Keep Going

It’s that point in the semester when it seems like everyone I talk to is exhausted. (Well, it’s been that point in the semester for a few weeks now.)

I expected this year of graduate school to be difficult, but this semester has been difficult in ways I didn’t expect. I’m keeping up with everything, but I’ve just had this chronic feeling of fatigue – as if I’m running on empty and the next gas station is no where in sight.

But what if I don’t have to wait to refuel until I get to that imaginary gas station? What if the fuel I need is already here with me? Or, what if there’s a purpose to running on empty for a while?

What I’m coming to realize is that God can use the demands of my life to remind me that I cannot do this without Him. To remind me that if I’m pursuing anything else more than Him I’ll never be satisfied. To remind me that when my tank is empty, His Spirit sustains me.

When I stop worrying so much about not having “enough” energy or not “being enough” for the things I have to do, I can breath a little deeper. I can turn back to Christ and ask Him to sustain me. I can examine my life to see what it is I’m running after and whether or not I’m pursuing the fulfillment that can only come from God.

This doesn’t make things easier, per se. But, it helps me to see the ways that God is already sustaining and shaping me. It’s still hard to keep up with my classes, my internship, and my job. It’s still hard to miss Jacob as much as I do every time we’re apart. It’s still hard to balance planning for the future while staying present here and now. But, I can appreciate the refreshment God gives me in things both big and small – a weekend of sharing God’s word with students in my community, Skype calls with Jacob before we go to sleep, encouragement from friends and mentors in my life, time with my family in this last year I’ll spend at home. I also have the blessing of looking forward to next May, when Jacob and I will not only graduate, but will get married!

Every day is different, and some are better than others. But if we keep going, God can use these struggles to shape our character and to renew and refine us. Run with endurance. Keep your eyes on Christ. He is faithful to sustain you.

 

Blessings,

Sarah

 

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Living Compassionately: Lessons from Open Table Nashville

I wrote a blog post as part of my experience as an intern with Open Table Nashville this spring, and I wanted to share it here. This internship provided me with the opportunity to practice love and compassion in new ways, and I am so grateful for the love and compassion I received as well.

Blog post: http://opentablenashville.org/living-compassionately

[This is an amazing organization – take the time to learn more about them if you are interested in the work to end homelessness in our city!]

This blog helps me to process what I’m learning and to integrate my experiences, and I’m grateful for everyone who has encouraged me in it so far. Thank you for taking the time to share in these experiences with me.

-Sarah

From 2014 to 2018

 

I’ve been thinking about what 2018 me might say to 2014 me if we sat down to talk.

2014 Sarah was excited about graduating high school, afraid of the coming challenges of adulthood, and grateful for the growth she had experienced leading up to graduation. 2018 me feels the same way, but there are several things I’ve learned that I think would have calmed my anxious heart to hear back then.

“You’re on the right track.”

Deciding on a college and career path was a decision I fretted over for months. Choosing to study social work (an often under-paid field) at a private Christian college was a risk. Moving out on my own was a risk, even though I was only an hour away from home. I believed in my heart that I was making the right decision and going where God wanted me, but fear of failure and the desire to live up to expectations that are too high for anyone to reach caused me so much anxiety and worry. To be honest, those fears have never fully gone away, and I don’t think they will. But what I’ve learned is that fears don’t have to go away to stop having control over me. And I can know and believe that I am where I am meant to be even when it seems like things are going wrong.

“You are doing a great job.”

Again, that fear of failure and those high expectations often made me question whether I was really “making the most” of my college experience. I often felt as though I was just treading water – doing enough to get by on the outside but staying exhausted. I felt guilty for not working harder, studying longer, socializing more often. But when I took a step back, or someone else invited me to look at my life with a little broader perspective, it was easy to see that I was doing everything I needed to do, and doing it well. My mile-long to-do list was never going to go away, but I didn’t have to live underneath it. I could trust that the effort I was putting in each day was good enough, and more importantly I could rest in God’s grace. And now as I’m adjusting to graduate school, I can remind myself again that I really am doing just fine.

“You can ask for help.”

This one is big. As a social work student, I learned a lot about counseling and how helpful it can be, and our professors encouraged us to utilize the free counseling services provided on campus. I knew it would help me better manage stress, and that it would give me a chance to experience therapy from the client’s perspective. Still, it was a hard decision to admit I needed help and to let myself seek it out. I told myself that other students probably needed the counseling services more than I did, that I could probably handle it on my own if I just tried hard enough, that it would get easier eventually. But had I gone along with those inner arguments, I would have missed out on the healing and growth that came from the two years I spent in counseling.

