About Me

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Malindi, Kenya
This blog used to be about me and my new husband starting our life together in Brookhaven, Georgia. Now, 8 years, 3 children, and 1 trans-continental move later, I'm writing for me; to document the emotional and spiritual journey I am on so that I don't forget the paths I have traveled in my heart and mind.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Dance party in Malindi



I left Iddy and Chris this morning at a tennis lesson. Iddy was playing with a friend and Chris was sitting to the side watching them play, surrounded by four guys conversing in Italian. As they play a family of monkeys make their way across the top of the fence surrounding the court. I didn't make it very far (just out of the gate of the compound) when the beast broke down. It had broken down on the way to tennis but I was able to get it started again. This time, no. Ah... the beast. She is such a great car, but you just never know. We recruit a few men to help us push it out of the way (which is no small task... the thing weighs at least a ton), I take the black car, and I am on my way again. Chris and Iddy will catch a ride on a tuk-tuk when they need to come home. Inside the car I find a copy of the police report detailing the things that were stolen from us in a recent incident. I wonder if the police will really follow up on it or not. I decide it best not to put my hope in that and put the paper back down. Chris and Iddy have now gone for lunch with two other boys to talk about how to start a soccer tournament in town for the local kids in the community as a way to build relationships and also help keep kids out of trouble. I am here at the house by myself, as two young girls that we are close to have taken Abby-Jones and Ruth-Michael out to play at a local playground. This playground is hard to explain, but the best way I can describe it is to say that it looks like old equipment from a fairground which no longer has motors, and so the rides are pushed manually by local boys who work there to make a little bit of spending money. When I go with the girls, there will be a boy there who comes around with us and helps to operate/push the rides. The girls rode there on a tuk-tuk, which I think they enjoy even more than the playground.

Right now we are losing our big supermarket, Nakumat. This really is a shame because it provided us with daily outings (AJ would say let's go to Nakumat early and wait for it to open), I was able to get everything I needed in one place, and it was a great place to network as everyone else in Malindi did their shopping there, also. Not to mention, it provided a lot of people with much needed work. Well it would seem that someone at the top didn't pay the bills and things are falling apart. With the elections coming up, there is no sense in trying an overhaul now because no one knows if chaos will ensue after the election and there is always the risk of political uprisings and looting. We hope that after the elections, Nakumat will try to restock and start over, but for now, we disperse out to the other smaller markets, which are about the size of a large QuickTrip. I am trying to keep a stock of non-perishables in the house in case things go bad during the elections and food becomes more sparse. Unfortunately it's been very tempting to use the food from our stock supply to avoid another trip to the market, so the supply is dwindling... I gotta work on that soon.

Our relationships here are growing. Last night we had dinner with Jen, a friend who moved here from Kisumu with her daughter, Anyango (one of the young women that is playing with my girls today), and another couple, Dan and Elyse (a couple we met at Nakumat... sigh). It has been great to feel like we have friends here. I got to have dinner two nights ago with three other women living here, each one that I love and respect dearly. Chris graciously offered to take the kids so the ladies could talk, and he had 7 kids with him... we joked about starting a youth group, but it's not a bad idea. I imagine a circle around us that represents our community, and it seems to be expanding more and more as we stay here longer. You know that feeling you have when you plan a party, and you need a certain number of people to come to really feel like it was a success? There seems to be an imaginary cut-off line, such that after you reach that number of people, others will see and want to join, too. Or if you're dancing, there has to be a certain number of people dancing on the floor before others will feel comfortable to come out and join you. When we first moved here, I felt like I was out on the dance floor, dancing by myself... super uncomfortable. As more relationships came into my life it felt better, but still vulnerable. Now it's starting to feel a little more like a dance party. I'm so thankful for the friendships in my life and the love and support I have felt from people here, and also coming from the States. It's hard to pull people in from the fringes when you are just offering for them to come and dance with you alone. But when there is a group involved, and they can come be a part of it, it's much more enticing. Life here is funny... quirky. But when you do life together, the quirks are just something else to laugh about. When you dance by yourself, a funny dance move is embarrassing, but when you do it together, you all laugh about it and it just adds to your fun. Maybe that is what church is all about. A life lived alone can be tedious and arbitrary, but life lived in community turns challenges into strength and inconveniences into blessings.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Transition



I've had a lump in my throat all morning. Isn't it funny how the vey things you long for can also bring you sadness? Today is Abby Jones' second day of preschool. I know, I know, NO BIG DEAL! So why is it hitting me this way? Chris took the kids to school for me this morning so I got up, took a shower, did a little research online and made myself a new work-out plan (note- I did not actually work out), and then decided to catch up on my writing. I like to write about the kids and little things they do to help me remember each stage of their lives. It was great to have time to do all this, but of course writing memories of my children's lives just reminded me, yet again, how much time has already passed. I'm determined not to be one of those weepy, "I can't live one second of my life without my children" kind of a mom, but I find myself feeling very sad at the prospect of a morning alone. Which is weird. I love alone time and have had mornings alone fairly recently. Something about the fact that they are all at school makes it feel different.

