The Field of My Own

Books.

Oh how I love them.  I’ve never been one to dream about living in a mansion, but I sure have dreamed of having a beautiful library with a large, overstuffed chair in the corner by the fireplace.  I dreamed of this place where I would do all my deep thinking and go on all my best adventures and have all my favorite conversations.

But even despite my perfect little library, I have managed to read 11 books so far this year.  My goal was 12, one each month, but despite the chaotic nature of this year so far, books have been my little oasis, my way of retreating and unwinding. 

While I like a good variety, every so often I read a book that changes me.  Like the most unexpected sunset after a rainy or cloudy day, once a while, I stumble on a book that stays with me long after I close the last page.  I will find myself daydreaming in the shower or thinking of these characters and the futures that author left to my imagination. I will shut my eyes at night and in the space of a few minutes, I find myself swept into their world and their struggles.  The very first time this happened to me was after reading Number the Stars in 7th grade.  Never in my life had I read a book that grieved me as this one did.  It opened up a whole world to me that I had only briefly heard about from school teachers. But, that was just the beginning.  I had yet to step into a Brave New World or know the boys that were once known as the Lord of the Flies.  I hadn’t yet felt the indignation of Scout while reading To Kill a Mockingbird.  I didn’t know the power of jealousy until the world of Othello.   I hadn’t yet wept through Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry.   I didn’t know how much I would mourn Beth from Little Women. I had yet to read the stories of men like Jim Elliot or Dietrich Bonheoffer or Brother Yun or women like Corrie Ten Boom or Harriet Tubman or Dr. Helen Roseveare or Amy Carmichael. These are just a few of the books and people that have stayed with me…books and people that have changed me and challenged me and inspired me. 

Over the weekend, though, I finished another one to add to this list.  The book was The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.  The story itself is not a true story, however, it is loosely based on true situations and people from WWII, and while so much of what I read on these pages was not necessarily new, I found myself thinking about Vianne and Isabelle long after I closed the pages of their story.  I have read some reviewers say that Hannah over-sentimentalizes the gravity of the situations her characters struggle through, but I didn’t find this to be true at all.  I found in Vianne and Isabelle women who confronted me and dared me to see beyond my own vision for my life and my family and even for myself.  Vianne constantly believed and said out loud that she wasn’t brave or strong, and yet her story captivated me to the point that I had to ask myself if I would have willingly done what she did…if I would have willingly risked all that she risked.

But Vianne and Isabelle like so many of the other heroes and heroines from my other books forced me to look at myself in the mirror and ask how much I would really be willing to risk in the face of darkness.  I like to pretend I am so strong and brave, but really I know that deep down I am still so very scared and worried. 

I want to dream of adventure, but most times I am too afraid to actually taste it.

I want to imagine myself brave, but usually when the time comes, I am paralyzed with fear and prefer to keep my head down, focused on the path before me.

I want to show my kids that what we do matters and that we do have the power to bring hope and change and good to the lives of others, but then I get scared of what that will cost them and I change my mind.


At one point, one of the main characters in The Nightingale says of her son, “I pause, knowing how he will feel when he gets this message, how it will upset him.  That’s because I have let him think I am weak all these years…He watched me stand on the sidelines of his life instead of showing him the field of my own. This is my fault.  It’s no wonder he loves a version of me that is incomplete.”

So I have been asking myself the same question over and over again this last week.

“Sara, what are you so afraid of?”

Maybe you aren’t like me, but if I really stop and take time to evaluate so much of my life, I can see that fear is often the thing dictating what I am doing and saying the most. 

“What if it’s too hard? What if he/she thinks I am weak or that my ideas are stupid?  What if I mess up?  What if this whole thing comes crashing down?  What if they don’t want us anymore?  What if we lose our house?  What if we lose our jobs?  What if my kids get sick?  What if I get sick?  What if we don’t have enough money? What if our marriage can’t survive it? What if? What If? What If?”

I could keep going with all the hundreds of other questions we internally ask ourselves each day.  I could mention the times that these questions cause us to take a detour from the direction deep down we want to go…or even more importantly, the direction God wants us to go.   But you know, just as I do, that we are giving way too much weight to these “What If’s?” We are allowing them too much space, and they are literally STEALING from us…robbing from us moments, experiences, love, pain, joy, grief, heroism, change, transformation, growth, and most of all they are stealing from us a life on the field instead of on the sidelines.