I haven’t talked to many people about this, so it’s a bit vulnerable for me, but I really do think it’s important to share. Through counseling, I learned that the emotions I’d been battling for so long could actually help me if I slowed down, stopped fighting, and really listened to what was going on inside me. I learned that my emotions weren’t something bad to conquer or eradicate or ignore, and that I was capable of facing them. I learned what it means to truly practice kindness towards myself and others – not self-justification, not sugar-coating, but genuine grace and kindness. And while these things will be a life-long process, it has been such a relief to stop trying to “fix” myself and to let God shape me in new ways.

“It’s going to be difficult, but so worth it.”

These last four years have held challenges I didn’t expect, but they have also held opportunities and blessings and relationships that I couldn’t have dreamed of. And I know this is something that will continue to be true into the future.

“You’re going to be okay.”

At the end of the day, no matter how daunting the future might seem, no matter how hard it gets, I’m going to be okay. Whatever decisions I make, wherever God leads me, however my future turns out, I’ll be okay. That is something important for both 2014 me and current me to hear. I’ll be okay, not because of my own strength or abilities, but because of God’s grace, provision, and love. I can rest in the truth that He will be faithful. I don’t have to have control over my life, because He already holds it in His hands. And He is perfectly capable of taking care of me, Jacob, and my family and friends. He’s perfectly capable of taking care of everything, with or without my help.

So, if I had the opportunity to talk with myself from high school, I’d say to keep trusting God. And I imagine that my future self would say the same thing to me today.

Keep trusting – you’re going to be okay. ❤

Sarah 🙂

 

Here I am

I’m here – the end of my senior year of college. Wrapping up my internship, getting ready for my final college assignment, preparing for graduation day.

Senior year was just the sort of culmination of my college experience that I wanted but couldn’t have imagined for myself. God pulled together everything I’ve been learning in the most beautiful way this semester, and I am amazed by the changes I have seen in myself over the last year or so.

I’m continuing to learn what it means to practice God’s presence and to live in an awareness that He goes before me, behind me, within me. I’m continuing to learn what it means to live compassionately and to love more fully than I have before. I’m continuing to learn what it means to care for myself in order to better care for others in my career as a social worker. Most importantly, I’m continuing to learn that God’s love and faithfulness are constant – never-changing in my often-changing world.

I know I still have a long way to go, and there are many more challenges coming on the road ahead. But right now I’m enjoying this time to reflect on what the last few years have meant for me and on the ways I have seen God at work in and around me during my time at Trevecca. I’m excited to move back home, to see Jacob again, and to start grad school this summer, and yet I’m trying to remember to stay here. To stay present to today and all it offers and all God is doing within it and within me.

I’m grateful for the ways God reminds us to slow our pace and to center ourselves in Him, and for His grace when I often forget to do so. I pray that you and I can continue to abide in His love and truth today, and then do it again tomorrow and the next day…

Grace and peace,

Sarah

Boston

Last week, I traveled to Boston, Massachusetts for a joint spring break trip with students from Trevecca and Eastern Nazarene College. The trip was a service and learning opportunity focused on human trafficking and the way the Church can respond. It was an amazing experience, and I’m excited to share about it (although unsure of how to process it all!)

First, I want to sincerely thank every one of my friends and family who prayed for me and donated money to make this trip possible. I would not have had this opportunity were it not for your willingness to give, and I’m grateful that God provided what I needed through your kindness and generosity.

Our team was made up of eight students, five from TNU and three from ENC. We bonded quickly and had time to spend having fun together, which made the experience even richer. Two amazing social work professors from ENC hosted us, providing us with materials and training as we learned more about human trafficking.

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My team enjoying a trip through the city.

We learned about the various types of human trafficking and their chains of supply and demand. We saw documentaries that told the stories of real people and that connected us with the experiences of survivors from all over the world. I was challenged to think about my own daily choices and how I buy into labor trafficking and exploitation without realizing it, and how I am surrounded by victims of the commercial sex industry here in my own city. At times I was overwhelmed with grief at the magnitude of this issue, and at other times I was inspired by the redemptive power of God and the hope that all will be made well.

