The ugly, brave things of life.


In a day and age where every VSCO-fied instagram post and trendy hashtag sets a standard for our hopes, dreams and expectations, it’s easy to operate in a mindset that life’s adventures are glamorous.

We think they come with pretty latte art and lyric moments written in watercolor calligraphy. We assume we’ll hop from mountain top to mountain top, proud of the picnics we have on free-trade organic woven blankets that support some non-profit, and being affirmed in all these assumptions when the photo of said picnic gets a few hundred likes.

Perhaps if you follow me on instagram, you’re already thinking, “Geez, Sara. Would you prefer to be the pot or the kettle in this scenario? Cause, you know, they’re both black.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am a lover of beautiful things, a sucker for a poetic caption and a guilty user of too many filters and hashtags. (What does #liveauthentic really mean, anyway?) I love lattes and free trade blankets, and I especially love picnics and watercolor calligraphy. What I’ve grown to realize, though, is that those things are the pretty pinpoints on the maps of our lives, with a whole journey of ugly in between.

We want to believe that the brave things of life are glamorous… but they usually come with a pretty ugly fight.

What I feel like I’ve been learning in the last couple of years of my life is that the fight IS the adventure. That’s the good stuff. Those are the places I can look back and know God drew nearer than ever in that moment. In fact, I started thinking the other day about all the hardest things I’ve ever walked through, and I realized that every single one comes with deep conviction and life-changing revelation moments with Jesus.

But they also come with deep ache. They come with longings unfulfilled, dreams yet to be realized and disappointment that still hurts a little.

This is the tension we live in as sons and daughters of God, followers of Jesus and friends of the Holy Spirit. We live in the tension of longing for what we know is ultimately ours, while also having a grace to stop and find those poetic moments of beauty we all envy on instagram.

The truth, however, is that those moments are fleeting. But you know what I’ve found to be constant? The nearness of God in every single place of longing and loss. That’s where the beauty is born.

Maybe this is what James meant when he wrote that we should consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds. Perhaps Paul knew the beauty that was birthed out of what’s broken, so he had no problem boasting in his weakness and pressing on through light and momentary affliction — because that was preparing him for the eternal weight of glory that was ahead.

One day, we will stand on the other side of Heaven and have no more sorrow. No more suffering. No more longing or ache or loss. And when I stand in that place, worshiping forevermore, I want to be the woman who knew Jesus intimately on this side of Heaven.

I want to be the girl who built a rich history of friendship with Him when it hurt. I want to be the daughter who knew Goodness and Mercy well, for they were the companions who had followed her — chased her, even — all the days of her life, through valleys deep and chasms wide.

A few weeks ago, I was at a conference in Houston, and I felt like God started speaking to me about my life during worship one morning. I felt like He said, “Sara, your whole life has just been a series of invitations. You’ve never had to say yes, but when has your yes ever not been worth it?”

I’ve learned that “yes” is a weighty word. It has led me down into the deepest valleys and up to the highest peaks. All God led, just as Jeremiah 31 promises, with loving kindness.

All inevitably painful, outrageously uncomfortable and undoubtedly worth it.

I don’t know your story, or what kind of mess you’re walking through right now, but I know that somehow, Romans 8:28 is true. I’ve seen Him do it time and time again — work all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. I don’t understand it, and it never looks like I thought it would, but He always does it.

I don’t know which daring, ugly-beautiful adventure you stand at the foot of, but I dare you to say yes to it. There will be poetic instagram moments, and you should absolutely stop and enjoy them. But the gritty journey of ugly on the way to those moments… those are the places where all that beauty is born. Those are the moments that make way for the glory that’s to come. Those are the places He stamps you with His character, and you’re never the same.

It’s better than the prettiest VSCO-gram. Better than the perfect latte, and it’s written in permanent ink in Heaven’s storybook of your life, far more beautiful than the loveliest calligraphy.

So, cheers. To your ugly adventure. This is where the brave things of life are experienced. This is where the glory is born.

Night driving

When Noland and I were dating, we made a lot of late night trips to and from Memphis and Little Rock from the tiny town in Arkansas where we lived, because those two cities were the closest places where there were actual “things to do.” That was a few years ago, and still those late night drives together are some of my favorite moments in our story.

Truthfully, I think the place I really fell in love with Noland was in his car on those trips. We would tell stories for hours, and talk about all of our crazy dreams for our life. Everything felt so full of promise, hope and adventure.

And there’s something about driving in the middle of nowhere at night, where the sky seems more vast and brilliant — it makes the world feel big enough to hold all the endless possibilities of the morning that lies ahead. Stars shine like tiny windows peeking into a new day, each one holding a little bit of light that invites you in for more.

There was something in the mystery of that time that drew my heart out in the best kind of way. There was mystery in my story with Noland, wondering how or when or where we’d end up getting married and starting our life together. There was mystery in all the dreams we were dreaming, the places we wanted to go and things we wanted to experience.

But it wasn’t the kind of mystery that was frustrating or exhausting — it felt exciting and thrilling and just full. I always felt so full in those moments.

I was thinking about all of this recently, and I realized that those early days of dating were marking what the rest of our life would look like. I realized that what God has been doing for three years since then is invite us on late night drives into the mystery of whatever is next.

And the thing about driving at night is that you can’t really ever see too far ahead of you, but it’s always enough. There’s always enough light in front of you to keep moving forward.

This season of my life has been a challenge to keep moving forward, if I’m completely honest. It feels scary to go places I’ve never gone and do things I’ve never done. It feels risky to believe for outcomes I can’t control.