I think every blog that I write at least mentions the fact that I don't really like transitions, yet that seems to be such a huge part of what my life offers me. Transition, after transition, after transition. What could possibly be the point in my going through all these transitions? Is it to help me empathize with others when they face transitions? Is it to prepare me for the biggest transition of all, death? And when I enter into a new life after death, will I no longer have to deal with transitions, or will they be a part of my new life as well? I think maybe the transitional times in our lives are the times of greatest growth. Growth can be painful. Muscles must be torn in order to grow. Children often have growing pains as their bodies get bigger. Plants need to be pruned in order to thrive. When I go through a transition, I lose old identities I have made for myself and I am forced to present to the world just myself, without any masks. This is when I grow the most because it is when I am the most vulnerable. Walking around a foreign city not knowing the culture or any of the language- that's vulnerable. Going home from the hospital with a new baby, not sure what to do with her or how to get through the day- that's vulnerable. Sending my kids off to school for the first time and feeling like my life begs the question "what next?"- that's vulnerable. So I'm out there yet again. Naked and exposed. My transitional coping muscles are feeling the burn. I've got growing pains, and I am most definitely being pruned. I pray that it's all for a good cause. I may never have rock hard abs, but if God is the personal trainer of my soul, He's gonna make sure that thing is ripped.

I guess the difference between physical exercise and spiritual exercise is that we can always choose not to do physical exercise. Spiritual exercise is thrust upon us whether we like it or not. How I respond to it is totally up to me. It can either make me weaker or stronger. So I will choose to be stronger. I will let myself feel the pain of vulnerability and wait for God to show me what's next. I'm pretty sure the only people who would judge me for the way I look without my mask are the ones who have never lived life without their own.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Regrets



I just recently turned 33 years old, and, as birthdays generally do, this one made me think back about my life and ponder all the things I have and have not done. There have been so many occasions that made me think, "if only I knew then what I know now, things could have been so different!" I try my best to live my life according to the motto "no regrets" and I have told this very thing to my mom many times, but the truth is that regrets still plague my mind from time to time. This year, however, I have had some different ideas about myself and my life and I decided to express them as letters to myself.

Dear 6-year-old Sarah,

You are still so uninhibited and undaunted by the problems you have not yet faced. Moving from the country where you were born and lived in up until now to the United States is undoubtedly a huge challenge for you. This year you will be enrolled in three different schools, spend many Sundays in a new church with a new Sunday school, and live in three different houses. If I had written this letter last year, I would have told you to "hang on to your French"! What comes so easily to you now will not come so easily to you later and you will mourn the loss of it. But my message to you today is this. You do what you need to do to make it through this transition, and making it through will be the first of many times you surprise yourself by how strong you can be. Yes, another language is incredibly useful, but it certainly doesn't determine your worth, and the most important things are to continue finding yourself, stay close to your family, adjust to a new culture and school and church, and you are going to do these things beautifully.


Dear 13-year-old Sarah,

This is undoubtedly the hardest year of your life. Take courage! Life gets better! I know that right now you don't like the way you look. In fact, you may have a hard time finding something about yourself that you do like. You are incredibly smart, although the cool kids don't value that very much. And that certainly won't catch the cut boys' attention. You will quit piano this year. Oh how you will regret that! Piano is a talent that you could have carried with you for life and used for yourself and others. Last year I would have written to you and told you not to quit. But my message to you today is this. Do what you need to do to make it through the year. Life is hard, and it is especially hard when you are thirteen. The important things now are not to lose yourself in becoming what others want you to be, not to compromise your values to win others' approval, and most of all don't lose hope. Let go of what you need to let go of as long as you stick to these goals. In the words of Dr. Seuss, "kid, you'll move mountains!"


Dear 22-year-old Sarah,

You have come so very far! You made it through high school, and college was a breath of fresh air. You have a new sense of confidence and a new sense of self. You made it through your summer internship in Africa and a summer internship working with a high school youth group. You are at the starting line. You will choose to go to grad school and get a PhD in genetics. You won't know exactly why and, to tell the truth, neither do I. Last year I would have written you and advised you to do something else. Go to med school. Go to nursing school. Get licensed to teach. Do something that can be used in a way that other people can understand and that you can feel good about. But my message to you today is this. Go to grad school. You will learn so much more than you even realize at the time. You will learn how to express yourself in front of people and on paper. You will learn how to ask good questions and how to think critically about problems you are faced with. You will learn about working with others and taking criticism. You will learn how to get back up after being knocked down over and over and over again. You will make priceless relationships, and you will begin unpacking your faith in a place where most people disagree with you. I think this last one might possibly be the most important. You will want to quit but you won't. Soak in all these lessons, because I desperately need them now. In fact, I'm still finding out what all I learned in those grad school years. Don't worry about making the right or the wrong choice just move forward with confidence in whatever you decide. God is big enough to work through you and carry you through whichever path you choose.

Dear 32-year-old Sarah,

You have a beautiful family that means more to you than anything else in this world. You live in a third-world-country, fairly isolated from your own culture except what you see on Facebook and Instagram, which doesn't usually leave you feeling very good about yourself. Your body looks different than it did ten years ago. You aren't really sure what your life is about. You live in Kenya with a dream that you and Chris can change the world for a few people over here who desperately need a chance, but you don't get to participate in that dream all that much. Hang in there, mama. Life still stretches far beyond diapers and bedtime stories, or so I'm told. Pretty soon you will learn not to regret the things you regret now because life is big and important and regrets are small and petty. You've got one more letter to write but you aren't ready to write it. I think one day you will be. There are three things you can do that you will never ever regret: 1. Spend time with your kids. 2. Spend time with Chris. 3. Spend time with the Lord. So be about the business of those things. I'm not sure yet myself, but that last letter may just write itself.

