Drowning in fear, grieving what’s to come, and learning to be brave.

This has been a really sweet season of celebration with my family. My older sister got married in March, my younger sister gets married in August, and we’ve spent a lot of time together planning and partying. 

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Now that it’s almost summer time here in Texas, we’re spending more weekends together at my grandparents lake house, we’re celebrating anything and everything just because we can, and I am realizing every time we’re together that these days are numbered for me. Noland and I will move to Utah sometime in the next year, and as excited as I am about all that God has promised ahead of us, my heart is often full of uncertainty, fear, and a little bit of grief.

There are moments I spend with my sisters where I wish we could freeze time and sit there forever. Moments where we sit around the dinner table long after plates and glasses are emptied, telling stories we’ve all heard a thousand times, laughing as if it were the first time any of us had heard it. Moments dancing in the car and still borrowing each others clothes for weeks at a time until we meet up again to swap back. 

There are moments with my mom that I hold onto more dearly than I used to, getting our nails done together or driving to one another’s city to spend one night hanging out, just because we felt like it. A friendship we’ve developed in my adulthood that I’m growing to really love. Of course, in this season of wedding planning for my sisters, most of our conversations are out of the necessity of, “Sara I need to you show me how to do this one creative thing.”

There are times spent with my dad that feel like precious stones — moments I want to stow away in a special box or set in a bracelet to wear all the time, keeping them close and in sight so I never forget them. Encouraging words he speaks into the deepest places of my heart, big bear hugs, and a kiss on the forehead that usually comes with an, “I’m so proud of you” — immediately bringing tears every time. I don’t want to let go of those moments.

Maybe it sounds silly to you that I feel this way, like I’m planning a funeral for my family that isn’t dying, but the reality is that when change happens, there usually is a funeral of sorts. A season ends so a new one can begin, and somewhere in the transition we all grieve a little bit. And that in-between space can often be a dark, uncertain, fearful place.

A few weeks ago, we were at the lake with my family for Easter. All day on Saturday I was thinking, “God, what is this day for?” I know Friday we remember what Jesus did for us on the cross, and Sunday we celebrate His resurrection, but what do we do — what do we feel — on that day in between?

I felt like He very simply answered, “Here is where you hope.”

That space between death and resurrection invited all of us in to hope against hope, knowing that the third day would come, and with it, new life. This gap is worth standing in because Jesus saw that tomb as worth laying in. He saw us as worth laying in it for. So we enter into these “spaces between” in our lives, and when we do that we enter into a space of knowing Him in a place that only He has ever truly known.

So we don’t have to fear this place, after all. He’s been here. He’s been here and then he walked right out of here, raising not only himself but all the rest of us to new life. And that’s why we can hope that all will be well. Ann Voskamp says all is well, because there’s always a well.

There’s always a well. How quickly I forget this, and go wandering through the desert not remembering that even in this place He intends to refresh me.

But I’m still scared. I’m scared of being far away from my family, as my sisters’ lives settle in Texas, close to my parents. I’m scared of their kids knowing each other and knowing my parents in a way that my kids won’t have the opportunity to. I’m scared of being “that sister/aunt/daughter.” 

I’m scared of all sorts of failure. Feeling like I’ve recently failed in my job has made me wonder about all the things I’ll fail at in the future.

I’m scared of being a mom one day, and I’m scared of my body not being able to make me one.

I’m uncertain about how all the things Noland and I have felt like God has promised us will play out. I’m uncertain on some days about whether or not I really even believe them all wholeheartedly. 

This year has felt like somewhat of a winding road with God. I’m pretty sure we’re still headed exactly where He said we would go, but it hasn’t looked at all like I thought it would. 

Have you ever driven through the state of Arkansas? Worst highways in America. I feel like I need new tires at the end of it every time. But even though it’s bumpy, and the scenery isn’t the most beautiful, I still know I’m getting somewhere in the end. That’s kind of what traveling through this season of my life has been like.

So when the road is bumpy, cloudy and unclear, and it’s riddled with fear and uncertainty and curveballs that feel more like meteor showers, I can know that He’s already been here. I can rest in the truth that He’s a good shepherd, and He promises that His goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. (Psalm 23:6)

I had a friend remind me of this truth this week, and she said something in an email that I’ve been reading over and over ever since. “His goodness & mercy will be more amazing and more beautiful to you because you saw them chase your heels through valleys deep and chasms wide.”

I love that mental image. Goodness and mercy aren’t just following me in a “lingering behind” sort of way. They’re chasing me. They can’t wait to catch me and remind me that they’re here, and that they’ll be here forever.

This morning I woke up and I could already feel fear trying to steal my day, so I sat before God in my living room and I wrote out everything I’m scared of. I told Him I didn’t want to get up off the couch until He took this fear from me and reminded me of what’s true.

