Love, Loss, and God

A year ago today I excitedly drove to the hospital to meet a precious baby boy named Leo, just an hour old. And as I left the hospital that day and got to my car I received a phone call from my mom. She was crying. A dear family friend had just passed away, leaving his wife and three school-aged children behind. I had known this man my whole life and one car accident took him away from us in a moment. This was the greatest juxtaposition of life and death that I had ever experienced and to this day, I do not know what to make of it.

Early this morning, I walked out to my mailbox and received the official bridesmaid invitation for my best friend’s wedding and again, it’s life and death and marriage all wrapped up in a day. And what is to be made of it all?

There was a time in my life when I would turn to God first in response to grief or pain or joy, but these days I feel frozen in place, too weak to reach out to a God I will never be able to understand. But I know, that even in these moments, God is near and I am thankful for a Holy Spirit that cries out to Him in praise and in pain even when I, myself am numb and silent.

Happy Birthday, Leo, you precious precious boy! I love you so much and I know that God has great plans for you.

Chuck, we miss you. Your legacy is not forgotten. You are not forgotten.

Chantal, I am honored to stand by your side in this time of joy, just as we have stood by each other in times of grief.

God, your praise will ever be on my lips. Thank you for every breath and every moment.

(Originally published on August 4th, 2018 @unsimplysara Instagram)

 

When Life Feels Blurry

Life rarely brings the clarity we want it to.

That’s what I thought when I saw this photograph.

It’s blurry and tilted but it’s probably my favorite photo of the two of us ever. It speaks to me the thousand words everybody says it should.

It tells me that a lack of clarity does not disqualify us from joy. Uncertainty doesn’t take away from the fact that there is a good life to live. This photo is off kilter and imperfect and it’s not what any photographer would have planned, but it’s not a picture I’m ever going to throw out.

And I think in life, we’re all too quick to get life back into focus. We overlook precious moments in our uncomfortability with the blurriness of our plans. And there are seasons of our lives that we’ve certainly wished we could throw out. Honestly, I’m in one of those seasons now. But the blurry seasons can be the best seasons if we let them be. They can be full of joy and whimsy and hope–it’s all determined by our perspectives.

Our messy, imperfect, uncertain days and weeks and months–they’re not trash. They are gifts, just as the neat, planned, and secure days are.

And through it all, we have a choice. We can choose to put our trust in human beings, in ourselves, in potential employers, in our broken families–all of whom make plans that will ultimately come to nothing, or we can choose to put our trust in God who remains faithful forever, who promises to be our Help and Advocate and Sustainer. We can choose to be worry warts and live in constant stress, or we can choose to praise God all our lives, the Maker of heaven and earth, our number one fan and the man with the ultimate plan. (Psalm 146)

 

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

 

(A special thank you to Olivia for being the kind of friend who can also appreciate a blurry photo and who sticks with me through the blurry seasons!)

Enough Grace for Today

Social media influencers and our favorite authors will tell us that life is messy for everybody without exception. They endear us to themselves by their transparency about their own messes. And, so I have arrived at this point in my life where I finally believe them. I cannot will my life into perfection and this is okay. However, our social media influencer and New York Times Best-Selling author friends present a mess that is somehow full of grace and beauty and whimsy. They tell us that they are deeply imperfect and flawed and awful at times, all the while being adored by millions, having financial and vocational security, and having a platform where people come to listen to them speak about their messes. My mess has not brought me any of this. And therefore, I must conclude that their messes are better than mine. All messes were not created equal, after all.

And this makes sense. Who wants to hear from someone who is in the exact same place you’re in without hope for redemption? Not me. I want to hear from people who have been where I’ve been and have overcome. This week, my best-selling author friend, Jen, combined with my real-life screenwriter friend, Kendra, are teaching me to have grace for myself and this stage of mess that I am in. What all of these authors and influencers have that I don’t is hindsight. They have lived the years to look back on their messes and pull stories of hope from them. No mess looks beautiful while you’re in it, and I mean IN IT. It’s not until you learn to have forgiving eyes and a sprinkle of hindsight that any of this being human thing looks anything like the work of art it is.

And I must confess that I have not been gracious in the mess. When I first realized this lack of grace last week, I thought that I had become a curmudgeonly selfish mean-spirited 23-year-old who will inevitably die alone because of the awfulness stirring inside of her. I’ve backtracked, I thought. I used to be a kind, loving, gracious person to the people around me and then something must have happened. And something did happen.

I lost grace for myself. When we read Jesus’ command to love God with everything we’ve been given—life and breath, heart and soul, mind and strength, and we read also to love our neighbors as ourselves, we often forget that God did not just call us to love our neighbors, but also to love us. And girl, let me just tell you how hard it’s been to love me while grasping at a crumbling identity. Where did the loving big sister and patient friend and passionate youth minister go? Where did the straight A student and determined writer and hopeful entrepreneur go? Just where did she go?

This week, I’m finding her. I’m finding her underneath fear and disappointment, anger and hurt, insecurity and failure. I am finding her underneath a year of loss. I am finding her underneath a million regrets, I should haves, and overwhelming unknowns. I am finding her under masks of I should be fine, and God is good, and Just do it. I’m finding her where I left her a year ago–hopeful, faithful, compassionate, surrounded by community, and following the plan.

