The days that I know it’s worth it.

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I’ve recently had to come to terms with the fact that my life is not normal. I’m not entirely sure what “normal” is, but it seems like Noland and I are pretty far from it.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a conversation we had with my dad right before we got married two years ago. I remember him telling us that as two “game changers” in the kingdom, as he calls us, getting married and giving our lives to plant churches, we were basically knocking on the gates of hell saying “na-na-na-na-boo-boo” and willingly becoming targets for Satan to want to attack. He told us there’s no greater adventure we could possibly embark on together, but that we needed to be prepared for a fight.

It was some of the most honest, true advice my dad had ever given me, and I have been more aware of how true it is than ever before in this season. I think when I thought about being spiritually attacked I pictured some epic Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader sort of situation, with light sabers and laser guns. 

Maybe that’s what it looks like in the spiritual realm, but here in the natural it’s surfaced in things like fear and anxiety, or insecurity and envy. It’s almost worse than a punch in the face, because it’s creeping up from inside of me like a disease that I’m not sure how I contracted or how to get rid of.

As I sit here writing this, I’m unemployed and completely at a loss as to what my next move is. Meanwhile I have friends from college and high school living in studio apartments in New York and climbing ladders to their dream job, working at major networks in Los Angeles, making records in Nashville and shooting photos all over the world. They’re in med school and law school, and they’re closing big business deals and bringing home big paychecks.

I’m just trying to find a part-time job while I go through church planting school, live within my teeny tiny budget that all my aforementioned friends would probably laugh at, and then raise support to go plant a church in Utah. (Good thing all my friends are becoming doctors and lawyers, right?) 

There are plenty of days that it would be so easy for me to look around at my friends lives in other cities and think, “What the heck am I doing?” There are plenty of days that I do exactly that. But every once in a while, there’s a day where God reminds me exactly why this is all worth it.

A few weeks ago, Noland was leading worship for the Antioch Discipleship School at their spring retreat before they headed overseas for three weeks on outreach. I went with him to worship and pray with some of our friends in the school before they left. 

It happened to be the day after Easter, and all day long I just couldn’t escape the parallel of the timing of it all. I thought about a resurrected Jesus reappearing to his disciples, showing them the scars on his hands and his side, assuring them that he was capable of the impossible. 

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” [John 20:26-27]

I thought about how he had said we would do even greater things than him, and I imagined what it must have been like to actually hear his voice give that commission, to have felt his breath as he filled them with his holy spirit and said, “Go.”

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” [John 20:21-22]

I was walking around the room that night thinking about all these things, about what He had done on the cross and what he asked us to do after he rose. I looked around at a room full of his disciples, getting ready to go fulfill that commission, and there was just something so powerful and so sweet about that picture.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with youalways, to the very end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20]

As I watched all the students worship I happened to lock eyes with a friend of mine. In the previous year, she had gone through a recovery home for women coming out of addiction, and I had walked closely with her through that year. Every Wednesday afternoon we spent a couple of hours together, going grocery shopping for the house, talking about the kinds of things that grow friendships in weeks to a place that normally takes years.

I saw her walk through the darkness of addiction, relapsing and running away, and then coming home and returning to Jesus, letting him heal her and hold her even when she didn’t know how to be held. I saw her slowly let him transform her and soften her. I saw her confidence grow as she let her identity be placed firmly in His love for her. I saw her heart break and I saw her heart heal, and in many ways mine broke and healed with hers.

After she transitioned out of the house, she went straight into the discipleship school. And there she was, at the end of her school year, face shining with the love of Jesus, and at one look at her I just came undone. Two years of watching her journey flashed before my eyes and I couldn’t believe the work of transformation God had done.

I told her I was proud of her, and I wrapped her up in my arms and we cried joy tears together, both of us astonished at what Jesus is capable of. We prayed together and cried together some more, then we laughed and we danced, because this moment was worth celebrating. And today she’s walking around somewhere in Uganda, sharing Jesus with people who have never heard.

