Red Sea Road — the most timely hope anthem.

June 20, 2015.

It was just a few weeks after we’d lost Judah Rise. The sting of death still burned all the way to my core, and my heart bore a gaping hole so big that I think it may have been visible from outside my body. Grief marks you that way.

Maybe you remember the part of the story where my sisters were both pregnant at the same time that we were expecting Judah. All three babes were to arrive within a month of each other, and my aunt was throwing a shower for all three of us that Saturday. Within those few weeks between us losing our boy and the date of that baby shower, my sisters had both called me to let me know they understood if I didn’t want to come. I love them for that, but I went anyway.

I knew it would be hard. I knew my family had wholeheartedly released me from having to show up. But I kept thinking about my sisters, who are two of my dearest friends, and my two nieces that were on the way. I was about to move across America to plant a church, and the cost of that was to leave my entire family back in Texas. The years ahead would be full of major life moments I would miss, including the birth of my nieces, and I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to show up and celebrate with the people I love the most.

I remember just feeling sort of numb that day. Grief isn’t really easy for anyone — for those of us grieving or those of us close to those who are grieving. It’s hard to know what to talk about, what to acknowledge or not acknowledge. Especially in a setting where you’re supposed to be celebrating someone else.

It was easily the most uncomfortable I’d ever felt, trying to engage in conversations that day, dodging the sad eyes of my friends and relatives and smiling through awkward small talk. I’ve never been good at small talk, even on my best days.

I remember feeling like people were looking at me like they knew I was in pain but didn’t know what to say about it, so they just didn’t. I don’t blame them. I think I would have done the same thing. And honestly, I didn’t want to talk about it. That day was for my sisters, and that was why I went. But at the same time, I couldn’t ignore how I felt.

At one point I walked over to the corner of the room to get a drink and have a moment alone to regroup, and I happened to look at my phone when I did. There was a message from my dear friend Ellie Holcomb, who may as well have been an actual angel in that moment, because it was as if God had walked into that room and bypassed all the other people to walk straight up to me and say, “I see you.”

She had sent me a message earlier that week, which I guess I’d forgotten about, letting me know that she had been thinking of me and that she’d written a song that day inspired by us and our journey and Judah’s story. And that morning as I sat there feeling so lonely and exposed at my sisters’ baby shower, this is what she said to me:

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I choked back tears long enough to sneak out of the room. I sat down in the bathroom of an old historic hotel in downtown Houston, and I just wept as I sat there with my phone to my ear, listening to her sing a song in a voice memo that seemed to give me language for everything I was feeling but didn’t know how to articulate.

It felt like she wrote me a fight song, ironically partially inspired by words I had written in a blog post earlier that month. For almost a decade Ellie and I have stayed in touch just by praying for one another in every season, holding each others arms up in battle, lighting the way by worship and prayer through the valleys and celebrating with one another on the mountains. This song was a light in the darkest moment of my life, and it has carried the day for me through the hardest seasons I’ve ever lived through.

It’s about how God makes a way where there is no way, the same way he split the Red Sea for the Israelites to walk right through, when death was chasing their heels and it seemed like they had nowhere to go. It’s honest in the way it feels to grieve, doubt and question, and it raises a banner of hope even in the face of death, because with Jesus, hope always rises — even out of the grave.

Tonight as I write this, my baby girl Ellie Joy is asleep on my chest. Every time I look at her I can hear the words of this song in my head declare that He. Is. Faithful. That our stories never end at the graves we sometimes find ourselves standing over, and that our God is a way-maker in the wilderness.

I’ve been listening to this song and letting the truth of our God’s faithfulness wash over me on hard days for a year and a half — through a major move right after losing Judah and a lot of hard days on the way to healing — through a miscarriage and the hard days of healing from that, too.

And for the last couple of months, I’ve been singing, dancing, weeping, fist-pumping and worshiping to this new record of Ellie’s, and I am so excited to finally get to share it with all of you.

Do yourself a favor and go get this record today. I am so certain that it will be water to your soul. I pray it breathes life back into your bones the same way that it has mine. And if you’re in need of a declaration of hope in impossible places, I pray that Red Sea Road becomes your hope anthem the same way that it’s been mine these last couple of years.

I challenge you to do just what this song beckons us all to do…

“We will sing to our souls, we won’t bury our hope…”

Sing. Worship. I have learned it’s the only thing that keeps me whole when everything feels broken.