Monday, April 10, 2017

House without walls



Yesterday Chris and I were talking about our future and what would be best for our family. I always feel like things could change drastically for us at any time. And then again we might stay put for a while. But there is really no way of knowing or predicting. We were each sharing what we thought would be best for the family. I finally said that whether we stayed or went wherever we are going to go next, I just wish we could find a place we could settle and have a chance to put down some roots. Chris simply said, "that is just not a part of the kind of life we are leading." Immediately after he said it I knew it was true. Actually, I knew it was true before he said it, but sometimes things have to be said out loud so that I can start to process and manage whatever the reality is that I am dealing with. I would say this aspect of our lives has been challenging for me as a person who likes stability and resists change, but God has brought me so far in accepting and even appreciating this rhythm of life. I think the biggest challenge for me is that "settling in" somewhere takes a lot longer for me than it does for Chris. I need a house, I need that house to be fully unpacked and organized, I need to know the local grocery store and where to find things in it, I need to be able to cook a few decent meals with whatever food is available, I need to know a good doctor or two for my kids, I need a friend or two that I can call on or just hang out with, I need some sort of school situation for my kids, and I need my kids to be settled. I haven't asked Chris this question so I'm not entirely sure but I think his biggest needs are a car to get around with and for me to be settled. So, I guess, in that sense, it takes us the same amount of time to feel settled.

I sometimes hear people in movies or that I am friends with talk about the house they grew up in and all the memories they have there. I experienced this myself, as I lived in the same house from the time I was seven until I left for college. I remember being so sad when my parents left that house, knowing I could no longer come home to my old bedroom. Knowing I would no longer experience the sensation of walking barefoot across the parkay tile floor and feel the loose tiles lifting up under my sticky feet. Isn't it funny how things that are annoyances become sentimental when they are in the past? Unless the course of our lives changes drastically, my kids will probably not experience these emotions. After Chris pointed this reality out to me in the car yesterday, he followed up with this, "but I think our kids feel so much stability just from our own family, which I would much rather it be that way if I had to choose one or the other." I couldn't agree with him more. We will just continue to find ways to build a house that offers safety and stability and comfort to our children, and even ourselves, that isn't made of wood or cement or brick.

Last year I started blogging about my children. I just write any little memory or anecdote that I don't want to forget and add a picture or two whenever I have some time to myself. I'm not going to put it in a journal or a scrapbook or an album because these things are heavy to pack in a suitcase and they get rained on if placed in a moving truck with a leaky tarp as the cover. When I "nest" I am usually getting rid of things, always thinking about how to minimize the amount of luggage we will have for our next move. We no longer own a set of pots and pans or bed sheets or towels or any furniture because the place we are renting now was fully furnished and the idea of paying to move all these things so that we could pay to store them so that we could pay to move them again the next time just seemed too impractical. At this rate, after a few more moves we will be able to pack up and leave in all of five minutes. Chris will grab the kitchen knives, I'll grab the photo albums (which I made before I realized how impractical they were), Iddy will grab his skateboard, RM will grab her colors, and AJ will just be happy to leave all her clothes behind so I'm not forcing her to wear those stupid things anymore. So what kind of "house" are we left with at this point? I'm still working on that. But I think it goes a little something like this:

Each day we do life together we build memories and our love grows stronger.
Every time I use a Bible story to teach my kids a truth about life and a God who is love, their character is growing.
Whenever I stop what I'm doing to listen to what they want to tell me, I'm showing them that they are intrinsically valuable.
When Chris and I make time for each other and go on dates together, we are ensuring our kids that the foundation of their house is secure.
And when I put God first, deciding to always choose love, kindness, and compassion, and turning to God for help when I am hurting, I ensure my kids that the earth beneath the foundation of their house will not be moved.
This is how I will build my house for my children, and this house we will never move out of. This house will always be here for them to come home to, and mom is already fully settled here.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Lovehate



I love/hate Africa. Somedays I just cry to myself in the car as I drive down the road because I want to be home so badly. Home is where I feel comfortable, where I’m surrounded by people that I understand (most of the time), and where the challenges are things that I’m so used to dealing with that they almost don’t seem like challenges at times. I’m used to being bombarded with media and having a million choices of cereal and sitting in Atlanta traffic and having to get places on time and rushing everywhere. I can never seem to get used to the way men here treat me like I’m less than Chris. I hate getting pulled over by a policeman BEFORE they notice anything wrong so that they can then find something wrong, making my children late for school and me really ticked off, only to find out that when Chris stops by later they tell him everything is fine. I hate people looking at the color of my skin and automatically charging me double what they would charge an African (and no matter how many times I tell myself that I am privileged and they are impoverished and need the money it doesn’t seem to make me feel better about it). I hate that I never know what I will or will not find at the grocery store. Milk? butter? yeast? So I have to have a plan B for supper if I am missing an ingredient and a plan C if the power goes out and I can’t bake and a plan D if we run out of gas. Okay, this one really isn’t that bad but it is annoying. Some days these things are all I can focus on and it discourages me so much.

