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.

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

Enough through Jesus…

…simply believe in the One He has sent…

If you’re like me, in the hustle and bustle of today’s world, you often find yourself overwhelmed… Overwhelmed by the day-to-day tasks vying for your attention, while simultaneously agonizing over the oughta’s and shoulda’s to reach personal goals…

Social media has afforded the ability to vastly over-share small snippets of our lives, the “highlight reel,” as some have called it… And in scrolling through our activity feeds, we’re left feeling inadequate… We begin believing, perhaps even subconsciously, that these “highlights” are the sole experiences of our friends and acquaintances… Smiling faces, professional achievements, carefree vacations… As if you’re the only one who experiences life’s ups and downs…

So often, it has left me wondering, am I enough? Am I doing enough? Is my life enough, in God’s eyes?

Jesus was once asked what one must do to do the works God requires…

“Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.‘” – John 6:29

WHOA. To simply believe in the One God has sent! THAT is enough.

And, knowing all too well our human tendency to try to work out our salvation, Paul the apostle reminded us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of Godnot by works, so that no one can boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9

When Jesus offered Himself up for us on the cross, He accomplished all that was needed and declared, “It is finished.” – John 19:30

Tempting as it is to try to EARN God’s favor, rest in the simple truth that it is enough to simply believe in Jesus. That His perfectly lived life paid the ultimate price on our behalf… His sacrifice was for the sin of every person throughout all of history! Wow. Trusting in His finished work is all that is needed to be enough before God.

Paul made it clear and simple…

That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.'” – Romans 10:9-11

So, it’s not a matter of achievement, a matter of feeling, or a matter of other’s perceptions of us… Believing in Jesus is enough…

“…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 3:3b-4

pc: Sarah Coffey, Ukraine

Always found…

…no matter how lost we feel, God will always come find us…

For the last year, I’ve been relying on one set of earbuds for all phone conversations and listening to audio tracks during my runs. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that the actual ear pieces fall off pretty easily. Time and again I’ve taken them out of my purse or pocket only to find one earpiece missing.  Inevitably, I’d begin the frantic search, rummaging through my bag or stooping down on all fours, scouring the ground for that little black knob.

Every time one falls off, I expect it to be the time I finally lose the earpiece for good. One time, I even flew all the way to Washington State with only one earpiece. I’d figured it fell off while I was on the plane, lost amidst the seats somewhere. I mentally prepared myself to buy a new set.

But to my chagrin, as soon as I got back to Utah, I discovered the earpiece safely hidden amidst the pattern on my rug. It wasn’t until I sat down and felt something squishy beneath me that I even found it.

With the number of times I’ve lost and found the earpieces, it gave me reason to pause… How is it that I haven’t actually lost these for good? How is it that I keep finding it after thinking it’s been lost?

In my mind, it’s been nothing but a little miracle that I haven’t had to buy a new pair. It’s as if there was some magnetic pull, keeping the earpiece in my vicinity… It seemed like there was nothing I could do that would cause that piece to be lost for good… And, in kind of a reverse way, it brought to mind God’s pursuit of us… That no matter how far we run, how deep of a hole we’ve dug for ourselves, or how lost we feel, we’ll always be found by God…

Speaking in a parable, Jesus Himself likened His Father’s love and concern for us to that of a shepherd keeping a mass of sheep…

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” – Matthew 18:12-14

Do we think that we are so far gone in the midst of our own mess that God cannot or will not come after us?

“’Am I only a God nearby,’ declares the Lord, ‘and not a God far away? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 23:23-24

God is in constant pursuit of us that He might lavish His love on us and that we might know Him intimately. And once we are found, there is nothing that will separate us from His love…

“…neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

And so, I want to remind you that whether you are basking in the sunshine atop the highs of life, or traipsing through the darkest valley, or feeling lost and hidden in your own mess, know that there is One who will always go looking for you, One who won’t give up until you’re found, One who will never forget you…

“See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; [you] are ever before me.” – Isaiah 49:16

*pc Sarah Coffey

Keep running through the pain…

…the pain is only temporary, so keep on going…

“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship…” – 2 Timothy 4:5a

Usually my runs are pretty uneventful… I might run by some barking dogs, kids riding bikes, or people cleaning up their yards… And most of the time, I feel pretty good throughout the course of my run.

