Sep 5, 2015

New Digs

Come on over and visit me on my new site: !

Jul 25, 2015

Just Keep Walking {Let's talk about reading the Bible}

If you were to peek into my window at 6:30 a.m., you would likely find me on the couch, with a blanket and coffee, and my Bible open on my lap, preparing for the day ahead (Please don't actually peek in my window.  That would be freaky).

Why would I tell you that?

Because I want you to know that having a daily, predictable time with Jesus every day is so important to me.  It orders my day, grounds me, and makes a difference in the way I respond to others.  When I start off my day with Jesus, my anxiousness melts into peace and I can shift my focus away from my self-centeredness to compassion for others. He gently takes my sorrow and replaces it with joy and hope in a way no one else can.

Staying connected does not come easy to me, but it's a discipline I continually have to work on.  Once a week, my phone buzzes and I pull up Jesus Calling (it's comes in book form or as an app).  Side note: One time one of Kate's friends was playing a game on my phone when my reminder flashed on the screen.  With the widest eyes you've ever seen she came to me and said, "Miss Sarah, Jesus is calling your phone!" Ha!

Last week I read this:
"Keep walking with Me along the path I have chosen for you.  Your desire to live close to Me is a delight to My heart.  I could instantly grant you the spiritual riches you desire, but that is not My way for you.  Together we will forge a pathway up the high mountain.  The journey is arduous at time, and you are weak.  Someday you will dance light-footed on the high peaks; but for now, your walk is often plodding and heavy.  All I require of you is to take the next step, clinging to My hand for strength and direction."

I was taught early on the importance of dedicating the first minutes of my day to Jesus.  I have scores of memories of retreats and youth group outings where we would begin our days spread out in corners and bunks, our Bibles open, our eyes closed, dedicating our days and lives to whatever Jesus had for us.  Those seeds were planted deep and I am so grateful. But I mistakenly thought that each day would bring the light-footed moment if I did... an insurance policy to have a great life.  I didn't understand the days that seemed plodding and heavy, so I would think that something was wrong with me.  Eventually, I decided that opening my Bible and talking to Jesus every day was overrated. Didn't He understand how busy the days were with diapers and feeding and disciplining and cleaning up messes?  I would be okay to put my daily practice on a shelf, I thought.

Boy was I wrong.  Jesus doesn't want us to spend time with Him just because it's the "right choice".  He desires time with us to focus and build a relationship with Him.  I need Him so desperately in my life.  I need wisdom and direction, a way to know that my feet are walking in the right direction.  On the good days, the bad days, the in-between days, when I take the time to develop my relationship with Him, I can see how He is working and teaching and changing me.

As I write this blog post, I'm sitting in the library parking lot, waiting on my kids. The library is across from a daycare and I watch the little toddlers toddle back and forth to the playground, putting one chubby foot deliberately in front of the other.  Didn't we all learn to walk the same way?  Slowly at first, but determined to get a little better each day?  Shouldn't it be the same for us as we grow in our relationship with Christ?

David writes in Psalm 16:7, "I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me." When the truths of Jesus are on our hearts and in our minds, we begin to see the next right steps as He guides us. Eventually we realize that our chubby little legs are much stronger than we thought... we can indeed walk, even run, for longer distances.

If you're new on this journey, it's hard to know where to start.  The Bible seems intimidatingly long and ancient.  Lots of years into this thing and I still sometimes feel the same way.  In fact, writing this post seems so overwhelming to me because I feel I am so far from where I desire in this area.  The last thing I want to communicate is I have this figured out.  But I also know if I waited to be perfect, well, it would never come.

