Category Archives: growing pains

My encounter with the cross

The shadow the cross has weighed heavily on me the past few days. As I sit and rest in the stillness of this Easter Sunday I am overwhelmed with the power of the cross. Death did not prevail.

As I reflect on the cross, a picture of love with it’s blood and brutality,  I am brought back to the Camino. In 2014 I hiked 500 miles in 33 days across El Camino de Santiago with my mom when I graduated high school. It was the hardest feat I have ever accomplished and my life truly restarted through that experience, I have never been the same.

In preparation for our trek we did what all good pilgrims do. We each selected our rock from our home to pack in our backpack to leave when the time is appropriate. Per tradition, nearing the final stretches of the Camino stands Cruz de Ferro, it’s base a composite of the aches and groans of this temporal world.

When space in your pack is so limited (your pack weight is meant to be less than 10% of your body weight for this nature of hiking), carrying a rock feels a little ridiculous. Mine rested in small pocket in my waist strap for weeks.  Sometimes I’d open that pocket and remember that I had a stupid rock in there and couldn’t use that space.

Journey with me to the cross.


 

Early morning start. I fight against the fatigue and work to open my eyes and guide my feet to another day of hiking. I throw my feet over the side of my bunk and pause to nurse my aching muscles. My body is unrecognizable at this point. My legs are scratched, sunned, and raw instruments of strength. As I hobble to the communal bathroom, my legs feel as if they can barely support that pack-less trek. We have a long day ahead. As the sky is barely waking with us, my mom and I begin our day’s walk. Today we encounter the cross. I have replayed what I have thought this moment would be in my mind over and over. For us, Cruz de Ferro loomed about an hour into our morning hike.

We each walked alone during this hour’s silence and march to the cross. I finally pulled my rock from it’s residence and held it in my hand. It was smooth, polished by Alaskan water that had pushed and pulled this rock to shore and then gingerly lapped against it, refining and smoothing its texture. It was split, half gray and half white stone. I turned it over and over in my hand and started to talk to Papa God. My conversation quickly transitioned to song. “Lead me to the Cross” filled my mind and tears threatened to burst at the beauty of this anticipation.

Lead me to the cross

Where Your love poured out

One foot in front of the other.

Bring me to my knees

Lord I lay me down

Earth crunches under my feet as I step closer and closer to the cross.

Rid me of myself

I belong to You

Lord, can I finally surrender to you?

Lead me, lead me to the cross

With one bend in the path we were suddenly there. Not to sound ungrateful for this experience, but it was smaller than I expected. As morning due still clung to the earth, the cross appeared in it’s humble glory. How appropriate that it would seem smaller and a humble image. The cross that held the body of Christ was of simple wood, with simple nails, with blood staining the earth. The gore of a crucifixion doesn’t fit comfortably with the narrative of a stained glass church.

It’s time.

I move to place my rock, warm from anxious turning in my hand, and I laid it down at the cross. The relief I feel as tears stain my cheeks is incredible. All my anxieties, my heart hurts, my wounds are represented in that rock that is now just one of many at the base of the cross.

At this place are the rocks of sinners, of widows, of orphans, of those battered and bruised, of those weary, of those seeking, of me.

As Easter Sunday continues to tick away I am brought back to my knees at the cross. I have been in a spiritually dry place for so long and the truth of what today, Easter Sunday, means moved me to tears for the first time in a long time. As our congregation sang “How He Loves” and I belted the truth of his grace and affection for his people, tears made their way down my face as a smile covered my face. As our congregation welcomed three more members to the church family through their public declaration of baptism my heart stirred. Death did not overcome. And I return to the cross to remember that it is paid in full, it is finished.

And I have joy to face the morning.

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Wilderness and Wonder

This morning’s devotional spoke so deeply into my situation. I am proud to say that I am getting back into the rhythm of a daily devotional and I feel so healthy. I don’t know why I’m so surprised when I find comfort in the Word. When I feel far from God it’s so easy for me to shut down, I forget to show up.

I’m currently using He Whispers Your Name by Cherie Hill as a way to organize my devotional reading. It pointed me to Mark 1:12 and I was reminded that the wilderness is guaranteed and the hope that comes from knowing Jesus has been there first.

This truth hit me so hard because I have been spiritually numb as I fill my days with to-dos and schedules, and appointments; I crawl into bed emotionally battered and remembering nothing. The next morning commute is filled with questions of “what am I doing with my life?” “Is this all I’ll amount too?” “I am nothing” “what does God want to do with my life?” but before I dwell on them too long I’ll blast the radio, and scroll through my social media accounts later, and fill my planner to drown out the internal interrogation. This numbness motivates me to do more, to be busier, to be more.