. . .

Click below to find Red Sea Road on iTunes:

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Sacred Storms & Wild Hope

It’s been a quiet few months around here. And by “around here” I mean the blog; my life has been quite the opposite. I’d say sorry for the silence, but I think dormancy is essential to growth, and good grief, I needed the space. Sometimes you need a season of just living stories without thinking about writing them — moments too sacred for words, perhaps.

In some ways, this summer has been that. So sacred that I’ve treasured these days in my heart and kept them there like a secret. In other ways it’s been more like “groanings too deep for words.”

It’s a Wednesday morning in sunny Southern California as I write this, and I’m sitting in a dreamy little garden outside of a coffee shop, trying to wrap my mind around the last three months, and I think I may be here a while.

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Communal Coffee – San Diego, CA

This summer was made of the things of all great stories. Adventure and surprise. Highest highs and lowest lows. Dreams realized and broken hearts. Crazy celebration and empty-hearted grief. Untamed bravery and wild hope.

I watched as spring turned to summer and the last of the snow melted off the Wasatch mountains and rushed to water the valley below — and it seemed to be watering my soul the same way it was bringing the earth back to life.

I moved into a house I shouldn’t be able to afford, just because of people who love us, who want us to grow our family there. It felt like the beginning of a something-out-of-nothing chapter of our story — the kind that only God can write. I could feel it all the way to my core that this summer was going to be a special one.

I looked into the eyes of Syrian refugees in Europe, and I learned about a bravery bigger than I’ve ever known. The kind of bravery that would risk everything to find hope again. The kind of bravery that gets to the other side of the storm and finds itself in the wilderness, yet still chooses to show up and believe that maybe tomorrow could be different.

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I walked the streets of Berlin with a dear friend and mentor, half way around the world and thinking about how sweet it is that people who feel like family can make anywhere feel like home.

I watched 15 of my new friends from Utah take big risks and live big faith in a way that changed them, changed me, and will change what God is doing in our city forever.

I stood in a hotel room in Germany and stared at the crazy surprise of a positive pregnancy test, a thing I’d written off in my heart a long time ago as something I may never experience, and I celebrated like crazy that with our God, nothing shall be impossible.

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I felt the gutting heartbreak of a 2 am miscarriage a month later, alone in my bathroom and in a world of pain, questioning and aching and crying out to God, “why have you forsaken me?”

I sent another round of balloons to Heaven for Judah Rise, still feeling the sting of losing a second baby and wondering what it’ll feel like when I finally get to hold one of ours before God does.

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And all at the same time, I watched our church grow in the middle of summer, a season that churches are supposed to have a lower attendance in, and here we are adding chairs and making more space every Sunday.

I baptized a dear friend, who 8 months ago sat across from me in a coffee shop and told me how burned by the Church she was, and that she wanted me to know that this whole Jesus thing was not something she was going to jump on board with quickly. Now here she is, wholeheartedly following Him and wanting everyone to know.

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And don’t get me wrong, this is not a “let me find the silver lining to cover up my pain” kind of post. The surprise promise fulfilled and almost immediate grief and confusion over a lost pregnancy is a thing I think I’ll be wrestling God over for a while.

I know lamentation well in this season, soaking my pillow case each night and the rug on my living room floor every morning in my tears, as I lay my grief and anger and questions before God. But there is something about the way that it’s happening alongside so many miracles around me that makes it hard to not also think, “Surely God is in this place.”

I don’t want to miss all the ways He is moving around me because of this one place that He seems to be absent — albeit a very deep, very painful place. I just keep thinking, “I don’t want to miss the miracle because of the storm.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Israelites on their way to the Red Sea, and how it says that there was a shorter way, but God led them the long way around, through the wilderness, to the Red Sea (Ex. 13:17). I have pored over the book of Exodus this summer, identifying so deeply with so much of the story.

I think about the Israelites, and how they said things like, “did you bring us out into the wilderness to die here? Were there no graves for us in Egypt?” and I can so relate to those raw, honest, shake-your-fists-in-anger questions.

Lord, what in the world are we doing here? This is even worse than the last place you let me suffer.

I think about Moses, and the moments throughout the story where he says to God, “What am I supposed to say to these people?” I have thought so many times in this season of my life, “Lord, I stand on stage at church all the time and tell people how good and faithful you are, and this kind of feels like you’re trying to make a liar out of me.”