‘How did we end up here?’ you ask. Well, in May 2017, I was booted out of my community as is custom at graduation, and my plan had only extended so far, and so far was graduation day. Really, it was all I could do not to cry through every class and write my thesis screenplay during Nutrition, forcing myself to go to the final Nutrition study session before it was too late and hear my professor say disappointedly, “You could have done better in this class.” She wasn’t wrong, but I was just trying to survive life with some semblance of priorities, forget any thoughts of job applications.

These were my priorities:

  1. Stay Sane.
  2. Graduate.
  3. Write a decent thesis because writing’s actually what I want to do with my life.
  4. Spend time with the family I’d accumulated over the last four years before I’d never see some of them ever again.
  5. Love my home while I had it.
  6. Sleep and eat actual meals (and not just goldfish and ice cream) occasionally.
  7. Figure out what in the heck it even means to trust God in this season.

Perhaps it is because I have spent way more time with and by myself this past year than I could ever need in all of eternity that I became angry and frustrated at the woman I saw in the mirror. But, I also think that all this time alone meant I had lost a huge part of who I was in loving and mentoring others. I lost me. And I started to place my worth back in my accomplishments, and my accomplishments were none, not counting the piece of paper that says I studied film at some school in Malibu, whatever that means.

And it’s funny because God tried to tell me that my identity was out of whack years ago and I said okay, and then did very little to remedy the problem beyond reminding myself to get my strength from Him. How was I supposed to do that? Who knew. But now I know that though I moved from getting my worth in my accomplishments and academics, to getting my worth in how many people I could love and help and nurture, I was never solid in my belief that should I lose all intelligence—emotional, relational, and academic,  and should I lose my ability to speak, to hug, to write, that I would still be worthy, that I would still have purpose, and that God would still see me as the apple of his eye, that God’s love for me was enough even when I felt like a giant potato.

And there are a million and five reasons why I’ve been telling myself not to cry—I’m tired of crying, other people are probably tired of me crying, God is most definitely tired of me crying, and then, most importantly, there’s this heatwave going on and I’m already dehydrated because our tap water is disgusting and I cannot spare to use anymore of the almost empty gallon of spring water I bought from Walmart that my tears will certainly waste. I think it’s time to buy a water filter because the tears will not be stopped. And this, this is okay.

As I’m writing this I‘m realizing that I not only put my worth in how well I loved people, but also in the certainty and quality of my vision for life. From elementary school till now I thought I knew what I was gonna do with my years. Love God, love people, and write. And I would surely love God and people through writing—not Christian fiction or movies (gag) but through the hope and freedom I would share through brilliant adventurous stories. I was going to be J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis and I was going to do it all by the age of 21.

And then I graduated from college, moved in with my parents like it was summer break (though it was not (summer is for children and fake adults (college students), I no longer fit into either category), realized I needed to move out of my parents’ house ASAP and also realized that I didn’t actually know how to make money while furthering my career. I also knew next to nothing about how to be an adult.

Eventually, after a season of sending my best friends off to every corner of the world, finishing my final unpaid internship, and consequently hiding myself in my room for two months while allowing a giant stack of classic literature from the library get dusty and rack up a 30 dollar fine that I have yet to pay, I got a job as a waitress, which just the year before I had judged one of my peers for because she had a college degree and what was she doing hostessing at BJ’s when she had a Bachelor’s?

Now I’m still waitressing, but also I started substitute teaching (which sounds more prestigious but in reality, I make the same amount of money in both jobs) and it’s summer again. My hours were cut at the restaurant, all of the real teachers have taken my sub teaching jobs for the summer, and the seniors I love with my whole heart graduated from the teen ministry I serve, leaving me with a bunch of almost freshman who I’m just now realizing I probably have a lot in common with. We’re both transitioning. We both feel awkward about this season we’re in, we don’t know what to expect from life, and we definitely don’t know what to expect from God. Poor freshman, I’ve been judging them for being me. And to top it all off, I’ve had five whole days a week to write or grow my photography business, or learn something new, and for the most part, I’ve shut down in overwhelming fear and I’ve watched TV instead. Somebody change my Grandma’s Netflix password for the love.

And just this past week I decided no more TV for the rest of the summer. Surely this will make me do something productive and worthwhile. Nyet, Sonia. This is the first real time I’m sitting down to write and in the wise words of my screenwriter friend Kendra, “Writers have to write.” So what does this make me? I currently feel like I’m failing as a teen leader, a writer, a Christian, and a friend (don’t even get me started on my relationships right now).

I don’t even know what I want because I’ve never committed to something long enough or hard enough to find out if it’s what I want. And this is where the fear sets in. Not only am I not where I want to be, I don’t even know where I want to be.

And this, this is the scariest fact of all.

I don’t know where God’s taking me and I don’t know where I want him to take me, and so I’m hiding in my apartment by myself, doing my absolute best to forget that my life is the kind of mess no one wants to hear about. It’s not pretty, it’s not funny, it’s not redeemed—it’s just a mess.

