The Time That Is Given Us

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One hundred and twenty-five. That’s how many days it’s been since my last post. I’ll spare the usual exclamations about how quickly time is flying by. (But seriously. How is it possible this year is close to halfway over?)

I only counted out the days because it feels like forever and I was curious as to how long forever really is. How do you measure the moments that make a life?

The weeks that have gone by have felt mostly the same. I went to work five times a week, church two or sometimes three times, met homework deadlines (some by thin margins), and didn’t get nearly enough sleep. Thanks to my English coursework, I did more writing than I had in a long while, though it’s not visible on the blog.

Within that pattern, though, change broke through. In the midst of to-do lists and deadlines came defining moments. While I was busy submitting assignments and filing paperwork for five months, my life changed in a few defining moments.

According to dictionary.com, a defining moment is “a point at which the essential nature of a character or person is revealed or identified.”

In storytelling, defining moments are no accident. Characters are positioned, trips arranged and stages set long before the moment occurs. If you’re truly perceptive, sometimes you can guess what’s coming before it grandly arrives. My favorite scenarios, though, are when the author is masterful enough to completely surprise me. A common rule is that defining moments should be both inevitable and unexpected. When we look back, we should see how everything led to this point, but when it initially occurs, we should feel a bit stunned.

One of the early defining moments of The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien is when Frodo is bequeathed the One Ring from his uncle. At first glance, this doesn’t seem terribly significant. Eccentric old uncle Bilbo leaves all his possessions to his nephew and decides to become a hermit and an author. Suddenly inheriting a home in Bag End shouldn’t rearrange Frodo’s life too terribly; after all, it’s his uncle Bilbo setting off for the unknown. As anyone vaguely familiar with the Lord of the Rings can tell you, though, this moment means more for Frodo than for Bilbo.

Frodo goes from leading an ordinary, rather unadventurous life to taking on a quest with earthshaking repercussions. His calm existence is derailed by a single object… a defining moment. The consequences of this moment are drastic, leading to many other defining moments and later causing Frodo to say, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” “So do I,” Gandalf replies. “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring) 

The time that is given us… whether that is a time of upheaval or unexciting activities.

Maybe it’s not a moment we want. Perhaps it’s one where we feel stuck and it seems like the opposite of a grand, defining moment. Maybe this instant hurts, and feels like it’s going to hurt until the end of time.

Perhaps this is a big moment and it’s terrifying. Maybe this is a decision we don’t want to make. Maybe this is a change we never asked to face.

No matter what is happening, this is the time that is given us. We don’t get to choose our own time. For better or worse, this moment is all we have to live in. This is where God has placed us. All we have to decide… Is what to do with the time that is given us.

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Resurgam

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There are some years that stand out more than others. For me, 2015 was such a year. I suspect that even several years from now, I’ll point to that one and remember how much it strained, shattered, and slowly remade me.

And now it’s come to an end. There were days when I had no idea who or where I would be by this point. Yet here I am, officially calling it “last year” and looking ahead to the untouched days of “this year.”

Since grade school, I’ve been a resolution person. I like making lists and dreaming big. New Year’s holds such promise, and that energy always inspires me to make a bunch of my own promises.

Drink more water, eat less sugar, get in shape, stick to a sleep schedule and a budget. Track everything in a planner, be consistent with blogging, develop my skills at writing. Keep in touch with friends and relatives, send handwritten letters, create more opportunities for ministry, develop stronger leadership skills. Study music, earn a high GPA, build websites, find time for hobbies. Prioritize my relationship with God, read the Bible in a year, pray daily, fast weekly. 

That list has looped through my brain since December.  Just looking at it makes me feel like I’ve failed. Every single thing on it is important. Accomplishing them would be beneficial. Yet if I already feel overwhelmed, an hour into the New Year, how am I going to feel by the end of January?

So although I would love to conquer each of those goals, I’m making a different choice for 2016. I’m summing up my intentions with a single word instead of bullet points or bulky paragraphs.

As I was journaling last week, well past midnight, I stumbled into the word that will be my mantra for this year. I was struggling against the weight of an entire year, and I felt God whisper that word into my mind.

Resurgam. It’s a Latin phrase, but the meaning is simple: I will rise again. 

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After 2015 exhausting me in almost every way, I want 2016 to be about one thing. Rising again; above everything that’s happened, and everything that may yet happen. So my resolution this year isn’t defined by what I accomplish, and how many things I check off that endless list. I’m not going to “fail” my goals this year, because my focus makes “failure” irrelevant.

When I fall, for fall I will, I haven’t failed. I can rise again. And again. As many times as it takes. The grace of Jesus means that as long as I have breath, I have a chance. I can take the nail-scarred hand He offers me and stand up, no matter how hard I fall.

When I struggle to pray, I will remember “resurgam,” and try again.
When I make a wrong choice, I will tell myself “resurgam.”
When I feel overwhelmed, I will be reminded of “resurgam.”

I wish I could say that I won’t experience low points in 2016 the way I did in 2015. But I can’t. I don’t know what awaits me in the next 365 days. A new year doesn’t guarantee a perfect, or even completely good, one. All it guarantees is a chance to reflect, and reset. A chance to declare “resurgam.”

I’ll take that chance. And into 2016, I will rise again.

Do you have resolutions or a specific word for your year? 

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Why Am I Doing This?

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Why does this blog post feel so flat? I scanned the paragraph again. Nothing was wrong, exactly. It just wasn’t right, either.