I think about the way God led the Israelites through the wilderness in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, and I am reminded that even in this place, He goes before and behind us.

I stand in the middle of yet another desert place, and it makes no sense to me, but somehow, this is grace. So I keep walking. Not without His leadership, but when I sense His presence going before and behind me, I keep going. Even when it hurts. Even when it makes no sense. Because I know no other way than to hope and believe that He knows where my Red Sea moment is.

For me, that looks like continuing down the adoption road that we were already on before the interruption of pregnancy. It looks like being honest with how painful some of this journey is, but continuing to walk forward because I know without a doubt that this is where God’s presence is leading us. I see the cloud by day and the fire by night, and I will not stay here if His presence is going elsewhere.

Brené Brown calls that “badassery” — when we’re honest with the pain in our story but we choose to keep showing up for it anyway. I really like her.

I keep hearing people use this currently trendy phrase of “wild hope,” and I think that’s what it means to hope wildly. To stand in the storm and say “I’m not moving, even though this hurts like hell.” To get up and get back in the game, even when you’re a little bruised and discouraged from your last losing fight.

I think a lot of us are afraid to talk about our pain until we’re on the other side of it and we can put a bow on it and make it look prettier than it ever actually was, but I think our world needs more badasses who are willing to say, “This hurts. I don’t get it. But I’m going back in, because this is what I’m supposed to be doing, and I’m not willing to quit yet.”

We keep going because it matters. It matters that we are willing to embrace our place in the wilderness and believe God for our Red Sea moment. Honest in our pain but holding on to hope.

Wild, unreasonable, walk with a limp for the rest of your life cause you wrestled God for it, HOPE.

Let’s allow it to mark us. Even when it hurts. I don’t think we’ll be disappointed.

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Are you tired?

SCRIPTURE:

Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

STORY:

Have you ever watched an Iron Man Triathlon on TV? I remember watching them as a kid and being somewhat disturbed watching people reach the finish line, as they’re peeing (among other things) all over themselves, having completely lost control of all bodily functions.

This is the only analogy I can come up with lately on how I feel emotionally. I’m exhausted and I have no control. I’ve had the weirdest meltdowns lately, triggered by the most ridiculous things. I was beginning to ask myself, “is there something clinically wrong with me?”

I was talking to a friend of mine recently, telling her I feel totally crazy, and she said, “Sara. You are at the end of the most intense emotional year of your life. You are at the finish line of an emotional iron man. It makes sense that you feel out of control. It’s OK to give yourself some grace and rest.”

Oh. Give myself some grace. Why hadn’t I thought of that before?

I think sometimes, especially as leaders, we just plow through our lives in the name of “church” or “leadership” or “mission” without allowing ourselves to heal when we’ve been hurt. I was a college athlete, and I was a classic case of “playing too soon after an injury.” It’s how I tore my hip flexor — a chronic inability to fully rest.

As I’m looking back on this year, I’m realizing that I was pretty severely injured in May, and I spent a little bit of time rehabbing my broken and bruised self, but there are places in me that have not fully healed — and now in some ways, they’re worse than they were before.

I’m carving out time to stop and grieve. I’m asking God hard questions that I need Him to help me resolve in my heart. I’m getting some counseling and I’m re-opening some wounds that need to be cleaned out and properly sewn back together.

I’m doing all these things in step with my marriage and my ministry and the rest of my life & relationships — learning the unforced rhythms of grace.

Walking when He tells me to walk. Letting Him throw me over His shoulder & carry me when I can’t. Crying when I need to cry. Screaming and shaking my fists and asking Him hard questions when I feel like it’s all so unfair, because He can handle it.

Learning that being in pain and wrestling with big questions in my heart does not disqualify me from leadership. It draws me nearer to the heart of the only One who can resolve my questions and heal my broken heart.

So when we’re stumbling through the last leg of the race, peeing all over ourselves, falling every few steps — we lean in. We let Him show us the way. We climb into His arms and let Him carry us when we need to. His burden is light. His way is perfect. He hasn’t left us. He never will.

SONG:

“Cecie’s Lullaby”
Steffany Gretzinger
The Undoing

Listen:
YouTube  |  iTunes

Playlist from previous weeks:
Spotify  |  Apple Music