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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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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What I Learned in January

januaryJanuary is always the month of newness. It inspires resolutions, and then demands readjustment. By the end of thirty-one days of trying to improve everything, I’m usually ready to hibernate. Forget the New Year. I need a new bedtime.

With that first month behind us now, I’m pausing to wonder where it went. What I accomplished. What I learned.

I’ll be sincere: January did not go as I intended. I had high expectations in several areas, and I didn’t live up to them. I barely wrote a few chapters in the manuscript I planned to complete; I haven’t figured out my future yet; what I want changes at the slightest notice; when I evaluate my actions from the last month, some of them make me cringe. This year already feels like it’s off to a choppy start. Outwardly, nothing drastic has happened, but I can’t shake my inner sense of unsteadiness.

I’m tempted to delete that entire paragraph, but I’m going to leave it because I promised myself something for this year: I am going to be authentic. It’s too tempting to create a perfect persona. It’s too uncomfortable to be vulnerable and real. Yet I’m learning that I connect most truly and deeply with others when there’s a sense of sincerity. In a world of photo shop and plastic, I think we want to know what’s genuine. We want to know we aren’t the only ones who feel messy and uncertain. Every intimate detail doesn’t  need to be spread. We still need a sense of privacy. But that doesn’t mean we need to pretend we’re perfect.

So in the midst of others celebrating their life-changing resolutions, their unstoppable success, and how 2015 is the best year ever, I’m happy for those people. But I’m not going to claim I’m one of them. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.

January was not the triumphant month I imagined. It had ups and downs, but I can honestly say I learned along the way. I am learning. Here is a scattering of my humble findings for last month:

  1. Even when I don’t get the results I want, there is no regret in being brave. Courage is a choice I have to make with trembling limbs and knots in my stomach, but once I do, I am free. I no longer have to wonder what would have happened if I had stepped out. Fear doesn’t deserve the final word. Faith and freedom do. It’s empowering to type those words, even though it’s a little harder to breathe seeing them.
    be brave quote birds
  2. Patience is a process. Every time I think I’ve got it mastered, I have to learn it over. And then over again.
  3. Even loners can’t always walk alone. I am an introvert through and through, and I lean towards working by myself. I’ve recently discovered the true value of teamwork, though. I used to talk a good game about it, but now I’ve played it. And on a great team, everybody really does win. I’ve been able to watch this happen in ministry, at work, and recently in writing when I joined the fantastic team of The Fangirl Initiative(Which is a super fun, nerdy blog! Here are a few posts I’ve had the pleasure of sharing there.)
  4. It’s important to make time for what makes me happy and whole. A couple of weeks ago, I stayed up reading until 4 AM, something I hadn’t done in years. It actually felt amazing. I need books to read like I need air to breathe; I need to journal and clear my head often. And I need to make that a priority, not a luxury. Rest should be a gift, not something I have to earn by doing enough work.
  5. Speaking of books, we can no longer say Harper Lee published only one! In a bizarre twist of fate, the novel she wrote before To Kill a Mockingbird is being released at last this summer. Decades later, the public will have something of a sequel to the beloved American classic… The beloved classic I have yet to read. Since To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic, I kind of felt there was no rush. Now that the buzz is all about the sequel, Go Set a Watchman, I probably need to get a move on!
  6. Bookworms share a common problem: There are so many reasons to buy books! It’s impossibly hard not to give in to all of them! Dratted budgets. Thank you all for the brilliant response to my last bookish post- I’m so glad to know I’m not alone in my struggle. 😉
  7. Words have such power. In the last month, several people spoke encouragement to me, whether through texting, over Twitter or in person. They may never realize the light those words gave me, but I’ve clung to them. Speak kindly. Lift others. You never know how you’ll inspire them.
  8. Even the best intentions may go awry. I fully intended to have this post finished in time to participate in the link-up on one of my favorite blogs, Chatting at the SkySadly, I missed the deadline. I didn’t want to miss reflecting on January, though, so here it is. And if you’d like to see what other bloggers learned in January, here is the post I was *supposed* to add my link to. 

What did you learn in January? Is there anything you’ll change for February, or do the same? How has this month started off for you?

All the best for February!