If you were to peek at me on the couch (but not really, because remember?  Freaky), here are my favorite ways to read my Bible:

  • One little chunk at a time-- maybe a Psalm, or a chapter in the New Testament.  Every morning when I get up and every night before I go to bed, I read the same thing.  Over and over, maybe for a week or two.  Slowly, I see new things-- patterns or truths start to pop out as the words become familiar.  I read it out loud, I underline, I think about it throughout the day.  And it nestles into my heart and comes alive to me.
  • Read through the whole thing.  Yes, the entire Bible... but it takes me a whole year.  Right now, has a plan that helps to keep me on track (And oh, there are so many great resources on this website!).  The game changer for me was to read it in my own hardcopy of the Bible.  I like to read the Bible on my phone (youversion is a great app) for sermons or for looking up a quick verse, but I've found I don't retain as much when I'm just scrolling.  When I switched to holding my actual Bible, highlighting verses with a real pen, it changed everything.  
  • The first half of Jen Wilkin's podcast is so helpful if you have deeper questions about how to read the Bible and why it matters.  Her whole study of Joshua is free, and would be a great...  But I really resonated with her "nuts and bolts" explanation of how to read the Bible. 

Keep walking.  It's not always easy to know what the next right step is, but connecting with Christ daily means that you will have a foundation to stand on, no matter what the day holds.

P.S.  There's more to a relationship with Christ than just reading the Bible.  In the next few weeks, let's tackle some other things together, okay?

P.S.#2 I'm dying at these pictures of when Eliza learned to walk. I have the sweetest kids!

Jul 2, 2015

Slowing Summer

Every few minutes I hear a ball thunk against the roof.  Kate got home from camp today and while she and William pretend they didn't miss each other, their actions show otherwise.  Right now they are constructing a rule-laden game that involves a sky ball being thrown on the roof, to be caught by a certain person after a certain number of bounces.

Eliza bounced out of the house and is playing in the hammock, chatting to herself and probably singing about sin... or grace.  I'm telling you, the theology that comes out in her made up songs cracks me straight up. (One of my favorites: "My sister sinned.  My sister sinned.  But she can ask for forrrrgivenessss")

The dishes from dinner are still on the table and the kitchen looks like a hot mess.  Until you check the living room and then it suddenly doesn't look so bad.

We’re on week two of summer around here.  This summer, well, we hit the ground running and it feels like we haven't had a moment to breathe.  Sure, it's been fun.  Camping, a trip to the beach, a full freezer of fresh strawberry jam, a week of Vacation Bible School and lots of ice cream and baseball.  

As Peter and I collapsed into bed last night reviewing yet another week of jam packed schedules with no end in sight, we decided we just couldn't do it.  So we cleared our schedules a bit.  Not a lot... but a bit.  And it's amazing what a little breathing room can do.

The balance of summer is tricky.  I love it when the kids are home for long days, but it exhausts me more than I want to admit.  I miss my quiet afternoons to recharge. The pressure to entertain them with outings and treats sometimes feels overwhelming to me.  

If there’s one thing I’m learning about being a good mom it’s that I need a good dose of margin in my days and weeks.  

Margin.  It’s the white space around the words on my blog.  It’s the edges of the book you’re reading.  Imagine if the words went all the way to the edge of the screen.  You’d have a hard time training your eyes to jump to the next line.  You’d end up jumbled and frustrated.  Isn’t that the way it is with life?  If I schedule and schedule and let my kids think they’re entitled to be entertained every moment of the summer, we end up with no white space in our lives.  I have overtired and cranky kids, no chance to do something spontaneous and fun, and  a messy house that leaves me feeling frazzled.  

Building in margin may mean I say no to a few things in order to say yes to the most essential things.  It means I’m looking at the big picture of our lives instead of letting the little things lead us into existing for today.

“But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first getting estimates and then checking to see if he has enough money to pay the bills? Otherwise he might complete only the foundation before running out of funds. And then how everyone would laugh!
 “‘See that fellow there?’ they would mock. ‘He started that building and ran out of money before it was finished!’ (Luke 14:28-30)

I have eight summers left until William turns eighteen.  Realistically, I realize those last few summers will be spent with friends, in and out, so the number is probably even less than that.

These years are the foundation of our kids’ lives.  I’m reminded now, more than ever, in parenting I have to project out, to imagine the end, as we live out these days.  And it’s hard.  HARD.  But above all, I want to be intentional with my kids and with my time.  I don’t want to fill my time with so many mindless activities that I get to the end of their childhoods and realize that I didn’t count the cost of these years.  

