Successes…

I haven’t posted in some time as I have been processing the stages of grief and I have been consciously aware that my emotions could have gotten the best of me if I let them control my writing. Each week at church I have been contemplating what I would write, but I could not focus on writing a new topic because my thoughts were preoccupied. Until the past few weeks anyway.

Right now has been a several week series titled Home Run Life, where baseball has been a metaphor for scoring in life. Start at home plate, win with God; run to first, win within; run to second, win with others; run to third, success; and score at home, again win with God. We have only gotten to 2nd base as of now reflecting on how we must first win with God and win within ourselves before we can win with others and have success. As I have been reflecting I can say that I have been seeing this play out. This has not been a short journey for me.

I recently received a compliment that I have seemed happy lately. That I am for sure of, it is true; but I of course still contemplated and wondered…what am I putting out there that is different, what are other people seeing that is different from a year, two, three years ago.  I wondered, could it be that I have been focused on my health and exercise; which had really raised my self-esteem? Then I heard the first sermon on Home Run Life, and I went, uh duh, light bulb moment…. I have been back at church for the past year. While God was never absent from my life, this past year I have been “winning with God” and truly focused on myself so that I can have the capacity to love others. To really be the way I want to be with my husband, kids, friends, family. And I can say it has been a progressively great year and it is getting better. Full of promises and the potential to be living the life we really want to have, more simple, secure, family oriented and fun filled. I will admit this reference to a home run life is just one example where I have seen or am seeing this play out, and it is a slightly more materialistic of an example as it does revolve around career success and a little more financial stability. I can truly say though I am at a point in my life that it will not be squandered, underappreciated or taken for granted. I want what to me, seems like basic things to come from financial stability, to not stress over monthly bills, get my kids a college education and give them experiences in different cultures. I want a smaller house not a bigger house, I want less expenses and more of a God filled life, filled with family and friends. To me that is SUCCESS!!

Do you sink in your failures?

Two weeks I ago I sat down at church and during the first prayer I was flooded with blessed emotions. The prayer was reflecting “living like Jesus.”My flood of positive emotions was contentment, joy, humbleness, that I feel I am living like Jesus. Of course not perfectly, but my goal this year has to been to radiate. I can say I feel this working through me, I am happy on the path I am on and I continue to focus on radiating each day. 

The sermon focused on “it’s not fair.” Pastor R challenged us by asking “do you sink in your failures?” I am blanking thinking on this, I do not know what I would even consider failures. To me I don’t feel that I set myself up for failure, I don’t put myself in situations for failure. So maybe that means I don’t take enough risks, maybe it means I play to safe, or maybe it’s that I look at all situations on a constant changing path, with twists and turns, learning moments, but no failures, maybe I have faith that God will lead me where I need to go and without a few falls my path wouldn’t change. I’m thinking it’s most likely the later; actually I know it is.  Even in my past I don’t look at things with regret, I embrace things and how they have made me who I am. They are a part of my journey, my journey of following Jesus. Which means I may be tried, challenged, let down, I may make mistakes, struggle with moving forward at times, but all of those moments are experiences I have had, they affect how I percieve the world, they create empathy for others, they allow me to cherish what I have. So I am confident I can answer no, I don’t think that I sink in my failures, at least not for the significant life events I can think of. But, who knows what the future may hold; hopefully if I find myself sinking, this sermon will flood my memory and lift me up. 

A big part of avoiding the “it’s not fair”trap is accepting our situation, accepting what we can and cannot control and keep our eyes focused on our greater purpose. Pastor R said “what does what somebody else have, have to do with us, we follow Jesus.” Exactly!!! I know that this mentality, belief, perspective, that it may not be easy. It may be easier said than done; in order to live this we may need to reflect on who we are, why we feel and react to things the way we do, we may need some therapy to figure these things out, a friend to bounce ideas off of, a shoulder to cry on. But I cannot stress enough how important it is to get to the place in life that we just don’t care about what others have. I have learned to embrace what I have, cherish it, and to be present in each moment, with my kids, husband, family, friends.

Would you give it up for Jesus?

“What is one thing you love?”- Pastor Ryan.

