What Every Girl in the Purity Culture Should Know

“I wasn’t ready,” she shared with me soberly. “My dad and my boyfriend set up the engagement dinner. I was surprised, and it felt too soon.”

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the scenario, or something similar—until the word courtship makes me cringe.

Christian parents focus on courtship because they want something better for their daughters. They want sexual purity and a beautiful wedding night with no previous regrets.

But, what if there are other needs just as great as sexual purity, yet often go unmentioned?

What if a girl’s life is in shambles later, because she didn’t feel like she could say no?

Recently a friend shared a dating podcast by one of the most prophetic people I know. She walks miracles. People get saved simply by watching the glorious power of Jesus change someone instantly or by hearing words of knowledge that can only come from supernatural wisdom.

Yet, even she says this: “I refuse to give prophetic words about who someone should marry. Every girl must be given choice. You cannot say yes until you first know that you can also say NO.”

1. The “prophetic” words or signs you think you may be seeing, may or may not be signs from the Lord.

In order to know, you must have peace on every front. Your humanity comes into play in a real way when you choose who you will live with for the rest of your life. So, if you think the “signs” are pointing you a certain way, yet are fully aware that there are major incompatibilities, I want you to know that you can and should pause.

Never deny or brush aside those things. Never pretend they don’t exist because you’re basically convinced “God brought us together”. Doing so will only bring heart ache and unhappiness in the end.

There are some very human and practical areas of your heart and life that must be in place for a happy marriage. Just as a man gets to observe you and choose to pursue you or not pursue you, so you get to observe him and choose to be pursued or not be pursued.

Remember this: when God truly brings a couple together and the timing is right, there will be no insurmountable issues. You won’t be scrambling to fit yourself to him, or try to fit him to you.

When God does something, it fits well. Even if there are problems to work through, there is also raw happiness, joy, and peace in the process sooner or later. If you don’t have that, please don’t allow any perceived “signs” to convince you to push forward into marriage.

Humanity is a gift. You are not just spirit, and you should not pretend to be. Your human needs matter and you get to speak up.

2. Modesty is important, but it doesn’t stop there.

How many girls are taught sexual purity and modesty, yet are not taught the equal value of beauty and sexuality?

When you raise a girl to be sexually pure, you also need to raise her to be sexually aware. Talk with her about everything from an early age. Speak as often of the beauty of committed sex as you do about the dangers of non-committed sex.

Many girls are raised with warnings about sex, but are not brought into an equal awareness of the beauty of sex. Thus, the efforts by well meaning parents for a beautiful wedding night are thwarted because a girl is often not ready to abandon herself fully after an entire lifetime of warnings about “purity”.

As a young girl, she’s been taught to cover herself well so that “she doesn’t cause men to lust”. This often translates into “I’m an object that must be fully hidden or every man will lust after me”. She begins to walk around with a subconscious feeling that she is a threat to men, an unwelcome distraction, and that every man in the room wants her.

This is not true. The world is full of good and noble men who respect women and treat them as humans worthy of engagement and interaction on a decent and moral level. Not every man wants her. Not every man will lust over her. What’s more, she is not every man’s type, even if she and he were both available.

Painting men as basic canines with little ability to control themselves unless they’re in the company of shapeless women is demeaning to both parties. There are many good and decent men who will make a beautiful girl feel entirely safe and whole in their presence.

Again, this is not purposefully done but happens easily when girls are raised with constant focus on modesty and boys are hearing constant warnings against the sin of lust. In many instances, sexual sin becomes worse and we see rape, incest, and a constant “lust struggle” being talked about rather than human beings living community in a healthy, happy manner where love, in all aspects, is embraced and enjoyed.

What we focus on, even if we’re focusing on the sin of it, is often what ends up invading the atmosphere more than ever.

Fear based parenting can fill the atmosphere rather than faith-based celebrations of the absolute goodness of God in all areas of gender and sex.

The key here is to take our attention from the evils we could be talking about constantly and replacing that with joy in good and beautiful relationships, friendships, and happiness in human interaction.

3. Purity Culture parents say they don’t believe in arranged marriages, yet it can feel the opposite.

What a girl experiences emotionally in other areas of life will affect her decision making abilities when it comes to dating. Train your daughters to be discerning, thinking, reasoning human beings with the ability to make decisions and decide what she wants in other areas of life. Ask her to be more than to “be quiet and submit” as you raise her.

A girl can be told she has choice in marriage, but honestly, a lot of things can make her feel undue pressure.

A boy is told to ask her father (before herself) if he can court (rather than date) a girl (with the intentions of marriage).

Yikes. That might sound good to some, but take a moment to reflect on the out workings of that.

The first person to say yes to potential courtship is the father, not her.

The boy then comes to the girl with her father’s yes, and expresses that his intentions are marriage. What often happens is that the girl’s parents come to her with their already spoken approval of the boy, and let her know she is wanted for courtship.

Usually, the parents have talked and prayed about the boy already and have come to a “peace” that this boy is the one (or at the very least, a good option) for their daughter. The young man will likely say that he has prayed for months and is at complete peace that this girl is God’s will for him. And on the first date, while the girl may be feeling tentative and unsure, he will likely express love and intentions of marriage.

Consider with me for a minute how this “good” and “pure” way of courtship can create havoc in a girl’s heart and life. She has no idea who she is, how to use her voice, or even what she wants and doesn’t want.

Then, when two men in her life are already saying yes to a serious relationship, she can feel untold pressure and confusion, even if she has the final say. She will reason that the young man is Godly, parent approved, and will be confused as to why she doesn’t feel better about this relationship as well.

Girls in the purity culture are taught to submit to men. The scenario she suddenly finds herself in can make her feel utter distress. For the first time in her life, she is told that two men have prayed and have peace about this, but she gets to say no if she wants.

This has never happened before. In fact, no man has ever asked her to pray into the will of God for direction and a sense of His heart. She is taught to listen well to preaching and to submit herself to church leadership. She knows that if her convictions (after much study) were to be different than the church’s, there would be trouble. So it is only too easy for her to feel inadequate when it comes to discerning the mind and will of God.

In this way, she easily falls prey to pressure as to who she should marry and may wake on her wedding morning with a pit in her stomach that she can’t describe.

In this way, the marriage is not arranged, per say, but the pressure a girl feels may as well translate into an arranged marriage.

4. I want us to consider that dating is GOOD.

Dating allows a girl to spend time with a guy without pressure. They can hang out, enjoy conversation, and get to know each other, not with certain intentions of marriage, but with the intentions of getting to know each other to see if they want to keep spending time together and POSSIBLY move forward in the future.

As one very wise mama of teens told me: “I do not think marriage should be discussed at the onset. A couple who are interested in each other should go out, have fun, get to know each other, have hard conversations, have fun, get to know each other more…….repeat, with intention. After a season of that, they ought to either define their relationship as boyfriend/girlfriend or move on without each other.”

Ending a dating relationship needs to be as acceptable as beginning one. Yes, it’s great when it works out; but it’s more than okay for one or both to decide not to move forward because there are incompatibilities or lack of connection.

Yes, there are many happy endings to “Godly courtship”. But, there are many casualties as well. Dating carefully allows the casualties to prevent themselves by exposing problems as a couple dates without pressure.

Every girl should know what it’s like to have fun with a guy, without pressure. Remove the immediate pressure of intended marriage and you will stand a far greater chance of seeing a marriage.

5. God created our humanity.

There is so much fear of promiscuity that there is no room left for humanity. When people parent out of fear, they harp on all the bad that could happen rather than make room for the good that would happen if there was space for it.

