Thankful for Leaving TUFW

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” —Matthew 28:18–20When I found out it was happening, I never would have guessed I’d be thankful that my college, TUFW, closed after my junior year. It was my home for three years. The place where I met my then-fiancé/now-husband, the place where I came out of my shell and got over being painfully shy, the place where I learned the skills I needed to do what I love for a living, the place where I made life-long friends, and the place where I encountered God in deeper ways.

When I found out I wouldn’t be returning for my senior year, all I could do was worry about how I’d finish my degree without having to take out loans for a fifth year of college at a different school. On top of that, the news shattered all the plans Jonathan and I had for living in Fort Wayne after we got married that summer.

We found out in October that the school would close in May, and the advance notice gave us time to grieve, process, and plan. And it gave Jonathan and I time to come to terms with the fact that God could send us wherever He wanted—even Africa. Our options were wide open.

It turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened. Yes, it was hard to see my school close and my community dispersed. And it was hard to see our plans go to crap, but if TUFW hadn’t closed, we wouldn’t have moved to Minnesota. Jonathan wouldn’t have had a job that wanted him right away. We wouldn’t have ended up at our church. And I certainly wouldn’t have given up my career plans in order to help build the kingdom of God.

Moving so far away from my family was the hardest part (six hundred miles is a little far for a weekend trip), but it gave Jonathan and me a chance to make our own home and figure out what “being us” was going to look like. It gave me a chance to get to know his family better. It gave me a chance to find out, for the first time in my life, what it’s like to be part of a growing, Bible-believing church family.

And our classmates ended up spreading out all over the country and the world. So many of them are doing things they never would have done if our school hadn’t closed. Just one more reason to be glad God doesn’t always show us the big picture. If He had, I never would have started down the road that led me here.

(In case you’re wondering, I was able to transfer to Taylor’s other campus and take the rest of my classes online. The difficulty of that season is another story entirely.)

Missed my other thankfulness posts? Read post #1 and post #2.

I’m Thankful for . . .

I chose not to do the 30 days of thankfulness posts everyone else is doing this month because, let’s be honest, it wouldn’t happen. But I decided I can manage four daily posts, so consider this the first post in an almost-week of thankfulness.

I also decided to take a more serious look at things I’m thankful for. I’m going to skip over the easy ones, the blessings anyone could guess (my husband, my family, my friends, blah blah blah) and take time to thank God for the blessings He’s brought into my life that have been harder for me to recognize, the things He knew were for the best, even if I didn’t (and maybe still don’t) think so.

Today I’m thankful God asked me to give up my career dreams. It certainly hasn’t been an easy road (and I still have days when I hope maybe things will still work out the way I wanted), but when He asked me to let go of the plans I had for my own life, put down roots where He had me, and trust Him to use my skills for His glory, He knew what He was doing. And since then, some really cool things have happened—I took over leadership of a ministry at church, got my first paid freelance editing project, and realized how much I love the job I already have.

And to top it all off, the writing- and editing-related projects I’ve gotten to work on since letting go are more in line with the direction the publishing industry is heading. (So who knows what will happen next?) Not to mention God has used the whole thing to challenge  the pride and condecension I didn’t realize had a hold on my heart.

God really does have a plan for my life. Go figure.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. —Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)

When It’s Not Enough

A few Saturdays ago, Jonathan and I drove over to Noodles for a quick dinner before we headed to a community college to see a play. As we pulled into the parking lot, I noticed an older man with long, gray hair standing on the corner with a sign: “Homeless. Any help is appreciated.” I wasn’t surprised. In previous months, I’d noticed quite a few homeless people in the area, asking for money or food.

Photo credit: ab.photo (Andrew Brown)

So I told Jonathan we should get him a gift card for the Chipotle that was next to Noodles because it was healthier and you get a lot of food for your money. I have no idea if it’s a good idea to give a homeless person a gift card to a restaurant, but that was not the first time I’d done it. Usually we make a point to give them food, but this time we didn’t have any with us. And, if I’m being honest, we were in a bit of a hurry.

Since the line for Chipotle was out the door, we decided on a Noodles gift card. I went to save a table and wait for our food while Jonathan went back outside to find the man, who had moved in the short time since we’d seen him. Jonathan headed up the hill and disappeared, and as I looked out the window, I noticed the homeless man cross the parking lot and head in the opposite direction. After about ten minutes, Jonathan came back and said he had found the man and delivered the gift card. I was confused.