 I always feel like these are trick questions because the obvious answer it seems we should give is God, but of course there is always more being saught than such a simple answer. I of course, could not just think of one thing, my mind raced with things I love: God, family, husband, kids, friends, yoga, exercise, nutrition, my current achievement of a size 4, outdoors, women’s radiant dance fitness class, my career, my church…….. Yes I know, some of these are heartfelt and things close to my heart, some are more materialistic, worldly, maybe a little vain to some. But, they are honest responses. 

Now, “would you give it up to follow Jesus?” – Pastor Ryan

Um…. would I give these things up to follow Jesus? I feel like I instantly fell into the trap because my natural response was to protect the things I love. I honestly can say the things I love, to me is part of following Jesus; these are things I feel God has made important in my life based on my strengths and characteristics, they are things I feel I do with God as the underlying factor. I know that loving my new size 4 body may not seem like having God at its core, but I started my journey of weight loss to be healthy, to care for the body that God has given me, to respect it and honestly have some self control when it comes to all of the food placed in front of us that many indulge on with little regard to the cost it can have on our health. I am also very aware of how becoming obsessed with exercise and my looks could be detrimental; and there are times I need to keep myself in check, making sure I am not putting exercise above all other responsibilities and being sure I am balancing it in my life. Overall I feel I do a good job at balancing all areas of my life. But, if I were given an ultimatum could I walk away from my family, well I can honestly say probably not. I know it may seem like making justifications, but I do not feel God would ask me to up and leave my small children, I do not see how that would be serving God. Now at the same time, would I do anything to protect them, especially for a greater purpose in life? Of course, but I feel they would be on that journey with me. 

After I sat feeling rushed with emotions on having to sacrifice the things I love for God and thinking, of course God knows not all people could drop everything to follow him, he did make us sinners, we are imperfect and he knows that. But then, Pastor Ryan went on to further explain what he really wanted us to sit with, and that is “are we holding all of those things we love loosly and holding on to God tightly?”  For me I felt relief that I could honeslty answer yes. I answer yes because I have worked very hard to let go of control and to be okay with change; to be open to the path God may lead me on. That means that if I felt God was leading me to another location, my family would move; if God took me down another career path, I would go; if God changed my life that I could not continue my nutrition and exercise routine, I would find another way (seriously that would be hard to give up though because I feel so healthy), but the point is … I truly feel that I have worked very hard to put God first and to allow my life to adjust and flow where he leads it. In all of the chaos that comes my way, I hold onto my relationship with God to lead me through it. 

I am not sure how many people could agree with how they hold the things they love, loosly or tightly. And I can say that, I have not always been at a point in my life I could have made sacrifices for God. The idea of leaving home and moving away used to terrify me; I have actually done that and honestly feel like it is one thing I have failed at. I went away for my freshman year of college and came running back, homesick, and not able to tackle something new, someplace new. I do not regret the path I took, but parts of me would have loved to experience college and young adulthood with more confidence and more open to possibilty. I could not always imagine the possibility of my world being turned upside down for any reason; but now, I feel that if God gave me challenges that were life alterning, I would be able to conquer them because I put God first and hold him tightly. 

Jesus, above it all, beyond it all, greater than it all! 

Avoidance….Is There Such a Thing When Following God

What great adventure have you been on? This was the opening line last Sunday. And, I found it very interesting that while I cherish motherhood more than anything, I mean it once defined me, but I began to think of vacations and my bucketlist of places my husband and I have went on and places we want to go. Thinking of being a wife and mother did cross my mind, but it floated right through my thoughts as quickly as it came. I think this portrays quit well the phase of life I am in.  Motherhood did once define me, which in some ways was fabulous, but at the same time, it defined me because I lost myself at one point, I didn’t know who I was without my children. Now, I am Sarah, a confident woman with interests, a career, friends and best of all a very loving husband and 3 amazing boys with unique characteristics and traits. Being a mother now rounds out who I am, I am a healthier mother because it no longer defines me.   