But there are other days. There are days when I visit a local school during their chapel time, and I get to listen to Kenyan students worship the Lord. I could take a video, but it just wouldn’t be the same, so I put down my phone and I soak up the moment. I am standing in a small concrete church. The wooden benches are old and broken with extra nails sticking out here and there to make them last a little longer and threatening to snag my clothes or my skin if I’m not careful. The old rusty ceiling fans caked in dust turn a little, giving me hope they are coming on, but then I realize they are only turning with the wind because there is no power. The hot steamy air from the way people are packed into this small chapel is made bearable by the occasional refreshing breeze reminding me that the Lord is there, and sweet little faces are peering in through every window because they want to see what’s inside, and there is literally not a space left. Then a young man stands up in front of his peers and starts to lead them in a kind of worship that can’t be taught or learned. It comes from a place somewhere deep down inside of him, and as it comes up it carries with it the African heart that has been beating for thousands of years, and the Kenyan soul that stirs up pride in the hearts of these students, and each individual story in the room where I am sitting that tells of hurt and suffering and trials but also of endurance and strength and courage. This worship is not something that I could ever produce because I do not know the African heart or the Kenyan soul or the stories of these students, but my own worship stirs up within me from my own heart and soul and story and somewhere in this hot, concrete, crumbling room their worship and my worship connect us and I hear the Lord saying to me, “Receive!” And so, I do. I remember why I agreed to come to Kenya. I remember why I am still living here. I remember that my calling is so simple, to pick up my cross and follow Christ. And I remember that Christ continues to pour out on me and to ask me to receive all of his wonderful and glorious riches. I fall in love with my Lord all over again and I fall more in love with this place that I still know so little about. Christ is living here among these amazing people, and when I die to my desires to be back “home” I gain the world. I gain a world of people, each with their own heart and soul and story, and I am connected to them in a way that I can only experience in worship. I stop striving. My soul is still. I know that my Lord is God. I receive Him.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Experiment




I wrote this on February 26, right after attending If: Nairobi.


I think I am going to try a little experiment on myself. This past weekend I went to the IF:Nairobi conference, and it was AMAZING. I learned so much, was encouraged until my cup overflowed, and met some beautiful women. As I sat and processed everything I had learned, I also did a little reading in the book "Nothing to Prove" by Jennie Allen. Two thoughts continued to swirl around in my head: 1) I want to stop striving for BIG noteworthy accomplishments and just seek out small acts of kindness in the name of Jesus, but I never seem to know where to start.  2) I still struggle so much with wanting to find my identity in something I can be good at or recognized for, or just to say, "Hi, I am Sarah, and I am a __________."

And then it hit me- these two things are related. One is causing (or preventing) the other. What if my striving for identity and notoriety is preventing me from hearing the Spirit speak to me, saying, "Sarah, just start here, this person could use a friend."

I prayed this prayer: "Dear God, I want to do the small things for you, I just need you to nudge me in the right direction. I'm not an initiator. I don't see opportunities all around me like Chris does. I can't see the forest because of all the trees in the way. Please show me grace and give me nudges and clues in the right direction. I know that any good deed done in your name brings you honor, but I am overwhelmed at the need around me. Just please, narrow it down for me, Lord."

Then I continued to read and this line hit me: "The degree to which we believe and embrace our identity as a Spirit filled child of God will be the degree to which His light shines through us."

Wow.

What if I stopped looking for ways to find identity and worth? Would I have an easier time seeing the opportunities God has put in front of me to be a light for Him? My hypothesis is that yes, I would. So I am going to put that hypothesis to the test.

Every time I notice someone else's talents or accomplishments and find myself wishing I was good at that or had accomplished that, I am going to say this to myself, "Whew, I'm so glad I'm not good at that because I might be tempted to put my identity in that instead of in Christ." And then I will carry on living my life and looking for small ways to serve Him- I sure don't want to do anything big, because my identity would then shift to that thing which would sooner or later pass away.

No, I will do the small things and leave the big things to God. He can take my loaves and fish and feed 5,000 and nobody, including me, will think it was me who did it. And that is just the way it should be.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Woman in Training



I hate it when I disappoint myself. Last weekend Chris and Iddy left town for a few days. I wasn’t looking forward to being here with the girls without my guys, but I also wasn’t too worried about it. I’m comfortable enough here after having lived in Malindi for about 10 months. But as it turned out, I’m not quite the supermom I thought I was. My biggest concern was that for 3 days I wouldn’t have anyone else to absorb any of Abby-Jones and Ruth-Michael’s energy, and I was afraid that I would take it all in until my fuse was all gone and I exploded on them. Lately I’m feeling more and more like the mom I never wanted to be: short-tempered, bossy, and just flat out no fun.