One time recently, about halfway through my run, my stomach began to act up… As it jostled around with each stride, I began to feel sick. A rare occurrence for me, I began to think through what I’d eaten that day that could have contributed to this feeling… coffee, cereal, leftover rice and stir fry, too much sugar…? Nothing too unusual jumped out.

Despite the fact that my tummy was unhappy with me, my arms and legs were all too raring to go. They could have gone all day if not for my complaining tummy.

I was inclined to stop, but as sometimes happens, I expected the pain to go away. I needed to keep running, to run until the pain subsided, until I came to the end…

IMG_1232

I’ve increasingly found the same to be true in life. Now, I know this is not exactly an earth-shattering concept… But I sometimes have to remind myself of this fact…

So many things are thrown into our way as we run through life… unexpected, painful things… a bittersweet divorce, the loss of a child, illness and injury, painful loneliness, overwhelming anxiety… it’s difficult to keep on running… to find the motivation to stay the course…

Though this has been a blessed season for me, it’s also been one of the most difficult… On many occasions, I’ve felt in deep despair… it’s been almost a daily battle to keep running this race called “life” as regrets, “what ifs,” and anxiety about the future have landed in my path…

But just as that run taught me, I must run through the pain… WE must run through the pain…

At the beginning of track season as a kid, each run brought on the pain of side aches as I’d been out of practice for a season. Eventually, as I kept coming to practice, day after day, and as I kept training for race day, the side aches eventually went away. Before I knew it, I could run with ease and eventually I even got faster!

In life, we must also run through the pain… Eventually the pain will subside as you get stronger… Show the pain it cannot have you… It will not consume you… You will outrun its grip on you. Before you know it, either the pain will cease to exist, or you’ll find yourself at your intended destination. No matter how long the pain lasts, we must remember it won’t be forever… There are days filled with joy and delight ahead of you… Don’t give up before you can experience them… After the storm comes the rainbow; beauty comes from the ashes; rain makes things grow… Keep on running, my friend… You’re not alone; I’m running there right along with you…

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” – 2 Timothy 4:7

“…[stand] firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings…” – 2 Peter 5:9

IMG_1382

pc: Sarah Coffey, Zambia, Victoria Falls, Zambezi River

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

Time marches on…

…live your time…

Though we’ll turn our clocks back this weekend as Daylight Savings Time ends, no doubt we’ll all still ponder the necessity of the practice. Accepting the changing of our clocks is one thing, but each of us must come to terms with the passage of time in our own lives.

With each rising of the sun, we are reminded that yesterday is gone. As we enter the new day, it may be tempting to mourn the day that has passed. Time knows no favoritism, but is equally cruel to us all. Age comes as surely as rain falls from the sky.

Now stay with me here; I’m not intending to take this lackluster thought and lead us down a dark road…

Growing up, I often sat listening to stories of my grandma’s growing up years. Walking miles to school, helping her dad on the farm, learning in one-room school houses, attending community picnics… It all sounded so simple, fun, and romantic to my little mind! When she’d finish, I’d exclaim how I wished I’d been born during that time to experience those things. But in her wisdom, she’d always reminded me, “Sarah, we all live our time.

20170313_160033

That little statement never really made sense to me.

We all live our time…

What does that really mean?

As time has passed, I have begun to understand…

Each of us was created for a specific purpose and a specific time. It is all our own; no one else’s. No two people on the planet – even identical twins – are exactly the same. God orchestrated it, science has proven it.