Asking us to ponder our greatest adventure led to asking us to ponder our adventure, our journey with God! I can definitely say I have had a great journey with God, of course with any relationship, also some ups and downs. While reflecting on our journey with God the big statement that hit home for me, right now in my life especially was,

“The thing you’ve been avoiding, Jesus will walk you right into the middle of it!”- Pastor Ryan

Uh yup, for sure, that is my life right now. A few weeks ago Jesus brought the sermon topic of addiction into my life, which resulted in learning new things about my family, which were eye opening, I went through so many emotions including, sadness, anger, surprise, the feeling of “of course, it all makes sense now,” reasurrance of God leading me to my career of working in addiction. One thing is for sure, I can say that Jesus walks me through my life, guiding me at the right times, showing me things I need to know and walking me not just into them, but through them, radiating stronger because of it. 

I really had to think about what thing I avoid, because I am quite an outgoing person, I stir things up, seek things out, I don’t do well with keeping things in because it eats at me and I know it is so unhealthy to keep things bottled up. So what do I avoid? Family conlict and tension…….. for me family conflict is very uncomfortable, which I have also realized why.  Which is the first step to overcoming it, if I know why family conflict is so uncomfortable I can understand it and work through it. For all of the great aspects of my family, one downside is that we are not the super sharing of our emotions type of family. I used to think we were, but I realized it is more for the happy, comfortable feelings, not things that we struggle with or feelings that cause conflict. Those feelings are bottled up, brushed off, or if they are brought up are quickly redirected. 

With learning how addiction has impacted my family I have already had my feelings dismissed, brushed off and ignored. It is quite painful and makes me naturally want to continue to avoid family conflict. The sermon was so reassuring though, Pastor Ryan said “when we address the thing we’ve been avoiding, people experience the kingdom of God. When you address this, it will change you.”These words were so powerful to me because God brought me to this revelation and I know God will help me through it and grow from it. I feel this is an opportunity to take a relationship that I have struggled with in my family to a new level, to grow closer and start to really connect at a deeper level. But, in order to do this, I will need to face family conflict head on, I will need to be very uncomfortable, stir up feelings and I can imagine having people angry at me. Thankfully for me, I know how to have healthy relationships, and I know that I cannot control other peoples feelings, those feelings are on them, not me; but I can offer support, enouragement and guidance. 

One thing I know right now is that whatever is put in my path, when I am walking alongside God, I know I can overcome. I have confidence confronting the emotions I am feeling, address the secrets we keep and standing up for myself and others because Jesus led me here and I know he will walk me through it, not just into it. 

Doubts…

 “Doubt is often the pulse of our faith”- Pastor R….. For me this has proven to be true, in fact I could not have described it better. 
Doubts! We were asked “what keeps us from being real about it?” It was pointed out that pride gets in the way of showing struggles and that when we struggle with doubt we don’t need to walk away from God, we can doubt.” Typical responses to these doubts are “pray, it will get better.” To get to the root of things though, we need to be introspective and reflect on what is causing those doubts, those feelings; then we can understand them, learn from them and either affirm them or counter them. I can say I don’t recall a time in my life that I have had doubts that God exists, I have not doubted my faith in him, I have not doubted things that have happened in my life or wondered why he would allow bad things to happen. One thing that stuck with me from my childhood during a sermon was “the devil does things too.” This is what I think of when bad things happen; that and I know I have a healthy mind set in that I wouldn’t know what happiness is without bad times. So what doubts can I relate to my relationship with God?
How and what is real!! My late 20’s were a time for me to really discover who I am, not who I thought I was, who I was raised to be or was because that is what the culture I was raised in was. My outlook on life changed, on who people were, what was healthy or unhealthy about relationships, what “normal” was and what I felt was moral and ethical or not. Over those years I developed my own sense of what was moral; of what I feel God would consider moral based on what I was taught about him from my childhood and what I feel in my heart. I recall it being constantly reiderated that “God loves everybody no matter what,” we were to spread God’s love. That the one way to heaven is through believing in the triune God. As I came into young adulthood I began to feel more contradiction to this.  There was such a strong emphasis placed on changing or making laws to prohibit people from doing things that were not “Christian,” the way God wanted it. This was such a struggle for me because to me it contradicts that God loves and accepts us no matter what. 

