Serve in obscurity?

…rather than make a name for myself, make His name known…

“He must become greater; I must become less.” – John the Baptist

“I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John…” – Jesus

Have you ever considered the meaning of these words? What does it really mean to become “less”? And, how is it that of all the people Jesus chose to commend it was John the Baptist, an obscure, well-worn man living solo in the Judean wilderness? Why is it that Jesus didn’t sing the praises of Abraham, Moses, or David? Jewish tradition holds all three in high regard.

As I attended a local women’s conference this last weekend, I was confronted to reconsider these words. The theme of the weekend was “Finding Your Voice.” It centered on developing our intimacy with Jesus so that we could truly find our voice whereby we could live out our purpose in this world.

Sitting in the auditorium, listening to the message, one thought kept coming to mind, interrupting my ability to focus on the message being given… Sure, I guess I need to find my voice… I was telling myself… But what if God would rather I focus on His voice being heard?

My mind trailed deeper down the rabbit hole of that line of thinking… Rather than being known, what if it pleased God more that I be unknown? Or be known completely only by Him? My good works, my heartaches, my quirks… Rather than make a name for myself, seek to make God’s name known? Rather than advance my own reputation, advance God’s? And, then came the zinger of a question… Am I willing to serve God in utter obscurity?

*Gulp.*

Pondering such questions, I began to consider those who have answered that question in the affirmative… I mean, how long did Mother Teresa go about her business of caring for the poor, diseased, despised, and wretched before the world took notice of her noble work? How many others do the same in our day? Would I be willing to do such work without acclaim?

Coming back up to reality, the struggle is real… In all honesty, the answer is, “no.” (Besides, if I was keeping record, I’d already say I’d lost since I’m so connected through social media.) Nonetheless, I not ready to disappear into the void of anonymity, comforted solely by the fact I’m completely known by God. Yet, I know that that is every Christian’s call…

“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” – Colossians 3:3-4

And so, the thought deepens… What if true freedom is really found by losing oneself? Isn’t that what Jesus said…?

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” – Mark 8:35

AND…

“Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.” – Luke 17:33

Alright, so, to lose our life is to gain it? And to seek to make something of our lives for our own sake is actually to lose it? It sounds so contradictory… Yet, I can imagine the freedom and joy it can bring… To not be bound by other people’s expectations or approval… To be unbridled by your own fears and uncertainties… Free to do what is right when it’s not popular because you’re unconcerned with your standing and secure in who you really are…

You are His.

To live in full color…

…risk stepping out to be who you were created to be… rise up and answer your calling…

IMG_5669

Growing up in Western Washington, there were many a gray day. Even if it wasn’t actually raining, the skies were white with overcast clouds. Though the rain gives that area it’s lovely green color, without the sun to shine on it, one can feel like it’s a pretty dreary place.

Recently, the thought came to me about how life can sometimes feel that way… Reality and the things that make us feel so “alive,” can seem hidden by some fog of responsibility, or obligation, or simply, the monotony of life.

Back in the 90’s, a movie came out that at first glance seemed to be entirely filmed in black-and-white*. Starring Reese Witherspoon and Tobey McGuire, this brother-sister duo found themselves transported into the brother’s favorite 1950’s TV sitcom. The premise followed a “Leave-it-to-Beaver” type family living in a small town where everything was predictable and “safe.” Being that the sitcom followed the birth of the television, it aired in black-and-white rather than color. Similarly, the movie began in gray-scale scenes…

pleasantville-1200-1200-675-675-crop-000000

As the brother-sister duo move throughout the movie, they begin bringing attitudes and behaviors from their own generation, nearly fifty years later. Suddenly, the predictable story line becomes disrupted, throwing the town in which the series is set off kilter. Before you know it, everything begins to fall apart… Characters deviate from expected behavior, going off-script and begin to dream…

Scenes shift from only black-and-white, to stains of red, orange, blue, green… By the end of the movie, each scene is entirely in color, none of the black-and-white shades remain. Predictability has vanished, boring has been wiped out, what was lifeless has disappeared…

It got me thinking… What is it to live life in full color?

r822206_7463003

Earnestly, I’ve yearned to “fit-in,” seeking after the life everyone else around me appears to be living… Working the “9-5,” attaining the “husband, house, 2.5 children and a dog” lifestyle preached to me from the pulpit and the TV.

