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

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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…!

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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…

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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

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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.

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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

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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