So I recently started working on showing up. I moved aside the vices that fight for my time with Jesus. I prayed honestly and gave the broken pieces of my life that feel unusable in his able and caring hands. The silence of the meaningless repetition was filled with prayers for those I interact with today. The morning’s of sleeping in were sacrificed for time with Papa God. The desire to go to people for comfort first was replaced with the discipline of seeking God first.

But creeping in through the night, discouragement, attack, and despair come in. The emotional battle is an unseen and under credited villain in the narrative of pursuing God. And we are warned, are we not? The Valley of the Shadow of Death will follow the mountain top experience. You thought the climb up was work? Prepare for the descent. You cannot stay on that mountain top forever, you are certainly not called to. We curse at the valley. The pains, the hardships, the mountain pales in worth and beauty the further into the valley we slump and set up camp.

Wilderness follows wonder. The wilderness attempts to kill at these moments of living and praise be to God for that. Praise be that we are so noticeably in pursuit of God and his ordained will that the valley is so incredibly dark and despairing. There would be no praise if we didn’t have hope in our side but we do. And we know we will be battle tested in the end. The snares of loneliness that bite, the isolation of a lone traveler, the burn of past sins and humiliations: the battered pursuer is a beautiful image of faithfulness to continuing to show up.

The wilderness will continue to follow wonder and I embrace it. I know that the trial and testing tell me I’m in pursuit of the right thing, Satan despises God’s people pursuing Him. And this wilderness is training me. As an explorer I know that the season of wilderness prepare me more than perfect conditions and seamless travels. And our Savior went through the wilderness as Mark 1:12 points out. Do I really believe that I am alone here? I can just picture Jesus knowing the emotions I am feeling and knowing it’s necessity and purpose. Yes Jesus is fully God but he came also as fully man and these emotions were experienced and designed by him. In this I find my hope.

I find myself currently in the wilderness and it’s taking all of me to not lay down in the valley. But oh what wonders I have seen and I have faith in the wonders to come. And how precious are the growing pains the bring forth such splendor. I keep showing up for the wonders and wilderness and praise that growing pains accompany mountain top experiences.

The tradition of community

Today was the 1st Annual Kernan Christmas Party.

I cleaned the house like a madwoman quoting my mom and wearing slippers all day.

I baked the week away with a ridiculous ratio of cookies to guests.

We opened our home and partook in tradition.

I have been feeling an anxiousness, a stirring in my heart that is telling me to go home. I feel it when my friend’s Facebooks transition from scenes of dorms and college life to familiar scenes of home and comfort. I feel it as leave gets approved for those stationed here and they return to their roots. I feel it as if the colder temperatures tell me to migrate. It’s time to go they seem to call to me. This restlessness is robbing me of the festivities of Christmas and it wears on Matt and I like a heavy fatigue. The miles between here and our hometown seem insurmountable.

The Annual Thomas Christmas party was born from this same heartsickness. I can hardly call it homesick because I am home. Though in a part of the country I never thought I’d live, I’m with the man that I said home will be with for always. But there is a legitimate heartsickness that desires comfort and community and simply the ease of being known. My mom, one of the strongest individuals I have met to date, felt this stirring too when she first got married and had her little family of Dad and I. She missed Aunt Lucille’s annual Christmas party. I can practically see the twinkling of the house, the aroma of dishes from relatives outdoing each other of Christmas treats, and the bustling of a house full of family.

From this the Thomas family tradition was born and from that the Kernan family tradition was born. We carried the notes of Christmas past in our preparations: veggie trays that mimic the towers my dad would make, gingerbread men with frosting caps and mittens, peppermint bark that my baby sister makes annually with pride, my great Aunt Lucille’s breadsticks, Alaska coffee percolated in the kitchen, tradition exuded from our humble abode.

We are made with an innate desire for fellowship, connection, and relationship. The relationship we have as the church as the bride of Christ is mirrored when the church loves each other well and loves others well. This desire for connectedness was tangibly felt in every smile at the party. I could perceive the hunger for fellowship and knew it was given and received by all. I know this because I felt in myself and recognize that we are made for this. The tradition of Christmas parties, holidays, and the like are more than the good food and legacy: it’s about a coming together and bringing others in. The Christmas party is not the tradition it is if no one comes. The tradition is in community.

As Matt and I continue to make traditions, I pray that our focus will be on what fosters fellowship, what embodies open doors and open hearts, and what welcomes all into a community of connectedness. I am overwhelmed to remember that it’s bigger than me, it’s not an issue of “us and them”, it’s a collected us and a call to make sure there are no “them” on the outside.