But, the good news is, I think I’m done with this place I’m in. The spiritual, emotional place, that is. I’m tired of not trusting God because a couple of my friends died unexpectedly this year and because he hasn’t fixed my health problems, I’m tired of being an unsafe, judgmental person, and I’m tired of my excuses and my insecurities keeping me from living life to the full. I am God’s daughter and no one can mess with the daughter of a King. There is no door closed to her, no dream that cannot be realized. She has many responsibilities and she must put in the work that her position requires of her, afterall, Princesshood is more than Disney movies make it out to be, but she will reign, all the while knowing deeply that she is loved and that she is the Daughter of the King.

So, today, I am telling fear, No. I am telling pain that it does not win. I am telling Satan that he can take his lies about me being alone and a failure and he can shove ‘em some place the sun don’t shine. I am refusing to harbor unforgiveness. And I am refusing to believe that I must be the woman I was yesterday. We are all new in Christ. Today I will write. And I will love. And I will turn judgment back in its tracks. And someday, I know, I will look back on this mess and I will call it beautiful.

So, to you, whether you are still in high school, just graduated and don’t know what you’re doing, or are solidly an adult with a family and a job that has health insurance, I ask you to join me in holding onto the hope and the knowledge that we will look back on whatever mess we’re in the middle of (self-created or not) and we will call it beautiful. I ask you to join me in extending grace and acceptance to yourself and your neighbors, to renew your identity in Who you are loved by and not by who you were yesterday. Seasons always change, and our messes with them, but our God and his unfailing, unending, incomprehensible love for us—that stays the same.

 

Book Recommendations (None of which I’ve yet finished but I will, I promise):

“The truth is, God created us with resiliency. Mankind is incredibly able to heal, to rise back up, to stare down pain with moxie. Jesus strengthens our minds for the task of recovery. We’ve got chops, girls. Pain is universal; there is no avoiding it, no system will sidestep struggle. This terrible, mean voice screams out, “What did you do wrong? How did you go so terribly off script?” when life bursts at the seams, but that’s a lie. Life can be hard because life can be hard. We’re not doing it wrong. What matters is excavating our pluck from the rubble and refusing to be defined by loss. Sometimes it looks like fury, sometimes determination, activated by a flash of our eyes and a straightening of our spines. Rather than cower under its weight, we force pain into a partnership, using it to grow, to learn, to catapult us into deeper, wider, sturdier life.” –Jen Hatmaker, Of Mess and Moxie

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.”—Jesus, the Bible

“The quickest way to stop fearing rejection is to give acceptance.” –Dani Johnson, First Steps to Wealth

Also, read Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst, Love Does and Everybody, Always, by Bob Goff and watch this sermon by Pastor Michael Todd: http://elevationchurch.org/sermons/marked/

Girlhood

Today, I substitute-taught a class of twenty second-graders and it was one of the most chaotic environments I’ve ever had the opportunity to be a part of. If you didn’t already know, sometimes second-graders turn into little terrorists when fresh sub meat walks into the room–I’m fresh sub meat. So needless to say, it was a rough day.

But there were moments. Moments that made me feel like in the end, maybe the day wasn’t just a mess–it was a beautiful mess.

In the morning, there was a little girl who asked if she could be my helper. I was in no place to refuse any help with twenty tiny terrorists on the loose–I said, yes.

I could tell that this girl wasn’t miss goody two shoes, but that she wasn’t the conniving leader of the gang either. She struggled to focus at times, staring off into space or complaining that her back hurt, stacking three chairs together to make herself a throne, or getting up out of her seat when she wasn’t supposed to.

But she was my helper, so she helped how she could.

And on the way back from the library, this little girl decided to hold my hand. I don’t know why. She just did.

And when the little girls following us made fun of her for holding the substitute’s hand, she held on. Her grip didn’t loosen one bit. I don’t know why. She just did.

After recess, she came back with some stickers on her body, courtesy of one of the Dons of the Mafia. Without asking she took one off and stuck it on my hand. It said, Power. I don’t know why. She just did.

And I don’t know what it was, but in that moment, I felt like this little girl was everything a little girl should be. She wasn’t perfect, but she had a good heart. She embraced who she was and what it meant to be a second grader to her. She didn’t care what the other little girls thought she should do or be. She gave. She laughed. She expressed her feelings. This little girl shared the power of girlhood.

And I know that someday, she’ll be one of those women who knows that her journey as a woman is unique and that she need not conform to anyone else’s expectations of what a woman is and can be. She’ll be one of those women who knows the power she holds and who doesn’t shy away from her femininity. She’ll be one of those women who changes the world with her vulnerability and strength, with her willingness to try and fail before she eventually succeeds.

This is my hope for her, this precious little eight-year-old girl, and for every woman who is redefining themselves by the light of truth and not the darkness of social construct. Whether you believe that you were created in the image of God or that your incredibly beautiful and complicated self came about some other way, Happy International Women’s Day! You are braver than you believe, stronger than you think, and loved more than you could possibly know.

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I couldn’t take a picture of my second-grade friend, so here’s a picture of my second-grade sister because she’s cute and strong too.