The book opened with this line:

“If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”



How will we ever know what we are really made of if we are always too afraid to go onto the field and play?

How will we know our strength and capabilities, if we never even suit up for the battle?

I know you are scared. I am scared too.  Sometimes I look at this world around me with all of its hurt and pain and darkness, and I get real scared.  I get scared that I will never be able to do enough, so then I just convince myself that the risk is too great, so why bother?

But my friends…there are so many, right in this very moment in time, that aren’t living with the luxury of turning a blind eye to all this darkness. They are living in the middle of hell-holes all over this world, begging, pleading, asking someone to be brave enough to bring some light their darkness and help rescue them.

Vianne didn’t know she was brave because she never had to be.  She lived with the luxury of a husband who loved and protected her, in a small town in France where life was sunny and beautiful and safe.  She was forced to watch that all change in a matter of months, and in turn, she found the strength to do things and take risks that she never could have imagined.

War showed her who she really was.

Most of us are living on the outskirts of the war…those battles that are taking lives and destroying families.  We see it but only as if it were a movie on a screen.  We see it, we may even mourn it for a brief second, but then we turn it off and move on. 

But these books I have read, both fictional and true, I don’t want to shut their pages and pretend that the stories they tell are only meant for my personal entertainment.  No I want their words to absorb into my head and soak into my heart so that they produce change.

I don’t want to wait until I am forced into the war to suit up for battle.

I want to stop living on the outskirts. I want to stop holding on so tight to all that I hold dear.  I want my kids to see a Mama who is willing to take risks and sacrifice for those that need us.

I don’t want my kids growing up thinking that all that they have…all that is good and beautiful and right and true…is only for them.  I don’t want them to feel threatened when others want to taste these things too.  Instead I want my children to be the first in line to pour all of these things out for them. 

I want them to know that being brave doesn’t mean we aren’t scared.  It means that despite being scared, we press on.  We suit up.  We go in.  We feel that at any point our legs will decide to collapse under the weight of what we are being asked to do, but we continue walking anyway.

This doesn’t mean we are careless or stupid or ignorant of the risk.  It means that knowing FULLY what we are being asked to do, we trust that our God goes before us in the battle anyway.  He is the holder and giver of the light.  We are just allowing Him to use us as His beacons of Hope.

We are brave and yet scared.  We are strong and yet unsure.  We go yet we aren’t sure where.  We love and yet we are at times rejected.  We stay even when we want to run. 


We are light to those that are in the darkness.

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Homeless

I’m back “home” for a couple of weeks.  I’m a week in and have a week more to go.  I put the home in quotation marks because really for more than a decade now, I have a new home. 

But something about this home…the home I grew up in.  Well, it’s just different.  This is the home that when I was 6, I wrote all over the basement walls and promptly blamed my sister.  It didn’t work, though, because well I could write and she was not yet in school, so let’s just say I didn’t get far with that lie. 

This is the home I played school with my dolls. 

This is the home that I learned to ride a bike and played catch with my dad in the backyard. 

This is the home that I spent almost every evening eating dinner with my family and all of the other surprise guests that would show up on any given night. 

This is my home.  This is my place of comfort and refuge.  It is the place where I come to find rest and recovery.  It’s the place that I receive so much love and grace.  It’s the place that just makes me remember the Sara that first fell in love with Jesus.  It brings me inspiration, and it provides me a place to lay my weary head.

And let’s just say that when I got off that airplane a little over a week ago, my head, my body, my entire being was feeling more than just a little weary.  I spent the first 4 days here just holding back tears at every turn.  I would be in the passenger seat in my Mom’s car and a song would come on or we would pass a certain tree, and the next thing I know, my eyes are filled to the brim and a few tears trickling down my cheek. 

One evening while I was changing my daughter after her bath, she pointedly asked me, “Why did you marry someone from a different country?”

I was taken off guard so I asked her to explain what she meant.

“Mommy, I mean why do you and Papi have to be from 2 different places.  It makes me so sad sometimes.  Because when I am here, I miss everyone in Guatemala, but when I am Guatemala, I miss everyone here.  And I don’t like it.  It is very hard for me, and it makes me really sad.”

This all came from a 7 year old, but I basically could have asked the same thing. Of course, I am so thankful for her Papi and that he is my husband, and I tried to explain the best I could in a way she could understand.  But the truth was, I sometimes still struggle understanding it all too.