I want us to consider that our humanity is part of our spirituality. God created us, body, soul, and spirit. If you have external “signs” that are leading you into relationship while you have major internal distress, you may be stuck in an environment that has not allowed your voice, your heart, yourself to be alive and well.

In some ways, it is just as sad for a girl to end up in a tragic marriage as it is for a girl to end up in sexual impurity before marriage.

Parents, your daughters should be thrilled and excited and happy on their wedding day. Weddings are cause for great celebration and out-of-this world JOY. Wedding nights are made for passionate lovers to enjoy each other, and to keep loving each other all the days of their lives.

Let your daughter date a guy who will not talk of marriage on the first date.

Let her enjoy appropriate time with him alone. No need to have someone else in the car all the time to “make sure they stay pure”. (If these kids aren’t mature enough to handle themselves appropriately, they’re not mature enough to be dating.)

And parents, let your daughter embrace her guy. Let her be held by him. Let her feel the goodness of his physical presence. Again, if one cannot remain sexually pure simply because they’re holding hands, hugging, or sitting close, they are not ready to be dating at all. Self control is a sign of maturity.

A girl who knows what physical closeness to her man feels like is often more ready to enjoy her wedding night than a girl who has been told her entire life not to even hold hands with a man. When you make every touch out to impure, it can be difficult to translate every touch to something good just because a wedding occurred that day.

There are heart wrenching stories to consider here.

I’m asking parents of the purity culture to consider that fear based parenting in these areas of life have caused grief and trauma that are usually unmentioned.

I want girls of the purity culture to know that sexuality is as good of a thing as sexual purity. When you embrace your humanity, you can save it for marriage, but when you shut down your humanity, it can be shut down for your wedding night.

God created you sexual beings. Parents of the purity culture need to embrace their daughter’s sexuality as well as their son’s sexuality. Girls need to know they are not hidden threats; they are beautiful human beings created to love and be loved by a man they will be HAPPY with.

As to arranged marriages, let family members and church leaders allow a girl to use her voice, her heart, her humanity to fully choose her partner for life. When we say we don’t believe in arranged marriages, let’s make all girls fully aware of that by giving her choice and freedom in dating to get to know someone well, without pressure.

I’m not advocating loose dating with no purpose. I promote sexual purity wholeheartedly. But I am grieved to my core that girls feel pressure from day one and head into marriage, expected to be alive and happy when every part of their humanity and voice has been molded and shaped to fit what is expected and wanted by others more than herself. Or, she’s saying yes because of “signs from the Lord” while ignoring her own heart needs that are also very much created by God.

Either way is tragic. May God help us lessen casualties by exposing deficiencies. May He help us value the voice of women, honor the way she was created, and place her needs on the same level God did when He created her to be exactly who she is.

For the cause of love,

Sara

How Joy Can Replace Happiness

Most of us have never met someone who thought it was more fun to be sad than happy.

The human race longs for happiness, but few of us know that happiness is not the thing to strive for. If it was, some of us wouldn’t stand a fighting chance of experiencing joy.

As a teen, I remember watching an elderly man who had lost everything—wife and home—and now lived alone, working as a barber. He had the best and kindest smile, along with the most joyful outlook on life.

I was fascinated. When I got married, he gave one of the most generous gifts even though he had little. Almost nineteen years later, every time I turn on my Kitchen Aid mixer, I think of him. That absolute peace in spite of his blown apart world had to come from something.

God took me on a journey of discovering JOY when my life fell apart and all I could do was weep. I learned, in those months, that because I knew sorrow, I was now able to touch JOY.

Finding my space with God became a touch of heaven on earth, where my soul was made free to experience something far greater than anything a human could offer.

Finding this with God makes for a better life than having a perfect life without this touch of the Spirit.

Eternity is meant to inhabit your soul, now.

When the Spirit of God sets your soul ablaze, heaven starts long before death. Eternity invites itself into your soul, here and now, only to continue forever when you die.

When I see this, I see value on everyone around me.

When I experience this, I find joy in spite of circumstances. It is a powerful, holy Presence that steadies you, keeps you, inspires you, and allows you to walk with power even as you weep.

Hang onto that Presence, and you’ll see that Hope is still alive. Joy is still here. And love is still beautiful.

Things of the Spirit are always difficult to put into words, but let me just say this: The pathway to JOY is to stop grasping for happiness. Joy comes when you realize that inner satisfaction isn’t based on who or what’s around you. Your value and dignity are so much greater than that.

What if it takes a person devaluing and discarding you to help you understand how valued, kept, and loved you truly are?

What if the prop of people has replaced your utter need of resting your soul on the PERSON of Christ—and when the prop falls away, your soul rests in the only place it was ever created to find purpose and dignity?

As St. Augustine says, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.”

I can hear that all day long, but not experience the truth of it until I walk in what feels like the valley of the shadow of death. Year after year after year can find us grasping for happiness from people, friends, and things—until we become weary of our quest and anchor our minds in Someone constantly faithful.

What if even what I’m doing for God becomes a prop?

What if I’m in love with working for Christ more than I’m in love with Christ Himself?

For some people, even doctrine becomes more important than the Divine.

I’m here to say that when you find yourself stripped is only when you find your God sufficient beyond your wildest dreams.

Sisters, even a marriage that leaves you wanting can be the means to your soul finding what it truly wanted all along. You don’t need your husband to be happily perfect in order to be perfectly happy. Or should I say, rather than be perfectly happy, you’ll be perfected in JOY.

I want us to see that salvation means being saved from the actions of others as much as it means being saved from our own sin. Your husband can have gaping needs that leave you wanting, but I promise you, if you lean into Jesus and learn from Him what true freedom is, you’ll be surprised at the gift of Joy in spite of it all.

Our value as women is internal and with Jesus, not external and with humans. We need relationship and we need voice, but we have that with God even when people don’t give it to us. And when we get it with God, suddenly people can no longer keep it from us. This is a powerful, holy experience that will change our lives entirely.

You can have the best family photo shoot and the most wonderful, thoughtful husband, you can eat all the kale and lift all the weights, have the cutest kids and the yearly shopping trip with your mom—but if you lean into external things for JOY, you will never find it.

You are worth so much more. You get to walk around a messy kitchen with dignity of soul, get to have unmet needs fully met with Jesus, get to know the thrill of value, purpose, and grace. And I’m here to say, no matter what.

Once you find internal satisfaction, you’ll live differently, hold your head erect, and enjoy all the beautiful things of life far more than before. Because when you’re no longer dependent on things for your happiness, they suddenly become an even greater avenue for your JOY.

We get to enjoy what we refuse to depend on. No longer grasping, all of it becomes gifting. No longer desperate, we now become divinely equipped to rest in our identity that nothing and no one can take away.

Women like this are real queens. They get to use their voice, exercise their gifts, and live fully without becoming obnoxious, grasping for the approval of others or demanding perfection in those who surround them. (Girl, that includes your husband.)

A queen lives with dignity in body, soul, and spirit.

As Ann Voskamp inspired me many years ago, life is all about daring to live fully, right where we are. And in this November month of Thanksgiving, I’m most grateful for the Ultimate Gift Who helps me enjoy Himself most of all.

Cheers to all women who dare to live!

Love Always,

Sara

Dear Single Mom, Part 4

Flight, fight, freeze, or fawn—which one are you, and which one is your child?

Everyone reacts differently to pain. You might have one child who runs for protection, another who tries to be strong and fight her way through life in order not to be hurt again, and another who feels depressed. You may have one who struggles with addiction.

Whatever the case, your own reaction to trauma may look very different than your child’s. And if you have multiple children, you will most likely be navigating their different ways of getting through while you stand, puzzled and unsure of what to do to help them.

By nature, I’m flight or fawn. But, I had to learn response rather than reaction during the worst pain of my life.