So we build in margin.  We fight for blank space in our calendars.  We teach them to be and not always do.  We make mistakes and go to bed too late… but in the morning we get up and try all over again, striving to keep the end in sight.  

Cheers to summer!

Apr 16, 2015

A Post About Kate.

I remember those first weeks of newborn fog and the overwhelming amount of care that my kids needed.  When I thought I couldn’t spend one more night getting up and down, one more day nursing and changing endless diapers, it would happen…. my baby would smile.  A small reward for the past weeks, just when I needed it most.

I’ve noticed the trend as the kids have gotten older.  As the weariness sets in and I'm tempted to think I’m just not cut out for this Motherhood, I adjust my glasses, I look up and around and I see the blessing of these years, of this work.

Easter Sunday, Kate was baptized.  She had casually mentioned it, talked to her dad and to our other Pastor and we started to get ready.  She had a slew of special people that she invited and we were all so excited to add something extra to Easter this year.

We asked Kate who she would like to help baptize her.  She was able to choose someone who has helped her in her life and has made an impact on her.  She chose her brother.

And then.

Then, she had to write her testimony.  I was going to help her because I knew it would be overwhelming for her to do at eight years old.  But then one day, she emerged from her room with a piece of paper with her sweet handwriting on it and I burst into tears.

“My name is Kate Damaska and I am 8 years old.  I was about 4 or 5 when I became a Christian. When I became a Christian I was down in the basement with my mom. I prayed with my mom and she taught me how to invite Jesus into my life.  So now I can show my kids when I am older how to invite Jesus into their lives.  Thank you to all my church leaders, teachers, and parents for teaching me the Lord’s word.  I now want to be a missionary like my mom and dad.  I want to go to Haiti with my mom and build a church that is strong enough to include everyone."

It was like that newborn baby smile.  Just at the time I wonder if my kids are even listening, if we’re going to make it through these years of elementary/preadolescence (which is awesome, by the way, but also hard), I am reminded that there is hope.   There is blessing and there are gifts and even though Kate was the one who was baptized, I may have had the biggest smile as the tears ran down my face.

Apr 9, 2015

The Regret of Not Doing

“Your Cross-Grace is enough to cover not only the hard things that we wish we had never done, but also the good things that we wish we had got done, the things that can weigh heaviest of all."

I was in line behind her at Chipotle.  She was a single mom, hardly old enough to live on her own.  Her toddler girl was gorgeous, with wide eyes and curly black hair pulled back.  She babbled and laughed.

She was sitting in her infant car seat and I knew that she was easily six months over the age limit.  Her legs had grown too long and loped over the end, her ponytail resting over the top.  And I was heartbroken for a few reasons.  Was there anyone in the mom’s life to help her navigate things like carseats and potty training and what foods are best?  Did she even know that her baby wasn’t safe in her seat?  Did she have the resources to get what she needed for her girl?  Either way, it pulled at my heart.

We got our food and as I took my first bite, I discovered our table was situated in a place so that every time I looked up, I caught the little girl’s eye and she would smile at me.  She was so happy.  The mom and her friend were chatting, and she would give her little girl a bite of her food every few minutes.

I wanted to encourage her, to tell her that being a mom is hard but the joy in her daughter’s eyes told me that she was doing a great job.  I felt like Jesus was gently prodding me to hand her some money, to tell her to go out and buy a new car seat for her toddler, no strings attached.

Guess what?

I wimped out.  I totally did not do it.  I even talked to Peter about it and he told me I should.  I knew where she had parked, so I could’ve put the envelope on her windshield and she never would’ve known.  But I didn’t want to offend her.  I didn’t want her to think she was a bad mom by suggesting that she wasn’t taking care of her daughter.  And I was scared. I came up with every excuse I could think of until it was too late.

"By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.” Romans 5:1-3

I could fill a book on the things in my life that I should’ve done and didn’t do.  I wonder why after all these years I still struggle with doing what I know Jesus is asking me to do.  What is it that I’m so afraid of?

“We repent and give to You things we wish we had never done and pray for grace to cover the things we wish we had done"

I can’t go back.  I can’t undo.  But that doesn’t mean I have to live in regret.  And so I put down my regrets, I repent of them and I pick up the cross— the weightlessness of the Grace of Jesus-- because He has set me right with Him.