All these years later, and I am still amazed at how hard this is.  I am amazed at how difficult it is to passionately and fiercely love two sets of people and places separated by thousands of miles. 

And if truth really be told, these last few months, I was starting to wonder if it wasn’t all a big mistake.  It all just felt plain HARD.  There were no highs and lows.  There were no real breakthroughs. There were no moments of “oh yes this all makes sense.”  No it was just plain, old HARD! I felt lonely and confused and scared and tired…so very, very tired. 

For so many years, I admired many women that had stood on large platforms or were leading large ministries.  I admired them and secretly probably even envied them too.  It seemed like the pinnacle of Christian Ministry.  I feel embarrassed and slightly ashamed to admit that, but I do it because I am certain that I am not the only one to have ever had those thoughts.  As Christians and especially as Christians in full-time ministry, deep down we struggle with the desire to also be recognized for our obedience.  We want God’s glory, but we kind of want our own too.  It may not be a very pretty truth but deep down for many, it is the truth all the same.

Nevertheless, I didn’t realize we were going to be thrust into that kind of platform and leadership so soon.  I wasn’t prepared.  I had a plan.  I had a timeline.  We weren’t ready.  There was still other stuff we needed to do first.  Yet, there we were like 2 doe-eyed kids trying to do what we were being asked yet feeling so completely incapable and unprepared. 

And the real ugly truth for me was that I didn’t like it one bit.  Don’t get me wrong; I was thankful for a fresh opportunity to use some gifts and abilities that I hadn’t been able to use in a very long time.  So much of what we were being asked to do was right up my alley as far as what makes me passionate.  But it was really, stinking hard.  It was pressing us on all sides, and I was not enjoying feeling flattened out at every turn.  

“God this is not what I signed up for.  This is not what I had in mind.  I am having trouble trusting You with this.  This is just too dang hard.  I think I just don’t want to do this anymore.  Pick someone else.  Choose a different one.  I AM OUT!”

These are just a few of the thoughts I had rolling around in my head.  I never said them to anyone, but I felt them deep in my heart, and my 7 year old’s confession just made them bubble right back up to surface.  Suddenly I was seeing everything through this one lens; this lens that was convinced that God was holding out on me.  He wasn’t providing when we desperately needed provision.  He wasn’t carrying a burden that I felt was crushing me underneath its weight.  He wasn’t answering when I was crying out.  He wasn’t defending us when we were feeling defeated. 

What a beautiful gift it is to know that we have a God that is big enough to handle these crises of faith.  He is mighty enough to handle my anger.  He is merciful enough to gently handle my fears.  He carefully and patiently removed the lens.  He wiped my tears.  He whispered His truths to my often deaf ears once again.

Today one of my dearest mentors and teachers reminded me of some of my very favorite verses.  I memorized this passage when I was only 19 years old and I clung to these verses as I walked through what it meant to be surrendering to be a missionary someday.  I didn’t want to do it, but I knew clearly that was what He was asking me to do.  So, for some reason, I knew someday I would need these verses and desperately tried to seal them into my heart. And today as we discussed some of what has been going on in life, she spoke these verses over me once again.

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies…So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.  For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” -2 Corinthians 4:9-10, 16-18

With the commotion of 2 impatient children, I couldn’t really express in the moment what I felt when she reminded me of these verses. However, I can say that as I have continued to reflect on that moment today, I feel overwhelmed at the way God continues to deal with me.  I knew these verses as well as I did my own address and phone number.  I repeated them. I shared them.  I wrote them.  I prayed them.  And yet somehow, in the moment that I needed them the most, I had forgotten all about them.  But God didn’t.  He saw those moments over 15 years ago.  He saw me.  And He knew that nothing was going to speak to my heart today like the reminder of those verses and the promise that they hold. 

Oh how my God knows me.  Oh how He loves me so.

Yesterday, I had the great privilege of sharing about our ministry with one of the Sunday School classes in our church.  This group is made up of the older generation of the church, and it may have been one of my favorite times of sharing yet.  They were enthusiastic and generous and kind with their words and hugs.  But, it was one lady in particular that I will probably never forget.  At the end of class, she shared about her desire to support my husband and I personally as missionaries.  She said it wouldn’t be much, but that one of her greatest privileges is being able to support several different missionaries each month.  I told her how much I admired her faithfulness to the Lord in this way and almost instantly she burst into tears.  

Through her tears, she whispered, “I always wanted to be a missionary.  I begged God to let me be a missionary someday.”

