Light A Candle

Those of you who follow me on the Facebook know that I encouraged my friends and family to light a candle this weekend in prayer for Christians in Egypt who have cancelled their Easter celebrations to mourn the lives lost in last Sunday’s attacks.

It’s funny how God is sometimes, isn’t it? I spent quite a bit of time searching last night for prayers and hymns I could use as a structured approach to praying for these Christians, but ended a bit frustrated with the lack thereof. And while I know there are verses that speak about how to pray for the persecuted Church — and while I know it is not merely a suggestion but the responsibility of Believers to pray for those enduring persecution for the sake of Christ — I have honestly always struggled with it. There are people I know who are intercessors… And there are people like me. I have to have a list, you know? That’s not to say that my prayer life is rigid. It certainly is not. I am actually quite engaged in my conversations with God, and they often take paths I could not have planned. But I start with a list, partly because there are people and situations I’ve committed to pray for and I don’t want to forget,  and partly because the structure helps me find my voice and hear God’s. It’s like playing the piano, right? Do you have to know how to read music or play scales in order to compose a piece? Of course not. But structure provides freedom.

And so I was on a mission to find a prayer or hymn that I could use as a starting point this weekend, but unfortunately I did not find what I was looking for. I was feeling a bit frustrated with that.

In my morning reading, I’ve gone back to Paul. Today, I read chapters 7 through 9 of Romans, which I always sort of struggle through because Paul is so… Well, that’s for another blog. Anyway, I was reading, and I stumbled onto a beautiful passage we are all familiar with: Romans 8:15-17.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

I’ve always read this and thought of how it relates me to God my Father. Being a daughter of a loving Father is a thing truly sacred to me. But this morning I read these words and realized the incredible bond it creates between us as Believers. We are not merely all sons and daughters; we are all sisters and brothers — a thing we often take for granted.

And just like THAT (I snapped my fingers just there for emphasis, just so you know), I found myself thinking about my family in the context of persecution. What if it was Joel? What if someone bombed his church while he was praying and Joel lost his life? How would I begin to comfort or pray for his wife? For his children? It reminded me of when my sister’s husband died, and how gut-wrenching it was to know how she grieved and not be able to learn her sorrow.

In those moments, the grief can be so heavy and so real and so suffocating. Our faith echoes deep in the corners of our spirits, “it is well with my soul,” but the trauma and emotion can be so overwhelming that many times we simply don’t know what to do with ourselves… we don’t know how to pray… we don’t know how to worship… we can find ourselves in a sort of spiritual shock where everything seems surreal.

The men and women of the Coptic Church who are in mourning this weekend are not just brothers and sisters in title; they are our brothers and sisters in spirit. Their persecution should break our hearts. We share the same Spirit with them.

And so it makes sense to me today. Perhaps I do need the structure at times. But perhaps structure and words don’t even matter right now. Perhaps the way to stand with our Coptic family is simply to grieve, to cry, to hold them as dear to our hearts as our closest brother or friend, to light that candle as a symbol to the world that there is no darkness on the face of this Earth or its spiritual realm that can prevail over the light of Christ we carry.

People wonder why I’m so in love with Christmas music, how I can listen to it year-round. I suppose it’s because the are songs like this one…

Light a candle

Light the dark

Light the world

Light a heart or two

Light a candle for me

I’ll light a candle for you

Join me, won’t you? Mourn with those who mourn this weekend. Light a candle for the Coptic Christians, our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, nieces and nephews, whose hearts are heavy. And if you do, hit me up with the hashtag #lightacandle

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Something More Sure

In my Bible reading, I always love coming back to Peter’s letters. They are not lengthy, and yet they are packed with words of wisdom, of love, of hope, of warning, of courage, and even a couple of mysteries. I absolutely love coming back to them.

The other day, I read this short passage.

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For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitness of his majesty.

17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,”

18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…

2Peter 1:16-19, ESV

(emphasis my own)

Peter makes a great case here for his testimony (and that of the others). He says, ‘look, guys, I was there with Jesus; I saw it with my own eyes; I heard it with my own ears!’ Peter didn’t craft a story that would engage followers; he told of his own experiences and what he witnessed firsthand.

As a side note, what do you suppose that was like? If you had heard that voice Peter speaks of, would your first inclination be to say, “Wow! I heard the voice of God!” Mine wouldn’t. My first inclination, I think, would be more like, “Did that just happen?” And listen, Peter was a bit of a doubter himself. He struggled with proclaiming the truth he had witnessed. Remember, this is the man who denied knowing Christ–three times. Yet in spite of his doubt, Peter has now gotten to a point in his life where he is not ashamed to speak of the miraculous things he has been witness to in his experience with Jesus.