Almost every mom I have ever talked to has described the phenomenon in which things go wrong most often when the father is away. As I thought more about this last week I wondered if that is the case, or is it that the same things I can handle well knowing that Chris is there if I need him turn into melt-down issues when I feel alone. Loneliness is an incredibly powerful emotion. I don’t think I have ever encountered it to the extent that I have this past year. Our first eight months here were packed with back-to-back visitors. Since the new year we have had relatively few. Of course the family time has been great for us, but it didn’t take long for that nagging darkness to start seeping in. Right now there is only one other American living full-time in our whole county. We have been able to make a few very precious close friends, but I miss so much the feeling of being a part of a community of people to fall back on.

As I drove around with the girls that first day after Chris and Iddy left I wondered what I would do if something happened and I needed help. I could think of two people I could try to call, but what if neither of them answered? What was my plan B? Sometimes God doesn’t give us a plan B. When God is your plan A, you don’t need a plan B. This is easy to say and incredibly hard to live.

I decided to take the time when Chris was away to reach out to a family that I had been wanting to get to know a little better. Starting a cross-cultural friendship with someone of a different religion, up-bringing, and worldview is actually pretty challenging, and I had forgotten how much Chris helped me navigate these kinds of relationships. After reminding myself of several cultural norms that I have learned a million times but keep forgetting I had a really nice time with this very sweet family. At the end I was pretty exhausted and ready to just be in my home with my family and not have to think about everything I was doing and saying. The rest of the evening consisted of AJ being overly eager to grab her dinner plate, spilling the contents all over herself and the floor, then being sent to time out where she proceeded to pee on the buckets of dog food that I had her sit on, and then the puppy chewed through one of the unopened bags of dog food. For my pride’s sake, I will spare you the details of my reactions to these things. I was pretty down that night and feeling like a crappy mom and dog-owner, but I figured a good night sleep would make it all better. When the dog had me up at 4am needing to go out, then wanting back in, and out, and in, and then I noticed he had pooped in the bedroom, I lost it. I realize nothing about this series of events is anything other than the usual bumps of life, but being awake in the night makes everything seem worse, and not having the person you are used to counting on compounds the frustration. Now I know there are a lot of single moms out there and women with husbands who work all the time, and they are nothing short of super heroes in my book.


This whole experience got me thinking, is God really enough for me? If all I had in this world was God, could I handle my life? Even Adam was lonely when he was by himself on the earth. God knows that we need other people to support us, but at the same time, no other person can ever support us perfectly or entirely. So I find myself searching for the balance between needing and accepting the help offered by others and also resting in the knowledge that God and I are a complete team. I got up the next morning and felt the renewal of God’s mercies that He has promised for me every single morning. I enjoyed the company of my two daughters. I was invited for dinner at my friend’s house and I received encouragement and fellowship that I needed so much. I survived, and we welcomed Iddy and Chris home when they returned. I learned that I can’t rely on one person to sustain me. Me and God are enough. God knows when I need support from others, and He provides it, but He always thinks I am stronger than I think I am. He waits a little longer to send in the rescue than I would like. He is pushing me and growing me. It’s as if he is preparing me for something. I am a woman in training. But what am I training for? Only God knows.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Words



Words are so incredibly powerful. I think they are way more powerful than I can fully grasp. I know it in my head but I don’t really believe it in my heart. Some people believe in the power of words better than others. Last week I was talking to one of our dear Kenyan friends here, and we were discussing the drought that has left so many of the people around us literally starving, and I cheerfully said something about how we had been given money to hand out food to so many people and build farms using drip irrigation and how wonderful that was (which I still think it is). He looked a little underwhelmed, which, I must admit, surprised me a little. I thought he would be just as happy as I was. He and his whole church had been fasting for 21 days together to pray for God to bring rain. He pointed out that, though we had fed many, there were still so many more left without food, and that only rain from heaven could bring true relief. Well, I sort of dismissed this conversation at first, but it came back to my mind later. My solutions always involve me or someone else doing something. His solutions involve prayer for God to intervene. Do I believe God is able to bring rain from heaven to water the earth and allow crops to grow? Absolutely. Do I believe that He will if we fast and pray for him to do so? I don’t know. I hate to say it, but I just don’t know. What I do know is that my friend puts a lot more faith in the power of prayer than I do, and I could probably stand to take a page out of his book. We still need to act and do what we can do to help God’s people, but we also need to pray and believe in the power of the words we are praying. The words we say to each other are powerful and the words we say to God are powerful.

Of course, God’s words are the most powerful of all. He spoke, and the world is. His words have their own creative abilities, literally. Then there is Jesus, who is also called the Word. The Word creates, the Word heals, the Word loves, the Word convicts, the Word gives hope, and so much more. So what are my words about? The best way to know what my words are doing is not to ask myself that question, but to direct that question at the people receiving my words. Truthfully, I don’t really know what my words are doing except when someone else chooses to tell me, either because my words were particularly helpful or hurtful to them. I can definitely look at my life and see the power of others’ words on me.