I wanted to scoop her into my arms.  This sweet lady, who was probably a grandmother and great-grandmother tenderly and vulnerably shared one of her deepest regrets.  I don’t know the rest of her story.  I don’t know why she never was able to be a missionary, but it doesn’t really matter. I know God knows her and loves her so much.  I know He will bless her and honor her and care for this very tender and loving woman of Him.

And she probably will never know how that one moment reminded me of the great privilege I have in living this crazy, hard, sometimes lonely life.   It isn’t easy, and there is a very real possibility that it may never really be comfortable or easy. 

But, it is good.  It is rich.  It is wonderful.

“He who has prepared us for THIS VERY THING is God, who as given us the Spirit as a guarantee.  So we are ALWAYS of good COURAGE.  We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by FAITH, not by sight.” -2 Corinthians 5:5-7

I don’t know what “this very thing” is that God has prepared you for. I don’t know what He is asking of you. I don’t know your portion.  But I do know this. 

It will take courage. It will take faith.  It will take more than just a few good intentions.  But we FIX our eyes on Jesus.  We fix them.  That means that they are glued on Him…not on us, not on those around us, not on our circumstances, not on our mistakes, not on our successes…just on Him.  We fix our eyes on HIM.  And we know that whatever He is asking of us is preparing a weight of glory that far outweighs anything this earth could ever hope to give us. 

And then we thank Him.  We thank Him for all that pressing in and even for that affliction because we know that it is taking out some that ugly that still resides in those dark corners of our hearts.  We thank God for loving us enough to take the time to transform us and renew us.  We thank Him for wanting more for us than we often want for ourselves.  We thank Him for giving us more than we deserve and keeping from us what we often do deserve.


How sweet it is to be loved by You, Jesus.

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The Dream that had to Die

The death of a dream.

I remember the night that Hubs and I packed up my 4th grade classroom like it was just a few days ago, and yet we are nearing a decade since that late night in July.  I never actually got to teach a day in that classroom, but I sure poured a lot of love and time into making it lovely. It was my dream classroom at my dream school teaching my dream grade.  It was all I had ever hoped for since I was only 5 years old.

And yet there I was packing all of it back up into boxes with the man that would soon be my husband because instead of starting the school year in a few weeks, I would be moving back to Guatemala with him to begin our new life together.

The truth was I didn’t feel near as calm as I looked on the outside.  I was one of those mixtures of hot and cold, sad and excited, calm but fearful.  But, for the most part my soon to be hubby and I worked in silence. 

When we arrived back to my parents’ house, it was already quite late and my parents were already in bed but not yet asleep.  I peaked in to let them know we were back, and as I turned to walk back out of the door, my dad quietly asked in the darkness, “How did it feel to pack up all your dreams tonight?”

It’s amazing how even now, all these years later that question still brings tears to my eyes. 

My daddy knew me well.  He knew that no matter how strong of a fa├žade I was wearing, deep inside, I was mourning this loss.  I just was too prideful to let anyone see it.

He knew how I had lined up my Barbie dolls at the bottom of the stairs to “teach them.”  He saw me clapping around my grandma’s house in her hot pink high-heeled shoes pretending to be my most favorite teacher Mrs. Schmutzler.   He overheard the times I made my sister “do homework” and listen to my lessons as I stood in front of my green chalkboard.  My daddy knew all of these things.  So he knew that turning in those keys and locking up that classroom was no easy task.

As I look back there are a thousand things that I wish I could go back and do different.  In my immaturity, I didn’t always handle things correctly.  I didn’t speak when I should I have.  I spoke sometimes when I should have remained quiet.  I just lacked so much of the foresight that age gives you. 

That night still often stings.  I still get choked up about it occasionally when someone reminds me of that season. 

Deep down I think a part of me is still mourning the death of that dream.

And sometimes that is still really hard. 

I think back to that picture of how my life was supposed to look right now, and more times than I would like to admit, I still feel a pang of sadness about it.  There are still moments in time when I will catch a picture on a friend’s Facebook wall, and I will think, “Oh what a beautiful life they live.  I wonder what it would be like to live it too?”  Driving through the glorious Rocky Mountains back in October with my family in tow, I often stared up at those lovely cabins in the woods and wondered to myself, “Maybe someday we could live in one of those too…”

Even in the 10 years since I packed my teaching things into the boxes, there has never been an August that I don’t struggle through the grief of wishing I was starting a new school year again with my students.  I still remember the smells and the sounds and the wonderful sights of new classroom supplies, new leather shoes, and the laughter of the kids excited from a wonderful summer and filled with expectation of a new school year with their friends. 