There is one kind of pain when your spouse packs his bags and dates a sixteen year old girl; there is another kind of pain when he takes your four children right into that mess and you get to spend a weekend alone wondering if they’re okay.

There is divorce, then there is UGLY divorce. Mine was the latter.

Let me just tell you that being forced to send my children into a bad environment was almost more than I could handle.

The children were reeling and emotional trauma took on a whole new meaning.

Single mom, I want you to know that you may have to go to plan B when it comes to raising your children. Never impose your “perfect” scenario onto a situation that is so messed up you will only do more damage if you insist on the way you’ve always done. Allow God to come into plan B and show you alternative ways of handling situations that don’t seem as good as your plan A, but that are definitely best in the situation at hand.

Don’t despair, never give up, hold steady, and always, always put your children first. Remember that grief has no time-line, and after four years you may hear a child say that he or she is only now fully grieving. Trauma can lock the brain–and when others think “he/she “should” be healed, they may only now be able to face facts enough to begin healing.

Refuse to compare and remember to walk patiently with no expectations except constant prayer for your children.

1. Respond rather than react.

When it comes to reaction, let that be your children while you hold the line of mature response. They are not able to process what happens and desperately need you to be there, 24/7 in a calm, steady way.

At this point, even seeing you in your kitchen making them lunch or dinner can help them feel steady. Any routines you had before need to stay if at all possible. Keep your home tidy, keep food on the table, and keep spending time with your children as you always did.

If you need to go to work as I did, make sure your left over time is dedicated to your children. Go out of your way to be there for them. When you have your children, it should be all about mothering them and creating an environment that is as close to the previous one as possible.

Please don’t be one of those moms who starts drinking too much, dates prematurely, and tries to drown her own sorrow with less than Godly pleasure. Your children need to see you lean into the Lord and getting your comfort from Him and from healthy people. I’m here to tell you, regardless of how long and difficult your days and nights feel, choosing rightly will only help you.

There is enough trying to pull you down, but the honest truth is—no one but you can wreck your life. This is a time to be on guard even more than before. Don’t let yourself be your greatest disaster. I cannot stress this enough—CHOOSE RIGHTLY.

Because here’s the beautiful truth: every hard thing God asks of us ends up creating the most beautiful thing.

Girl, you can run after what you think will heal you, but your soul won’t find rest until it stops to rest in Christ.

2. Surround yourself with Community

Mothers, keep attending the same church you attended before. Don’t run, hide, or try to play life as if nothing’s happening. The only time to switch churches is if things are truly better for you elsewhere. Don’t change out of embarrassment, shame, or a need to hide what is going on in your life. Again, keep things steady for your children.

3. Learn what each child needs.

Single moms need to re-evaluate every part of their parenting in light of what their children are going through.

One year, I had a child who wanted to do online school at home. I decided to let her try, thinking maybe the social pressure at school was too much for her. I registered her for online school, but oddly, nothing worked out and I had to tell her she needed to go to school. In a few weeks she was bubbling with anticipation for cross country, getting up at 5:00 in the morning to prep for her 6:00 practice at school, and asking me to take her shopping for supportive shoes. I had to switch gears quickly, do lots of paperwork, run her to the dr. for a physical at last minute, and drive her to school at 5:45 each morning for practice.

It was a lot, but the sudden joy and motivation on her face let me know it was right. Physical exercise is one of the greatest combatants for depression and anxiety. The same opportunity would not have happened at home, so this is a good example of staying open to various options. Only God knows what is truly best for your child.

4. Make good use of mentors.

My boys needed more than just me. Daily, I was keenly aware that raising boys couldn’t be done on my own. It wasn’t always easy to ask that family if my youngest child could come over for the day. But I knew he needed animals, four wheelers, and a houseful of boys with two healthy parents, so I asked multiple times in order to get him into that environment.

This couple knew what my son needed and gladly took him even though it wasn’t always convenient. And when they asked how they could help, my response usually was, “Pray, and spend time with my boys.”

A younger son will need play dates and time with a healthy father, even if it’s someone else’s father. He needs to feel what it’s like to be “one of the boys” on a manly adventure. Here is where the church comes in—single moms need families who reach out to invite their children to join them in active, fun, and meaningful things. This is one of the best ways you will ever help. It may seem small to you, but it will be big to a single mother.

An older son may need mentorship in extensive ways. Teen boys desperately need adult men to come alongside them and give of their time, energy, wisdom, and resources. To those who’ve done it for my boys, I cannot thank them enough.

Single moms may need finances, but even more, they need family. To the ones who showed up for my boys when I was begging God for it—you will never know what an answer to prayer you were, or how you impacted our lives.

5. Learn to recognize symptoms.

Do you have an angry child?

Let me tell you, what he/she is fussing over isn’t the real issue. This child is in ‘fight’ mode to protect him/herself from being hurt more. Learn to look past the angry voice and ask deeper questions. Do it in the moment to help them see you care more about the real issue than about the anger shown in the moment. Probe deeper and never walk away without showing you care, even when you want to protect yourself from anger. (This is me, and I’m still learning this one).

You may well find your angriest child melting into your arms crying vulnerable tears and telling you what’s really going on. Or, you may have one who is just angry for awhile. This takes a lot of strength to get through and you will need every possible resource to help both you and your child regain emotional clarity.

Though you show understanding for your child, never excuse ugly behavior. Your child needs to know, no matter how much they’re hurting, it is never right to hurt others because of it. Talk to them often of ownership and how no one can ever ruin their lives. Listen carefully to their feelings but always, always steer them away from a victim mentality.

This may look like listening one day, holding them, and just being there. Another day it might look like having them spend time with other adults who can help them. There is no pat answer here. Single moms with traumatized children need endurance, patience, wisdom, and a whole lot of daily faithfulness in order to keep providing stability for their children as best they are able.

There’s much to be said, but for now, dear single mom—keep your head up and know this is not the end of the story. And when you can’t hold on any longer, God holds you longest.

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

James 1:12, NIV

Much Love,

Sara

Dear Single Mom-Part 3

Recently a mom asked me to write about practical tips for staying healthy and feminine in a busy life style. I told her I’d be happy to do so, because this is an important and fun topic for Christian women, but it seems only a few (and especially one) aspect of Godly femininity is usually mentioned and taught.

There is so much more to a truly beautiful woman. Godly beauty starts inwardly, yet shows itself outwardly.

Many Christian women read 1 Timothy 2:9 and interpret the Greek word used for “modest” as covering themselves appropriately. We are taught from an early age not to show too much skin and to cover our bodies in public. But I want to say, this is only part of the meaning of modesty.

“….Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” 1 Timothy 2:9

KJV translates the word for modest with this: “orderly; that is, decorous; of good behavior, modest”

Though I believe appropriately covering our bodies is important, it is difficult to argue that this is the primary meaning of the Greek word “kosmios”. Rather, I see that God wants us to wear clothing that is pleasing to the eye in a modest manner. We are to take care of our appearance and make sure it is orderly and even decorous. In short, women who are pleasant in their appearance bring glory to God.

The Christian church has focused on “modesty” (their interpretation of modesty) more than on health. I’ve watched the results—many fully covered, unhealthy, unhappy women who are not taught the actual meaning of “kosmios”.

Here are a few things I believe are vital for Godly womanhood:

1. Do what you can to stay healthy.

One of the first steps to spiritual, emotional, and physical health is to keep our weight in check. Buy the weight loss program if you have to. Make it priority—rule over food rather than allow food to rule over you.

Buy a good scale and watch your weight–and if you’re married, do this even while pregnant. “Eating for two” doesn’t mean inhaling two donuts or five pancakes. Double up on the veggies, protein, and vitamins instead, if you need to. If we’re really eating for two rather than eating for ourselves, we’ll be eating in ways that are actually good for our baby and our body. Remember, you’re eating for your baby to form in the healthiest way possible.