Noland and I drove home that night and I was still crying joy tears, and I told him, “Those are the moments I know that this is all worth it. I don’t care what it costs, I don’t care what it looks like, I don’t care what’s in it for me. I would walk through that fire all over again with her if it meant I got to stand on the other side of it with her for a moment like tonight.”

I don’t know if I’ll ever be the kind of normal or comfortable that a lot of my friends will be. I don’t know why my journey looks different, and I know it certainly doesn’t discredit the lives they live, just because we’re planting a church and they’re practicing medicine or making music or selling real estate. I’m no more holy than they are because I’m doing ministry just like they’re no more established or important because they’re big shots in the business world.

What I know is that being obedient to what God’s called you to is worth it. What I’m certain of is that seeing lives transformed by Jesus is absolutely the most rewarding thing in the world, and it can be done in ministry and in business and in art. 

But this is the road God has called me to walk down. And today that looks like being still and knowing He’s good, even though I’m not sure how next month’s bills are going to be paid. It looks like writing when I don’t feel like I have anything to offer. It looks like humbling myself and knowing that this season is for a reason, and He is forging something in my spirit that I will need later.

It looks like counting the cost, but letting my focus be on the treasure. When I lost sight of the treasure was when I began to resent the sacrifice.

I think maybe this is the battle my dad was talking about. The battle where everything that’s normal about the world has me wondering all the time about what my life could have been like if I’d chosen a different road. The battle where things get hard and everything in me wants to question that same thing the serpent convinced Eve to question in the very beginning, “Did God really say ______?”

But I’m thankful that God is gracious and He reminds me why we’re on the road that we’re on. I’m grateful that He isn’t shaken by my doubt or my fear, my insecurity or my tendency to look at others and think, “I wonder why my life doesn’t look more like that.” I’m grateful I have Noland to walk through it all with.

There are so many things about the journey we’re on that don’t make sense to me. There are questions I don’t have answers to, circumstances I can’t understand why God has allowed, and destinations ahead that are still covered with a bit of a fog. 

But today I’m more confident than I’ve ever been that it’s worth it. And that’s enough to keep going.

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Just keep dreaming

I have always been a dreamer. Daydreamer, night dreamer, fantasizer, visionary… call it what you want, but I am always dreaming up something that could still happen. Something bigger than what’s in front of me. Somewhere else I could still explore. Someone else I could still meet. Something else I could still experience. 

When I was in college, I dreamed all sorts of dreams. And there’s something about those years that feel so invincible, you’re just certain that all of it is going to happen. I was going to spend my early post-college years traveling. I wanted to see parts of Europe I’d never seen. I wanted to go to New Zealand on my own Bilbo Baggins-esque adventure. I wanted to go to South America and hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

I didn’t care if anyone joined me — I was going to explore places I’d never been. I wanted to get lost in uncharted territory. I wanted to meet strangers and hear the sounds, smell the smells, and taste the tastes of cultures unknown to me.

I’d eventually move back to Nashville and chase a dream of starting a publication I’d been dreaming about for years, live with friends and work whatever part-time job I had to work to keep writing and see this one particular dream come true. I would one day write a best seller or two, and continue to travel, speaking to thousands.

Then something happens as you get older. Life happens, I suppose. I fell in love with my best friend and I put on a white dress on a really hot day in June, gathered all the people I love the most and threw a huge party in a field as we said “I do.” And then we began a whole different adventure together.

He’s a dreamer, too, and his dreams were taking him to Texas and eventually somewhere else to plant a church, and so I jumped on board and here we are two years later, dreaming of our future together. We’re dreaming of revival in Utah, we’re dreaming of raising a family of little church planters, we’re dreaming of the adventures we want to go on together one day.

I’m learning in these years of my life that God is really into interrupting my plans. But here’s the thing about those interruptions: we tend to believe a lie that He wants to come in and take our big dreams and drag us back down to reality, forcing on us a more “realistic” future. I tend to think that surely God, the creator of fun, can’t actually have a more fun, more outrageous, more wild and exciting adventure for me than the one I’d planned for myself?