In the second grade I had a teacher that I loved so much. Her name was Mrs. Coats. One day, maybe at the end of the year, she gave each of her students a description of themselves and what she saw as that person’s strengths. What she chose to write about me were these words, “Sarah Jones, cool, calm, and collected.” That just struck a cord in me. I loved those words and wanted to be exactly that. The fact that I still remember those words all these years later just shows how much power they have had in my life. I remember in middle school, the darkest and saddest years of my life, my older brother David would tell me, “Sarah, you are the coolest girl in the youth group.” Those words, coming from my older brother in high school who I saw as the coolest person ever, gave me just enough courage to keep getting up in the morning and facing the misery at school day after day. Then there was grad school. At the very end I had to stand up in front of my fellow students, professors, friends and family, and my thesis committee and give a full description of what I had done in the last four years and convince them that I had done enough and knew enough to deserve a PhD. My mentor introduced me before I gave my talk, and, as my heart was pounding with anticipation, he spoke these words that I know I will never forget. He said something about how on the outside I appeared to be just a petite blonde-headed girl with a southern accent, but “inside her chest beats the heart of a lion.” I remember being so blown away by those words. I couldn’t believe he saw that in me. I have replayed those words in my mind in some of my dark moments to remind myself that there is strength and bravery at my core.

Unfortunately, negative words are equally powerful and leave lasting scars. I have been called things like “vanilla” and “Sarah, plain and not-so-tall.” Of course these words were spoken as a joke, but it isn’t funny if it’s not true, right? Deep down I let these words define me a little bit, too. A plain, boring, uninteresting person who is always predictable. During my second year of grad school I had to sit for my oral qualifying exams. This involves standing before a committee of 4 professors for two hours and, with a white board and dry erase marker in hand, answering any question they choose to ask me concerning genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, and whatever else. I don’t think I have ever been so scared. When my two hours was over I left the room so they could talk about me and decide whether or not I passed. When I went back into the room, their faces were somber. They started with, “you passed” but went on to criticize every way in which I had responded and spoken and the one word I remember in all of it was “unimpressive.” So there you have it, Sarah, the plain, vanilla, boring, and unimpressive. And then of course there is the 1-10 ratings that guys like to give girls which tends to make it back around to the girl who got the rating. Each point that is deducted leaves me wondering, “ is it my face?” or “is this part too big and another part too small?”


Every day I have to choose what words will define me. If they really are so powerful, which I am more and more convinced that they are, I have to choose which ones I let in and which ones go out very carefully. I also need to direct a few more to God, and I need to let a few more of HIs words ruminate in my mind. You are loved, you are valued, you are precious, you are worthy, you are enough, you are beautiful. I pray that God gives me the right words to offer others who are hurting, and I pray that He strengthens my mind to define myself by His words and the words of other people that originated in Him.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Adventure





Everyday is a new battle of the mind for me. Some days I feel it more than others. What will I allow my thoughts to focus on today? How can I keep it positive. I am a realist by nature (this is what pessimists call themselves because they don’t want to label themselves pessimistic). I have to say I inherited this from my father, and please don’t hear me being at all critical of my father. His and my ability to think through a possible scenario completely and thoroughly is, like most things in life, both a weakness and a strength. We each married our own personal ray of sunshine to balance us out. I cannot let this topic go by without telling a story about my dad that passes through my mind every single time I catch myself being a little too “realistic”. One time when my 3 siblings and I were all young and living at home we were going on a road trip to somewhere. As you can imagine, with 4 children in a minivan for an extended period of time, junk started accumulating on the floor of said minivan. My dad, who, much like me, does not like chaos, opened the door to the van to let us out and found a cassette tape case lying right where we would all need to pass to exit the van. He then proceeded to explain how hazardous this situation was, and it went something like this:


“You know, someone could step on this tape case, causing them to slip and fall, which could lead to a broken arm, in which case we would all have to go to the hospital, and since we don’t know our way around we would have to stop and ask someone for directions to the hospital, and since people don’t usually give good directions we would probably end up lost, and then it would be getting late, so we would just have to sleep on the side of the road, and then the police would find us sitting there, which is probably illegal, and he would have to take us to prison, and the one with a broken arm surely wouldn’t get any help there, and one of you would end up with an amputated arm and the rest of us in jail.”


I’m sure the years since this has happened have probably exaggerated this story just a little in my mind, but we all laughed and said something like, “oh, dad”, and it has become one of those iconic stories that always gives me a good chuckle. What’s great about my dad is that he has lead the way for me in teaching his negative leaning mind to think positively, and here is one of many things I have learned from him. One of the best ways to fight the blues is this: adventure.


This may seem like an unlikely solution, and the reality of it has only just now occurred to me, but I believe that some of the times I feel the most alive, the most connected with God, are when I feel that I am on an adventure. I am sure that my love of adventure came from both my parents, who used to read the Chronicles of Narnia to me and push me to do the things I felt scared to do. Long hikes and camping trips with my dad always felt like adventures to me. Any time I felt nervous (especially when my parents were dropping me off at college for the first time and I was scared to death) my mom would say, “You’re off on an adventure!” And that somehow tipped the scales from the feeling that I am facing a mountain that I will never be able to climb to the feeling of hopeful expectation of what I will see on the other side when I reach the top.