The scale is your friend. Use it often and if you see numbers go up, do what it takes to stop the incline before you have serious regrets. This includes while you’re pregnant. If you consume too many empty calories while pregnant, the scale won’t drop easily after the baby is born. (Don’t allow yourself to gain 80 pounds if you only need to gain 40, etc.)

I’m not talking about being a size 2. BUT, I believe women need to encourage each other to stay healthy. Emotionally eating ourselves to ten sizes larger than we should be is not becoming for Godly women. This is a sensitive topic and not one we hear taught, but we need to start hearing it! Physical appearance matters and it affects us more than we know. Let’s not label health and fitness as worldly, but realize this is an area where the church often fails to live exemplary lives. Others look on and wonder why Christians preach against addictions, yet are addicted to over-indulgence with food. Do not all addictions harm the body, and why should teens accept preaching against nicotine from a father or mother who is grossly overweight and literally killing him/herself with sugar?

These are tough questions. But strong women are not afraid to face tough questions. It is high time for us to have worthy answers for those looking on.

Let’s face it—all addictions (not just some) are harmful and unbecoming to Christian women. And often, the more “religious” a group is, the numbers of overweight and unhealthy people increase. Religion labels certain things, but the Spirit of Christ sanctifies ALL things.

2. Exercise.

Getting active is vital for our health as moms. For many years, I pushed two or three babies in a used stroller for my exercise. I walked into town with them, walked around blocks before dinner, pushed them up and down a dusty country road. Wherever we lived, I did what I could with what I could.

Later years allowed for Cross Fit, weights, etc., but even then, the gym was a treat rather than a constant. Busy moms can even get on their living room floor and do leg lifts, crunches, and squats. We can do jumping jacks with our kids and have the best laughs watching them try to co-ordinate their limbs as they jump!

After each of my babies was born, I’d lay on my floor and lift my legs a few inches off the ground to tighten my stomach muscle. The burn and tightness in my abdominal muscles was entirely cost-free, took ten minutes, and could be done with my children all around me. My exercise was incredibly simple some years, but the point was to get moving!

In olden days, a woman’s regular day brought natural effort to their bodies. Scrubbing clothes by hand, hoeing a garden, or walking for water all fostered community and exercise. In today’s world, we can throw laundry into a washer, throw rice into an insta pot, and turn on a faucet for water. The end result is ease but no exercise. So, we have to be intentional about health as never before.

3. Don’t over-spend.

In today’s world, you can wear attractive clothing for only a few dollars. Don’t buy into the lie that it’s okay to walk around looking terrible because you’re a mom and don’t have extra money. Keep yourself fresh and clean, especially if you’re married. (You don’t necessarily need make-up—you just need health, peace, kindness, and good hygiene.

I’ve had very little manicures or pedicures. My hands have callouses and I usually stare wistfully at beautifully maintained finger nails, but I simply don’t have the time or money to spend on pedis and manis. Honestly, I’d rather head to a garden or a barn than into a nail salon, but that’s my Amish farm girl coming out. Those who know me best know I’m happiest out with the animals and dirt, or scaling a mountain.

I buy inexpensive jewelry. When I get compliments I often have to say, “This cost me $5.” I don’t own expensive jewelry and I’m okay with that.

So for those of us who think we can let ourselves go because we don’t have money for a gym membership or clothe purchases, just know that you can purchase a few outfits at Goodwill and work out at home. Even healthy food doesn’t have to be expensive. Be content and be disciplined!!

I put aside the cotton over alls I wanted due to price. I did purchase the $13 Walmart dress. Choices like these help us manage both our wallets and appearance!

4. Let go of the lie that in order to be pleasantly dressed you have to be into the latest fashion.

Truth is, I dislike some of the latest fashions and the other truth is, I don’t want to spend money being up to par with all of that. BUT, I do study clothing and body shapes. Some of us look terrible in what others look great in. Some things are appropriate for one body shape but too revealing for another. Whatever the case, I’ve found joy in a simple approach to clothing where I ponder what looks good or doesn’t look good, yet am not a slave to keeping up with all the latest fads.

We are not Hollywood actresses or fashion models—but hear me carefully, Christian women—our physical appearance is important when it comes to staying healthy and knowing how to dress.

Our bodies are not our own and are to glorify Christ. He is all goodness and love. Do people feel inspired when they look at us?

5. Don’t gain attention by showing too much skin.

Real women don’t have to show everything in order to know they are worth more than anything. Be beautiful, but keep your sexuality for the bedroom. When in public, have class and dignity about you that attracts appreciation and respect more than whistles and leers from player men.

A truly beautiful woman is a faithful woman who loves her husband and strives to be his best friend.

And if I can put a word in for swim wear, here: girls, some of your bikinis aren’t even bikinis anymore. If you’re okay with wearing one, at least cover your bum. Enough said. 🙂

6. Skin Care.

I’m not rigorous about the perfect skin care routine, but it is important to put at least moisturizer on your face twice a day. Wash and care for your skin. Take daily showers, especially if you’re married. The beauty of a woman is the cleanliness of a woman more than the expense spent on a woman. In other words, a healthy, clean woman is often more attractive than an unhealthy woman who spends hundreds of dollars each month to doll herself up.

So don’t stress about skin. You can go as easy as a natural coconut oil if you like. Most of us can’t afford dermatology or expensive skin care and that’s okay! Health comes from the inside out which means what you put into your body affects your skin.

And as you age, forget about getting as tan as you can in summer. Protect your skin more than you used to, to avoid brown spots and leathery skin. Especially if you live in the South! Staying tan is difficult in winter anyway, but healthy skin can be enjoyed year round.

7. Embrace Aging.

What is more needed and lovely than a radiant grandma?! I don’t know about you, but I need grandmothers with grey hair, soft arms, and fires burning in their hearth, heart, and homes. I need grandmothers whose bodies may be growing feeble while their hearts burn with wisdom and insight more than ever.

Only a selfish woman who thinks her value comes from youth and outer beauty will fight and kick the aging process. Having this as your focus leaves you empty, with nothing for the soul of others to connect to. Stay healthy, active, and pleasant—but don’t fret the wrinkles! Just smile a little more as you grow older and allow the joy of you to override the aging of you.

7. Worship.

There’s nothing more beautiful than a woman who worships her way through life. Honor God by worshiping Him through your tears. Truly thank Him for the joys of life. Be a thousand times grateful for the one time critical or negative.

Remember that your soul can be beautiful regardless of who or what is around you. What atmosphere do others get in your presence? Who are YOU—because who your soul is matters more than what your circumstances are.

Christian woman, remember there is so much more to modesty than what is usually taught. Be a lovely, feminine, attractive person in your soul, and strive to show that in your appearance. Even if you’re a tomboy who hates girly things and finds herself out shooting guns and riding horses—be a real woman and be proud of it!!

Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.”

Psalm 34:5

XO,

Sara

Dear Single Mom, Part 2

Yesterday I walked the mall with my children in search of back-to-school clothes. I played pool with my little boy, took him for a bike ride, watched our favorite show with the two youngest, and had Bible time. And when the oldest daughter came home from work I was available to do some silly dancing with her even while protesting every moment of her goofiness.

I’m listing all the above because the day felt like a miracle.

When I became a single mom and went to work, the most difficult thing was not working hard; it was leaving my children.

I had four children, a large home to maintain and care for, and I had home schooled for ten years. The four were my heart and soul walking outside my body—and they still are.