Yet, the more I’ve sought this life, the more it’s alluded me. Furthermore, even that which I have attained has left me feeling more lifeless than I expected. This “life” became boring, predictable, even frustrating. As if, the more I strove to be like everyone else, the less I became like everyone else and the more lifeless I felt.

But to live in full color…! That is the life I long for…

To live in full color is to be fully alive… To feel every breath in your lungs… To rub the lint between your toes and feel its plush fiber… To gaze out across the valley and see a sunset that leaves you speechless… To lose track of time playing games with children, laughing all the while…

20181124_165246

Not many routine things bring such joy, such life, such color as these… And yet the adult within me struggles to make those things a priority… But if I’m to live the rest of this life, it’ll only be worth it if I’m living in full color.

So, let us take risks… Risk trusting Yahweh to care for you as you follow His leading… Risk your reputation or friendships sharing about the reality of Jesus in your life… Risk stepping out to live the life you were created for no matter how much money you will make, how much others oppose it, or how much you fear failure… Risk getting lost in the little moments that bring you joy, whether that be painting the ocean shores, creating a melody on ivory keys, throwing a frisbee to your furry friend, or playing tic-tac-toe with a five-year old… Rise up and answer your calling…

IMG_5918

“I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” – Jesus*

“[God]…richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” – 1 Timothy 6:17

*Pleasantville (1998)

*John 10:10

pcs: all sc, except Pleasantville clip and vintage TV set

Always becoming…

…in the midst of determining our goals, we are already becoming someone or something…

IMG_4691

Backyard at the house I used to live in was a sturdy apple tree. None of us were quite sure what kind of apples it grew. But one thing was certain, this tree excelled at fulfilling it’s created purpose: to bear apples.

Every weekend in Spring, a swath of apples at varying stages of ripeness blanketed the grass beneath the tree, waiting for someone to come and take notice. It wasn’t long before collecting the apples made it to our weekly “chore list.” Each of us soon discovered the need to operate with strategy if we were to dispose of them efficiently and save ourselves from back pain.

IMG_6244

Despite the fact that I always seemed to finish the chore with a throbbing back, my time spent beneath its branches always yielded life lessons as proliferous as the apples themselves…

Through the seasons of time, a tiny seed in the ground grows and grows until eventually it becomes a tree. A robust trunk shoots out of the ground stretching to the blue skies above. Spindly branches stretch from side to side, concealed in green leaves quivering in the breeze. As Winter turns to Spring, little buds begin to develop, ever bigger with each passing day. Until all at once, you begin to see the beauty of the fruit.

IMG_6264

But what kind of fruit is it?

In a healthy tree, it will become nutritious, pleasing to the eye as well as the body.

IMG_6251

In a tree diseased by harmful cankers, pleasing fruit is sure to bring poison to the human body.

IMG_6253

A tree becomes a tree over time. And over time, it produces fruit. But what kind of fruit will it be?

Similarly, we all began as little children… Seed from our parents that would one day bear fruit of our own. And whether we’ve strategized about the fruit we want to bear or the kind of “tree” we want to become, we are all becoming something.

For the longest time, I’ve spent countless hours trying to “figure life out.” Most specifically, figure out MY life. What am I to do with it? How can I please God? How can I get the things I want out of life?

Recently I realized that even in the midst of being “stuck” in this season of “figuring things out,” I’ve been becoming something, or rather someone. Right under my nose, I’ve been becoming who I am. It got me thinking that though I may never have life “figured out,” if I am faithful in the day-to-day, pursuing my goals piece-by-piece, even on my way to a destination, I already am someone. I already am bearing some kind of fruit.

IMG_4687

And so, as I consider this happy little apple tree, going about her business of stretching her branches wide so that birds may perch on them and sprinkling apples on the grass for the squirrels, I, too, ought to go about my business of bearing good fruit and fulfilling my purpose of being a human being. Let us consider our fruit… What kind of fruit are you bearing as you grow into yourself?

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” – Galatians 5:22-25 –

pc: all Sarah Coffey

One step at a time…

…you can only eat an elephant one bite at time…

So, over the last month or so it’s been more difficult to find the motivation to get outside and go running. Earlier this week, the sun came out and I knew it would be a good day for getting a run in. It was still a bit nippy, as we’re still coming out of winter here, but with my recently purchased running gear, I knew I would be able to stay plenty warm.