Of course, the very next song that shuffled on my iTunes library was “You Make Me Brave.” I sat weeping at His kindness to remind me of this truth as the bridge played:

“You make me brave, you make me brave.

You call me out beyond the shore into the waves.

You make me brave, you make me brave.

No fear can hinder now the promises you’ve made.”

The shore feels safe, and some days I want to be mad at Him for inviting me into a place that feels unsafe. But He’s here. When I feel like I’m drowning in fear and uncertainty and doubt, He’s here. He called me out here. 

And even though I feel like the biggest mess most of my days, I know He’s forging something in my spirit here that I’ll need later. I think when He lets us linger in these places for a while, it’s because there’s a piece of His heart that He intends to impart to us in this place. So I don’t want to leave until He’s done. I want to walk out of this place with His heart.

I’m afraid of failing, I’m afraid of leaving my family, I’m afraid of how, where and when I’ll start my own … but I know He’s here, and I know He makes me brave. 

His Presence is the promise, and I want to be a daughter that continues to say yes to the invitations he lays on the table, even when they lead to uncertain, tender places in my heart. 

At the end of the day, and at the end of myself, I know that all will be well if I can just be near Him. I’m resolved that it doesn’t matter where that is or what it looks like, or even who or what I’ll have to leave behind.

Lord, just let me come wherever you’re going. Keep reminding me that you make me brave.

Tales from the valley I’m still climbing out of.

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[August 2013]
Standing on the highest skiable peak in the United States, in the middle of the Wasatch Mountains, overlooking a city I knew He was calling me to, I heard His voice. 

He had set my feet secure on the heights, and there He told me what this next season of my life would look like.  

We’re going on a journey. From here, you can see everything: The road that winds down into the valley, every curve and dip it makes, in the dark places and the places where light breaks through. We’ll soon begin our descent, though, and you’ll see only what’s right in front of you, until we reach the heights again.  

I have much to teach you on this road, if you will just follow me — you, my sheep, and I, your Good Shepherd. Though we will trek through the wilderness, in the valley of the shadow of death, you need fear nothing, for I am with you, and every step of the way is a part of my divine purpose for you. 

Fear not, little flock. It is my great pleasure to give you the kingdom. Will you come with me? 

I stood on that mountain, and I had a decision to make. He had clearly given an invitation. It’s never a forced thing with Him… we are so free as to choose whether or not to say yes.  

So there I was, with an Esther sort of challenge on the table: He will do what He will do no matter what, but He has invited me along for the ride … and who knows if I’ve been called to His kingdom for such a time as this?

The answer was clear. Undeniable. Non-negotiable. I had to follow Him. My destiny is and always will be in His hands. Knowing that the refining fire was somewhere down in that valley we were headed towards, I set out on a new journey with Him, because I knew He had promised that it would be worth it. 

So the descent begins, and it was just as the beginning of any downhill journey is — pretty enjoyable. Not too hard. Excitement still fresh, adventure still new, sun still beaming right down on my shoulders. I still had clear vision of where we were headed. 

[October]
A little ways down into this pilgrimage, the sun set behind the mountains for the first time. The path was getting dimmer, and the road was getting colder. For the first time I began to doubt. Giving into that same sinful lie that Eve believed so long ago, “Did God really say that?” Maybe I had heard Him wrong. Maybe I was alone. 

Isolation is one of our enemy’s favorite tricks. He draws us into the dark to steal, kill and destroy. But in swept that old rod and staff, my comfort, to pull me back to His side. Ah, yes. He is here. I am safe. Though it engulf me, the dark cannot win me. 

So the downhill journey continued. Getting a little darker and a little harder every day. And this is the place where I no longer doubted that God had spoken, but instead I just began to cry out to Him, “Why have you drawn me here? When will we reach the places you promised? Why does this feel so dark and lonely? Don’t you know that I’m tired?”

[December]
I knew for sure I’d reached the lowest point of this treacherous excursion. The mountains towered over me on every side, and they almost seemed to laugh at me, taunting me in all of my smallness. And there, trekking through the woods, I heard the sound of running water. I followed it as it got louder and louder, and finally, there it was. A stream. 

The thing about streams that run through valleys is that they usually cut right through the very lowest point. It’s there that we will find life if we dare go so far into the depths to seek Him. 

And how thoughtful of Him to refresh us in the deepest places of uncertainty and pain, before the uphill battle begins. Suddenly it doesn’t seem so bad to linger in the valley for a while. He’s here.

I knelt down for my last drink of water, and there in the stream, there was a group of tadpoles. I watched them swim around, and all of a sudden they were growing right before my eyes, until a family of full-grown frogs followed one another right out of the stream and off towards the upward road I was about to set out on. 

New life is coming. Keep going. I’ve drawn you here for a reason. Now follow this promise right up that next path.

[January]
Fresh vision is a good thing. I felt refreshed and envisioned again for where I was headed. I was ready to start climbing. 