Sometimes the adventure is more apparent than others. Setting off with my three siblings on a trek down a creek that we don’t know very well to find a destination we aren’t very sure of: definite adventure. Going to college in another state at a school where I know very few people: adventure. Going to grad school with very little research experience in a new huge city that I don’t know and trying to figure out life on my own at the same time: adventure. Leaving everyone and everything that I know to start a new life with my husband in Africa: adventure. But what about now? Am I still on an adventure waking up everyday to feed my children breakfast, take them to school, and come home to care for my two-year-old? Don’t forget the almost daily trip to the supermarket (and sometimes that is more of an adventure than I would care to admit). I really can see now why some people experience a midlife crisis. We are driven by a desire for adventure. It keeps our minds sharp and spirits high. But adventure is all around us. Adventure is all around me. It is not a specific situation, it is a state of mind. Right now my adventure is not the “make a movie out of her life” kind, but it is there. I am challenging myself spiritually, because no matter how much I know about God, He remains a mystery to be discovered. No matter how many cool people I meet, there are more cool people out there doing amazing things that I have never heard of before. No matter how many times I look at the beauty of the ocean, I can always look again, and be awe-struck. Every day my children do something new that amazes me. I never tire of their kisses. And life could change in a second, so I can’t afford to put my life into cruise control. Maybe I need someone like Steve Martin in The Pink Panther who constantly “surprise” attacks his partner to keep him sharp. I need it both as a warning and because that is what I was made for. Maybe God put this need for adventure in my life because it keeps me alive and it brings me LIFE! So let me go and see what adventure waits for me today. After all, “zee wezzer eez very mild right now, don’t you seenk?”


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Mix Matched

Life is such a funny thing, isn’t it? Today I find myself pondering the huge problems of the world, like the people right around us who are starving, the people losing their homes, lives, everything in Syria, the people living in the US who fear the direction the country is headed will leave them on the outside. These things weigh me down and steal my joy. At the same time, I am annoyed that our spoons keep going missing. And why is it always the spoons, by the way? Thank goodness we don’t live in a climate that requires socks because Lord knows we would be losing those, too! I’m ashamed to express these sentiments in the same paragraph, but they all go through my mind in the course of one morning. I don’t understand myself.

Here are the most extremely petty problems of Sarah Nicholson:

-half the ornaments on our Christmas tree are broken and glued back together
-my favorite tea pot that was a gift from my mom is broken and glued back together
-half of our spoons from the silverware we got when we were married are gone
-every Willow Tree piece I have ever gotten has been somehow broken- EVERY ONE (no matter how high a shelf I try to put it on to prevent breakage)
-our really nice kitchen knives have been used to cut fruit on concrete
-many of my clothes and linens have bleach stains because of the univseral use of bleach to clean everything here
-many of our precious books were rained on and ruined because the truck that moved our stuff had a leaky tarp covering it -has anyone ever heard of a complete set of matching glasses? I don’t think they even sell them that way in the store
-I won’t mention the list of things we have had stollen from us, but it’s long… and very expensive
-and last but not least, I now only have one bra insert for my swimsuit because the other was used to scrub the bathroom

That’s the thing with things, they just don’t hold up very well. Which is exactly why Jesus warned us about getting too attached. Then I think about God looking at his beloved creation, infinitely more valuable and precious than any of these “things.” How grieved He must be at the hurt that He witnesses. But you know what is so beautiful about God? He is able to redeem… anything… everything. And He has promised that He will. Actually, He already is. In an attempt to understand what God is doing at the God level, I can try to do it at the Sarah level. I can take the broken ornaments, glue them back together, put them up on my tree, and find them beautiful, because they are mine. God never intended for us to be broken, but He is all about the work of mending, and, I believe, He looks at us afterward, scars and all, and finds us beautiful, because we are His. I can take the few spoons I have left from my first set and mix them with others… a mix matched set of silverware. This is not what I wanted at the beginning, but it can be a beautiful thing. And when God takes people who do not match and puts them together, it’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it? One that needs a home with one who needs their worldview expanded, one who needs parents with those who need children, one who needs food with one who needs to learn dependence on God. And, just like that, God has mix matched us, and we are beautiful. Mix matched, broken, and beautiful.

And so, Sarah, do not despair at the state of your silverware, and do not despair at the state of your world or your country. Everything that is broken, God is redeeming, and everything that is lost, God is finding. And you get to be a part of that. Go find someone who is broken and be a part of God putting the pieces of their heart back together. Sometimes just a genuine smile can add a little glue to the cracks. Go find someone who doesn’t match you and offer them your friendship. Imagine the beauty that God sees in the two of you together. And remember that when you feed someone that’s hungry or give someone a drink that’s thirsty or put clothes on someone that needs clothes, you are doing these things for Jesus, even if the hungry, thirsty, naked people are your own children.

