In Season

in season

Hello, friends – old and new. After nearly three seasons, it’s good to be back.

One of my favorite things about living in the Northeast is the change of seasons. Although I grumble about the uncertain transition periods between seasons (Why was I still wearing sweaters for the first week of June?), I love that we’re never stuck in a single season. Winter thaws out; the spring rains dry up; summer falls away; autumn settles under the frost.

Weather aside, I frequently think in terms of seasons. We’re all familiar with them, but how would we really define one? One definition on Dictionary.com says a season is, a period of the year characterized by particular conditions of weather or temperature.” 

The words “particular conditions” struck me. It doesn’t surprise me when it’s rainy in April or blazing hot in August. These are the natural conditions for those seasons. Yet I’m often caught off guard or bothered by the conditions of my life seasons.

As surely as nature does, my life cycles through different patterns. A season of busyness. A season of longing. Of silence or restoration. Of expectation or disappointment. A season for waiting. Another for moving.

They’re more varied than winter, spring, summer and fall, but they are seasons nonetheless. Some of them are flooded with activity and blessings; others are brittle and dry. Each season comes with particular conditions.

Since my last post, I’ve been submerged in another season of busyness. This hasn’t been the energizing sort of busy. It’s been the burnout kind. I haven’t liked this season’s conditions – exhaustion, doubt, cynicism, and impatience among them. Like a heat wave, these are conditions that will burn and suffocate if you stay in them too long.

And I have. Like a stubborn four-year-old refusing to wear sunscreen, I’ve let those conditions scorch me. I’ve blamed the season for bringing such conditions, but that’s really just one side of the story.

The truth is, we can’t control the elements or the conditions. But we can control our response to them. Just like turning on the air conditioner or applying sunscreen, we can choose to tune our reactions. My season isn’t my real problem. The conditions of life have been challenging, but they’ve only revealed the conditions of my heart.

Maybe this is what Solomon meant in the oft-quoted chapter Ecclesiastes 3, when he said, “To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven” (3:1, NKJV). In my mind, I think this verse works backwards, too- “A purpose for every time.” To adapt a cliché Christmas slogan, there is a reason for each season.

In the grand scheme of things, our seasons are such brief times. Whatever season we find ourselves in, another one is already on its heels. Even when we can’t see the change, it’s stirring. In the meantime, there is a purpose for this current time. There is meaning in our current conditions.

It’s another well-known verse, but further down in Ecclesiastes 3, we receive the assurance, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end” (3:11).

Everything is beautiful in its time… Even the seasons we’d prefer to skip or the conditions that test us. It is all beautifully woven into eternity.

It’s all in season.

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Deadlines, Dreams and Doing it All

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It’s November and that means three things:

  1. It’s socially acceptable to begin preparing for Christmas. Time to buy more wrapping paper for my collection and start blasting Josh Groban’s holiday album!
  2. It’s National Novel Writing Month. Authors everywhere are surviving on caffeine and competitiveness as they scramble to write 50,000 words by 11:59 pm on November 30th. And…
  3. I haven’t posted anything in over five months. Cringe.

There are lots of words to describe the past 20-ish weeks. “Unpredictable,” “exciting” and “stressful” rank in the top three. 2016 has been non-stop and 2017 doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

With all that movement, some things get pushed aside or trampled over. In my case, blogging was one of those things. All my writing lately has been to meet deadlines. While that’s fine for my academic and professional life, it’s left me feeling stretched and empty as an author. I’ve met one deadline only to be greeted by four more. Each one seems to crowd out my dreams a little more. I looked at my planner the other night and realized my entire life has become a checklist.

When was the last time I did anything fun?  I wondered. A few social events were crammed onto my calendar, but my strongest memory of them was trying to enjoy myself despite the looming deadlines on my mind. When did I last do something for someone else? I thought as I flipped past scribbled out tasks. There was no time to serve others; I barely had time for myself. When did my life become a laundry list? 

Ordinarily, I like lists. But this time, my list made me feel more overwhelmed than empowered. It proved that I had too much to do, not enough time to do it, and no time to do anything else.

With every deadline and trying to do it all, I had left no space for dreams. Somewhere, I picked up the idea that busyness = success. I’ve made my lists, said yes to more than I should, and checked things off only to replace them with new tasks.

To be honest, I still do this. I’m still chasing down deadlines and leaving my dreams in the dust. And I suspect I’m not the only one. All of my friends, new adults and more experienced ones alike, nod knowingly when I talk about busyness. We all have twenty-four hours in a day and approximately twenty-four hundred things to do. In some capacity, we’ve all given up what we want to do for what we have to.

Part of that is simply being a responsible adult. But another part of it is something my mentors have told me, and I am finally beginning to understand: We can’t do everything. “Doing it all,” isn’t realistic or healthy.

Deadlines will always exist but they shouldn’t be all that exists. Life is dull without dreams-  those things we are passionate about, that make us smile brighter, love better, sing louder, talk faster, and dig deeper. Sometimes, the deadlines have to give way a little so the dreams can have a place to grow.

I say this as I have a list of assignments to submit and overflowing emails to answer. I’m shaking my head as I type these words, wondering if I’ll actually take my own advice.

Obviously, I can’t abandon everything and do whatever I dream. Much as I would love to spend every day telling stories, it isn’t going to happen right now. I can, however, carve out a little space to let my soul breathe. I can commit to making my passions a priority rather than an afterthought. I can give myself permission to take a break, to focus on something that is personally meaningful without guilt over being unproductive.

It’s not something I’m used to or fully comfortable with, but I’m taking steps towards finding that balance. This month, that means spending some time writing fiction. It means turning my phone off for a few hours each day, spending more time in prayer than political discussion, and making an effort to appreciate the people I love. These are’t drastic moves but they’ll clear some space for things that matter to me. I suspect that freeing myself from “doing it all,” and giving my dreams a place will also make me more productive when it comes to those deadlines.

I wonder, what dreams have you felt forced to set aside? Is there a small way you can bring them back to life? Your deadlines are important but your dreams are just as significant. If all you can see are deadlines, please do one thing to celebrate your dreams. Take a walk on your lunch break and capture photos of nature; publish that blog post; test out the recipe you found six months ago; support a charitable cause; try the workout you’re not sure you can finish. Deadlines don’t have to mean dead dreams. Living is done best when there’s space for dreaming.

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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??