When it’s all up to you: the value of legacy

{If you found me through my article on Catalyst, welcome. And if you’re a regular or a visitor, please let me share my news: I had the privilege to be featured on Catalyst this week, talking about the church planting life and the value of raising up the legacy of the next generation of leaders. I’m hoping to have the opportunity to write more on church planting and leadership, something Josh and I are growing intimately familiar with. Thanks for reading. Please leave thoughts in the article comments section. Thanks. Now, without further ado…}

Church planting is like parenting. It’s exhausting, and in the beginning, you’re doing all the work. It’s a good thing you love your new, baby church.

But as it grows, it gains independence. It can tie its own shoes. And eventually, you get to go to the bathroom unaccompanied.

Yup, this is pretty much what it’s like in the beginning.

Okay, it’s not a direct analogy, but you’d be surprised by the similarities.

If you’re a church planter, you know: the policy writing, program development, volunteer training and recruiting, preaching and teaching, discipleship of new converts, janitorial duties, midnight counseling, Sunday bulletin design, weddings and funerals and hospital visits and baby dedications are simply all part of the job. Your job.

But this is only the infancy of the church, the stage of greatest need and dependence, and in many ways, the highest level of pastoral involvement. But it’s not supposed to stay this way.

After my son was born, we returned home from the hospital and tried to adjust to life without sleep. I remember hearing him cry one day and wondering when his mother was going to come and help him out. It was dreadful to realize I was the mother. Who gave someone with no parenting experience a new child who has no use of the English language?

Like parenting, church planting is a startling thrust into the fire. When we got the 2 AM call from a local hospital that the husband of one of our parishioners passed away suddenly, we searched about wildly. “Someone should call her pastor,” we muttered in our groggy stupor. And then we realized we were the pastors. We left our three week-old infant with my mom, who happened to be in town, and hurried to the hospital to comfort our friend.

Even if you’ve never comforted a new parent, cooked a casserole for a potluck, or provided the homily at a funeral service, suddenly, it’s up to you. You’re up.

Like parenting, it’s almost a given that whatever needs to be done will fall on you in the beginning. But that’s only the beginning.

Continue reading at CatalystConference.com.

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I am the opposite of me

I am a paradox. And so are you.

We are clean and shiny in some areas of ourselves, yet disheveled disasters in others. The real estate of our souls and our yards is impeccable from one angle, and painfully unkempt from another.

How is it that we can live with coexisting brilliance and ignorance, with generous nobility and glaring narcissism?

Sometimes, I feel I’m an imposter, like the real me is the messy version, and the times I act right are just glitches, some kind of cosmic error where the light fell just right, and now the world thinks good of me.

But it feels like a balancing act, until I wreck it again.

So who am I? Can I be the bad and the good, at the same time?

Am I summed up in my moments of fear, panic and rejection or in my faith and courage?

Am I a scared, helpless child, wordless with shame, or a ferociously brave teacher who lives to inspire?

Am I all the times I hate to be alone, or the times I am frantic to get away?

Am I the girl who can’t find her keys or the idea-generating leader bent on improving her environment?

Am I the friend you can count on for everything, or the friend who will let you down?

Am I the blessings and encouragement I bestow, or the curses I hiss beneath my breath?

Am I the rage and anger I release on my very last nerve with my child, or am I the patient nurturer, singing this same child to sleep?

Am I the forgiveness I extend or the grudges I feed?

Am I all the times I disappoint or the times I keep my word?

Am I the girl who finds showers annoying or the girl who can’t stand dirty feet?

Am I everything I do right or everything I do wrong?

Am I the desperate woman wanting children I don’t have yet or the grateful mother to the one I do have?

It doesn’t seem possible, but I am all these things. It’s the conundrum of me. I can stop covering it up now, stop holding my breath so people will think of me as cleaned up and together.

The truth is, I am holy and I am full of sin. I am a work in progress. But at this exact moment, I am the good and the bad. 

I am all the things I’ve screwed up irreparably, the words I want back, and the genius and generosity in between. I am everywhere I’ve been and everywhere I’m going. I am my failure and my success. I am what I know and what I don’t know. It’s part of me. 

I just need to hit “Accept” on all this stuff, on the easy to love and the impossible to love parts of me. Cause it’s all me, and I’m not going anywhere.

No one notices the pillars

No one notices the pillars.

Take a look at the White House. The facade, the grandeur, the elegance, the sweeping landscape. The protesters in front. You can feel the history. But you probably walk right past the pillars.