And now it’s mid February, and even though I’m nowhere near the next mountain top, I can feel the road getting smoother and the ground beneath my feet leveling. Because as I look back on the journey thus far, I cannot deny that He’s been present and faithful.

I could sit on mountaintops all the days of my life, but where would the treasure be found if we weren’t to go out seeking it? I am learning over and over again in this season that I love traveling long, winding roads with Him.

He takes me on adventures, and he shows me the entire land we’re to travel, first from afar, and then up close as we trek through the valleys and wilderness, finding every bit of gold along the way.

When I journey with Him, there are streams in the desert. Deep wells quenching my thirst in the driest of lands, for He is with me, and He is the well. Banquet tables prepared to feed me, even in the presence of my fiercest enemies.

In the rocky places He creates level ground for my feet to walk on. In the sun scorched lands He is a shaded place. In the winter’s cold He is a warm fire to sit near. Always what I need, and ever leading me into the places He promised.

We aren’t there yet, of that I’m certain. There will always be a deeper longing unfulfilled on this side of Heaven — of that, I’m also certain. 

So I keep clinging to Him, I keep walking along the path He highlights, and I find the hidden treasure in every stop along the way. Like a scavenger hunt where the grand prize is a greater measure of His presence. This is His intention for the adventures He takes us on. 

Perhaps there are no true destinations, only resting places before the next adventure begins. 

Count me in, Abba.

The question I often ask but rarely listen for an answer.

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Have you ever had a conversation with a kid who just learned the word, “Why?” As soon as they learn that they can actually question and understand the meaning of something, they want to know about EVERYTHING.

“Why are we going to the store?” “Why does it rain?” “Why do I have to take a nap?” “Why did you draw that flower on your arm?” “Why do you have that ring in your nose?” (Those last two are my most frequently asked questions from small children.)

Then we get older and our use of this word changes completely. That purity of heart that a little kid asks that question with is no longer our natural response. We ask it in our deepest frustration, anger and uncertainty. “God, why are you doing this to me?” “Why haven’t I made any progress, when I feel like I’m fighting so hard?” “Why did I lose a loved one?” “Why did this terrible thing happen to me?” (All valid questions, by the way.)

I’ll be honest, this season of my life has been one of the most challenging and refining I’ve ever walked through. So much is still uncertain. So much is still developing in the unseen. So much I’m not sure I’ll ever actually see come to pass. I’ve been finding myself often asking that frustrated, exhausted, uncertain “Why?” to God.

And here’s the reality about this adult-hearted why vs. the child-hearted why: most often, when I ask this question, I’m not genuinely looking for an answer from God. I just think I have a right to be upset and complain and throw my arms up in frustration at Him, hoping that when He hears my “Why are you doing this to me” cry, He will feel sorry for me.

Did anyone else used to do this same “arms up, why are you doing this to me” maneuver when they knew they were about to be spanked as a kid? OK, I’m sure my dad felt a little sad that he had to discipline me, but that trick never once got me out of a spanking. He knew what I needed was more important than what I wanted.

But somehow this concept gets lost in translation when I’m thinking of the way God the Father disciplines and trains me. I revert back to that “Surely I don’t deserve this, please don’t make me do it” mentality.  

So here I am in this season of my life where every day feels like I’m trying to run up the down escalator. I’m taking steps forward and some circumstance pushes me right back to where I just was, so I’m just running and running, trying to beat the pace of the people and things that I think are pushing me backwards.  

It’s exhausting! I’m chasing dreams that I feel like I may never actually reach. I’m looking up at all these things I feel like God has clearly promised and called me to, and they still feel so far away. I’m tired, and I’m asking Him all the time, “Why am I here?”

Last week I finally stopped to listen to His answer. “Sara, don’t you remember what I told you this season was about when you moved a year and a half ago? You’re being prepared here.”

I was so humbled in that moment. This is what I signed up for. He even gave me a choice, and this is what I picked! We moved to Waco to be trained and prepared for the next step in our life. Waco was never about arriving, it was about being shaped and molded for whatever’s next.

It’s so easy to lose sight of the big picture in the mundane and the every day ups & downs of our lives. So easy for me to forget that what He spoke way back there is still lighting my path way up here, like an eastern sunrise lighting a westward road. And what a kind reminder that it’s always been my heart to be traveling, anyway. I love movement — it’s a sign of progress, even when the road is bumpy.

So from now on, when I ask “why,” I’m checking the posture of my heart in that question. Am I using this word as a complaint because I’ve not gotten my way, or am I asking this question with a pure heart, genuinely curious at what God is doing? 

He answers when I call, and every season of my life is ultimately pointing towards more of Him. This is what we were made for — to go from glory, to more glory, to more glory, until we just step right into glory forever. 

I will run up the down escalator all the days of my life if it means I get more of Him.