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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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 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

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.
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  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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3 Reasons to Keep a Journal + 33 Prompts

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When I first learned what it meant to keep a diary, my idea of writing was making squiggles. Still, I wanted a journal and my mom indulged me with a flowery pink one. I quickly filled it with doodles and scribbles that I would interpret for my family. My next diary came when I had discovered how to pen real words, but still had a lot to learn about spelling. In round, childish letters, I covered those pages with stories about play dates, Sunday school, my pet, my Christmas list and what I had for lunch.

Journals I have filled, from first grade on :)
Journals I have filled, from first grade onward 🙂

From first grade onward, I always kept a diary of some sort. By junior high, the books had evolved from records of my life’s events to collections of my deepest thoughts, fears and dreams. Journaling went from a wordy scrapbook to a necessary way for me to process life.

It may not be for everyone, but if you’ve been thinking of starting a journal, here are three reasons I recommend it. Since they all happen to start with the letter R, I like to think of them as the 3 R’s of journaling.

1. Release. When I go too long without a journal entry, my thoughts pile up and make it harder for my brain to work. Putting all those jumbled ideas on paper helps clear my head. The other night, I scrawled two dozen pages with a hodgepodge of feelings. Even though the situations I wrote about didn’t change, my personal feelings did once they found a release. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense- in fact, it probably won’t. But there’s something freeing about pouring all your bottled up emotions onto the pages. Keeping a journal means you don’t have to keep everything inside. 

2. Reflect. After all the emotions are in ink, I can sift through the mental clutter to find what’s important. Thesaurus.com lists “deal with” and “examine” as synonyms for reflect. That seems appropriate to me. When I journal, it’s not just about spilling my heart. It’s about sorting through the heap of emotions and information, and using it to learn about myself. It’s not a comfortable process. It requires me to be raw and real, which sometimes makes me squirm. A lot of the time, I don’t like what I see. Messy handwriting aside, those words force me to admit what I’m afraid of; what I’ve fallen short in; what I desperately desire. Examining all of that, though, gives me the power to change it. By writing and then reflecting, I’ve been able to recognize my thought patterns, potential growth areas, and also my past successes. Keeping a journal keeps me accountable. In turn, it helps with self-examination and discovery. Journaling is about honesty, which is the first step to growth. 

3. Remember. While journaling is a tool for change, it’s also a great way to record it. I love pulling out my diaries from a year or six years ago, and reminiscing over them. It amazes me to see how far God has brought me. I especially love reading the entries where I wondered how things could possibly work out, but looking back, I can see the Lord’s hand at work. Keeping a journal is like keeping a record of your life. And even though we all have things we’d like to forget, our experiences make us who we are. My old entries remind me of where I have been and give me hope for where I am going. Keeping a journal allows you to keep your memories preserved.  

Do you keep a journal? If so, what other reasons do you have? If not, what reasons might make you consider it?

Whether you’re new to keeping a journal or have been doing it for years, here are some prompts to get your journaling juices flowing!

  1. Past, present, or future: Which one would you prefer to be living in right now? Why?
  2. If you could master one character trait (such as honesty, loyalty, generosity, etc.) what would it be? Why?
  3. Define love.
  4. Define friendship.
  5. Did you ever have an imaginary friend?
  6. Who are your closest friends? What do you value about each of them?
  7. What could you do to be a better friend? (I think this is the one I’m going to write about tonight.)
  8. What is something you feel God is teaching you?
  9. List three of your proudest accomplishments.
  10. Write about what makes you feel successful, or what would make you feel successful.
  11. Write about a time you felt you had failed. (Note: Failing does not mean you’re a failure. Just thought I’d mention that. 🙂 )
  12. What is confusing you right now?
  13. What are you completely sure of?
  14. Who are you? Describe yourself in five words.
  15. List five words that are the opposite of you.
  16. Your seven best qualities are…
  17. Your three worst qualities are…
  18. How do you respond to stress?
  19. What usually stresses you out?
  20. Do you like to think about the future?
  21. What are your top two interests?
  22. If you could make a career out of anything, what would it be? (doing nothing doesn’t count. 😉 )
  23. How do you spend most of your free time?
  24. Are you good at keeping track of time?
  25. What was the last thing you lost?
  26. Have you ever felt lost, or been truly lost?
  27. Are you good at making decisions?
  28. What was the last difficult choice you had to make?
  29. Is it harder for you to be gentle or honest?
  30. Define loyalty.
  31. How trusting are you?
  32. Has anyone ever broken your trust?
  33. Who do you trust most?

In case you’d like to keep this list with your journal, here is a printable version for you to download. Let me know which prompts are your favorites or if you can think of any additional ones!

Happy journaling!

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