They cast a lovely shadow, create an ambience to be experienced, but so often we look right through them while they stand at attention in a thankless work. As we enjoy the view, we forget if these essentials supports cracked, buckled or vanished, the place would topple.

This is true for those who support our organizations, our churches, businesses, non-profits. We take great pride in our out-front leaders, the big personalities, the charismatic types who lead rallies and bring in all the fundraising.

pillar

But what about the pillars, the ones who stand behind, the last to leave, the ones with toilet brushes in hand? These are the pillars we walk right past. We don’t appreciate the pillars who stand beside us, who hold the whole place up with their relentless tenacity, who day in and day out take the sideline view to make the vision a reality.

A few days ago, our church said farewell to a family of pillars. They were rarely in front. Their names weren’t plastered on walls. Some people didn’t know them well. But they propped up our community with prayer, guidance and support. They showed up in the beginning, when there wasn’t much to show for the labor, when pieces were hardly in place. 

And they stayed. Because that’s what pillars do.

When pillars are people, sometimes we have to say goodbye when a new season comes along. But inevitably, within a healthy family of people, whether a business or organization, someone else will step in. Will become the new pillar. Will forsake notoriety and fame to build up and support something greater than themselves.

So here’s to the pillars. I see you. I am so thankful for you. May we all see the pillars in our lives, and give them the praise they are due.

I am Jesus’ awkward friend

In college, it was getting easy. I finally figured out how to make friends, not talk too much or make people feel uncomfortable around me. And aside from the tumultuous relationships and the general self-loathing, my relationship with God felt relatively sturdy too.

In the mornings, I propped up my pillow behind my head, then read, wrote, prayed, sang. I poured my dirty, little heart out. And Someone always welcomed me.

Fast forward a few years to a dream come true. I met a man, we dated for a year and a day, and then we married. I love marriage. But God and I aren’t friends like we used to be.

After we married, I went back to school. Then he took a pastoring job. Then we bought a house, birthed a kid, and flung ourselves into the modern whirlwind. I’m studying to be a pastor myself. And I am a working mother and writer.

I just haven’t figured out where God fits into all this ministry I’m doing.

Ironic, isn’t it?

I am so busy saving people from suicide and trying to stitch together failing marriages and regretting nights where I choose anything over playing with my son.

I stay up late and arise early. I pray for people on Sundays and throughout the week. I listen to God for total strangers and encourage them with the proof that he sees them. I use God’s word to guide my life. My life feels busy, quite spiritual, yet strangely empty.

It’s hard to find time to be with God himself. 

It’s easy to coast, to look the part, to impress people with stuff I know. But growing up in a Christian home, the kind where people spoke in tongues and prayed Scripture for prayers, I have an unfair advantage. I know exactly how to sound like I have my crap together.

But I don’t.

Some Sundays, I want to stand on the platform and apologize to everyone for being a fraud. But instead I go home and apologize to God. I tell him I want it to be different. But not much has changed.

The last time I remember feeling anxiously earnest for God and his presence, for Jesus himself, was May 2010. I was a few months pregnant. I was alone and suddenly felt this heavy fear I would burn out on Jesus if I didn’t get some fire around me, the hunger of other people who wanted God too. So I got a group of girls together and told them I needed women to burn with me. We called our meetings Burn Night, and that’s been the name ever since.

I have one friend here who loves God and wants him like I do. But we are both struggling with motherhood and life and where to schedule in time with a Guy who exists everywhere all the time, who knew what I would be thinking about last week, before I even thought it.

How does one be friends with Jesus?

I woke up this morning and realized that I feel awkward around Jesus now because I talk to him often, but it’s small talk, often about other people. It’s not good, quality time. Our friendship just isn’t what it used to be, and it’s my fault.

There is a wall of condemnation guarding heaven, and I just haven’t learned to push through. But I have to.

So today, I sat down and wrote. I told him I feel naked and vulnerable, and I’m worried he’s going to remind me of all my failure, and I will just sit here looking down and then try to leave and act right.

Weird. He has never done that before.

Then I reminded myself what Jesus said a long time ago: “No one can come to the Father unless the Father calls for her.”

I have no right to be here. No right to talk to him. No right to be his friend.

I may be attractive and well-spoken, and that usually works for me when I need someone to think I know what I’m talking about. But that doesn’t impress God. He sees right through the extra make up and the confident posture.

Drat.

So what impresses God? Some might say nothing. Some might say, “Being a good person”. But Jesus said we can’t come to God unless God calls us first. So we are pretty much screwed unless he initiates the conversation.