Getting home from work, fatigue was already setting in… I don’t want to go on a run. What if I skip a day? An internal dialogue began between the part of me that wanted nothing more than to be lazy and rest at home, and the ambitious part of me that revels in reaching personal goals… Well, Sarah, if you skip today, you’ll have to make it a priority for tomorrow… And what if tomorrow you don’t feel like running? Or what if it’s a stormy, cold day? Hmmm… This inner dialogue between me, myself, and I continued for about a half hour. Finally, as my tummy started rumbling for dinner, I decided I’d better go and get it done. So, I donned my gear and hit the pavement.

As I ran down the street, and noticed that my pace was slower than usual, I kept telling myself how it was good for me simply to be out there. It’s not about speed or pace, but perseverance. It’s not about winning any medals, but simply keeping going…

I’ve come to realize that life is the same way. The mundane tasks of the day-in-day-out of life hit us and we get bored, apathetic, discouraged, unmotivated… We want something exciting, something memorable, something glorious… But that’s not real life. While there will be highs and lows, often we’re simply running on level ground…

I was reminded of the quote I once heard about how to eat an elephant…

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” – Creighton W. Abrams

IMG_3259

We need to take it one step at a time. You can’t do everything at once, but you can do one thing at a time, and after finishing, you can move on to the next thing. As Saint Francis of Assisi was quoted as saying,

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

So, the next time you feel overwhelmed by the mundane tasks of life while still wishing to see your dreams come true, remember to take it one step at a time…

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” – James 1:2-4

And once you reach the top, that’s when you get to see the view…!

IMG_7850

pc: Sarah Coffey, Hungary, South Africa; Darek Hollis, Macedonia

We fall down and get up…

…run in such a way so as to get the prize…

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

So, about a week before Christmas, I took a spill during one of my runs. Being that winter was well under way, the sun was already sinking low after I’d come home from work. However, that didn’t deter me from my running goals… I’ll just run on the streets with street lights and if there aren’t any nearby, I’ll just be extra careful… yeah… right…!

After changing my clothes, I got caught up in conversation with my roommates. Before I knew it, I’d lost fifteen more minutes of daylight…! Finally out the door, the sky had changed to a dark blue color as it turned night…

Listening to a podcast of my favorite pastor, I ran through the neighborhood and out to the main road… Though a bit out of shape, I knew I’d need to hurry if I was going to make it before it was too dark to see a foot in front of me.

A year earlier, I’d owned a little headlamp… But somewhere along the way, I ended up giving it up… Oh, how I wished I’d still had that little light now!

About two miles in, I decided to turn around and head home. Though the main street was pretty well lit, it was also noisy… So, I decided to take one of the parallel side streets.

Swept up in the sermon, I was happily running along the sidewalk. A few blocks down it dawned on me to check the street sign so I’d know where to turn back to the main road…

As my eyes strained to see the sign, my feet stumbled on the uneven sidewalk… Before I even knew what was happening, I was well on my way towards the cold, hard cement… Just like the movies, time seemed to be moving in slow-motion as several thoughts raced through my head… I’m falling… I’m actually falling… I’m going to hit the ground! I hope no one is watching… how did this happen? It was as if I was in a time continuum outside of time itself… the Twilight Zone…. doo-do-doo-do, doo-do-doo-do, doo-do-doo-do…!

All at once… chatter… scrape… At the end of someone’s driveway, my knees hit the pavement first followed by my chin… I could feel blood oozing through my brand new running tights…

Trying to pull myself together, I sheepishly looked around to see whether anyone was around to see my graceless descent… I paused… Am I okay? Yep, I’m okay… a little banged up, but I’m fine… no concussion or broken bones… For a couple blocks, I walked a bit gingerly as the pain in my knees subsided, and then I picked up the pace and ran the remaining two miles home.

Now, that fall could have been much worse… It could have been in a street, I could have broken an arm, someone could have been watching to my utter embarrassment… It could have deterred me from running altogether. I mean, who really wants to go out and fall down??

Today during my usual run, with snow falling all around, I realized that the fall back in December hadn’t been enough to keep me from my run today… Though slush was on the ground, I wasn’t afraid of falling…

The old adage is true, “you have to get back up on the horse that threw you…” Life is the same way… When we fall or experience a failure, we cannot simply give up or give in. We will never really know when or if we will fall… But if we don’t go running, we will never cross the finish line either to experience the gratification that comes from finishing the race. Our love of running, our love for life ought to keep us going…

I, for one, am not someone who really likes to fail… The word “risk” is one of my least favorite words… But if we don’t try and go after that which we want, if we don’t risk falling, we will never have the chance at success… The chance at crossing the finish line… We may fall… We might fall numerous times… But we must get up again and again… Because the finish is worth it!