The thing about death and grief is that it never quite goes away.  The pain may fade in time but the sting of death and the grief that comes from it is always a bit near. 

Nevertheless the death of a dream is more manipulative and much less cut and dry.  We struggle with the “What if’s” and the “What could have been’s?”  We never actually got to experience it in its fullness so we are left to paint the picture in a way that is often over-exaggerated and far from the depiction of the real thing.  And this will damage us if we aren’t careful.  It will enslave us.  It will ask us to choose over and over again between what we think we could have had and the beauty and pain of what stands in front of us.

One of the most impacting moments in the newest version of “Beauty and the Beast” is the famous dance scene towards the middle/end of the movie.  Belle and the Beast clearly have feelings for each other.  He invited her to a lovely dinner and then they are dancing away in the stately ballroom, he in his best “suit” and she in her legendary yellow ball gown.  It’s nothing short of breathtaking.  Truly one of the most spectacular scenes in cinema I have seen in a very long time.

After they finishing dancing, they step out onto the balcony and the Beast asks Belle if she thinks that she could truly be happy there with him.  Its obvious she believes she maybe could, but instead she says, “Can anyone truly be happy if she isn’t free?”  I may have changed the wording just a tad because it’s been a couple of weeks since I saw it, but the idea has stuck with me since.

Can anyone really be happy if he or she isn’t free?

I don’t have to hesitate to answer because I know that happiness without freedom is only a mirage.  Chains and captivity and walls and borders can often disguise themselves and give very lovely and impeccable illusions of freedom and happiness, but they can never master the real thing.   We can never truly experience all the beauty and joy and happiness of this life if we are living in chains. 

And those chains will look different for everyone.  For so many years my chains were my lost dreams.  I could never truly embrace this life because I was too busy mourning the one I never had but always believed I had wanted. 

Later in the movie Belle of course does get to leave the castle so she can go and rescue her father.  Once she does that, she tells him that she must now return to the castle to rescue the Beast (and I would add to “free him” although that was only implied never said aloud). Her father looks incredibly scared and pleads “but it will be dangerous.” 

Yes Papa, it will be dangerous.  It will be very very dangerous,” she replies.

Sometimes breaking free from our chains will come with a cost.  There will be a price to pay.  There may even be some sadness and grief that come with it. 

But isn’t freedom worth that price?  Isn’t the danger worth facing if it means walls and chains and fences and borders no longer bind us? 

Why do we choose captivity when we could have freedom?  Why do we hold onto things that are meant to die so that we can go on living?

It took me a very long time but I finally decided to just let those dreams of mine die.  I didn’t let them die because they no longer mattered, though.  I let them die so I could live.  I chose to believe that God knows better.  I started to ask Him to give me new dreams and the strength to finally embrace this beautiful, lovely, hard, scary, crazy, rich life that He so graciously gave me. 

No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made.  Neither is new wine put into old wineskins.  If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed.  But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” 
Matthew 9:16-17

What old things do you keep trying to stuff into new wineskins?  What is keeping you in captivity instead enabling you to face the perils and wonders of a life in freedom?  Don’t choose the safety of what is known just because you know it.  Choose to let die what needs to die.  Choose to bury what kept you in chains.  Choose to risk but to trust and believe that what God has for you is ten thousand times richer and fuller and just better than anything you could dream up for yourselves. 

Dreams are good.  They are good and lovely and wonderful.  But, not all dreams are supposed to be realities, just as not all realities are as beautiful as a dream.  But if we have the courage to keep dreaming while still living in our reality, I believe that we can find the freedom to trust God with both. 



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Some bits and bobbits about this blog...

This blog is mostly just ramblings by yours truly. I talk about my ups and downs being a wife, mother, and missionary in Guatemala. I have a tendency to get off on "soapboxes" as those who love me say but it is my desire that this blog can be a place of encouragement in each of your pilgrimages with Christ. At any moment if this blog becomes more about me than about Christ, than it will be done and over...so please help me stay accountable. To God be all the Glory, Honor, and Power!

Books I am currently reading...

  • Eight Twenty Eight
  • Interrupted
  • The Connected Child
  • This Momentary Marriage
  • Unbroken

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