But you know what this season of my life is teaching me? His way is so much better. His reality is so much bigger than my reality, so “dragging me down to reality” isn’t what He’s doing. He’s pulling me up to a better one. The one He made for me. The one I could never even scratch the surface of if I didn’t live a life yielded to His will.

In the fall of my junior year of college, one of my roommates’ friends had just gotten back from the World Race. He’d spent a year traveling, sharing the gospel and loving on people all over the world. He was kind of being a nomad for a few weeks, visiting old friends, and he crashed on our couch for a week or so.

Noland and I were dating at the time, and we were in that “I never want to be away from you” stage, so I was hardly home, and I didn’t really get to know this guy much while he was staying at our house. But when he left a week or two later, he left me a letter. It was just a little something he’d felt like God was highlighting about me when he was praying one morning, and he wanted to share it with me.

Three and a half years later, I still have that letter, and I found it in a box just yesterday when I was looking for something else. I stood jaw-dropped and misty eyed in my living room as I read through it, realizing how true these words from God were for the years of my life that would follow my receiving this letter.

He said he pictured a waterfall as he prayed for me, falling right in the middle of an open plain, a place where a waterfall has no business being but it’s there anyway. He said he felt like God was speaking to the fact that my voice is going to come with power to bring change and new life to the most unlikely places.

He said he pictured me standing there next to it, wearing combat boots. I laughed at this because my favorite pair of boots are the combat boots Noland got me for Christmas last year. He said the boots reminded him of the armor of God mentioned in Ephesians 6. “And as shoes for your feet, put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.”

He said he kept hearing the phrase, “Share the message. Share my love.” And as I read these words again yesterday tears streamed down my face, because there was that sweet, thoughtful God of mine, still speaking into the deepest dreams on my heart of the stories I want to tell one day.

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And in the last few years, God has been putting all the puzzle pieces together, slowly laying the cobblestone path of life that Noland and I stroll down together, enjoying His presence and enjoying each other, and letting Him show us the way. 

I never could have known how it all would have played out from then until now. That God would invite us to plant the waterfall of life that is His Church right in the middle of a desert valley, Salt Lake City, Utah. That He would even be so silly and thoughtful as to get me a pair of combat boots that I love, a reminder every time I put them on that He has planted my feet firmly in the gospel of peace, ready for whatever is next, armed with all that He’s been building in me in these years of walking with Him.

He’s been teaching me this year about how to dream with Him. He’s put dreams on my heart that weren’t there before, and He’s invited me in to fight for them alongside Him. And yesterday, revisiting this letter from college, He reminded me that it’s worth it. That the promises He speaks forth are true, and that His way is perfect, and that it won’t look the way I thought it would, but it will be so much better. So much more complete. So much more whole.

It will still be an adventure. I’ll still see places I’ve never seen and go places I’ve never gone. I’ll do it here in my physical being, and I’ll do it in the spirit, too. That’s the thing about walking with God. We enter a whole other dimension of reality, and our adventures are multiplied.

And you know, I still believe in all those same dreams I mentioned earlier. I believe in the promise of what God wants to do with me as a storyteller. I believe in the dream of the publication I’ve wanted to start for years. I believe He holds those dreams in His hands and He knows exactly how, when, and where they’ll come to fruition. He knows. He’s God. All I have to do is keep saying yes.

Thank you, God, that your ways are higher than my ways and your thoughts higher than my thoughts. Thank you that your word goes out from your mouth like rain that covers the earth, not returning void but watering what you’ve planted and bringing forth life, and that it will accomplish all of that which you’ve purposed. [Isaiah 55:8-11]

Thank you that your way is perfect and your word is true. Thank you that you equip me with strength, and set my feet secure on the heights with you. Thank you that you train my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. That your word proves true and it’s a shield for all those who take refuge in you. [Psalm 18:30-34]

Let me be a dreamer of your dreams. A heart yielded to your will. A life given to whatever you lay before me. It’s just worth it.

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That time I didn’t know he was carrying me.

ImageMarriage is the most awesome, most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Figuring out how to do life in unison with another person is a serious learning curve. 