And so here we see Peter, giving us three proofs:

  1. We were there;
  2. We saw it with our own eyes;
  3. We heard it with our own ears.

And while I think it is bad form to question another person’s experience, Peter tells us there’s more.

“We have something more sure,” he writes. More sure than being present when Jesus was revealed as the beloved Son of the Father? More sure than seeing it with your eyes? More sure than hearing it with your ears? Yes, Peter says–more sure. What can possibly be more certain than these first-hand experiences?

The word of prophecy.

Now look, I am not about to tell you that something someone once called prophetic about your life is more trustworthy than your own experiences. If someone tells you they have a prophetic word for your life, I would encourage you to listen, then to carefully consider it with prayer, with study, and with the guidance of your pastor. Not everyone who speaks, speaks truth. But not everyone who speaks, speaks untruths, either. But Peter wasn’t talking about prophecy as something he could use as a trump card. He wasn’t going to “prophesy” something just for added weight to his testimony. He was speaking about the prophetic word about the Messiah, about who Jesus is.

I’ve been pondering this for a few days now in light of some things in my life and in the lives of those close to me. There are several things happening lately that have discouraged the hearts of those I love, leaving them with a sense that they’ve misunderstood God’s plans and purposes for their lives. I, myself, had a situation a couple of years back where I was certain I had understood God’s plan, and then I stumbled down a seemingly endless hill like Buttercup throwing herself after a Dread Pirate. I spent months wrestling with God, asking Him how I could have gotten things so wrong.

But this is exactly what Peter is telling us: Experiences can be mistaken and misunderstood and even disbelieved; we have something more certain–the Scriptures.

When life has thrown you for a loop and you find yourself questioning whether you’ve misheard God’s voice, remember the experiences–yes; but more, hold firmly to the prophetic word (the Scriptures), to the revelation of Jesus in the Bible. When your heart and your mind don’t know what’s what anymore, trust in who He says He is. He is more sure than any experience or feeling or inclination to which you can attest.

Pax,

Sarah

 

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Cling to Hope

The last two weeks have been gut-wrenching.

It is difficult-and, I suppose, a bit against our inclination-to look for hope in moments of despair, and yet, those are precisely the moments when hope is so desperately needed. In my writing, I often compare struggle and trial and heartache with darkness-specifically, night. Joy, conversely, is light.if you’re sick of hearing me make these comparisons, you can blame David, for his psalms are full of this idea. But it is those times when the sun is so hidden from our lives that we need and crave the hope of dawn. We live in a time and place where we are so wired all the time that we don’t really know what it is to be without light. We are almost always only a flipped switch away from light. Imagine that you were alone in the dark canvas of a long night with no electricity. Would you not find comfort in even the smallest flicker of a candle? In the faintest glimmer of starlight? In the soft reflective light of the moon? Stars,you know, do not “go dark” in our daylight; they are simply hidden from our sight by daylight from our own star. Moments of hope,I think, are the same. They don’t go away or cease to be during good times, but we don’t need them as much or as often because we are comforted by the warmth of the sun’s rays.

In the gut-wrenching black night of my little existence lately, I have struggled. Hope is not my natural disposition. I tend not towards pessimism, but despair. Recent events, I believed, were going to break me into a million tiny pieces and fling them to the furthest reaches of the universe.

My sister-in-law had a death in her family that has been heartbreaking for several reasons. The Littles came to spend an evening here while she was with her family. She picked them up late, and as they were pulling out of the driveway, my cell rang. It was my sister-in-law, saying that J was not taking it well and he asked to come back and hug us. It broke my heart.

In another perpetually dysfunctional situation, I said on the telephone that I loved this person and was worried for him and I desperately wanted to help him, but he never speaks to me or reaches out unless he is in crisis mode. He felt that i was exaggerating (I wasn’t), and so he did the only logical thing you can do when someone basically asks if you’re using them: He hung up. On me. Yes, he did. And I recounted all those times that well-intentioned Christians have told me the problem in this particular relationship is that I “haven’t forgiven.” And for the millionth time in my life… It broke my heart.

I dared to dream a big dream. To give opportunity to a piece of my life that I’ve always feared. Every step of the way was open door after open door. I was afraid to believe it was coming to pass; I didn’t want to be disappointed if it fell apart. But it looked like everything was set. And then the door slammed shut, crushing my fingers. The pain, the discouragement, the anger… It was more than I could handle. It broke my heart.

Each of these situations has left me in a bit of grief. The darkness truly seems to have swallowed the light.

But just in typical God fashion, the sky began to light up, one star after another.

J’s sadness broke this adoring auntie’s heart, but that’s not all it did. It also reminded me how very tender his young heart is. He is like his father in that way-he seems to feel deeply, and to love deeply. What an amazing thing for any person, but a four year old? The thing that broke my heart also whispered hope to my spirit. The world is changed by men and women with such great love and emotion. This little man… Is a game changer.

