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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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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Dear Thirteen Year Old Me

dear thirteen year old me

Last week, I celebrated my last teenage birthday. Realizing I only have year left of being a teenager made me stop and think about the year I started being one. I remember wanting to avoid it, but at the same time savoring the new world of adolescence opening up to me.

Six years later, on the other side of teenage-hood, I’m very much different than when I first entered this territory. Yet underneath, I still see that thirteen year old. I still am that girl, in so many ways.

Looking back, there’s so much I wish I could tell my thirteen year old self. I wish I could take that eighth grade girl out for a hot fudge sundae and a heart to heart.

I haven’t perfected the art of time travel (yet), but some things still deserve to be said. This is what I would tell my thirteen year old self.


Dear Thirteen Year Old Me,

Being a teenager is scary, isn’t it? It means that you’re getting closer and closer to adulthood… Which seems even scarier. Right now, in eighth grade, you’re already stressing over figuring out college and a career. Please don’t. Those things will come soon enough, sooner than you’ve even factored into your plans. When the time is right, they’ll fall into place. Until then, enjoy your now. Celebrate every second of your life and don’t try to be a grown up too soon! Those moments tick by faster than you expect. Even though you feel stuck right now, and scared you’ll be that way forever, I promise you won’t be.

freely-10108You know those Scriptures you’ve read, about how God has a plan for you? Those words aren’t just pretty quotes. They are life, and they are truth. You have a future, outside of and in spite of all the details you’re trying so desperately to hold down.

You don’t have to figure everything out. You can’t figure it all out, and that’s perfectly okay. Do the best with what you have, where you are. Take the time to explore and try new things. Let yourself make mistakes. Messing up might be embarrassing or even painful, but the lessons you learn will outweigh all that. Finding yourself is a process of trial and error. And as far as I can tell, it’s one that lasts a long time- maybe even a lifetime.

You’re going to set out on ventures and realize they aren’t for you. You’re going to put your heart out there and have it come back broken. You’ll have days when you feel like you cannot do this, and you’d really like to run away. It’s okay. It’s life, and it’s not perfect. It wouldn’t be truly living otherwise. Embrace that mess, but more importantly, remember that you are not a messSure, you’ll have messy days and weeks, even months. But you are not defined by that.

You are not the incomplete math assignments, the fragile dreams, the missed devotions, the overslept mornings. You are not the image you criticize in the mirror, the acne you can’t get rid of, the skirt you can’t zip, the people who ignore you or the emotions that feel out of control. You are not the lies the world has told you or the ones you have told yourself.

You are smart, even if you have trouble focusing at times. In fact, you have trouble focusing because there’s so much going on in your brain. Your creativity is what causes you to dream big. Don’t ever stop.

Consistency will be a virtue you have to fight for. Even at nineteen, you’ll miss devotions some days. But God will not shut you out, even when you don’t make time for Him. His love is deeper and stronger than anything you’ve imagined. He will carry you when you can barely crawl to Him; He will understand the language of your tears and rejoice in your songs. You know those Narnia books you love so much? Aslan the Lion is still one of the best representations of Jesus’ character. He is not tame- you’ll never be able to box Him in- but He is good. So truly good. Hold onto that. His grace is about the great gift of salvation, but also about daily strength. It covers every flaw; it’s strongest when you’re weakest. There is nothing you must do to earn it, even though you try to do exactly that; there is no place it will not reach you. No day is too bad to be touched by it, and no situation is too insignificant. All of God’s grace is for all of your life.

freely-10019Speaking of grace, give yourself some. Stop standing in front of the mirror and focusing on everything you need to “fix.” You are beautiful. The family and friends who compliment you aren’t lying or just being nice. Don’t brush off what they tell you.

It isn’t vain to be confident. Insecurity is what’s trying to turn you vain, by pinning all of your attention to your appearance. Love your skin, red spots and all. Stop letting the number on the scale weigh your happiness. You wouldn’t believe it, but in six years, you’re going to weigh more than what you currently consider “too much”. And you’re going to be happy. So embrace what God has created you with now. Take care of yourself; be healthy, strong and confident. Live like you are beautiful, from the inside out- because you are. More importantly, live like you are loved, because more than anything, you are.

As you’re already discovering, there will be people who try to make you forget that. Not everyone will understand or even like you. Some of them won’t even bother to be polite. Be nice anyway. Pray for them. But don’t give them any space in your head. Their actions and opinions are on their shoulders. They have no bearing on you. I know it’s difficult, because you have a sensitive heart and wonder if you’ve done something to make them behave this way; if somehow, you deserve this. Keep that soft heart, but get rid of the idea that you’re to blame. Jesus dealt with more rejection and hate than any other person on the planet; none of us can be 100% popular in this world. Try not to take everything personally. A lot of the time, it actually isn’t personal, even if that’s the way it feels.