Because we’re made for that.

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I’ll Be Crying in My Cocoa

When I was in fourth grade I ran for class president.

Spoiler alert: I lost.

Side note: Enjoy all of these photos of me around the time I was in 4th grade, you’re welcome.

I kept my composure throughout the whole day. Through the celebration of the president that was elected, math class, English reading, lunch, recess, art… everything. I hopped in the “big old rolling turd”, which is what we lovingly called our suburban at the time, and as soon as my mom asked me how my day was I burst into tears. She was probably alarmed when my face turned a grotesque shade of red, tears cascaded down my face, and my breathing mimicked someone trying to start up an old car. I explained how I lost. It felt like incredible failure. I felt like I had disappointed my family, myself, and felt devastated that who I wanted to be and who I was did not line up (note: I recognize that this was just a fourth grade class president election but it was a devastating loss for my fourth grade psyche). My mom turned the car around and we drove immediately to Island Espresso. She ordered me a cocoa and as she let me cry she told me “It’s okay to cry in your cocoa.”

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There was a season of my life when I wore a poncho pretty much everyday. 

This became a big part of who I am. The principle about crying in your cocoa is by the time the cocoa is done, it’s time to pull yourself together and move on and do better. The whole crying in your cocoa process says: “look, this sucks. And you are so allowed to cry. But don’t keep crying. Life moves on and so do you. Cause you can do hard things.” Thanks cocoa. Whenever anything goes down in the Thomas family how do we grieve? Let’s go cry in our cocoa (or whatever your respective “cocoa” is. I have substituted coffee and gelato in times of despair).

This is just one of many failures I string around that was followed by crying in cocoa. And it’s not always your fault. Sometimes crying in cocoa is because things happen that aren’t even your fault. Sometimes you just don’t win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes someone is better than you. Sometimes bad things happen. There are lots of reasons to cry in your cocoa.

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Oh yes. 

I’m in the middle of crying in my cocoa for some things that happened this week. Friends, this week has been the worst. Like, all the things that could go wrong did. I’m not going to go into details because I’m tired and I’m kinda done hearing my own words talk about it all. Just trust me when I say this week felt like a tsunami had come through my life and I’m left trying to figure out what to salvage and what’s far too gone.

And one of the questions I’m wrestling with is: God why did you take away things you have provided me? You answered my prayers with these things you gave me, why are you letting them be taken from me?

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Look how plentiful our garden is. 

I know the Christian answer. I know God is faithful, I know He provides. I know God is just and love, and the Author of all Creation and in total control. I know God is omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent and everything. I know and believe these things in my heart. But my heart still hurts. I feel blindsided and abandoned. I feel like the Psalmist crying out in Psalm 10:1 “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Why God?

To answer this question of why God takes away I sat and thought about accounts in the Bible where people had things taken away from them, or didn’t get things in the time they wanted, or suffered a loss of a sort. I didn’t actually open my Bible for this process. I just picked my brain for all the examples I could think of.

Ruth and Naomi lost their husbands.

Jonah lost his shade that God provided.

Hagar was thrown out by Abraham and Sarah.

Joseph was sold by his brothers.

Moses’ mother had to give up her son.

Hannah was barren for years.

The woman that bled for 7 years and nothing would cure her until she interacted with Jesus.

Job lost almost everything.

Let me assure you that my heart hurt is incomparable to what these examples are. But there is so much hope in these accounts. I looked at themes in each of the accounts I could think of. Sometimes people lose things or have to wait because of disobedience and they need correction. Sometimes these things happen so that a greater glory can occur. Sometimes these things occur so that God can grow in the individual in mighty ways. I don’t know where I fall in those categories. Honestly, I’m probably a little bit of all of them. I need so many things corrected in my life and my sin nature contests that I am a continual mess. I need to grow and continue pursuing God. And I can only hope that my life would be used to be a vessel for God to be glorified.

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Kodiak’s version of a pumpkin patch. 

So I’m going to get back to crying in my cocoa. But I’m going to do it knowing that this isn’t something new. People have struggled with the same things that I’m going through. Bad weeks are not reserved for just me. God is not surprised by what I am feeling. I’m going to cry in my cocoa knowing that I serve a God who is faithful and has big plans. And I have to trust that his are better than mine. I’m in a waiting place right now figuring out which is fitting to the name of this blog and the reason why I started writing. And when I reach the bottom of that cup of cocoa (though I’m feeling like my equivalent will be a hazelnut latte today. We still call it cocoa when it’s used for grieving) I’m going to put my big girl panties on and deal with it.

But I keep showing up because I can do hard things and God made me purposefully. I don’t know what His plan is but I keep showing up. With cocoa in hand of course.