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An Award-Winning Post

Blog comments are awesome. I love the community and conversation they allow. It makes my day when even one is added to my site, and on my second post, I was thrilled when a friendly blogger with an awesome username dropped me a line.

Then last week, she sent another my way, and it made me even happier than the first.

triSARAHtops, of the blog with the same name, was kind enough to bestow upon me the Liebster award!

I hadn’t heard of it before, but now that I have, I think it’s awesome. The idea is to award 11 favorite bloggers who have 200 followers or fewer. I didn’t follow the 200 follower rule completely, because some bloggers simply had to be included, even though they passed that mark. I did try my best to select within the rule, however. With the award, you ask the bloggers 11 new questions, and they’re able to pass the idea around to continue the conversation. It’s also fun to follow the discussion and discover new blogs, along with new facts about favorite bloggers.

Here are my answers to triSARAHtop’s 11 questions:

  1. Describe your blog in one sentence.
    It’s like my own little cafe to share ideas and meet new friends, all without leaving my living room.
  2. Why do you blog?
    I started blogging because it felt like the next step for me as a writer. I’m shy overall, and blogging has given me the push I needed to share rather than stow everything away. Otherwise, I would be like Emily Dickinson and keep everything locked in a drawer.
  3. What do you feel is the best post you have written?
    So far, I only have three published posts, not counting this one, but many more to come. Out of the published ones, I feel the best is the latest: The Unchecked List.
  4. Follow-up to Question Three: Why do you feel this is your best post?
    To me, The Unchecked List is my best post because it felt so natural to write. I didn’t outline or premeditate that one. It made me uncomfortable at first, because again, I’m shy and it felt vulnerable to share that struggle, however small it seems. Once I proofread and published it, though, I was pretty happy, and then my best friends and family confirmed it for me. I consider it the post I can point to and say, “This is how I feel and sound. This is where I live.” And I hope other people can relate to that one, as well.
  5. Where do you find your inspirations?
    I know it sounds a bit cliche, but inspiration really is all around! My best sources are my journals, favorite books, other blogs (which we’ll talk more about in a moment), and Pinterest. Also, simply taking time to clear my mind and then listen to my ideas as they come back one by one.
  6. What do you do when you aren’t blogging?
    That information is classified. Only joking! When I’m not blogging, I could be doing any number of things: Writing fiction, getting lost in a book, daydreaming, chatting randomly to friends, watching movies with my family, chasing my Morkie around, volunteering for my church, or playing the piano rather unskillfully, to name a handful.
  7. Coffee or Tea?
    That would depend on the time of day. I’m a bit too enthusiastic about both of them. Especially when they’re iced.
  8. Who would win in a fight: Spiderman or Daredevil?
    I’ll have to say Spiderman, but I don’t have a good debate to back it up. I just really don’t know much about Daredevil except he’s blind and Ben Affleck played him awhile ago. (That’s right, isn’t it?
  9. What do you think is the best TV Show of all time?
    Of ALL time? Not just what’s on TV now? Snap. I read that wrong initially and was ready to explain what my current favorite show is. But out of all time, I’m going to have to say… Gracious, I really can’t say! I know it would be from BBC, but I’m not sure which one. Sherlock is the first that springs to mind, but probably because it’s just a current favorite. Though it is genius, after all.
  10. Why didn’t you choose Veronica Mars as the answer to Question 9? (If you did you can skip this one)
    First I had to say I don’t know about Daredevil, and now I’ll admit I didn’t choose Veronica Mars because I’ve never heard of it. … But anyhow, it’s because Sherlock cannot be ignored, and it’s one of the few shows that makes me feel smarter. (Even if I have pitiful deduction skills.)
  11. What is your favourite book?
    Such impossible questions! I could fill a library with answers but since I am only allowed to select one, I’ll say North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell. It’s a classic, but somehow felt easier to get lost in than other classics I’ve read. I love the characters and how each stands out with different strengths and weaknesses, as well as the progress they make over the course of the story. The setting is a character in itself, and the dialogue really caught my ear. Also, it’s not solely a love story, like some of my other favorite literature. Though there is that element, the story is also about society, family, friendship, justice, change, choices… I can honestly say, when I closed this book, I felt like I had learned something about life and myself.
    Oh, and there’s a wonderful miniseries based on the book, which I am utterly addicted to. Like any film, it doesn’t follow the novel exactly, but it’s so close and wonderful, I don’t mind at all. Also, Richard Armitage IS John Thornton. I could picture him as the character the entire time I was reading. Which could also account for some of my enjoyment of the book 😉