But has he? Will he? Does he?

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. And suddenly, he’s coming to me. I’m not the sad, little orphan outside of heaven. He’s the one at my door.

And the tables turn. I feel I’ve been discovered. But not in a rock star way. In a “I am so going to jail for this” way. I want to hide, but I’m getting called. He’s at my door! It’s what I wanted, right?

Hello, awkward.

I feel deeply uncomfortable because I so want to qualify myself. I want to earn love, to prove my worth with my talent and labor. I want God to be impressed with me. But he just doesn’t care about that because he’s not looking for good deeds.

He’s looking for people who just want to be with him. I mean, he has everything he needs. And if he needs some work done, the angels are more reliable.

He doesn’t want a work force. He wants friends.

I feel really awkward, like I’m going to start playing with my phone and not making eye contact, because I am not bringing anything to this dinner. All the stuff that I normally bring to a relationship doesn’t matter here.

And yet, I am pretty sure the level of my personal contentment and happiness come with making peace with the fact that I am not really bringing anything except myself. And that is good enough.

By showing up, I am saying, “I want to be here”, and it’s all I can offer God since the only thing he won’t touch is our free will. It’s my will saying “Yes” to him, to all the forgiveness and love and future he hands out, and the humility and love it takes for me to receive it is worth a lot to him. 

Well, that’s a relief. Cause that’s all I have.

All the Little Things

[Today I’m writing at Start Marriage Right about how the little things all stack up in our relationships, and how that impacts our dynamics for good and bad.]

I was already going to be late, and I knew it. Skimming through the house, I tried to piece together all my essential parts before running out the door: purse, phone, coffee…

And then I saw them. The dishes, stacked carefully in the sink, looking aged and forlorn, waiting patiently.

I glanced at the time, remembering I promised my husband I would clean them the night before.

I briefly argued with myself. Something about the priorities of being on time, or keeping my word to my husband.

Within moments, I set down my belongings and opened the dishwasher. He’s my husband. My word to him matters more, I encouraged myself, as cups and plates landed in place along the racks.

It Will Cost You
I wish I could say I always choose my reputation with my husband over my reputation with others. But I don’t. Too often I take him for granted, assuming I can keep my word or make a marriage-centered choice later.

So this moment was a win for me. I chose my word, my character in my marriage, over a few seconds of being in another place. Keeping my word cost me something that morning, and it costs me something every time.

This scenario poses the obvious problem: if I were better organized, perhaps I wouldn’t have to make this particular choice. And I can’t argue with that. But that wouldn’t prevent me from making a hundred other choices, all day, every day.

Read the rest at Start Marriage Right.

Losing beauty

I stood in the bathroom and swished my short mop between my hands one more time. Staring into the mirror last night, I complained aloud to my mother that I didn’t feel like myself. “I want my glamour back,” I whined. “I feel like a news anchor or a soccer mom. It’s so suburban. So conformist. So not me,” I continued, revealing my inner rebel college girl apparently never graduated.

“Next time I want to chop my hair, I will think twice.” And then do it, if I know me.

But it wasn’t impulsive the day my friend Kristen took 20 inches off. I knew exactly what I was doing. Premeditated. I uploaded my bare face to the online try-any-style sites, and I liked Halle Berry’s pixie best.

So off went the hair, and I imagine several children have worn it by now. (I donated it, for all you bleeding hearts who want to know.)

BEFORE:
Hairb4

AFTER:
HairAfter

In case you think from the images above I suddenly had a one-third-life crisis, I didn’t. I’ve always been this way. (Is that better?)

The first time it happened, I was seven, when my mom said “no bangs”, and I cut them anyway. Then again when I was 16. I wanted a layered look, which I cut myself, and then needed an emergency rescue. At Supercuts, not the ER. But still.

The pixie cut first happened when I was 19, a rebellious, grieving act. My friend died, I graduated high school, my boyfriend and I were crazy and so bad for each other. And the meltdown manifested in hair. Off my head, on the floor. Oh, and two nose rings. One at a time. I couldn’t make up my mind. And then there was a short period of wearing boy clothing. But let’s not keep going with this and chalk it up to Post-Teen Delirium. It’s probably a real disorder by now.

Anyway, this time, I turned 30. No death or grief to name, but a new era. A baby now seven months old, and a mom stereotype to rebel against. And somewhere in there, I was uncomfortable with beauty, unsure of the standard I was meant to keep. I wanted to toss off the expectations. And so I did. The glamour girl with hair so obedient I never even combed it ended up with almost no hair at all.

