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.

Saturday, January 28, 2017


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.