In the dysfunctional hangup, my already wounded heart was broken yet again over something I cannot fix, over a love that is mine by right but has never been mine. But in that split second after the click, just after I heard myself say, “he just hung up on you, Sar” in utter shock, I felt a lightness I’ve mingled with in the past but have never quite known. It is no longer my decision. He hung up on me; he chose to end a difficult dialogue rather than even simply reassuring me of his love. The fact that he opted out sort of released me. Don’t mistake me-I would give anything for a different outcome, a healthy outcome. But I think very few people realize the chains of a dysfunctional relationship and how it can make you feel culpable for decisions others have made. And in the aftermath of sorrow, my hope is in the knowledge that it was his decision. Not mine.

Finally, when my passionate pursuit crashed down around me, the grief was so tangible and so bitter that I didn’t know what to say or think or do. The broken place in my heart longer for a solitary place to play my guitar and just sing my prayers and sorrows to Jesus. But… I’ve been avoiding my guitar. Without any knowledge of what was happening, two friends in the past twenty-four hours have mentioned my music. And so I spent a quiet hour with my guitar this morning, and what did I find? I found hope. I found willing fingertips and gentle resonance. I found songs I had forgotten but they came back like heirlooms of my existence. I found that though my passions are many, music has always been my language.

Hope. In the dead of night. In all of these dark places. In the deepest hours of the night. In the most bitter cold. There is hope.

Cling to it, I urge you. Hold on til morning.

Pax,

semmie

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Child Sponsorship in 3 Easy Steps

Step 1: Pray these words: “Jesus, open my heart.”

Step 2: Click this link: https://www.compassion.com/

Step 3: Click on the golden button of hope that says “Sponsor A Child Today.”

That’s really all there is to it, friends.

You’ll find a slew of search choices–birthday, age, gender, country. Some choose a child who has been waiting the longest (some have been waiting more than a year to be sponsored–that should break your heart). Some choose a child who lives in an AIDS-affected area. Some choose a child who lives in an area susceptible to exploitation. And then there are the less obvious ways to choose a child. The eyes?–yes, I’ve known sponsors who’ve chosen a child because of the look in their eyes or because they just “looked so precious.”I’ve even heard of people who do the “close your eyes and randomly drop your finger,” and the photo your finger lands on is the child you sponsor.

These are all valid ways to choose a specific child.

As for me? I couldn’t tell you why I chose my boys. I’ve been sponsoring Joseph for nine years now, and I don’t regret one moment of it. There was something at the time that captured my heart, and I’m so thankful–it has never let go. But the truth is that the longer I know Joseph, the more I realize that I didn’t choose him at all; God brought Joseph into my life. Sponsoring changes your life, to be sure, but…since sponsoring Moise, I’ve grown very aware that each sponsorship relationship is entirely unique. I could never have with Moise what I have with Joseph. I could never have with Joseph what I have with Moise. In each case, however, my life has been utterly changed, utterly challenged, and utterly edified in ways that are unique to the boys…in ways that I could not have chosen from a photo or a birthday or a country.

The important thing isn’t how or why you choose. The important thing is that you choose.

When we choose compassion and love for those in extreme poverty, we are speaking volumes. Sponsoring tells a child that he is important…that he is cherished…that he is not a mistake…that there is hope and a future for him…that he can be free to dream and to learn and to grow…that he need not fear starvation or malaria or the spread of AIDS or the weather…that he belongs. And if you’ve ever read anything I’ve written, you know that belonging is a theme I find particularly important. We all need to belong. Children living in poverty are certainly not the exception.

Make the choice today. Chances are…you really can afford it. And if, when you really get to the core of it, your answer is that you just honestly cannot afford $38 a month, then consider going together on a sponsorship with a friend…with family…with a Bible study group…with your knitting circle…with your fantasy league…with your co-workers…with your youth group…with the houses on your street…with your top ten f@cebook friends… with your church choir…with your pen-pal…with your barber…with your barista…with the parents of your kid’s soccer team…

I promise…you will not regret it.

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The Importance of a Vote

I heard it again today.

You’re wasting your vote.

I suppose if the question is whether or not my candidate has any chance of winning the election, the answer is no–and therefore, I am, in a sense, wasting my vote.

Unfortunately, for every Republican that tells me that a third party vote is “a vote for Hillary,” there are equally as many Democrats to tell me that it is “a vote for Trump.” And listen, I get it. I really do get it. My heart is equally divided on the matter of not wanting Trump or Clinton as my next President, so I feel the tension and the temptation of desperately wanting to vote against one…and then the other. I really do get it.