And I made it work for me. I went punk rock:
SarahPunkrock11

And I even figured out elegant:
SarahPixie11

It all suited me just fine.

Until I grew out of it. The season of rebelling against my own compulsions dissolved one day. I changed. I didn’t feel at home in this hair anymore. I wanted glamour back. I wanted the feeling of easy beauty, without all the makeup and straightening irons and guilt from stealing my husband’s hair products for men.

At the end of the day, I just wanted to feel pretty again. The short hair rebelled against my beauty obsession, reined in my fear of wanting to be glamorous, the classic idea of beauty. That’s what it was when I was 19, and it came back when I was 30. My husband didn’t protest, and I guess I needed to just make the statement, to free myself from this “burden of beauty” I placed on myself.

It felt heavy, like 20 inches of hair feels. So off it went.

I’m 31 now, pushing 32, if that’s a thing, and tonight I went on a date with my husband to celebrate our fifth anniversary. I wanted so badly to feel beautiful again, to show him I’ve still got it. But I knew what I was working with: a frustrating blob of hair that didn’t feel or look like I wanted to look, which was head-turning, jaw-dropping beautiful. Like the day I married him.

IMG_9323

Maybe it sounds cocky to say I want to look that way, but really, I just want to feel that way. I wanted that confidence back.

And suddenly, the hair that meant the burden of beauty two years ago now represented the weight of self-confidence, not the “Woman, stay at home; your hair is your glory” vibe, but just the effortless glamour I took for granted the day I said “I do” just a few years ago.

I missed it.

No, I miss it. Present tense.

So I got on the Googles, and I looked at short hair styles on famous people. I know you’re not supposed to look at beautiful women on the internet to feel better about yourself, but guess what, that’s what I did, and it worked for me. They gave me ideas. Which gave me options. And options almost always give me confidence. They reach into my Trapped Mode and pull me out. Remind me I’m not stuck here.

I got out my straightening iron and my hair product. I scooped out the eye liner and the lipstick. And I wore the new scarf my friend brought me from Mexico.

And it turned out right.

JoshSarah5years

I felt beautiful. And he said so too.

So I just wanted to let you know that you can feel beautiful too, even if you’re in the awkward stage of growing up or out or any way. There is make up and hair gel enough, but at the end of the day, I just needed to know it was possible. Beauty is indeed possible. That a girl like me, in-between where she’s been and where she is going, can still radiate, can still walk with the elegant stride, can still be every bit a lady while I figure it out.

And so can you.

So go be beautiful. It’s much easier than you think.

Of Surrender

In order to surrender, you must want something very much. And then you must trust Someone else enough to let it go.

I’ve never found another way to surrender, to be free and light again. But I don’t often let myself want something very much.

It takes a risk to desire, to long. And it takes a risk to surrender, to trust.

But only the things which truly fill our hearts with longing, which incapacitate us with euphoric anticipation at their mere mention, only these are the things worth surrendering. 

Surrender is too great a risk and too vast a freedom to waste on a small, piddly want. It’s saved only for the deepest, highest yearnings.

We may hang on to the miserly wishes of a shrunken heart, the cranky lists of ways the world could be a bit more comfortable. But the grand, beautiful desires of a passionate soul must be flung headlong into the giant hands of a good God.

Only those great desires are worth this daring and defiant act of surrender. We may hang on to all the tiny, fading ones. We don’t really want them anyway.

 

The battle of healing among the sick

It was about two and a half weeks ago, a Monday, and the healing conference was only a day behind me. I didn’t pray for any strangers for healing at the conference, but after coming home and hearing the stories I’d heard, I decided I was going to do it.

I would stop saying “No” to God, to the nudges, to the stories of hurting and injured people around me. It was too much.

So I started saying, “Yes”. When someone would tell me about pain or injury, I became more likely – not perfect – to say, “Well, let me just pray for you really quick…” or “Do you mind if I pray for you really quick?”

Most people would say “Yes”. In fact, everyone has agreed to prayer if I have offered. Wow. Didn’t even think about that.

So I haven’t been dealing with rejection. I’ve been dealing with the possibility of it, which is still there. I’ve also been dealing with how to respond when God doesn’t heal right then.

I’ve realized most people don’t expect God to heal them. I do, but they think I’m just a nice, little Christian lady who is doing a good deed. Maybe so, but I have seen, and therefore expect, immediate healing.

And that’s good. I should.