I realized over these years, my late 20’s that I will not live my life judging other people, when in fact, I definitely have traits that others would or could judge. I could no longer blindly follow, following because that is what I was taught was not enough. I feel my ability to look at multiple perspectives and understand different perspectives is a gift. I ask questions, I question what is, I make sure I understand what I believe in or I don’t allow myself to verbalize an opinion. I question and ponder what I am taught; I reflect on if what I am taught follows and lines up with core values I know about God. This left me with doubt of what church taught; not doubt of God or my faith in him. But, doubt that we worship and praise God how we should. I mean the reality is that is is not possible for one church to know with certainty that they are doing everything right when it has been roughly 1,983 years since Jesus has taught us what and how God wants us to live. Now, I will be honest that history and timelines are not my thing, if this number is not perfect please don’t judge.  But this doubt, it is a doubt I struggled with hard. Pastor R, to keep him somewhat anonymous, stated “wrestling with our doubts can strengthen our faith.” I for one have found this to be true. The last two years wrestling with my doubts on the purpose of “organized religion” had left me conflicted. While I felt my relationship with God was stronger than ever; I knew that by not going to church I was not getting my kids what they needed to learn about God. I knew I could not teach them near as well as others who know more than I do. And I knew that I wanted my kids to have a church to grow up in, other youth to interact with who come from families with similar values and core beliefs and a place they can spend their time that I can trust will give them healthy activities to do and keep my kids safe. 

This is where I got to the point that I spent a few Sunday’s and Saturday evenings in another church, not my home town, childhood church, but the same denomination. There was one problem, I did not feel welcome. My kids would speak and I felt judged, that my kids should be quiet and sit perfectly still for an hour while let’s be honest, they are bored out of their minds.  This is not what I wanted.  So I spread my horizons and began researching new churches. After months of making excuses I finally went to church at Radiant Life which was Sturgis Wesleyn Church at the time. It did not take long before this church became my home. It has filled in a piece of my life that was much needed; my kids love it and each Sunday I feel ready to tackle what obstacles life may bring. Community worship, congregational support, the power of prayer, these things have made my devotion to attending church much stronger. I have now realized how much worship and praise with other people, a congregation, has fueled my relationship with God, my ability to radiate his love to others and to myself.  My relationship with God that I felt was stronger than ever a year ago, has reached a new level. 

Something that stuck with me from the sermon on doubt was that doubt is ok. It is ok to doubt what we are doing, the path God may have us on, what we have been taught and well, even God. Because, we are human, we do sin and we are not perfect, we can’t be. But what really stuck with me is that if we doubt, to “process it in a place to foster our faith-Pastor R.” The two years I struggled with my doubts, I somewhat did it alone; I had an amazing friend I bounced my doubts off of. A few actually and that did help. But even after starting to attend my new church, I still felt those doubts; however, Pastor R was right, wrestling with my doubts with a church family helped me to foster my faith, move past the doubts and feel more passionately about attending church than ever before. 

I know I will have doubts in my life, I know I have many doubts about what I am doing in my career, am I on the right path, should I go back for a masters degree, should I be content, I doubt the reasons for my goals and what my goals are, for my kids, am I protecting them enough or too much from life, am I doing the best I can, am I teaching them everything I need to?  There will always be things to doubt, but when we are surrounded by people we love, people who believe what we do, and who will provide us support, I believe we can grow from our doubt.

This may be a bit of a tangent, but it is another thought that was sparked for me the last few weeks regarding doubts. I have recently been supporting somebody who is struggling with who they are, doubting… I cannot say that I know all of the reasons they are struggling because I never assume I really know what somebody else is going through. But I do know that part of the struggle is feeling that they are one person and being told by others that it is not right; it is not what God wants. One of the things I have doubted about church is the strong stands some churches take on one or two specific topics, sexuality included. Why I struggle with this so much does not have to do with what God may think is right or wrong, but rather the shame that people feel from church for their sexuality. What bothers me is that this shame does not come from God, the shame comes from judgement that people impose on others in the name of God. Which I feel is misplaced; I am not arguing what God wants, I am acknowledging that we all sin and I know God forgives me as much as anybody else and I would never want my judgement to shame another person. My heart aches because I can understand how it feels to have so much guilt over actions that others disapprove of because they are not what God wants. 