How have you been encouraged to keep running after a “fall?” What was the outcome of your decision to get back up after a “fall?”

pc: Sarah Coffey, Zambia night sky 2016

Falling off the wagon…

…what do you do when the struggle is real?

So, the first of the year started out pretty well for me. Boy, was I motivated! I’m going to get this done and that done… I’m going to eat healthy, work out, sleep plenty… I’m going to save money… I’m going to blog every week… Yadah, yadah, yadah….

Well, as with nearly every “New Year’s Resolution,” after a while the novelty and motivation can wear off. Before you know it, those well intentioned goals are simply dreams that faded with the sunrise over the night sky. Only a couple weeks into the year and I had lost that energetic motivation. I guess you could say, I fell off the proverbial wagon.

My well-meaning intentions remained, but I was having trouble finding inspiration. Between standing on my feet at work all day and this relentless struggle with a lack of sleep at night, I was just plain exhausted in the evening. All the goals I taped to my bedroom wall as reminders of what I’m aiming at seemed like too much effort and almost like only a measuring rod for my failure.

To be honest, I can’t say that I’ve found new motivation… I’ve wanted to remain faithful to my audience and to grow more in this thing called, “blogging…”

With each day and week, I’m still trying to keep at it. Perseverance is a quality I’ve always been told to put into action. And so, I thought I’d ask you, the reader, where do you find your inspiration? What motivates you to keep at it when the struggle is real?

pc: Sarah Coffey, Romania

Keep on dancing…!

…embrace each new year as an opportunity to live to the fullest…

“Ruby?”*

“Did you say, ‘Ruby’? Why, that’s me!”

Turning in response to my cry was an elderly lady, feet propped up in the stirrups of her wheelchair. Each curl of her graying hair was so volumatic one would have thought it was actually artificial. Wheeling her back to the exam room, I could tell I was in for a treat… this was no one ordinary.

Carefully, I pivoted her chair into the room, backing it up so that she sat in line with our usual exam chair. All set to begin, I positioned myself behind the computer screen to begin taking notes of the reason for today’s visit…

But Ruby was lost in her own conversation, going on and on about how good she felt…

“You know, it wasn’t until I really got sick that I even stopped dating. I never once thought about my age or worried about it… This little nurse that’s been helping me, she turned forty just a few weeks ago. I thought she was going to have a nervous breakdown! She was so distraught about turning forty, but she didn’t look it at all! I even met her little old mother; she didn’t look her age either. I don’t think her mother even gave age a second thought. In fact, I think this little nurse picked up all this worry about getting old from her friends. Well, I’ve never been concerned about my age. I’ve dated and danced all the way through life… That’s what you gotta keep doing: keep on dancing. Ah, that’s what I miss most… If I wasn’t in this chair, that’s what I’d still be doing… dancing.”

I scarcely could bring myself to move the conversation along. Her words struck me… therein was a lesson that I needed to learn, a good word I needed to ponder…

Keep on dancing.

Suddenly it occurred to me the irony of the phrase… The theme of my high school graduation had been “I hope you dance.” (LeAnn Womack’s song of that title had come out that same year, so it was fitting for our class.)

At over ninety years of age, Ruby had found the secret to remaining youthful. In fact, I never would have guessed her age… Her vivacious spirit would have put her at least thirty years younger in my mind!

We live in a day when people are in desperate search of the secret to youthfulness. People invest their hard-earned-cash in creams, diets, athletic regimes, surgeries, all in the vain hope of keeping up that 20-something look. Meanwhile, their minds grow old… their spirits grow dull and lifeless…

Ruby’s quip was exactly what I needed to hear and what I think many of us need to hear. For me, I’ve just entered the latter half of my thirties. I’ve been dreading the idea of reaching forty without a spouse, children, or career to show for… But Ruby’s lesson inspired me to consider her words as profound wisdom… Stop fixating on length of years, instead fixate on the quality of your years.

Age is not to be feared, dreaded or escaped. As much as I urge you to take this to heart, I write it as reminder to myself. We ought to receive, accept, and embrace each new year, considering it an opportunity to grow, discover, and keep on dancing.

*Not her real name.

*pc: Sarah Coffey, Swaziland, Africa