After I pray, I say, “Does anything feel different?” People think this question is funny because, well, all I did was pray, so of course nothing will feel different. And they are often surprised when something is. They realize they can move this or that body part, their range of motion returns, pain decreases or leaves completely.

And they are shocked. And so am I. Even though I expect it. I have to play it cool, of course, but I’m always thinking, “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe it. Wow!”

Another huge struggle I’ve been having, aside from the fear that God won’t act like I hope he will, or the fear that I will get rejected or thought of as weird, is the most difficult struggle yet: my own sickness and increased injury/illness in our family. 

I have been more sick the past two weeks than I have been in a while. My family seems to be getting it too, as John has had a severe case of eczema that ebbs and flows, and two days ago, he banged his head on our bed and required two staples in head at our local E.R. This does not seem normal.

A few days after the conference, I had prayed for 5 people in three days and seen a few of them receive healing. By Thursday, I had a powerful, insane migraine that persisted beyond prescription medication and other remedies that normally do the trick. I went to the doctor, got new medication and was told to go back on my iron supplements to treat anemia.

Okay, then. But almost without reprieve, I began to have head pain and various headaches, some of them migraines, throughout the week. I went through my migraine prescription in a little over a week, and today, I am home again for the second day with a sinus infection.

I remember at least one time, probably more, where I was in pain from a headache and prayed for another person and they were healed. One particular moment was at work when a co-worker announced to the people in my workspace that he had severe back pain and even had trouble sitting and standing. I said, “Let me pray really quick” and he obliged.

In front of four other co-workers, I put my hand on his back and commanded the pain to leave. It probably took 20 seconds. Afterwards, he was shocked. He bent side to side, sat down and stood up again, and marveled at the missing pain.

The pain was gone. I made sure the bystanders knew it was Jesus who took the pain. I can’t do it. 

Some people have suggested the cause of my illnesses is simply that I need to take better care of myself, which is always true. Almost everyone needs to take better care of themselves. But I’m not eating or sleeping different or doing anything different. I shouldn’t be more sick. The only thing I am doing is praying for people.

Other people have suggested that the pain or injury from people I pray comes to me after it leaves the person. This is not true for two reasons. First, I am not getting all the illness I pray against. I don’t have back pain, knee pain, hip pain, leg discomfort, etc. I have a sinus infection and recurrent migraines. I did pray for a friend who had the sinus problem, but her issue didn’t go away. And I vaguely remember praying for someone else’s migraines in a group of people, but I highly doubt that was it.

The second reason and most important reason I am not receiving the injuries of others is because that transference of pain is simply witchcraft. When Jesus died on the Cross, HE took all our infirmities, all our pain. When I say, “Be healed in Jesus name”, I am recognizing the power in Jesus’ gigantic act of crucifying all sickness and infirmity and death with himself.

He took it up our diseases so we don’t have to.

When I lose my faith at times, which I do, I repeat Psalm 103 to myself, “He forgives all your sins, and heals all your diseases…”

ALL your sins. And ALL your diseases. 

All of them. 

Me and John, waiting for Jesus.

I am not walking in the full measure of the healing available to me. I don’t know of anyone who is this side of heaven. But I am not giving up. I am asking for revelation on my own healing.

And I am going to keep praying for restoration from a God who I know loves to give it. 

Stories of Fear and Faith #6.1

https://vimeo.com/63140117

This is all a little surreal. I’m really doing it though. I am praying for strangers and friends alike for healing. I am realizing what an adventurous God I’m working with here. He loves so much. I just have to stay connected to that love or I’m headed for compassion burnout. But it’s been fun to just watch what he does. I know I’m not the one healing these people, but I pray, and that gives him the opportunity. Amazing!

I got sick this week, and that messed with me a little. I prayed, friends prayed, but I stayed sick and in pain. It messed with me, but I decided I would keep asking God to heal people. I decided not to give up.

Stats from the week:
9 people prayed for
4 strangers prayed for
4 people experienced immediate healing, full or partial

Watch the video for short stories of some of the people I prayed for. And be encouraged that God can use all of us scared, broken people, wherever we are in life, to do miracles and great, big things!

Stories of Fear and Faith #2

It’s our first full day in Oklahoma. Check out the video for a little background on why we are here, what we’re doing and a fun story about God giving me a message for a junior high girl. She was adorable!

Also check Instagram and Twitter (@sarahsiders on both) for my crazy #4days4ways challenge, wearing one shirt 4 ways in 4 days.

http://vimeo.com/62339864