I can say I am much more of a person that I know God would be proud of when I let go of judging others and for feeling content with who I am. I don’t hold onto guilt for not being perfect or for sinning. I learn each Sunday ways to be a better Christian, but I spend more of my energy radiating God’s love to others through my actions rather than trying to tell or teach others how to act. I want to lead by example, not by authority. I want to not doubt what I am doing and rather, focus on doing what I know for sure is right. For me, what I don’t doubt is God, that he made us all, and that he loves us all. 

#myoneword

Kicking off the New Year my church focused its first service on resolutions. At one point in my life I thought resolutions were dumb, why wait until the new year to change, if I can’t change without a significant date what would make it any different to declare on New Year’s Eve. I have enjoyed the New Year’s festivities more the past few years and have also jumped in with resolutions. This year they were pretty simple and easy to manage; maintain my healthy eating and fitness that I have been consistently doing for 10 months and tackle credit card debt. Both I know for certain will happen. The one that will be challenging is my one word that I am commiting to, to reflect through and grow my relationship with God….

Radiate!!

“Words create movement!” “Change is possible, but focus is required.” Both quotes I cannot take credit for. Both quotes were strongly emphasized during service last week. Then I was asked “how do I really want to be?” That for me was not hard, I know how I really want to be…. Always put together, happy, energetic to tackle working full time while being a mother of three boys, fit, healthy, super social, to have time for my friends, I would have a pefect home, always clean with ample time to play with my kids.  Yup, that is easy.   Oh my goodness I wish that was easy, of course it is not easy; but sometimes it is an easy face to put on to hide all the stress and tears that come with the feelings of failure or doubt when it does not all come together. Most days basically. 

But, how do I make it possible to be “how I really want to be?” God, faith in God, love for God, his love for me, prayer, forgiveness, lots of forgiveness, trust, hope…. These things I know are necessary, they are things I have. I was asked though to come up with just one word that will get me from where my relationship is with God and where I want it to be. My one word, “radiate” was instant, I knew what my word was, since the first service I attended at this church I now call home that has been my word. That first service I attended it was proposed to change the church name to reflect radiating the word and love of God to the community, it hit home, exactly what I had been looking for. No questions asked, I was drawn in. But now I am thinking of what that word will mean for me throughout 2017. It means that I am asking and praying that God will radiate his love through me, use me, to reach others, my children, husband, friends, the community. That my actions, words, thoughts and feelings will Radiate God’s love and that my faith in him will Radiate to him. 

Already, one week in and I noticed that by service this morning I was ready for the reminder to “radiate” in all of my actions, thoughts and words. I have thought about it a lot this week, but I am still on holiday and not back to crazy, busy life yet. I am sure I will need reminded more often. I know reminding myself that “words create movement” and “change is possible, but focus is required” will be keys to improving my relationship with God. While I am focusing on my one word, I know it will take more than just kowing what my word is for it to make a difference. I already have a new Journal Bible in my Amazon cart ready for sermon notes that will arive 48 hours after I click submit, I have coffee with a wonderful friend each Monday that most often turns into reflections of our lives and actions which seems to most often lead to Bible discussions and now I am commiting to reflecting on sermons throughout the week here. 

Already, I am many steps ahead of where I was this time last year when I felt an emptiness as I spent the holidays not attending church, I didnt have a church that felt at home. I managed without church to keep my relationship with God alive, in fact I think it was stronger than it had been for a while; which, is why I am so amazed now. I thought I was doing great even without attending church, oh my goodness…. with this new home I have found, I am amazed, I am radiating and I am feeling at peace, but at the same time so anxious to keep growing and radiating my relationship with God in all of my actions. I have also challenged my children to work on this along with me, they found their “one words” I think quite easy and I was very proud. All of them were able to think of words that they can focus on that reflect areas they know they can improve in. Seriously, such a proud moment, their words are “calm, love, kind.” This will be an ongoing challenge and one that I am ready to tackle throughout 2017.