We also had the opportunity to visit and serve a few local organizations that work to prevent trafficking, including Equal Exchange (a fair trade company), Bags of Hope, and the Quincy Police Department. Each organization taught us more about these issues and ways to take concrete actions to help, and we enjoyed the opportunity to volunteer some of our time.

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Our team putting together “Bags of Hope” – filled with personal hygiene items, encouraging notes, and a list of resources for women who are vulnerable to trafficking.

This trip was also full of firsts for me – my first flight, my first subway ride, and my first experience in such a big city. As I try to process it all, I just feel so grateful for this opportunity, for the people I met, for the things I’ve learned, and for the way God has been working in me. I also feel deeply challenged by the responsibility to live up to the truths I have learned, and I know that is the difficult part of coming back from a trip like this.

 

Learning about human trafficking is difficult. It’s uncomfortable, scary, angering, and overwhelming. It creates a sense of responsibility to address the systemic problems that feed into the issue, and to assess one’s own daily choices and interactions. I have been reminded and continue to remind myself that these changes will not happen overnight, but that we can all make progress over time. We can make more informed choices about the products we buy, choosing to support companies that are ethical in their business practices. We can tell others about the realities of trafficking here in the U.S., and help them understand the trauma and manipulation that traps people inside of it. We can raise awareness and we can pray for rescue and redemption for everyone impacted by this issue – survivors, traffickers, buyers, and everyone in between. We can pray for the strength to fight the good fight and for wisdom as we advocate for the abolition of slavery and exploitation. And we can remember that we aren’t in this alone.

If you’d like to learn more about human trafficking in its various forms, here are some resources:

Organizations:

End Slavery Tennessee – a local organization with great resources to start learning!

A21 – resources for advocacy and education

Equal Exchange – resources to learn more about labor trafficking/exploitation, as well as great products that are fairly traded and ethically sourced

Fair Trade Certified – official site to learn about fair trade and to find fair trade products/organizations

Thistle Farms – another great local organization that provides services to survivors

Good on You – an app that helps you research the companies you purchase from

Documentaries:

*Both of these films contain disturbing content, but they provide a valuable insight into these issues.

The True Cost – how labor trafficking and exploitation are tied to the clothes we wear

Nefarious: Merchant of Souls – stories of sex trafficking survivors from around the world

Another is I am Jane Doe – I haven’t seen this one yet, but it offers a macro-level look into sex trafficking.

Prayer Guides: A Heart for Justice

Thank you for taking the time to read about this experience. My prayer is that we can all continue learning, growing, and seeking justice and mercy in our time here on earth. Thank you for helping me do that this week. ❤

-Sarah

Take a Deep Breath

That’s what I’m trying to do. Although 2018 got off to a sleepy start, the beginning of this semester has left me feeling a bit scattered and overwhelmed.

As a social work major at Trevecca, I have a full-time internship during my final semester before graduation in May. I’m interning with Open Table Nashville, an amazing non-profit that works with those experiencing homelessness in our city. My first day was Monday, and I can already tell this will be an amazing, difficult, eye-opening, growth-filled experience.

I’m also trying to wrap my head around the fact that this is my last semester before graduation and all that comes after it. Needless to say, this is both an exciting and scary time for me.

And yet, God still reminds me of His faithfulness. His mercy. His love.

The more I recognize His faithfulness, the more aware I am of my own unfaithfulness. And that is why His love amazes me. I hope to love Him more.

I have been wanting to write again for a few months, but haven’t known exactly what to say as I try to process everything I’m experiencing during my senior year. But the highlight of it all has been God’s faithfulness. I’m excited for all the ways I’ll continue to witness His faithfulness as this semester progresses, and to tell you about it all.

But for now, let’s take a deep breath together and enjoy where we are right now. ❤

Grace and Peace,

Sarah

Life Update

I haven’t written much about what’s been going on in my life recently, so I thought it would be good to sit down and think through it all.

Last summer, I desperately needed a part-time job to save money for school. I didn’t know how it would work out, but God opened a door at a local Dollar General store. It has been a great job, and I reached my one year mark about a month ago. The people I work with are great, and it has helped a lot with paying for school and my car.

My car- that’s another story! Many of you know that I was absolutely terrified of driving for the longest time. I put it off for years, and the fear just hung over me. Just before I got my job at DG, my parents bought me my first car. And about a month later, I finally got my license! I can’t describe what a relief it was. Now I’m much more comfortable driving, and it’s been great to have the freedom to drive myself wherever I need to go.