It was like tasting the batter for pumpkin bread, and realizing something is missing. Maybe there’s not enough sugar, or there’s too much nutmeg, or the pumpkin has spoiled. But something is off, and the recipe isn’t quite reaching its potential.

As I scanned the bland paragraphs on my screen, it dawned on me what was missing from the recipe of that post. Or rather, what there was too much of. The entire post was about one thing: me. My life, my schedule, my insecurities. My blog, my writing, my goals. Me. Just reading it left a sour taste in my mouth.

A single question crossed my mind. Why am I doing this? It was like a whisper into my soul, and it repeated again. Why are you doing this, Sarah? 

Typing that plain question now makes me uncomfortable. Why? Why am I writing this blog? Sharing these words? Why am I doing any of this?

I’ll be honest: when I first started blogging, my unspoken agenda was to build an empire centered on myself. How shallow and vain is that? But I found ways to justify it, using words like “platform” and “portfolio.” Those are good terms, when they’re used with good intentions. My intentions, though, were more prideful and selfish than I wanted to admit. Purpose can’t exist alongside those things.

Realizing that rocked me. It was like construction came to an abrupt halt, leaving me to stare at the half-built projects surrounding me. I had been hammering away without blue prints; baking without a recipe. What was really the point? Fame wasn’t happening. And even if I could make it happen, it was such a one-dimensional dream. I needed a deeper answer to the question Why am I doing this?

Three years ago, as a freshman in college, I had to answer that question about life itself. Over the course of twelve weeks, I worked through sessions about calling, vision, talents, and other aspects of purpose. By the end of those modules, I had written twelve statements defining my values and life mission. As a collection, those statements were called my “compass.” They were intended to guide me through my decisions, both big and small. They were the essence of why I got up each morning.

Then real life happened and parts of my purpose plan seemed better suited to paper. Mistakenly, without meaning to, I replaced those carefully considered statements. In their place, I let in other influences, ones that weren’t intentional or helpful. Rather than nailing my purpose to the cross, I ended up pinning it on myself.

That’s where everything fell flat. In order to live meaningfully, my meaning has to extend beyond me. True purpose on earth is something that can only be rooted in heaven. My prayer now is to live as a reflection of God’s glory and grace. I’m only a smudged reflection, one that needs lots of polish. Even so, striving to more clearly reflect Him is worth more than any dim purpose I could invent.

However it plays out, that’s what I want at the core of my existence. That’s the compass I need. At the end of the day, living well is about loving and serving well.

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From this point, that’s what I’m going to learn to do. When I sit down at my desk on a Monday morning, when I type up a blog post in my room on a Saturday night, when I step out of church on a Sunday afternoon… I want to live out that purpose. I want to be aware of the “why” behind every breath I take.

In a way, it seems that I wrote another blog post about myself after all. It’s hard to avoid, since I’m only an expert in the field of my own experience. If there’s only one thing to take from these imperfect words, though, I think it’s this: There is a reason why. Remember the answer to that little question. It makes a big difference. When we forget why we’re here, we struggle to figure out what to do, where to position ourselves or how to do this thing called life. When I lost sight of the “why,” I then lost my ability to figure out what to write, how to minister well, how to live well. Ignoring that question is part of the reason I’ve ignored blogging and writing for so many weeks. It’s why I’ve been struggling to connect in some way. I need to remember why I’m doing this in order to do it well.

Asking why matters. What’s your why? 

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Book Review: The Little Paris Bookshop

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I first came across the Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George on a list of must-read books for summer. The cover was stunning, and I adored the idea of a story set in a Parisian bookshop. I was about to order it, but then I had the chance to receive a review copy… So, here I am!

The story begins with an air of mystery, centered on the reserved Monsieur Perdu, proprietor of a little bookshop housed on a barge. The shop is called the Literary Apothecary, and Monsieur Perdu spends his days prescribing books for ailments of the heart. All the while, he holds his own heart shut, trying to forget how it was broken two decades ago.

Then a new neighbor, an unopened letter, and a best-selling author with writer’s block upset the bookseller’s predictable life. He hauls anchor on his bookshop barge and travels south, hoping to find the answers, peace and adventure that have so long evaded him.

The first thing I noticed about this book is the writing style. Each line is infused with poetry and soul. The pages are filled with poignant quotes, and I found myself wanting to read with a highlighter in hand. Monsieur Perdu describes one novel as “infused with enormous humanity,” and that seems the best summary of the Little Paris Bookshop as well.

At first glance, this is simply a story about books, but it delves so much deeper. This novel is a celebration of literature and life, of love and loss, and how each depends on the others for its true meaning. Perdu claims books are the only remedy for countless, undefined afflictions of the soul. As he diagnoses patrons and doles out paper cures, I found myself looking inward. I wondered which titles this bookseller might prescribe to me. While I read, I felt the profound words seeping into me… Tugging at my emotions, making my heart lift and dip. I expected this book to be one that changed me by the end.

Unfortunately, I didn’t reach the end. In order to explore the themes of love and loss, we’re taken on a tour of Perdu’s past… A past involving an affair that is fleshed out far too much for my taste. Initially, I skipped over these sections, but as the story progressed, they appeared with more frequency and detail. I started to dread picking up the book because I knew there’d be another indecent scene awaiting me. In the end, the beautiful writing, lovely setting, and deep characters weren’t enough to keep me. The story could have easily been told without those scenes. Instead, it was spoiled for me. And that right there is a tale of loss.

I give it 2 out of 5 stars, simply because of how well-written it was and because the concept was a good one. I would have dearly loved to rate it for more, but such is life and literature.

I received this book from the publisher for free, in exchange for my honest review. 

Adieu,

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