“Did he have long hair?”

“No. He was wearing a baseball cap and a leather jacket.”

“It wasn’t the same guy.”

“Oh. Well, he appreciated it. He said he’d come and get dinner tonight. He didn’t even know what Noodles was or where it was, so I told him it was right around the corner.”

About halfway through our meal, I noticed a man sitting at the table behind us that fit Jonathan’s description. He didn’t look at us, didn’t make eye contact when we left. Maybe he felt awkward, maybe he didn’t recognize Jonathan. We left him alone and walked out to the car.

As we pulled out of the parking lot, I noticed a homeless man standing on the corner with a sign like the others, “Homeless and hungry. Please help.” And my heart broke.

I turned to my husband. “What are we supposed to do? We can’t feed them all.”

So here’s the unanswered question I’ve had rolling around in my heart for the last few weeks: What do you do when your help isn’t and can never be enough?

Sincerity and Panic Attacks

I wrote this post last week, and I’m sad to say it’s true this week too.

Remember that post I wrote about being sincere? Well, I’d be lying if I told you I had a good day yesterday.

I’ve been struggling with anxiety and panic attacks for almost four years now. I don’t take medication for it, and most of the time, it’s under control. But lately it’s been tough. And yesterday I had at least two panic attacks.

Hi. My name is Sarah, and I’m a hypochondriac.

Seriously.

Pretty much any time I have a pain I don’t recognize, I freak out. And if someone I know gets diagnosed with something, I freak out. And if I read about a disease, I freak out. I can’t help it. It’s not something I can just “get over.”

I’ve even had to ban myself from looking at Web MD and the like. I can’t watch medical shows—real or fictional. I can’t even read about cancer prevention.

To someone who’s never experienced any kind of mental anguish, things like this can be easy to write off as “all in your head.” Sometimes, to some extent, that’s true. But it can also have very real consequences. It disrupts your life—zapping your energy, stealing your joy, and jarring your focus. Lots of people wrestle with anxiety and depression every day. And we’ll never know how many suicides are caused by depression each year. (My own family has experienced that tragedy.)

So why am I telling you all this?

Because I know there are other people out there suffering with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. And I also know there are people out there who just don’t buy it.

So this is my PSA: If you’re one of those people suffering through depression, anxiety, or something else—be encouraged. You’re not the only one. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And if you’re someone who doesn’t have any of these struggles, be grateful. And try to be understanding of those who do.

And if you’re like me and you find yourself buying into the lies of the enemy, stand on the truths of Scripture with me. Here are a few verses that have been carrying me through lately:

Even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You . . . Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. —Psalm 139:12, 23         

I have called you back from the ends of the earth so you can serve Me. For I have chosen you and will not throw you away. Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. —Isaiah 41:9–10

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name: you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you . . . You are honored, and I love you. Do not be afraid, for I am with you . . . ” —Isaiah 43: 1–2, 4, 5

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. —Colossians 3:2–3

But when I am afraid, I put my trust in You. O God, I praise Your word. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me? —Psalm 56:3–4

Happy Grandparents Day!

Because my dad’s parents both died before I was born, I grew up with just one set of grandparents. And growing up, I assumed all grandparents must be like them. When I got older and met other people’s grandparents, I was sad for all the people in the world who don’t have grandparents as awesome as mine : )

These are my grandparents—two of my favorite people in the whole wide world.
This is the most recent picture I have of them together. And that’s quite a feat. My grandpa hates having his picture taken. And because they live in Michigan, I don’t get to see them very often.

And this is my sister sneaking a picture of Grandpa when he’s not paying attention.

My grandparents are my heroes and my example of what marriage should look like. Growing up, I knew I needed to find a husband who would take care of me like Grandpa takes care of Grandma. I did find my Knight in Shining Armor and I have my Grandpa to thank for it. His example showed me that the right man is worth waiting for.

And if it weren’t for Grandma, I wouldn’t know Jesus. Her persistent prayers and willingness to take me to her tiny Baptist church every Sunday, along with her quiet and steadfast faith, are what brought me to the Lord. And what has encouraged me along the way.

I remember Grandma picking me up from school so I could go to her house and learn the Ten Commandments. I remember Grandpa bringing home Happy Meal Barbies for my collection. They introduced me to Anne of Green Gables, fed my love for reading, and put up with my embarrassment when they danced to “their song” in the living room. And then there was ice cream, Downy’s Potato Chips, and a late bedtime when I spent the night.