Jacob and I are still going strong, despite the distance. He spent the first half of this summer in England, which was a wonderful opportunity for him. We enjoyed the rest of the summer and spent as much time together as we could, and now he’s back in Mississippi. While saying goodbye is always hard, seeing him again is always worth the wait.

Now I’m gearing up for my senior year at Trevecca, and I still can’t believe how quickly time is going by. I’m looking forward to this year, and looking back at the wonderful memories and opportunities that the last three years have held. I’m excited to get back to campus and back into the swing of things. I have two jobs there that I’ve absolutely loved, and I’m ready for the new classes I’ll have this semester.

Among all the positive things, there are definitely challenges. Right now I’m dealing with either a cold or a sinus infection, and I’ve been feeling pretty stressed with everything that needs to get done before I go back to school. I still feel fearful about the future, even as I am optimistic. But every day is a new chance to trust God and seek Him through it all. And I am grateful for the ways He has provided everything I have needed to come this far.

I still have a long way to go, but it is amazing to see what God has done over the past few years. My prayer is that He will continue this work in me, and I know He will. No matter where I am, how I feel, or what I face, He is constant and faithful. I hope that you can rest in that promise as well.

Blessings,

Sarah

 

He is Faithful

So faithful.

I’m resting in this promise tonight, even as it challenges me to keep moving forward. God is faithful despite my unfaithfulness.

I am so easily distracted, and I fall into self-interest and complacency quickly. I seek love and worth in those around me and in my accomplishments instead of in Christ. I seek comfort over service, approval over effort, and ease over fruitfulness. I let my circumstances determine my mood and routine, and I become lazy, prideful, jealous, and irritable.

Wow, that’s hard to say. But it’s all true. I seek myself and my desires instead of seeking God, and I do it often.

But God is faithful. He continues to call me, push me, and draw me in. He continues to show His mercy and grace. Even in the times when I worship His gifts (or even worse, myself) instead of worshipping Him. He lets me rest in His love and challenges me to keep moving forward, to take the next step trusting in His guidance.

When I let fear, shame, anger, or pride imprison and misdirect me, He is faithful. And that is something to be so grateful for.

Our God is so big and so holy and so loving. ❤

And so very faithful.

Blessings,

Sarah

 

Love vs. Fear

As I look back over blog posts, Facebook statuses, and journal entries I’ve written over the past few years, there are two common themes: love and fear.

It amazes me sometimes how God keeps bringing me back to certain truths and reinforcing them as long as I need for them to start sinking in – even when that takes a couple of years. I also love when He lines things up perfectly so that the same truths I’ve been wrestling with are talked, sang, or taught about when I need them the most. That happened again today.

I hadn’t been to the Sunday school class at my university’s local church in a while. I had no idea what they’d be talking about when I came today, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. After church, I stayed for a few minutes so I could talk about it with the teacher and tell her how much it resonated with me. The lesson was about fear – and how God’s love helps us drive it out.

Fear has been one of my biggest struggles for years. I’ve written, talked, and prayed about it over and over. But God has been showing me something different about my fears lately. In the midst of my often-failed attempts to change, He has been at work.

“There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love.”

1 John 4:18

I used to feel guilty when I read this verse, because it meant I was not perfect in love. However, I saw this in a new light a couple of weeks ago. It says that the one who fears has not reached perfection in love. This means that this process of being made perfect – being made courageous – is still ahead of me as something to be hopeful for! It also means that I cannot make myself perfect in love.

The very next verse states simply this: “We love because He first loved us.” And while that small verse appears so simple, it carries a world of meaning. It is God’s love that drives out fear. It is God’s power that gives me courage to face it. And it is God’s grace that sits with me in the fear as I seek to understand why it’s there. It isn’t up to me – if it was I’d end up becoming a hermit out in the woods somewhere because I’d be too scared to do anything about my fears. But God – He wants to do more than that. He wants to work in and through me to not only help me face and cast out my fears, but more importantly to help others know His fear-chasing love.

There are many more thoughts swirling around my head about this, but I’ll save them for another day. In the meantime, my prayer is that we would remember first and foremost who God is, and then who we are because of His grace. And that assurance will help us acknowledge our imperfections, examine them with God’s truth, and then give them over to Him as He makes us completely His.

Blessings,

Sarah 🙂