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Birthdays are a big deal in my family. 

 

Then came the rain

There is something about the desert that strips you of all the pomp, and pretense that strip the lies that convince you that you can be satisfied outside of God, you can be independent outside of the Ultimate Creator, you can find joy in the creation of your own worldly pursuits and the like down to the core.

You would think the blessings that abound in other destinations would cripple one to thanksgiving and continually gratitude. To some extent they do. In alignment with Romans, I think Kodiak, Alaska is a testimony that the very fabric of Creation screams the name of our God. I would have to actively rebel against what I know to be true, to deny God when I’m in Alaska. It is hard to not choose God when Creation is whispering a love song in every breeze that caresses the mountain flowers, every rain drop that lathers the land, every wave that kisses the shore, and in every tree that provides for her tenants in the canopy below her.

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But on the other side of the coin there is a confidence that is inflated here from having so many blessings. The good gifts are God are traded for a denial of needing the very provider who gave them. The blessings that come in the seasons you know will come, the change of the tide you know will come, and the better fishing season you know will come lead to a self-sufficient, all-American, living the dream, I’m-fine-on-my-own complex that modern Christians carry.

And by modern Christians, I mean me. And maybe you. That’s between you and the Holy Spirit bro (or sis).

It rained recently. In the desert. The familiar pitter patter of rain knocking on the roof stirred me to run out the door. I danced in the rain and relished every drop that hydrated my skin. The once annoying sight of rain had me laughing out loud though no one was around. The dark clouds that congregate were a choir of praise instead of a funeral dirge to my ears. The island girl, from a rainforest, was moved to near tears by the sight of rain that lasted for a couple of minutes.

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Oh God forgive me.

I see why I was brought here. The desolation of the seemingly endless desert horizon is the same leveling that God needed to do on the terrain of my heart.

With desert rain comes the inevitable humidity. It is a short lived relief from the unforgiving sun. The same happens spiritually. With the cleansing of my spirit comes the reality that it will not be a walk in the park, there is work to be done. We were never promised it would be easy.

I am reminded to marvel at His Creation, His grace. Oh God, how gracious you are to know what I need. Oh God, how faithful you are in how you are never surprised, never thrown off guard, and never disappointed in your people beyond the bounds of your grace. Oh God, how glorious you are to give me rain, spiritually and physically and may the season of growing begin.

Amen.

Running is hard… cookie?

I would be lying if I told you things have been good. Well, it’d be a half lie. Things truly ARE good. Complaining seems so embarrassing when all my needs are met each day, I am given abundance that I am not deserving of, and overall there are no worries that so much of the world carries in their clenched hearts each day. I recognize this. But things spiritual and emotionally have been under fire. It’s amazing how Satan is so quick to grab at our weakest parts when we are pursuing God whole heartedly. It seemed like such a quick transformation to contentment and peace with God’s plan to discouragement and fear.

I am not enough.

I am disgusting.

I am lazy.

I am worthless.

I am useless.

I am purposeless.

Now what I really don’t want is comments to flood in telling me the opposite or giving me Scripture affirming my worth (though encouragement is important and Scripture is truth, amen), I am trying to be transparent here. I am voicing this because I know I’m not the only one who know what is true but then hears the lies, and the lies shout louder and in some twisted way seem truer. As my week has progressed I felt the lies grip my insecurities in their grasp and squeezed me dry. In place of the peace of God I am left with the bondage of anxiety that so often holds me captive. Unfortunately, I am often a passive captive. Lies exhaust. Don’t tell me you can fully separate physical and spiritual when the spiritual attack on my being has taxed my body and mind this week.

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My yard reminds me of the Secret Garden, the part before it was all nurtured by to life. 

This morning I creaked open my dusty Bible. I’m embarrassed that a college Bible student such as myself struggles to remember to read their Bible. I woke up and told myself not to think of how terrible I have been at reading my Bible. I focused on today. I showed up, today. I read in 1 Corinthians, my favorite book since my study abroad experience. What filled my spirit today was Chapter 9 verses 24-27:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (ESV)

Confession: I have struggled to read this without thinking of track meets or cheesy work-out shirts. Obviously that’s not what Paul was getting at either. I am reminded at why I am pursuing what I am. Why I am racing after what I am racing toward. Why what I am doing takes work and why it’s worth it. Because all the glory goes to God.

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Beauty in the desert. 