I had very little experience in the working world even though I grew up working harder than most children or young adults. Life as an Amish girl equips you well in certain aspects, but (and here I’m being vulnerable beyond what is comfortable), when I became a single mom, I didn’t know where to turn for a job.

I knew how to turn out enough food in the kitchen for an army in a matter of a few hours.

I knew how to kill a chicken and turn it into a meal.

I knew how to sew, garden, and even use power tools.

I could write and speak and publish books.

But I started at ground zero when it came to the business world. Painstakingly, I learned all about paying bills, starting a business, and running an air bnb.

And I’m here to tell you—how it all worked out was a God thing, because I was in tears.

I lived in a beautiful part of the world where mountains meet the sea, so the basement of my large home turned into a cozy air bnb. I got to use my love for hosting as almost each night in summer filled up with guests from around the world. They were a balm to my aching heart and the bank account filled up until I could purchase the car we so desperately needed.

The day my company showed up in white cars and it struck me all over again. 🙏

I’ll never forget that Christmas month when I drove a lovely white Kia Sorento home to my children. “Look what God did!” Four years later I’m still driving that car and thanking God for it.

I didn’t know how to purchase a car. For the thousandth time, I knew I needed to learn, or get help. I chose the latter. God had me randomly run into a couple who had already wanted to meet me, and we became fast friends. They parented me through the entire process until all I had to do was head to various places checking out cars, and write a check for the one we all decided on. What a beautiful God process that was.

Once again, my weakness was perfected by his strength—and a large part of that was through God’s people who came alongside to help.

I owe them a lot, but here’s the beautiful thing—we both know we owe God everything.

In this part of God’s story, I’m the receiver and they are the givers—but the marvelous thing is that we both know the Ultimate Gift.

I never dreamed I could buy a car with cash. And as I drove it around town, this lovely car became part of my healing.

I could do this.

I was going to make it.

I discovered how incredibly easy it is to pay bills online. I ran my air bnb and slowly built up clientele for a cleaning business. Day after day after day, I learned, planned, and worked to rebuild my life and care for my children while at night my pillow soaked wet with tears and I begged God for grace to get up the next morning.

The right thing is almost never the easy thing. But doing the hard thing will create blessings for the duration of your life. Never forget that choosing the next yes to God is the best thing you will ever do.

Never mind the struggle—always mind your God.

The need to move out of state with the children became obvious, and once again I was faced with firsts.

There was a house to find and rent online.

There were plane tickets to buy, a large homestead to clear out, and four children to move across the country.

And when we got there, a start over on business.

Let me tell you, delivering 3000 flyers to mail boxes is not my cup of tea. Neither is starting a business while Covid hits.

Friends warned me not to bank on it. “Business can take years to build up,” they realistically said. But God came through once again, and as I got one client, then two, then three, they started putting word out and business flew off the roof.

The days were long, grueling, and hot. Southern summers are smotheringly hot and cleaning is not easy. Again, day after day after day of struggle to get through work while mothering four children in a new area was anything but easy.

I cried out to God for grace and learned to accept help from family and friends. I would not have been able to do what I did without accepting help, and I owe these beautiful people a lot–but, some things you can never repay and that is the beauty of giving and receiving.

Rather than file my own taxes, I hired an accountant. When the time came to visit my parents, I flew rather than drove. I said no to multiple things so I could say yes to the effort it took to make life function.

Single mom, I see you. And I’m here to say, if you have offers to help, accept them. Say yes to all of them because you’ll need help. The part of you that also needs rejuvenation hasn’t died with the rest of your life, and when friends offer, that means they know, they love, and they truly want to be there.

Hear me on this, and let it sink it every day—you weren’t meant to do this thing alone.

God never designed you to run work, family, and home without help. You need things and people in place to fill in every gap you can fill while you let yourself off the hook and out of the lie that you should be able to be everything for everyone, even still.

Single mom, don’t try to be superhuman. Just be a real human relying on grace and love to create the best you can of your life in spite of the worst thing that happened in your life.

Before long I was turning down work—and after two years I am sitting in a cozy cafe with my little boy doing my favorite thing of writing while two employees handle the work load for the day. I still had to pray my way out of the bed this morning, because four years of single mothering has me wanting days (not hours) of rest.

But this girl who knew nothing of the business world has a registered business running without my hands today. This fact alone speaks of the tender loving hand of God watching me all along with His own plans for my life. When I could see nothing but another hard day, he could see ahead to a beautiful plan.

Like Job, I sat in the dust and whispered, “Though you slay me, yet will I trust you.” (Job 13:15)

I learned to give thanks in everything rather than for everything. Big difference! God doesn’t cause the bad in your life but because He’s God, He wins over it all and brings the winning good right into the bad to over ride it and display His grace.

Job didn’t know he was on trial, that Satan was trying to bring him down, but God knew he’d pull through and would not put the name of God to shame by turning his back in a place of pain.

God brought Job through. And He’ll bring you through. One way or another, however it happens, God will bring you through. Allow His people to help you and lean heavily into Him where you’ll find sustaining grace.

I tell my daughters all the time, “God’s peace doesn’t always remove pain, but it over-rides pain because it’s greater, bigger, and on the winning side.”

Teach your children that grace wins and they can be part of grace. Be patient as they flounder and struggle through trauma. Hold your ground steady so they can see something steady in their blown-apart world.

Community matters, and you are such a great part of community. Honestly, I can’t wait to have more time on my hands so I can host the part of community I care about so deeply—single moms who unexpectedly find themselves alone.

And yet, I want to tell you, dear single mom, you are not alone. If you stay with Christ, you have the God of angel armies always by your side. That army surrounds you in the court room, on the job front, and as you mother your children. That same God enters your room at night when you feel alone and gives you grace to rise for another day.

When you stay with God, you will heal—because God can do nothing else. He is all goodness, all healing, all love, and all grace.

And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:10)

Dear Single Mom, Part 1

I’ll never forget the day I opened up the door to a lady handing me a large yellow envelope.

My throat went dry. “Is this what I think it is?” I asked quietly.

She nodded her head as she studied my face, and tears filled her eyes before she turned and silently walked away.

The day I looked over those complicated divorce papers was the D-Day of my life.

So I’m here to tell you, single mom, that you’re not alone and I get it. For me, you don’t have to appear brave when you need to cry. It’s honestly okay to be a wreck for awhile.

I get the nausea that won’t allow you to eat.

I get eating whatever goes down, when it goes down, even if it’s not nutritious.

I get the sudden survival mode that kicks in for your babes as you start working hard to provide for them.

I get the mom guilt that makes you try to over-compensate for a father’s absence by filling in all the gaps– and I get the resulting exhaustion that makes you love bedtime more than any other time of day.

I get how painful it is when you run to the grocery store the night before Thanksgiving and see the girl who replaced you, also out purchasing groceries, for the man you used to cook Thanksgiving dinner for.

I get the struggle of forgiveness and the confusion of what that even looks like when you feel all the tension rise one more time in the face of such oddities.

I get the pain of holidays, where you give up the parties you used to throw—then decide to throw them anyway because you’re finally seeing that life can go on and you can still do the things you love, and your friends love you just as much as before.

I get the angst of your soul as you lift your face to the sky and ask God why. “Why, when I tried so hard to be a good wife, did it not work?”

I get the anger when you see other wives mistreating their husbands and the men still stay. How you’d like to remind them of the good they have, and how that goodness should be rewarded and respected.

I get it when it all seems so unfair.

I get it when you’re suddenly a single person, and other women look at you as a threat rather than a gift– and you’d like to walk around with a T-shirt that says, “I’d die a thousand deaths before I’d hurt any woman the way I’ve been hurt.”

I get it when it’s hard to receive help, and how slowly you learn the absolute necessity of it, how grateful you become for the brothers in law and family who help you unendingly when you need it—-and don’t stop when you tell them you don’t need it because they know better than you do.