You have personality differences, communication differences, organizational differences, anatomical differences (sorry, just thought it’d be funny to throw that one in there. I didn’t have brothers growing up. Living with a BOY was new to me a year and a half ago). 

Here’s the one that I think has been the weirdest to try and connect on: the way Noland and I communicate with God is different. 

We spend time with God differently in the mornings. We’re spiritually gifted in different ways. His prayer life looks different from mine. We read scripture differently. We see things of the kingdom through different lenses. 

Sometimes that’s a huge blessing, because we tend to point out things to one another that we wouldn’t have seen on our own. But sometimes it’s hard, like when we’re believing for big things together, but we don’t necessarily fight for those things in the same way.

Prayer is communication — a conversation with God, right? So let’s talk about how Noland and I communicate.

He’s a linear thinker. He goes from here ———> to here ———> to here.

I’m all over the map. Up, down, left, right, do a few somersaults, stop and smell the flowers, moonwalk … and we’re there.

Noland processes things externally. He needs to talk things through. His brain lives outside of his body.

I process internally. I need to get some space, write some things down, connect the dots, and then talk about it.

Then you throw in our emotions, because communication is emotional! 

Noland is steady. Even if he’s about to explode internally, he has this cooling filter that all his words go through to calm them before they come out. It’s quite remarkable.

I lack said filter. My feelings are coming out the same exact way they look on the inside. Blood, guts, tears. It all comes out.

So when we’re praying through the things we feel like God has promised, the things we’re believing for in our life, it looks different. 

Noland speaks things forth in such a way that makes you think they must have happened already. He’s already thought logically through the whole thing. So nonchalant. For him, it’s as simple as, “ask and you shall receive.” He’s confident and cool, and he’s so good at that part that sometimes makes me feel anxious to say out loud, “Your will be done.”

He always says to me when I get anxious about our future, “Sara, God doesn’t give us second best. We get the best. He knows.”

Well, I’m a little bit more of a shout-down-the-gates-of-hell prayer warrior. Still just as confident as Noland that the things God has promised will come to pass, and just as eager to partner with God to see those things happen. I just pray for things with a little more volume and a lot more tears. I feel them through every step of the process.

So as we’ve been believing for some big promises in our life this year, we’ve had some conflict about whether or not we’re on the same page with the things we’re praying. I’d get frustrated because he didn’t seem as emotionally involved as me. He’d get frustrated because he felt bad for not seeming to feel things as deeply and emotionally as I do.

It was hard! It’s not fun to feel disconnected from your spouse. I had to reconcile with God that I knew Noland was believing for the same things I was.  I had to reconcile that I still believed, although he didn’t carry them like I do, that he cares for them like I do.

This had gone on for months. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when I was in Charlotte. When I have to work away from home, I use our iPad, which is connected to Noland’s phone on the iCloud. So I opened the iPad late one night to make a few notes of what I needed to do the next day for work, and I found something. 

It was a note Noland had made on his phone, that popped up on the iPad when I turned on the wifi. I saw in the sidebar something titled, “Prayer for Sara.” Obviously I opened it. 

In this note were 10 different prayers. Each of them was a paragraph long, beautifully crafted and quoting scripture throughout them. He was asking God, on my behalf, for some of the deepest longings of my heart. And he was asking Him using God’s own words. (And now I’m feeling a little convicted that, although I pray for him daily, I have never prayed such beautiful prayers for Noland.)

I’m weeping. I mean, like, ugly crying, in my friend’s living room alone.

All this time I’m wondering if he’s carrying God’s promises the same way I am, and all this time he’s simply carrying me. Alone, in the secret place with God, I’m the one he’s talking about. And I never would have known it had I not stumbled upon that note.

I read it over and over. It was the best bedtime story I’d ever heard. 

I thanked God over and over, and I repented over and over for ever believing a lie that we weren’t fighting for the same things.

Never again will I be uncertain or insecure about us being on the same page in our prayer life. Those words Noland always speaks were ringing in my head as I fell asleep that night in North Carolina.

“God never gives us second best. He knows.”

I had never been more certain that I had been given the best.