And I pray that the next time I will be braver.

What regrets do you carry?  What do you wish you’d never done; and what good things have you left undone?  Today, refuse to let your heaviness keep you from the foot of the cross.  No matter what you have done or where you find yourself, you belong in the wide open space of God's grace.

**Words in italics are taken from Ann Voskamp's "Lent to Repent" cards (Yeah, I know Lent is over. It's just that we're always running about a week behind.  Ha.)

Mar 29, 2015

Why Grieving is Not Hopeless

Shortly after we buried our baby, Annie, I turned thirty. She was six months old when we discovered she had a massive brain tumor.  She died just four days later. The morning of my birthday I was with a group of women who didn't know our circumstances of the past months, but they somehow found out it was my birthday.  As they were saying all the things that acquaintances say to one another on birthdays, one older lady reminisced, "Oh those were the best years of my life.  I was knee deep in babies then."

I felt like I had been punched in the gut.  Because for me, the terrifying, overwhelming grief I felt at that point was so new, so raw that I felt like I was drowning.  Along with the death of Annie was the death of what I had imagined my life would be like-- the happy wife and mother of three. It had been so perfect. But instead of baby-proofing the house, I found myself buying depressing cemetery flowers and collecting books on death. 

.... You can read the rest of my post here.  If you're in a season of grief today, may you know that you are not alone.  Jesus promises to tenderly care for you.  

Mar 27, 2015

Handson & Clairlande (and how I've fallen for Haiti)

Remember that time I left to Haiti with only a few days notice and then I didn't write about it for almost two months? Oops.

It was a great trip.  No, better than that.  It was awesome.  Returning within six months of my first trip meant that the memories were still fresh, the people were close in my heart.  It was just good.

And a wedding!  Are these not the two most beautiful people in the world?  Watching the excitement that so many others had for Handson and Clairlande was contagious.  I spent the day of the wedding watching the bridesmaids painstakingly get ready.  They dressed the little girls a full THREE HOURS before we left for the church and then told them to sit… and they did!  They were handed a plate of food and those sweet girls ate every bit without spilling it on their dresses.  AND THEN, they handed Little Mama (that’s what they call her, bless her heart) a pillow with the ACTUAL RINGS and she held on to them all the way to the church and for the ceremony until it was time to give them up.

During the wedding my friend and I noticed a few people with their phones taking pictures.  As the time got closer and closer to the kiss at the end, more and more people kept coming forward to get pictures…. until we could no longer see the Bride and Groom! People were on the stage, squeezing in as close as they could get in order to snap a picture of the main event.

Afterward we gathered for the reception, which was just people crammed in a tiny room where everyone got a spicy tuna sandwich wrapped in a white paper napkin.  (Which, by the way, was the moment that the stark contrast of weddings in the United States hit me the deepest).

In a country where there is so much to grieve, so much that brings tears to my eyes, it was amazing to be a part of something so joyful.  To see how others celebrated these two, to watch how deeply they were able to rejoice…. it was good for my soul.

Once upon a time when I had such little kids, I wondered if my dreams of going to other countries and experiencing how God is working in our world would ever come true.  I often felt restless and stuck.  Being a Mama has always been my biggest and best dream; I was happy to be with my children and content with raising them… but in the back of my mind, I was eager and longing to go.

Flying to Haiti not one, but two, times in the past six months has been a sweet gift from Jesus.  And the fact that I was able to pull off travel plans, packing, arranging child care and a million details in just a week is a miracle in itself.  I am so thankful for ways that Jesus gives us the desires of our heart.

I’m fairly certain that I’m not going to be able to quit Haiti.  I've fallen hard for the people, for the beauty, even for the heat.  My heart breaks for the poverty, for the tragedy that every Haitian carries in their hearts.  And yet the way they love Jesus without abandon, the trust and hope they have in Christ challenges me deeply.  In their brokenness, they have taught me so much.

Congratulations Pastor Handson and Clairlande!  You may have been the ones to get married, but your day was a lovely gift I'll always remember.