But here’s the thing:

I also get it when you start smiling again because Jesus comes closer than any human being could ever come.

I get it when your hard work pays off and you’re able to support yourself and your children without child support.

I get the satisfied tiredness that comes at the end of a work week when you do payroll, and still have enough for your bills even when rent is high and groceries are out of this world.

I get the deep appreciation for your friends who get the fact that you don’t have time to spare even when you’d love to have them over—because just getting to sit on your couch with coffee feels like vacation.

I get the gratefulness mingled with frustration when you spend too much money on Dr. visits, trying to get well again after burning out from years of emotional trauma.

I get the joy of hiking hours into the wilds so you can be in touch with something bigger than yourself.

I get the deep friendships that form when others join your steep adventures and everyone talks non-stop about all of life while the legs burn upward before eyes rest on majestic views that defy every pain you’ve ever felt.

I get the gratefulness of those moments when pain melts into oblivion, even just for a few minutes as something better takes over your mind.

I get the deep appreciation for those friends who send their husbands over to fix your broken sinks and change the tire on your son’s bike. Woman to woman, it’s their way of saying, “I got your back” and they’ll never know how much it means to us.

I get the joy over small things, because joy is a gift and you feel it coming, coming, coming as it used to be—though now, it is richer, fuller, and better because it is not dependent on another human being.

I get it that you’re grateful for your sorrow because it led you to your joy.

I get it that you felt broken much longer than you wanted, yet realized that your heart broken open absorbed light more than before.

I get the peace that comes from no dependence on relationship for your happiness, and the profound realization that you’re going to be more than okay, not because of a human being but because “The Son of Man has risen with healing in His wings” (Malachi 4:2) and He met you in your tears so He could wipe them away.

I get the wonder that He never left, never became impatient, and always looked at you with love.

I get the realization that you’re His favorite—but so is everyone else around you, and they should all be treated as such, created in the image of God for the glory of God. The realization of your own value collides beautifully with the realization of everyone’s value, and you want the whole world to circle with love, endlessly.

And I truly get it that now, though you love everyone, you no longer trust everyone. You’ve learned to know when you know when someone’s character is solid and they’ve earned trust without trying—because they didn’t need to prove what already was.

You are now the girl reading with new insight this verse: “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

You live carefully, but courageously. Fear may threaten you, but love will overtake you.

Dear single mom, I get it that the Love of Jesus is now your anchor beyond what you ever knew before, and how, no matter what the future holds, you are set on HIM because you’ve found His love better than any other kind of love.

You are no longer the girl longing for the perfect life; you are now the girl held with perfect love in a very imperfect world.

“But to you who fear My name, the Son of Righteousness shall rise with healing in His wings.”

Malachi 4:2

Regaining Emotional Clarity—Don’t Live by Your Emotions, Part 8

Every once in awhile my eyes roll to my head when I’m listening to teen girls gab about boys.

Yes, the boy thing. And how do you tell them that this boy most likely isn’t the future husband when all the emotions say otherwise?

During those moments I see clearly what God must see so clearly about us—that much of our lives are based off immediate emotional reactions rather than deliberate Godly responses.

Girl sees cute boy and bam—all the natural emotional responses start rolling.

It takes self control to wait, decide what you want with life and relationships, and work on character rather than premature dating. A wise parent will do her best to encourage the latter even when emotional responses from a child would cause her to buckle.

But teen love and dating is not the only thing that can be ruined by natural emotional responses. What about us? As fully grown adults, how do we live?

“The irony of the term “self control” is that it is not about our act of taking control, but rather about our surrendering control to God.” ~Jennifer Ussleman, Choosing to Choose Better

https://www.amazon.com/Choosing-Choose-Better-Changes-Everything/dp/1637324553/ref=sr_1_fkmr2_2?crid=25M269BN3ZHP7&keywords=choosing

I don’t think there’s really any way we can force our emotions in line with the will of God. Usually, emotions over-power better knowledge. But surrendering ourselves to the Lord makes us new creatures, which means there’s an inner response more powerful than a natural reaction.

As a friend once said, “When God does something, it’s like there’s an aroma of the Holy Spirit that is just different than something outside of His will.”

We can’t always show our children the difference until they experience it personally, but we can, as parents, do our best to guide them toward wisdom.

This is our responsibility.

This is our duty.

This is our job.

(My babies plus one more from Slovokia. We love you, Tampka!)

But back to ourselves. Living above our emotions affects how we discern the will of God (not the easy way, but the right way), how we eat, speak, and run our businesses. It affects what atmosphere people sense when they’re around us, how much life they glean from our presence in the room.

What atmosphere do you bring to the table?

And what about this—living above emotions even affects how we eat. We’re suddenly able to choose for health rather than weigh our bodies down with excess junk.

Eat to get your emotions comforted and you’ll end up emotionally uncomfortable when you step on the scale or go clothes shopping. Making the better choice in spite of emotions ends up setting your emotions free.

Eating for life instead of emotions is a good picture of what happens in all of life when we choose higher than feelings. Suddenly, we start feeling better.

Get this—when you no longer allow your feelings to run your life, you suddenly start feeling better and living a better life.

(Nutritious and deliscious–curry chicken salad, brown bread, and all things fresh.)

Our emotions are here to guide us, not rule us. They are one factor, not the greatest factor. They are useful tools, not the end of wisdom. This means that if your emotions are leading you astray, you reign them in and follow wisdom instead.

Your feelings can even be swayed by religion. Amish people are taught that owning a car is worldly. Because their feelings have been conditioned by culture and decades of religion, they will truly feel guilty when they purchase a car.

(My world as a child.)

A muslim woman will feel guilty for exposing her face. And I, as an Amish girl, remember hiding behind the refrigerator when a man from church knocked on the door. My feelings told me that for him to see my hair would be shameful.

Even religion has to humbly exchange itself for relationship, and bow itself to the pure, holy, written Word of God that will change or bow to no one and for no one. It is not God’s job to fit our interpretation of His will; it is our job to surrender to His perfect Word and will, even when it collides with what we’ve always been taught.

Ironic, isn’t it? At the cross, we kneel low so our souls can rise high. All of us, inside and out, need to bow at the cross and subject ourselves to a Greater Word.

Whatever we feel in the process will eventually be exchanged for greater grace than we’d ever know, were we to bow to anything less than the Word of God.

Choosing rightly may never change your circumstances, but it will absolutely change your heart. And that, my friends, is a greater miracle we can only know when we’ve experienced the beautiful, loving presence of Jesus Christ. Emotions can lead us astray, but He will always lead us upward, onward, and into freedom.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12, ESV)

Seven Steps to Real Friendship

I thought perhaps I’d feel lonely in a city by myself, but the opposite was true as I faced a window and unashamedly inhaled a large burger while watching hundreds of people pass by.

Asheville is a city of the arts and it shows on the people walking downtown on a Friday night. “Love” is all you need seems to be written on faces as they puff out clouds of nicotine and show their purple hair.

Others are tourist-like families, here to enjoy mountains for a short while before heading back to stuffy offices and brick church buildings. Still others are local people, enjoying their flavorful city while hosting those of us who wish to live here, but cannot.

The back door to my air bnb is wide open and I’m sharing a small, earthy looking bathroom with dear knows who. A cock roach creeps down stucco-like walls and disappears behind a cotton curtain hung to hide the plumbing. I open the door while I brush my teeth so I can escape quickly should it scramble at me from beneath the curtain.

But back to people watching!

Everyone was out to connect. Dinner together, walking together, listening to live music together—the whole town was buzzing and I realized all over again how much humans need connection.