Now, the 11 Lovely Bloggers I am sharing the Liebster award with:

  1. Wishful Thinking. I discovered Miriam’s blog a couple of months ago, when I was still summoning the bravery to start mine. I love her conversational tone, and the way each post has such personality. Also, she has incredibly cool glasses.
  2. Escaping Reality- One Book at a Time. I “met” Lynette on Pinterest, since we followed each other’s BBC Robin Hood boards. (that show needs more fans, by the way.) Since then, I discovered she shares some awesome book reviews on her great blog! Just clicking on her site makes me want to lock myself away with a stack of novels.
  3.  Living on Literary Lane – I’ve been following this blog for a couple of years now, and it has been an incredible inspiration! Each post is so poetic, it has the timeless feel of literature and fairy tales to me. After I read one of Elizabeth’s posts, I always feel such storytelling energy.
  4. Of Battles, Dragons and Swords of Adamant – I came across Gillian’s blog through Twitter, and instantly, the fantasy feeling drew me in! She’s a very talented writer, and reading her blog is like stepping into another magical world.
  5. Entirely Bonkers – Just the name of this blog caught my attention, for being quirky and a reference to Alice in Wonderland. I have so enjoyed Emily’s posts here, and the whimsy and art they’re written with.
  6. Whisperings of the Pen – I found Katie’s blog through her annual “Actually Finishing Something in July” event when I participated in 2013. I didn’t get to take part in the event last year, but even so, I’ve really enjoyed her writing!
  7. The Inkpen Authoress – This blog is simply lovely. Rachel’s writing just flows, and like so many of these other blogs, inspires me to go and write more. Also, her header is the cutest.
  8. Scribbles & Inkstains – I was instantly a fan when I first found this blog, and then I managed to lose the address in my favorites file and my brain went blank as to the name. I’m so glad I finally came across it again! I’m looking forward to reading more of it in the future. Also, I love the design.
  9. The Villain Authoress – Though she may be a “character’s worst nightmare,” Rana’s blog is far from nightmarish! Her posts are both engaging and informative, and they make me want to run off and write five chapters.
  10. Ella Dement –  I discovered Ella’s blog through Twitter, because we share many favorite story genres. I like her short posts, (says the girl who’s almost up to 2,000 words here!) and how they typically end with a question. Also, the look of her blog reminds me of Anne of Green Gables, which is a pleasant thought.
  11. Book Geeks Anonymous – I only found Hanna’s blog recently, but I’m so glad I did! Her site is brimming with such rich literature, that if I could smell it, I bet it would have that irresistible aroma of old novels.

To these eleven bloggers, I present eleven questions: 

  1. What is the story behind your blog name? 
  2. How long does it take you to write each post? 
  3. Which blogging platform do you use? WordPress, Blogger, or something else entirely?
  4. Do you prefer e-books or physical copies? 
  5. What are five words to describe you? 
  6. What are five different words to describe your blog?
  7. Do you keep a journal? 
  8. What are three of your other hobbies? 
  9. If you could visit any city in the world, which would you choose?
  10. Do you prefer dogs or cats?
  11. Would you rather ask questions or answer them?

Here is a quick review of the “Rules” for any bloggers who would like to accept the Liebster Award:
– Answer the 11 interview questions
– In that post, link back to the person who awarded you, which would be me in this case. This means I’ll get to see your responses, which I’m looking forward to!
– Choose 11 other bloggers to award, focusing on those with 200 followers or below. (I did make a few exceptions, but it’s the general rule.)
– Link to those bloggers in your post, then go and leave them comments to share the good news!
– Be sure to ask them 11 original questions.
– Have fun sharing!

To my friends who aren’t listed for the Liebster award, I’m still curious to hear your answers for those eleven questions! If you’d like to share them, even for just a few questions, please leave your replies in the comments.

Also, let me know if you’re a follower of any of the blogs I mentioned! If you’re not, I suggest checking them out. 🙂

Let’s chat again soon!

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