Friday, January 13, 2017

When helping others hurts me

Chris and I work with orphans, sick people, and generally people in need. We do what we can to help. Okay, mostly it is Chris doing it because I am home with the kids, but I join in when I can. There is a book that has been popular for a while in the circle of humanitarian groups and other aid organizations. This book, called, "When Helping Hurts," describes the phenomenon that happens when people with very good intentions try to help in the best way they know how, but that help actually ends up doing a lot of damage, usually in the way of causing a dependence in someone that needs to learn independence. We have seen this happen many times, and, unfortunately, we have been on the causing end of it a time or two (unfortunately, we have not yet perfected the art of helping people). But what I want to write about is a little different twist on that; something else we have also experienced. Sometimes, when you try to help other people, you are the one that ends up getting hurt. I'm not talking about the sacrifices that we are called to make as Christians to lift others up: things like living with less money, or less personal space, or less "me" time. I'm talking about when someone genuinely and purposefully hurts you after you have done your very best to help them. This doesn't happen often, but when it does, it feels like, as Steve Carrel says in Get Smart, a sucker punch to the gonads. It's just plain hard to get over, because no matter how many dollars or tears or sleepless hours you have spent on that person, to them, you are only as good as the last "yes" or "no" you gave in response to a request for help. And since "no's" are bound to come sooner or later, you are destined for failure in that person's eyes. To use another movie quote, "you either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain." Thank you, Harvey Dent. Again, I want to say that many people we work with are very appreciative and we feel so honored to be doing the work we are doing, but those things don't take away the sting of these burns. So what do I do with these moments of extreme discouragement? When God says to love Him and love others above anything else I do with my life, but that love leads me into pain, how do I continue to let love guide me? Sometimes, I have to let it guide me not only to people who need it, but to people who have it to offer. Sometimes I have to let love guide me to the people that love me the most, so that I can experience something closer to the love that God has for me. Sometimes I have to think about not only how to build sustainable works that will provide for people in need, but also about how to build a life that I can sustain myself. If my life here is not sustainable for me, then I will end up going home, and no one here will receive my help anymore. I never ever want to turn my back on anyone, because God is always able to redeem. I just have to recognize that one drowning person cannot rescue another. Let me get on the life boat that is being offered by people who love me, and when the drowning person is interested in being saved, and not just causing others to drown, I will be available to offer my hand.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

having a daughter

I wouldn't generally call myself a fearful person, but lately, I have encountered something that truly scares me. I have a 4-year-old daughter that I love with more intensity than the flames on the surface of the sun. I think she is beautiful and brilliant and talented and everything else. But recently, it has dawned on me that there very likely will come a day when she looks in the mirror and doesn't like what she sees; either the way she looks or the way she thinks or the way she acts or any of a million other things will seem not-good-enough. I guess it's possible for a girl to grow up never feeling any of those things, but the odds of that are statistically very small. When I think of that moment, my heart stops. And then I want to vomit. I would give my life to stop this from happening, but me losing my life wouldn't help her at all. So I have been thinking a lot about what to do and how I can best equip her for these moments (because there will likely be more than one). Why does the prospect of her insecurity frighten me so much? Because I know that if left unchecked, the world can use that insecurity to take her to the worst places she could go... places that promise love but only offer hate. No, no, NO, those are not the places for my children. I have had my own moments of self-dislike, and I won't say they don't continue to come from time to time. My parents did a lot in the way of helping me navigate those emotions. Of course it always helps to hear the truth spoken over you, "you are beautiful, you are loved, you are talented, you have a special place in this world, you are a daughter of the King." But I think it has to go beyond that, too. My mom warned me that the self-doubt was coming. Not in a way that made me scared before I should be, but in a way that when it came, I didn't feel too surprised. It's kind of like childbirth, you can never know what it's like until you go through it, but knowledge of how it will go beforehand helps so much. I realize that for a long time I thought that if I spoke words of love over my daughter enough, I could keep her from facing self-dislike, but I am coming to grips with the fact that I can't keep her from harm all her life. All I can do is give her a toolbox full of tools to use when these problems crop up. Or is it weapons she needs more than tools? I think I will stick with the idea of tools. She is in a fight against evil, but she will need constant maintenance on her thought patterns. The first tool I can give her is the knowledge that she is a child of God, that He has made her, that He loves her EXACTLY the way she is. The world is broken, which results in her own brokenness as well, but the person she is meant to be and that she CAN be is exactly what God wants. She is His favorite! The second tool is warning of what's to come. I don't want her to be caught off guard one day when destructive thought patterns start to pop up. Last night I was talking to her about what it means to be beautiful, and I said that one day people might tell her that other things are beautiful, but they will be lying. I asked her what she thought those things might be, and she said, "make-up, hair, and dresses." Yes! I think she is onto something. Don't get me wrong, she loves to get a new dress and play with my make-up and put bows in her hair. I just need her to know that isn't where true beauty comes from. The third tool, and this is the HARDEST one, is to have a mother who doesn't listen to the destructive self-talk or the destructive lies from outside (or the inside). This means a little less time in front of the mirror, Sarah, and a little less complaining about a bad hair cut or my soft belly. One of the best things I can do for her is to look in the mirror and love myself. I'm trying... I'm really trying. I know she is going to need all the tools she can get, so I will keep trying to add them into her box. In the end, it will be up to her to put them to use. Dear God, is this how you feel? Just a fraction of how you feel? You love me more than I love my children, and you give me what I need to have life to the fullest, but I have to receive your gifts. I have to open the box, pull out the tools, and put them to work. My thought patterns need constant work. Some problems are recurring, but some are new and I need new tools to fix them. I didn't know I would be a stay-at-home mom and yet not feel completely fulfilled in that role. I didn't know I would get a PhD and feel that it still just isn't enough. I didn't know that I would go through a time of searching for my faith, find my faith, but still find myself searching. Lord, please provide me with the tools I need to get my thoughts back where they should be and give me the courage to open up my toolbox and get to work.