting. I’ve been waiting because I want to know it more. I will wait until Jesus’ voice is resounding in my ears as I wake and as I walk through my day and when I lie down again at night.

I’ve been holding onto the moments I hear Him. Those peaceful spaces I find in my heart as I sit with my coffee in the morning, where I hear Truth resonating as clear as a bell, and I feel Love and Purpose washing over my soul. I hold onto those moments, praying they become longer and closer together until I’m living seamlessly in the song.

Do these postures resonate with you? What postures are helpful to you when meditating on God’s word?

5 Songs Jesus Sings Over Us

The Lord your God will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.

I am amazed that our Savior and God sings over us. What a tender, yet powerful, reality in His intercession for us. As I have studied the theme of God singing in scripture it has gripped my heart with how it displays the heart of God. Such a joyful expression of humanity that the Father created and participates in with us.

Here are 5 songs I have found. I’m sure there are more!

Song of Power – 

Zephaniah 3:17 - 
The Lord your God is in your midst, 
A Warrior who saves. 
He will rejoice over you with joy; 
He will quiet you in His love, 
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. 

As “a Warrior who saves,” He sings a Song of Power. Do you remember the most powerful voice you’ve ever heard? The voice that gave you goosebumps and had you clutching our chest. The voice that combined passion with radical vocal chords. Now imagine that voice was Jesus Christ, the Warrior. He’s singing over us in power.

The song “Defender” by Rita Springer echoes this beautifully.

Song of Freedom –

He will rejoice over you with joy.” This is the Song of our Freedom. He comes as a Warrior, singing triumphant, rejoicing in our freedom for we are surely free. Can you hear the finality in His musical declaration as He crushes our enemies under His feet?

Song of Intimacy –

“He will quiet you in His love.” In this posture, I hear a Song of Intimacy. I hear a peaceful melody of delight in His nearness to us and our nearness to Him.

“We Dance” by Steffany Gretzinger is a peaceful melody that always moves my heart toward this quiet intimacy.

Song of Truth –

In Hebrews 2:10-13, Paul speaks of Jesus’ intercession for us. He quotes the psalmist, “I will tell of your name to my people; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” Jesus proclaims the fulfillment of His atonement for us through song. He is declaring Truth in the midst of a congregation.

Is He teaching them a new song? Is He reminding them of an old one that had faded from their memory? Is He singing a beautiful new combination of old truths meeting new? I like to imagine so.

Jesus intercedes for us when we don’t know how to pray or sing as we should (Rom 8:26). He sings on our behalf when we have forgotten our song. He sings in our stead and invites us back into the melody.

Song of Courage –

I saved my favorite for last. He sings a Song of Courage over us in Romans 15:8-13. Again, Paul writes of the Old Testament promises Jesus would fulfill: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”

He sings the promise that “the God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” He fulfilled the promise of salvation and He will sing this truth over us all the days of our lives. He sings conviction and truth.

“The Lord is my Salvation” by Keith and Krystn Getty is a rich, beloved hymn that drives this truth deep into my bones.

I know I have just scratched the surface. He has a thousand songs to sing. What song is He singing over you? He promises to bring new life and with it, a new song (Isaiah 42:9-10). What new song is He inviting you into?

I pray that the songs of Jesus refresh your heart with the knowledge that He walks before you, beside you, and behind you, singing away your enemies even in a season where you can’t find your song.

Semantics, dear Watson

“You could tell God was active in that church.”

“The Holy Spirit is really moving at that youth event.”

“We are so thankful to see the Lord show up in this ministry.”

I heard versions of these phrases about four zillion times growing up. It was common in the small bible-saturated Indiana town I grew up in. “God’s movement” was often used to describe a time or place where large numbers of people were converted or a church or ministry was increasing in number.

This morning on my drive to work I was listening to a podcast and the phrase “God was really moving” was used to describe the growth of a ministry. Even though this phrase is familiar to me, I immediately jerked away as if I’d been burned and shouted, “God is always moving!” to the empty space of my car.

I have an army of critics in my head and so I can hear some of you rolling your eyes at this. One of my inner critics is called The Scoffer. Her response was immediately, “Geez, Sara, don’t pick a fight about this. It’s merely semantics, my dear Watson,” accompanied by a condescending chuckle.

My response to you, my dear Scoffer, is simple: 1) I don’t want to fight with anyone and 2) words are important. The smallest ways we use words are often the MOST important. They are guiding our thoughts about life, God, others, and ourselves without us really being awake to it.

So I press onward.

I wouldn’t say that I find this way of speaking about conversion to be wrong, but I think it has a special way of separating God from the world – HIS world. It limits our perception of God’s movement. It limits the Holy Spirits work to the walls of a church or the weekend of a youth retreat. It has the potential to cause us to believe that His action is limited to just the right set of circumstances and just the correct amount of faith. It could cause us to believe that only if we play the right worship song and speak with the right amount of conviction, then God will “move.”

In no way am I saying that the man speaking on my morning podcast (or anyone else who’s used this phrase) was trying to limit God. What I DO believe is that words have power and they set boundaries and we are people of severe word habits.

So in one way, dear Sherlock, you’re absolutely right. It’s entirely semantics.

I’ll introduce you to another critic who resides in my psyche. You all know her – she’s the Devil’s Advocate. She uses the voice of many of the really smart, loud kids in my Theology classes. (Please don’t call my therapist about my voices before you hear me out.)

My Devil’s Advocate chimes in with, “Oh, well don’t you believe that church is sacred and that God shows up in a special way there? What about “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you? We’re told to respond to God.”

I’m truly thankful for the Devil’s Advocate because she keeps me accountable to not committing treacherous heresy. (I still might and I definitely want you to call me out if you see it.)

To the Devil’s Advocate: Yes, I do believe God is active in church in a special way that propels us to see Him moving throughout the week. I believe the temple of God is within us and that church is a weekly mercy God gives to His forgetful bride to remind us of His presence. I believe the Spirit of God is sacredly active within a gathering of believers at church and this action spills over into our work and our friendships and our nightly rituals.

In church we are reminded of His presence. What if we continued in that posture out the doors of the church as well? Lastly, I do believe we have a responsive God who moves near to us when we move near to Him, but I believe that He is always moving near to us.

Again, I press on.

This morning after my shout of “God is always moving!”  my immediate next exclamations were:

“Wherever there is LIFE, God is moving.
Wherever there is GOODNESS, God is moving.
Wherever there are BABIES and COURAGE and thriving GARDENS and souls finding space to BREATH, God is moving.”

I can imagine God’s response to our “God was really moving that night,” might be something like:

“Seriously? I’ve been moving this whole time. Yes, there are times when I make myself REALLY obvious but that’s only because you forget me so easily. I’m ALWAYS this actively near. Not a single thing in the universe is held up without My Hand and My Word saying “let it be.”

Finally, I’m NOT proposing we stop using the phrase, “God was moving.” On the contrary, I’m proposing we start using it a whole lot more. Like, WAY more. Every morning, and every evening, and in all the moments in between.

Oh Lord Jesus, make us aware of your Divinity in all things. You are redeeming and restoring and speaking all around us at all times. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear.

(Please send any and all theological concerned thoughts to Seriously, I’m not being sarcastic. I want to discuss this and I am open to being completely wrong.)