You’ve always been the shy girl, so you fret about making friends and being alone.
You don’t need to worry about that, though. Concert crowdLook at all the people in your life who already love you so dearly! Cherish them. Life’s meaning is love. As the years go on, you’ll meet many other incredible individuals. Some will stay only for a season; others will mean more than you ever expected. Both ways are part of this journey. Not everyone or everything is meant to last forever, even though goodbye is always hard. When you do find something lasting, don’t let fear keep you from giving the love you have to offer.

In fact, don’t let fear keep you from anything. It’s a daily lesson, but choose courage. Don’t let fear have the final say; that belongs to faith.

Don’t be afraid to grow up, dear girl. Yes, it’s scary. Even at nineteen, sometimes I’d like to just hide in a blanket fort. But if there’s one thing I wish I could tell you at thirteen, it’s simply this: It’s going to be okay; you’re going to be okay. Better than okay, even.

All my love,

Your nineteen year old self.

P.S. Mom told you most of this when you were thirteen, remember? You should have listened. 😉

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What would you tell yourself at 13 (or any specific age), if you could??

What I Learned in March, and in April So Far

March April

Hello, friends. How is your springtime coming along? Partly because of the indecisive weather, and partly because of everything else clouding my mind, I can hardly remember that it even is spring. But according to the calendar, near continual rain, and budding flowers, it’s spring whether I remember it or not.

The past several years, I haven’t been overly fond of spring. The temperature is too fickle, swinging from January to July; allergy triggers are at an all-time high; and bugs emerge in droves.

This year, though, spring speaks something else to me. It whispers a promise. After the snow and sleep of winter, life is springing out again. After a long stretch of darkness, day is breaking. This year, after one of the hardest and darkest seasons of my life, that promise means more to me. It feels realer… truer. Through the gloom, it gives me something to hold onto.

That promise is what’s helping me type these words. After a month away from blogging, I’m not sure if this is the right time to come back. But then I’m not sure there ever will be a right time, or if I’ll ever feel fully ready. So I’ve decided just to start again, much the same way I started the blog in the first place. I’m not quite sure how to get back into the swing of things, so I thought I would share some of what I’ve learned while I’ve been away.

Here is what I learned in March, and what I’ve learned so far in April.

  • There is a time for everything, and the time is not always now. If it’s meant to be, it will be, even if it might not be for a while.
  • Everything isn’t predictable. Sometimes what we expect to last forever comes to an end; sometimes the things we thought would end are the ones that endure. In the last eighteen or so months, my best opportunities and experiences have fallen from seemingly nowhere. The most predictable thing about my life lately is that it’s so unpredictable. There are multiple stories I could share on that score, but for now I’ll just say, I’m really just learning as I go. I think we all are.
  • There’s a tense balance between oversharing, hiding, and being honest. I tend to swing too far towards hiding. I once admitted to a friend, that I always try to have it together and when I can’t, I don’t know how to handle it. It’s partly why I needed this time off. I felt so exposed in all my emotions, that they flooded my screen every time I sat down to type. My fear is always to overshare, and I couldn’t find the right balance of honesty. I’m not sure I’ve found it yet, but I won’t be able to return to writing until I share something. So here’s to honesty- even in small doses.
  • Writing requires rawness. This is the real reason I’ve been coming up blank, other than in my journal. Last month, I was emotionally open but after the initial shock, I didn’t feel like sharing anymore. I closed off so I could heal some. I couldn’t write as I normally would, so I retreated inward. My journal is filled with the only words I could write, and the entries are long and disjointed. There isn’t a single sentence that I could turn into a blog post, and I haven’t touched my novel because storytelling requires all my emotional energy. Usually, I crave the opportunity to spill myself into the story, but for the past several weeks, I haven’t had the energy to spare.
  • Excuses are not inherently bad. Sometimes, there are reasonable, good ones. Sometimes, we need to be excused from certain things. As much as we’d like to stick to the philosophy of no-excuses, we aren’t machines. We can’t be put back together and pushed forward. It’s okay. It’s part of being human, and it’s not a weakness.
  • As much as we try to solve and fix problems, not all of them can be. There isn’t a clear solution for everything, even in the age of information. I can’t find all the answers through Google, and it isn’t always the right time for God to reveal those answers. Sometimes the answer is simply to wait. Wait and see.
  • Brokenness isn’t a bad thing. It’s unpredictable, and uncomfortable, and downright painful. But it’s not bad. Sometimes broken is right where I’m supposed to be.