King David was well aware of this…

“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” – Psalm 139:16

His son, King Solomon, took it a step further…

“There is a time for everything; a season for every activity under heaven.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1

As Queen Esther contemplated whether or not to get involved in the plight of her fellow Jews, her cousin Mordecai reminded her, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” – Esther 4:14

It’s easy to mourn days gone by and wonder our purpose for today. But there is a plan, though sometimes unbeknownst to us. Know this…

“God has made everything beautiful in its time.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11

20161115_174919

So, if you are wondering, waiting, working to find purpose, meaning, a plan in your life, know that there is one. You were not simply the creation of little nuclei coming together thanks to your parents. You were created for a reason. If you’re not quite sure what the reason is, know that first and foremost it was to know your Creator. After all, He formed your inner workings and caused you to be here. Seek after Him and find meaning for your life…

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.” – Jeremiah 29:13-14

pc: Latvian Sunset, Sarah Coffey; from Grandma’s album, unknown; Me in Swaziland, dani izac

Risking Grace.

…risk grace to reap generously…

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously… And God is able to make all grace abound to you so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work… Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” – 2 Corinthians 9:6, 8, 10-11

Okay, so, I’m not naturally a “risk-taker.” Perceived “risks” that I’ve taken have all been calculated. If I was going to step out on a limb, I was going to be sure the limb was large enough to hold my weight and the tree was firmly rooted in the ground. I’ve not been one to reach out for a broken branch on a dying tree, clinging to life on the side of a cliff. Danger has been my nemesis.

While on a hike through the woods recently, a new thought began to form in my mind regarding risk…

Life is about risk.

Hmm… Risk.

Chatting with friends along the way, we began to share our yet-to-be life dreams and goals. Even as I shared mine, this thought occurred to me… perhaps the reason some of these dreams are still unfulfilled is because I’ve failed to risk stepping out on a limb to see them become a reality…

Whoa.

Could that be it? That I’m actually my own worst enemy? That if I was to risk more, I would actually gain more?

I’ve longed to own my own house, but never felt financially able to do so despite a sterling credit score. To own a house means to risk being able to make payments or repairs.

I’ve longed for marriage, but have shied away from male friendships. To marry means to risk being vulnerable or enduring heartbreak.

I’ve considered going back to school, but am not keen on taking out a loan. To increase one’s credentials costs money and time.

You see, I’ve seen my problems as bigger than my God… I’ve seen the risk as larger than the reward… My focus has been on the cost, rather than on the payoff…. on the risk, rather than the resulting joy.

Have I forgotten the God whom I serve?

After telling Mary, Jesus’ mother, the good news that her once-barren relative Elizabeth was pregnant in her old age, the angel Gabriel reminded her, “For nothing is impossible with God.” – Luke 1:37

Nothing is impossible with God.

God has given us grace along the way so that we would give life our best shot… He affords us grace to risk making mistakes… Grace so our risk would result in great victory… Grace to reap generously for His kingdom… Grace to give it a go… But if we never risk, how can we live in that grace? Could living a “safe” life be to reap sparingly…? And besides, isn’t He our Redeemer? The one who can redeem all things…?

As Job reminds us, I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.” – Job 19:25

IMG_5384

So, as I continue on this path of faith, seeking out God’s vision for my life, I’m realizing that perhaps it’s time to “risk” more… To sow sparingly, is to reap sparingly. To sow generously, is to reap generously. Where have I been stingy with my resources? Where has my faith been meager? Yet, where does my heart desire to see growth, fruit, abundance? I should carefully consider how and where I may need to risk more in order to experience more… Where is God calling you to risk more?

pc: Sarah Coffey, Utah

Run your race…

…run the race marked out for you…

A melody pierced the darkness, tickling my ears… the alarm on my phone was notifying me that morning had come… Though the sun hadn’t received the memo, I’d have to rise-and-shine anyway.

Quick as I could, I donned my Brooks gear and set out for the island… Antelope Island. It would be my first 5k race in years, and I was excited to participate!

As I drove up to the marina, runners were already trying to stave off the morning chill with a brisk jog. With every step, their breath hung in the air, white as the clouds.