We are body and spirit, with the greater part of us being spirit. We get lonely because we focus on bodily needs while we neglect the greater needs of soul and spirit.

Did you know loneliness is one of the worst things for our health? We were born to be connected, soul to soul, spirit to spirit. And most importantly, creation was made to connect to the Creator.

Yet, people look at bodily image to decide whether or not to connect their soul to another. Popular, pretty girls want to be friends with other popular pretty girls, forgetting that no one can decide what features they possess, yet everyone can decide what heart they carry. When girls choose their friends on appearance and popularity, they often by-pass the most golden people who could show them the real meaning of love and friendship.

It’s time for humanity to remember the importance of the soul. Look deep within and choose your people based on the kind of people they are in their soul.

Let’s look at a few ways we can connect with others. How do we make friends?

1. Ask about other people’s lives.

We all know the Sallys and Janes who talk non-stop about themselves until you want to groan and plug your ear with a corn cob. Or peanuts. Or anything to stop the incessant self-focused chatter.

When you’re with other people, purposefully ponder what questions are fitting to ask about their lives and interests. Rare is the person who delights in others so well that he asks question after question to get another person to open up and enjoy a conversation.

When others talk about something, rather than switch the conversation back on yourself with your own story, ask another question about what they just said. You’ll be surprised at the difference in feedback and engagement as others feel heard and wanted.

2. Learn to know who your people are.

Not everyone is cut out to be your friend. You are not everyone’s cup of tea. This is okay, because you’ll be another person’s favorite drink. And when you find that instant connection kind of friend, hang onto it and develop it purposefully. Learn what your friend loves—and do the thing.

One of mine sent me a coffee mug with a goat on it because she found out I love goats. It warms my heart every time I fill it with coffee. Periodically she sends me goat videos. It’s odd how something so small makes me feel connected to her and loved by her.

If you’re not connecting with someone, relax and accept it. Don’t force friendships. Go with the flow and love everyone with a laid back ease void of stress. Just love people and smile at them.

3. “A (woman) who has friends must show herself friendly.

Somewhere along the way, extroverts have been made out to be “more spiritual” than introverts. Nothing could be further from the truth. Showing yourself friendly doesn’t have to mean you love crowds and can’t wait to host families for lunch after church. Being friendly could mean you hate crowds and prefer one to one conversation because there, you can connect deeply. It might mean you don’t enjoy hosting but you do it anyway, sometimes, because there’s a need for old fashioned hospitality. You may not be bubbly but you will definitely be loving. You may not barbeque and serve exotic drinks but you’ll invite others onto your couch and gather them around your table in your own way of loving them.

And if you can’t have people over, you can take a meal to someone. A warm casserole speaks a thousand words!

4. Celebrate others.

Women who celebrate other women are real queens. We know them when we find them. They are secure in Christ, busy doing what they’re called to do, and satisfied with the love of Jesus. There is no need to compare or want another’s life when we’re in the life we know we’re called to live.

Only when you truly celebrate another woman’s joys do you have the right to enter her sorrow.

Let’s sit on that for a minute.

A woman who is uncomfortable with your success can easily come rushing to “comfort” you when grief strikes. She is more comfortable with your loss than your gain. Please sisters, let’s be bigger than that. Be a woman who provides community and belonging to all because everyone senses your deep desire to see them thrive.

Celebrating others is FUN!

4. Don’t be offended if some people are too busy to strike up the friendship you’d love to share with them.

I was a preacher’s daughter and my whole life geared to hosting, reaching out, and making sure others felt loved by our family. We were so busy loving on others that we sometimes neglected each other. So I never expect to be close friends with pastors or leaders even though I’m drawn to them. The conversation is different when you hang out with motivated leaders—but the pull you feel toward them may be your invitation to join them in what they do rather than add more ministry to what they do. The former will give life to both of you while the latter could drain them and disappoint you.

Rather than demand friendship or feel left out if you’re not invited over, realize that a family cannot possibly have everyone in the church over. Look for other ways to find your people. Join a small group, volunteer for worship or women’s ministry or Sunday School—involve yourself in your own gifts rather than wait to be invited or included. We are all responsible to cultivate and utilize our gifts!

5. Don’t expect to make your friends on a Sunday morning.

Church is not the only place for deep friendships to happen. Good friends need space outside of church to hang out and do life together. (My best friends are those I see outside of church.)

Be the kind of person another feels safe with, watch for the people who will naturally connect with you, and invite those who need friends whether or not you connect well with them. As much as possible, host people in your home and around your table. Let them see you real and raw, in your own space. Find more joy in reaching out to lonely people than you do in being included by others.

Christians are in their best element when they are connecting with Christ and the world around them. This might even look like heading downtown to the most poverty stricken areas with a team of people, just to love and be there for others. The world is so full of people wanting connection that there is less reason than ever for anyone to live in loneliness.

6. Be Yourself.

Be comfortable in your own skin. Be the same person with your model friend as you are with your back-woodsy, goat loving farm friend. Remember that every human soul longs for connection. Your model friend isn’t looking for class as much as she’s looking for connection. Be warm to all and you’ll find warmth from a vast variety of people, non of whom need you to change who you are.

7. Always Improve Yourself.

Be inspiring to hang out with. There’s something invigorating about being with others who are passionate about their callings, love their hobbies, and are content with what they have. Improving ourselves doesn’t have to mean possessing material things; growth is a heart posture where we see what is lacking and work toward becoming better people, where we take a good look at our gifts and callings, then purpose to function in those to the best of our ability.

Be light and life—and in your own way, just LOVE PEOPLE.

Three Steps in Finding the Will of God

I remember when I had a decision to make of staying on the west coast or moving my four children to the east, closer to family and away from the greatest tragedy of our lives.

I stalled for months. When it comes to big decisions, how does one know?

I know I’m not the only one who has difficulty feeling confident with major decision making. But especially as an Amish girl, taught to serve, obey, and submit my will to men, I really wasn’t prepared to face the world when I grew older.

Decision making threw me into a panic. But I’ve learned some things since then that I’d love to share with you because they’ve brought me such peace.

1. You can’t always wait to make a decision until all your fears or questions are gone.

Sometimes God leads you to move into something in spite of questions or fears. As with the case for moving my children from Washington state to North Carolina, all I knew was that something needed to change and we needed help. So, I put my faith in Jesus and decided to put in a legal request and trust that God’s will would manifest in the court’s decision.

The day our lawyers fought like cats and dogs over mine and the children’s future was stressful enough to put me into bed for a few hours. The court session ended with no answers except that the judge would keep looking into the situation and get back to us. I waited for days, then suddenly picked up the phone to my attorney’s voice, “Sara, you can move.”

One sentence changed everything.

I still didn’t feel confident but trusted that God knew all things. In the next three weeks I packed up our 3400 square foot home, sold most of our belongings, cleaned out the large shop building, purchased plane tickets, and made the arrangements online to move into a rental we had never seen, in an area where we knew only one other family.

As my therapist always said, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

See this—my confidence had to shift from my own fallible self to a good Father God who knew all things and watched over us night and day.

Two years later I see what God saw all along. I’m sitting here smiling, realizing how He was putting pieces together for a better life, long before I knew. He led us to the right church, people, places, and things.

Always remember that courage is not the absence of fear; courage is moving forward in spite of fear. So if there’s a decision to make today, lean into it and make the best one you know how to make. Trust God to fill in any gaps you don’t see, just as you do for your own children.

Move carefully, but always make sure that you’re not giving in to paralysis from analysis.

We can paralyze ourselves from moving into God’s will for us because we’re so afraid of being out of His will. There’s a much better way to live—a way of confidence even while questions remain. Sometimes it takes moving forward to make the cowardly fear slink back into the shadows while the peace of God becomes stronger and stronger.