The world is broken in too many pieces

But the brokenness is beautiful, it’s beautiful

My heart is broken by beauty’s mysteries

But the brokenness is beautiful, it’s beautiful

{Broken (Beautiful) by Chris Sligh}

What have you been learning this spring? Can you relate to any of the things I’ve learned?

With love,

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What I Learned in February and the Beginning of March

February

I sat down to write this post on the final day of February, in a few snatches of time here and there. I barely had an opening before I was pulled away, so I left my laptop in hibernation and intended to come back later that night.

It’s the early hours of March 3rd now, and it’s the first time I’ve touched my keyboard since. In a way, I can barely believe I’m even typing these words now. I’m not quite sure why I’m doing it. This time, it isn’t because I have a particular point to make, or I feel witty, or even that the blog stats are down. I think maybe it’s because I need to empty my heart, but my journal pages are already tear-soaked and inky. Maybe it’s because even though my heart feels like it’s shattering, I believe someone will understand what little bits of it I scatter here. For once, I don’t know why I’m writing a post, and I don’t have the energy to figure it out.

February 28th and then March 1st were the hardest days of my life. I can’t remember what I learned in the other 27 days of February, because they seem so distant and blurred now. Anything I do vaguely recall doesn’t feel important anymore. On February 28th, I realized my dear grandmother wasn’t going to make it through the night. And then within the first hour of March’s first day, she was gone. After fighting a terminal illness for ten years, she was called home to Heaven. I know she’s overjoyed right now; I can imagine her running down gold-paved streets, smelling the most fragrant roses and breathing deeply at last. I can hear her telling me to be happy for her, and I am relieved to know she isn’t suffering anymore. But it still hurts. It’s supposed to hurt, because I loved her so much. That’s one of the things I’ve learned, I guess.

Usually, I make a list for this type of post, but there’s another lesson: Life doesn’t fit in lists. Sometimes, the smaller things do, but the desperate, gritty moments are impossible to pin down, or even fully understand.

In the last few days, I learned that words don’t always matter. The writer in me always wants to find the perfect ones, but they don’t always exist. The night Mom-mom passed away, I don’t remember much of what was said. I just remember the family gathering around; the way we blended sorrow and hope; and the moments when someone would hold me tight when I couldn’t hold myself together. The things I really remember, the things that truly mattered, I can’t put in words. They’re too sacred and raw to be contained in a few sentences.

Until this point, I had only watched true grief from the fringes. I had been the one trying to offer comfort for others’ losses; the one unsure what to say, if anything. Now the tables have turned, and I’ve learned what it means to grieve. I have learned we all process sorrow differently. I think it’s because we all love differently; we’re all created differently, and that spills into mourning and coping and going on. Yet despite doing it uniquely, we can’t do it alone. I’ve felt like being alone too much in the last few days, and so I’ve learned not to trust my feelings in this valley. Because isolation won’t help me heal. Yes, I need solitude but I also need the circle of people I can hold onto. Grief is dark and lonely enough as it is, and being constantly alone doesn’t make it any lighter.

I’ve learned that a little gesture can go a long way. Although words aren’t everything, the right ones can help. I shared the news of my grandmother’s passing on my social media first, and the comments and messages I received helped me feel a little less alone. It’s not always a big thing; sometimes the smallest things convey the greatest love. Like a friend sending me a text to make sure I’m okay, or getting me out of the house so I can get away from everything for a while; those things have been lifelines to me.

Something else I learned is that laughter is truly medicine. I’d always liked that Proverb, because I love to laugh, but it wasn’t until this week that I considered laughter medicine. I wondered if I would ever laugh again when Mom-mom passed away, but I have. Even until my sides ached. I felt guilty the first time, but she was a lady who laughed easily and often, so the sound of laughter makes me feel close to her again. And laughing seems to heal a little bit of the fracture in my heart. I think there’s a reason the Proverb compares laughter to medicine. Medicine isn’t taken unless you’re sick; laughter is needed most when you’re hurting.

The last lesson I learned was really more of a reminder: God keeps His promises. His Word promises healing, and my mom-mom has hers at last, in a place far better than this earth. She’s living the promise of Revelation 21:4-5 now:

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. (Rev. 21:4-5, KJV)

And even in my sadness, I take comfort in knowing I will see her again.

One day, when all things are new.

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P.S. One last thing: It probably goes without saying, but I don’t know how soon I’ll be back to posting regularly. February was an unsteady month as Mom-mom’s health declined, and I know March will be difficult for me as well. I didn’t take a formal “leave” from the blog last month, but I am for some time this month. Writing is therapeutic for me, and I do truly enjoy sharing with you here, so it may not be overly long. But I don’t have the emotional capacity to pressure myself, so I’m not setting an official timeline. I’ll look forward to sharing life again with you when I return! Thank you for being here, and reading this far. It truly means a great deal to me. ❤ — Sarah