IMG_5152

What seemed like an eternity later, it was our turn to race. Stopping at the park’s stone cold bathrooms more times than I’d like to admit, I was replete… not an ounce remained within me.

“3, 2, 1… Go!”

We were off!

The first hundred yards were uphill. Adrenaline raced through my blood… my legs were like jelly, but seemed to be running on autopilot. As I quickened my pace, I began to pass people on the uphill climb. Before I knew it, there were only 3 people ahead of me.

I could tell I was running too fast, but I couldn’t seem to slow myself down… Towards the mile mark, I reminded myself of my task… Sarah, run your OWN race. Yes, that was it… Focus. Run your OWN race.

Rather than compare myself to where I was in the pack, who was ahead of me, who was behind me, I needed to stay focused on my race… my breathing… my stride… my pace…

IMG_5354

And, life is like this, too…

More than I’d like to admit, I’ve compared my life to other people’s lives, at times coveting and craving their path through life.

But comparison is a killer. It will kill our joy, our motivation, our value. Comparison dismisses our own uniqueness… our personality, our upbringing, our one-of-a-kind figure, our lineage…

“We are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”*

God meant for it to be this way. For you to be, YOU. He prepared in advance the path our life would take… the hills, the valleys, the scenery… Custom made for you.

 

IMG_4941

Rounding the halfway marker, I focused on my breathing… with each swing of my arms, my lungs breathed out. I focused on my steps… each step firmly planted on the blacktop. I focused on my goal… to get up that last hill… around that last bend… down the final stretch…

Finish line in view, I gave it all I had left…

“And here she is finishing with a time of 27 minutes…”

I’d done it. I’d run my race. And it felt good.

“…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”**

We each have our own race. We will finish in our own time. We will run at our own pace. And this is to God’s credit. He loves us too much to give us all the same journey. So, run your race and don’t look back.

“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.”***

 

IMG_5367

*Ephesians 2:10

**Hebrews 12:1

***1 Corinthians 9:24

pc: Sarah Coffey, Antelope Island, Utah

Unfettered…

…live unfettered and let God achieve the unachieveable…

…he soars into the yard, wings extended… quickly closing them up under his breast as he touches down on the green grass… looking for the proverbial worm to fill his belly at breakfast… at a moments notice, his white and black striped pinions open high and he’s off over the fence… searching another lawn for the juicy grub…

Around here black magpies fill the air, the yards, the parking lots… Their coloring is striking… black and white… a shimmer of teal reflecting from the black feathers… I’m always drawn to them…

In watching them, it got me thinking… what would it be like to be completely unfettered? Free to roam, fly where you choose, unfettered by the cares of this world?

To many, I seem like a “free spirit,” and in many ways, I suppose I am… But for a very long time, I have stressed about many things… money, relationships, career, purpose, ministry… being enough… So many goals… seemingly unachieveable in my own eyes and perhaps even the eyes of the world… especially based on my track-record and current status… How can they come to be?? And, even if I was to give up stressing about figuring them out, how would that get me any closer to achieving them? To let them go… wouldn’t that mean giving up on them?

Yet, as I sit here, considering life… it occurred to me… stressing out and trying to “figure” it all out hasn’t really gotten me much closer… it’s just gotten me more stressed, bitter, tightly wound… and that is not living…

Isn’t our God bigger than that? Isn’t He bigger than our puny attempt to try to figure things out? Bigger than our failures? Bigger than the dead ends we think we find ourselves in?

And, just maybe by living more carefree, giving up trying to figure things out, that would actually get us closer to seeing them come to fruition…! I’d be free from worry, burdens, cares… and so, perhaps I would be more myself, a relaxed self, a beautifully unfettered self…!

Luckily, there is some solid advice from God’s Word… He seems to know us so well…!

“…look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”*

“For nothing is impossible with God.”**

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”***

 

*Matthew 6:26-27

**Luke 1:37

***Hebrews 13:8

pc: The Internet – The National Audubon Society (I couldn’t sneak up on them fast enough for a nice photo.)