I’m so blessed to have such amazing grandparents looking out for me, cheering me on, and praying for me.

The Global Leadership Summit and Letting Go

For quite awhile now, God has been telling me to let go. I toyed with the idea, but I just couldn’t do it.

Until Friday afternoon.

On Friday afternoon, I finally let go.

When I was about fourteen, I decided I was going to follow Jesus with everything I had. My pastor gave a sermon about the gifts and talents God blesses us with and challenged us to give them back to Him, committing to use them for Him rather than ourselves. So I did. Shortly after that, I quit choir and discovered a love for writing. And college helped me discover my editing abilities. I grew to understand the life-changing power of a story, fiction or nonfiction, and I decided I wanted to spend my life helping other people tell those stories. My internship sealed the deal: I was going to be a fiction editor and that was that.

But then I graduated college and got a job as an administrative assistant with the youth department at our church. With the way everything fell into place (another story for another day), I knew it was exactly the job God wanted me to have. And even though I was doing a lot of writing and editing for the church, I struggled. It wasn’t what I had planned for myself. Surely I wouldn’t be there long before I landed my dream job. But God kicked me in the butt a few times, warning me that my bad attitude about my job certainly wasn’t going to help me enjoy it. And I certainly couldn’t make a difference if I just thought of it as a job. So I started thinking of it as a ministry, and my attitude improved.

When I had the chance to leave for a non-editorial position at the company I wanted to work for, I realized I didn’t want to leave. But I still struggled, thinking now wasn’t the right time, but someday soon it would all fall into place.

And then came Friday afternoon. It was the last session of the Global Leadership Summit, long after I had tired of sitting in the church sanctuary, and long after I had decided I was ready to go home, Bill Hybels (the senior pastor at Willow Creek Church, where the Summit is held each year) told us the local church is the hope of the world. Yep, true. Great. Are we done? And then he said this (not a direct quote, but pretty close):

One of the greatest privileges in the world is when Jesus taps you on the shoulder . . . and asks you to help Him build His Church. Don’t be the woman who ignores Him.

At that moment, I knew God wasn’t going to let me mess around anymore. “You’re done,” He said, “Just let it go. This is where I have you. I want you to use your gifts here, where they’ll build up my church. Settle in. This is your ministry.”

Though Hybels wasn’t telling the 100,000+ people listening to quit their jobs to work at a church, I knew I needed to take his statement literally. It was time to give up my dream in favor of a much bigger, more exciting, more worthwhile dream: helping connect others with the Hope of the world—not just the buildings full of well-meaning Christians, Sunday school classes, and Christmas programs, but with the body of Christ, the hands and feet of the only one who can radically change the human heart.

Unstuck by Arnie Cole & Michael Ross

Written by Arnie Cole, the CEO of the international Back to the Bible ministry and Michael Ross, a journalist and author, Unstuck combines research, survey results, real-life stories and a Bible reading plan to help Christians who feel stuck in their faith and stunted in their spiritual growth.

As someone who feels that way quite often (especially lately), I appreciated the straight-forward, simple advice: get into God’s Word daily. They emphasized that there’s no formula for a living, growing faith, but shared a finding that shook me:

“There are no statistical differences in the behaviors of those who read/listen to the Bible one to three times weekly and those who spend zero days doing so” (pg. 56).

Though I hate to admit it, a look at myself lately proves this true in my own life. I am ready for a change.

The book is broken into three parts: Why We Stall Out, The Powered by Four Solution, and Engage, Untangle . . . Grow! And each chapter ends with 3–4 days of Scripture readings paired with questions to help you take a serious look at where your faith is and where it’s going. Though I haven’t had a chance to follow the reading plan (they suggest you take 45 days to work through it), I think it’s probably the most helpful part of the book.

Each chapter also ends with a reminder to check out the companion website, unstuck.gotandem.com, for more ideas and resources. I didn’t spend a lot of time on the website, but it looks like the reading plan is available there as well, with a few more questions to help you interact with God’s Word. It also offers goTandem, a free personalized spiritual growth program that will provide encouragement and reminders based on a short assessment.

Even if you only read Unstuck for the reading plan, it’s a great way to form the habit of not just reading the Bible, but interacting with it.

And since I didn’t get a chance to work through the reading plan while I was reading the book, I plan to start the 45-day journey today. Keep me accountable!

*I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my review. My opinion of this book is my own and was not influenced by the publisher or the author.