I suppose most people who vote outside the safe bubble of the two-party system get it. That’s probably part of the story of how they became third party voters. I can’t say that for certain, because I have neither studied the history of third party voters in the U.S., nor the history of third party platforms. All I know is what I’ve observed, which–I freely confess–is a limited and somewhat controlled perspective. That being said, I really do believe that most of the third party voters I’ve encountered (whether in person or online) didn’t begin as staunch representatives of the party platform; most began as deflectors of a main party.

So do we understand the desire for some ginormous egomaniac to not become the next president? Do we understand the desire to not elect the next person in a dynasty? Sure. We get it. I get it. And we understand that you’ll think it’s our fault if your guy or gal doesn’t win. Fine. That is…what it is.

But I want you to understand…I honestly do…why I’ve come to a third party position this year. I want you to understand why it’s important–even necessary–for me to go this way. And I want you to understand why it’s unwise to tell a free American that her vote is wasted.

I recognize that many of the Christian leaders in America that I highly respect have come out in recent weeks and months to encourage Christians to vote for Donald Trump–not because he stands for everything we stand for, but, unfortunately, because he is Hillary’s opponent and we must stop her. And if that’s your conviction…I strongly encourage you to vote that way. I understand where your heart and spirit are on this, and I do not feel any animosity or judgment toward you.

When this election cycle began–even before it began–I promised myself one thing: That I would not give my vote to someone who was a name-caller, who slung mud, or who turned the conversation into sarcastic belittling of another person. I have seen how such things can ruin relationships…families…friendships…churches…it is not pretty, and it is entirely not necessary. If my expectation in my own life is to speak words of truth and honesty–even in heated moments of disagreement–without attacking a man himself, then that is going to be my expectation of my President, also. Are we, any of us, perfect? Certainly not. But there’s a big difference between a stumble and a habit. So my promise to myself was that I would not vote for any candidate that I knew to be a name-caller, because I think when we’re trying to decide who our next Commander in Chief should be, name-calling and belittling distracts us from the things we really need to know. And unfortunately, it tells us far more about the person speaking the words than the person at whom the words are directed. For additional thoughts on this, please see my post from earlier this year entitled The Search for a Presidential Candidate: A Prologue.

Ladies, if you’re being pursued by two men, do you fall head over heals for one who badmouths the other? Hopefully not. Hopefully you see it as a tactic to try and make one look better by making the other look worse. At best, it is simply impolitic; at worst, it is an indication of insecurity (and likely, thus, a promise of future manipulation).  And if they both belittle one another, do you say to yourself, “Oh, well…? I suppose I have to marry someone!” I sure hope not. My point here isn’t that we fall in love with a candidate; my point is that we would never follow such loose standards in other important relationships in our lives–why then do we allow it in our governing hopefuls?

But no matter how you feel about all of this, my conviction is simply this: That a man (or woman–I’m not assigning gender based on experience; I’m using “man” as a generic term for “a human being,”) who is concerned with speaking respectfully of another man, whether they agree or disagree, is likely more trustworthy, and will likely pursue stances (politically) that I can support–whether or not I fully agree, because such a man values the most important thing: His fellow man.

So how can I, with clear conscience, vote for Donald Trump? He has had belittling, rude, disrespectful, and flippant remarks about almost every other person on the campaign trail. And how can I, with clear conscience, vote for Hillary Clinton? Her very behavior in having a private server and then trying to cover it up by deleting thousands of emails and feign innocence with America has proven, to me, that she counts herself above you and me. Neither of these attitudes suggest to me that these candidates value his/her fellow man.

Therefore, for myself alone, I cannot–and I will not–give my vote to either of the main party candidates in this presidential election. It is quite unlikely that my vote will make a difference to them; but it will make an enormous difference to me.

If I vote against my promises to myself, then my vote, indeed, is wasted. I will have violated my own convictions and principles.

And I hold the same regard for each one of you–my friends, my family, my co-workers, my neighbors, and my fellow Americans. Your vote is your voice. And no matter who you vote for, I implore, vote your conscience!

All of this wasted vote talk reminds me how beautiful and precious a thing it is to even have a vote, to live in a nation where my voice–though it may affect no change–is allowed to speak truly of my convictions without fear of harm or imprisonment or even alienation.

Being forced to vote one way or another? Being forced to vote at all? Being forced not to vote at all? Being forced to support ideas and values which make you swallow bile? These are wasted votes.

Let’s try to remember what a blessed freedom we still hold, and what an amazing thing it is that you and I should have a voice in the governing of our nation.

pax Christi;

Sarah

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My personal apologies to Dr. Livingston for my blatant overuse of ellipses, em dashes, and sentences that begin with “and.” I try not to overdo it, but I confess–sometimes I use them when I know I shouldn’t, just because it makes me think of you and smile.

 

 

 

 

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