Immobility can cause even greater havoc in our circumstances or our hearts. Yet, we stay immobile out of fear because we’re so afraid of doing the wrong thing. Interesting, is it not? Satan loves to get us huddled in fear and sorrow when we could be moving in light and joy. Seeing the goodness and grace of God sets us free from immobilizing fear.

2. If the decision to make involves right or wrong, and you’re not sure what is right, look at scripture first.

Feelings are fallible, our minds can trick us, and people can lead us wrongly. But God’s written Word brings light from heaven that will never change or leave.

I was listening to a podcast in my car one day, sent to me by someone who wanted me to believe something was right, when suddenly a car in front of me swerved left with these words on the bumper, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

In that moment I realized that I couldn’t base my personal convictions off any preacher or person’s interpretation of scripture, but on scripture itself. I ended up realizing how “off” the speaker was and how I could not embrace what he taught. And as time went by I found increasing peace in what scripture plainly taught because I put God’s word above all human opinions of His word.

God may use dreams, a sense of personal peace, other people, pastors and speakers to help us determine His will. But His will is never opposing scripture. If someone differs from scripture or your own feelings differ from scripture, always fall back on the Word of God and require your feelings to subject themselves to God.

Don’t listen to people who say, “God would never require that of you.” The truth is, God does sometimes lead us down difficult paths. His way is narrow and He does ask hard things of His children sometimes. But He’s there to carry us along and we find His peace better than any easier way of our own.

In this way, you build a foundation that will never be shaken. Feelings change, people’s opinions vary—but the Word of God stands forever.

Everyone then who hears these words of Mine and does them, will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

And the rains fell and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24&25)

I love and appreciate the fact that I am no slave to my own opinion or feelings. God’s will always sets me free to live a full and abundant life when my own emotions would take me down or lead me into things not lining up to the best life He has for me.

God is always freedom. Saying yes to His will can only bring you upward and onward.

3. Never stay stuck in a place of fear.

Immobility and isolation is one of Satan’s greatest tactics. But when God is at work, things move, change, and bring us into community with others.

I want us to know that putting God in a box is degrading the magnitude of Christ. When Christians hold to standards not found in the Word of God, they do not allow God to move as He’s able.

With Christ, there is wisdom but there are no boxes. If two young Christians decide to join a Christian dating app, rather than freak out, pray for them. When a seemingly positive answer comes along, help them process. Do away with the “Thou shalt nots” (unless it’s in the Bible), and replace them with a constant anticipation of watching God do something for the good of those He loves.

The shift in thinking is life giving to all those around you but immediate and swift judgment and standards on things Christ doesn’t even bother mentioning is oppressive to everyone around you.

Many, many Christians exercise control out of fear. The “will of God” becomes an excuse to push people away, create boxes, draw lines, and limit a magnificent Christ Who loves to work wonders in many different ways.

Mobilize yourself into love and keep an open mind to watching God at work in ways you didn’t expect or think of as “normal”.

And remember to back everything up to the Word of God. His no is not deprivation, but always an invitation to a better yes!

When you see all God says yes to, you can easily surrender when He says no. But if you’re immobile out of fear, you will be missing out on the goodness of God and in that way, fall more easily into wrong posture of heart or even sin.

Creating our own boxes keeps us in a box where we don’t see God move and are incapable of living His true will. There, we fall prey to unbelief, fear, depression, and judgment. All the while, God is moving in circles of LIGHT, LIFE, and LOVE where He invites us to join Him as we step out of fear and into His heart.

Stay when He tells you to stay, but remember that, even as you stay, He will move you into good. God is always on the move.

When your circumstances don’t change, remember that God is moving to change your heart. And a heart changed by a moving, loving, intimate Father God is the greatest move of all.

Stay in Grace, release control, have courage in spite of fear, and lean heavily into Jesus where all is grace.

Until next time,

Sara

Clique Christian Quotes: How is Jesus Enough?

I’m the first to say that I don’t like most clique Christian quotes thrown at hurting people in an effort to “help” them.

“Jesus is enough” to someone who’s lonely.

“You’ll see him again one day” to some one who’s grieving a death or miscarriage.

“Be content” to a mother who desperately needs a bigger house.

Or, the famous “Repent of your lack of joy” when tears keep flowing for “too long”.

But what is too long, and why is healing so often delayed?

I’d love to take a look inside the world of sorrow, where joy is a window carved into dark walls, feeling far out of reach to someone whose world has gone up in flames hot enough for smoke to keep billowing into the atmosphere for months and years, affecting the very air they breathe on a daily basis.

I’d love to talk with the person who wakes in despair no matter the amount of Bible verses you tell yourself to believe.

And I’d love to address the sudden frustration you may experience when others speak into your situation with no experience and a few pat quotes to “get you moving along to healing”.

You might feel guilty that you’re not acquainted with the reality imposed on you by those verses. To top it off, you may feel angry by another assuming you needed to hear words that seem so far out of reach. OR, you may feel only despair because you don’t know how to experience what they’re talking about.

I’m here to tell you that those words are not out of reach, and your right as a child of God is to experience them in the deepest recesses of your soul.

Hope, life, healing, and actual joy—how does that sound?!

I’d like to share a few things on how to get there, if that’s okay. Because I absolutely know how you’re feeling right now, and I’d love to breathe hope into you as others did into me.

1. The Christian church often denies humanity in its efforts to attain spirituality.

How about this, instead?

Rather than being in denial of our humanity, we invite Jesus into our humanity.

We weren’t created to deny the truth of our loneliness; we were made to invite Jesus into our loneliness.

We weren’t asked to stuff grief into some inner box while we paste on a “holy” smile at church; we were invited to watch Jesus weep with us, and find comfort in mutual tears. Remember how He wept with Mary and Martha, standing by the tomb before calling Lazarus from the dead?

And in our quest for contentment, we weren’t told to deny that we have needs; rather, Jesus invites us to ASK Him for what we need.

Rather than push our needs away, we are invited to bring Jesus into those needs.

2. Forcing needs to the back burner deprives us of bringing Jesus to the forefront of our lives.

I don’t have much more to say except that the shift in thinking is vital to healing.

Spiritualizing or denying needs makes us more needy because we lock Jesus out when we deny how much we need Him IN.

Acknowledging our grief, loneliness, pain makes us fully aware that we need Jesus to be with us.

This brings us to one of those clique quotes: “God will never give you more than you can handle.”

I beg to disagree! My life was far too much for me to handle. I recognized that as joy threatened to disappear entirely. I begged and asked, cried and prayed—and God came with His beautiful, beautiful presence inside of me.

There are no words for the beautiful presence of Jesus. When you experience Him, there is no one Who could take His presence. Then, when you’re tempted with something, you’ll turn away because your greatest fear is no longer deprivation, it is living without the presence of God.

God replaces deprivation with invitation.

For several years, I asked God for joy. Day spun onto weary day as I did the next thing, trying to find the presence of God to be enough. And as I recognized that I was not enough, I was forced to lean so hard on Jesus, my weight on Him proving that He wouldn’t crash along with everything else in my life. That fact alone drew me to His heart more, more, and more until I was blown away by His good, good presence within me.

The other day I did a short video on finding joy in plan B. I wished I could have explained the hope I felt after living with debilitating grief.

Because when I speak about HEALING, I am speaking about GRIEF.

Grief invites Grace.

Loneliness invites company.

Pain invites Healing.

Let me ask you this: Why can people like Joni Erickson Tada find abundant life?

Because she learned to reckon with a paralyzed body and face her grief over it. Something devastating led her to look to Some One for deliverance.

He did it for me; He did it for her; and He will do it for YOU.