But it feels right.

The farther I get into this journey with God, the more I understand that maybe the bravest thing any of us can do is just stay the course we’re on, trusting that it’s good and believing that it’s worth the risk.

I guess I won’t know until I get to wherever I’m going — but then again I’m not convinced that arriving at a destination has ever been the point.

So we stay the course. We dream our dreams and we embrace the mystery and we fall in love under a night sky with the endless possibility of a story unfinished.

It has to be good.

Rain or shine; sunrise or bull fight

Six years ago I spent a few weeks of my summer in Costa Rica with my dad and a team of about 15 people. Half of our trip was spent in San Jose and surrounding areas with Young Life, and the other half was spent at a camp in the mountains of San Gerardo de Dota, way up in the cloud forest (like the rainforest, but at higher altitude).

We spent our days there helping get camp cleaned up after what had been a rough rainy season, and our nights learning how to salsa and playing “Ticos vs. Gringos” soccer games. It was one of my favorite trips I’ve ever been on.

I had just graduated high school, was getting ready to go to college on a soccer scholarship where I didn’t know a single person, and my parents were moving back to Texas. Everything was changing, and that two weeks in Costa Rica with my dad and our friends was this sweet, time-stopping breath of fresh air.

It was filled with great adventure and great God encounters, and I even met a friend there who is still dear to me today. It was one of those trips where all sorts of unexpected things happen that leave a mark on you forever — things I never could have seen coming, like what happened on our last morning there.

On our last night, my dad got up at dinner and made an announcement that there was a really great hike up to the top of the mountain from camp. He was getting up to hike and watch the sunrise from the peak, and he said if anyone wanted to join, we’d meet and head out at about 5:30 am.

Out of our entire group, the only people that got up to go hiking with my dad were me, one of our girl leaders, and about 6 other girls on the trip. (High school boys aren’t the earliest risers, I suppose.) So we bundled up and with romantic expectations of sunrise chasing in our hearts, we began our climb.

When we first got to the top, it was fantastic. Nothing but mountains of green rainforest everywhere you looked. Truthfully one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.


We spent a few minutes taking it all in… and then we heard some rustling behind us. There was what looked like it used to be a fence, and right in front of said “fence” there was a bull. We were a little bit startled, but my dad assured us if we just kept our distance (all 15 yards of it), the bull wouldn’t be bothered or bother us.

Well, a few minutes later, he is literally sharpening his horns on a tree trunk. This was a little bit alarming, so at my dad’s command, we started walking slowly back down the path. The bull, having sharpened his horns to his liking, then hops off the side of the mountain and down onto the path. He was facing us, doing that thing bulls do with their feet when they look like they’re about to take off in a wild rage.

I’ll never forget my dad saying, “OK girls. Keep walking slowly back down the path. When I say go, you need to move as quickly as you can down the path and then get off the path and up onto the side of the mountain.”

At this point I’m thinking, all summer I thought I was training for my first college soccer preseason, but really I was preparing my self for THIS. MOMENT. Life or death. This is what all those sprints and power cleans were for.

Dad gives the signal and we all take off running. Hearts racing, adrenaline pumping, some girls squealing. So I’m running for my life, and as soon as I saw a good spot, I jumped up off the path and held onto a tree branch to keep myself as far out of the bull’s reach as possible.

We’re talking like Simba in the stampede style, hanging from a tree and looking back praying I wasn’t going to have a Simba-esque ending as I watched my dad hang back to protect the rest of us. It sounds morbid now, but these were legitimate thoughts in my head at the time.

Well the bull kind of half chased my dad about 30-40 yards down the path, and once he realized he’d successfully scared the living daylights out of all of us enough to get out of his territory, he stopped. We all pulled ourselves together and then started our descent back down the mountain, but about 200 yards down the path, one of the girls says, “Oh my gosh! I left my camera up there!”

Feeling confident after his first escape, my dad goes back up to the top with our angry bull friend to fetch her camera. I did what every good daughter would do — I got on my face and prayed until he returned. Just kidding. I got out my camera and video’d the whole thing. If nothing else, we were going to go viral on YouTube after dad got bucked. (I’ve always been a journalist, I guess.)

Thankfully, nothing happened. Dad got the camera and returned, and we went back to camp, packed our bags and headed for the airport. The real irony of this story is that when we got to the airport, the Running of the Bulls in Spain was all over the TVs. We resolved that our bull was displaced and jealous of all his pals in Spain, and we were glad we could help make his Running of the Bulls dreams come true in some small way.

I was thinking about this story the other day, about how sometimes life goes a lot like that morning did. People just don’t climb mountains expecting to be charged by a bull at the top. Sometimes crazy, unexpected things just happen, and you roll with it and keep going, and you don’t let it define all the rest of the days that follow it.

I’ve climbed several other mountains since that one, and never have I started one of those journeys thinking, “Man I better prepare myself for the bull at the top.”

I don’t know what the crazy, unexpected curve ball that turned what was supposed to be a beautiful experience into a near-disaster in your life was recently, but I’m sure you’ve had one. And I challenge you to choose to believe that there are still sunrises to be seen on mountaintops, even though one of them got ruined once.

I was on the phone with my dad last night, and he said, “You know, we only get to be on this earth once. Might as well wear ourselves out saying yes to all the crazy things we get invited into.”

I love that about my dad. I hope I always think that way, too. Every day a new opportunity for adventure. Rain or shine; sunrise or bull fight.

Cheers to the adventures ahead of you this weekend. May they be equal parts beauty, adventure and ridiculousness.