A dear kindred of mine recently reminded me to “keep showing up”. If I am to train like an runner in my pursuit of loving Jesus that is all I am called to do. It’s hard to run a race well when you don’t even go to practice and especially hard when you skip the event to go eat a McFlurry at McDonald’s (which I never would ever do). How wonderful to actually remember that His grace is renewed each day for us? How beautiful that He knows we skip practice sometimes, that we fake injuries, and that we don’t even show up on the track but He loves us IN SPITE of our sin? That He sent his Son to die for us WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS? I can’t surprise God, He’s the Author of it all. This grace just pushes me to train harder. I want to be obedient. I want to strive after His heart. This is my desire, let me finish the race!

This morning is the start of a lot of mornings of basking in grace. I know that the grace has been there through it all but it’s so sweet to remember that grace covers me too. I can boast of God’s grace for you but so often forget that He has some grace to cover little ol’ Sara too.

As this morning bloomed into day I walked the dog that I dog-sit three times a week (a blessing to have another living creature in the house!) and the air felt fresh. It didn’t feel like a hair dryer on blast on my face as is so common for hot summers in the desert. But we are in September now. That season of the desert is over and I think my season in that spiritual desert is over too. I breathed in the air and it felt like the very breath of God covered me in His peace. Friends, I felt again today. It’s so much easier to run the race with my chains left on the sideline and with an unclenched heart.

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Love, Sara (writer) and Ruby (editor) 

Maybe if I was not so loud.

The dense humidity of a Florida summer evening hung over the camp as a canopy, enveloping everyone in it’s unforgiving heat. But when evening came and the heat relented a few degrees cooler, no one noticed their sweat ‘staches, their soaked shirts, or the mosquitos that danced around their faces, everyone was bound together in collective worship to Papa God. Here I was at fourteen, preparing for a two-month long mission trip to Peru. To get there required enduring two weeks of training in the swamp that composes Merritt Island, Florida. Up to this point I had pretty much wept the first three nights with no relief. I didn’t know the weight of heat combined with a heavy, homesick heart could cause such emotional turmoil. But this night under the big top tent was different. The worship was selfless, and the speaker would prove to be a pivotal moment in my life.

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Marilyn Laszlo. This woman made her way up to the stage and started to speak of her story of missions in Papua New Guinea to a crowd of teenagers. Whoever speaks at evening rally has a full plate ahead of them. They must have the capacity to hold the attention of hundreds of teenagers who are tired, mosquito bitten, and sweating profusely under the swamp’s humidity. This woman carried this task effortlessly, all of us sat on the edge of our seats. After she spoke, I went to the front of the stage, practically elbowing my way from the flock of teens wanting to ask her more questions. Upon getting there I told her:

“I just want you to know that God used you and your testimony tonight to call me to full time ministry and missions.”

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And here began the pursuit of what that would look like. Medical missions seemed logical. It only took me a year to recognize that I am miserable at math and that seems pretty key in medical missions. Or linguistics! Yes! I could work for Wycliffe, I could go to unreached places and translate the Bible in their language! Except I’m not very skilled at solitude and patient puzzling.

Then I changed my approach. I stopped asking God as to what I should do and started praying

“God, break my heart by what breaks yours.”

It’s funny how often I’m surprised when God actually answers prayers. As if I am startled that the Great Listener is not listening. I forget that even though God is the Creator of all the Universe He still creates space for a personal relationship with little ol’ me. The direction God gave me was a burden for those sexually exploited and victimized by human trafficking.

But with this burden came even more questions. Having a passion left me feeling with more feelings of inadequacies and confusion. What do I do? How do I do it? How do I fit?

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I found myself wishing to change myself. Maybe if I was less extroverted my personality wouldn’t be so overwhelming. Maybe if I wasn’t so blonde and pale I could be a cultural chameleon and go anywhere to effectively serve. Maybe if I was better at photography I could do ministry through media.

Maybe, maybe, maybe, enough.

When we question how God created us and the purpose He created for us we challenge the very image of God. Who am I to value one aspect of His image over another? Who am I to tell Him: “How you made me is inadequate and lacking. You should have made me more like this”. The comparison game can only last so long before we realize we either accept God’s perfect plan and Creation or find it lacking. I personally am not comfortable challenging the Divine Creator with charges like that.

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In my Foundations of Learning class this semester we are reading Gordon T. Smith’s work Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential. In discussing the elements in discovering one’s direction, Smith shares that

“[e]ach of us has something that we feel is the very reason for which we have been designed, created and redeemed. In the end we embrace this call, this purpose, because this, so help us God, is who we are. In the end there is something to which we say: ‘This I must do’”.

Whatever your “This I must do” is, it’s uniquely what you must do and is a reflection of an attribute of God. You don’t get to decide which calling is better, cooler, or more impressive. And in the words of William Wilberforce,

“If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.”

I encourage you to embrace whatever it is that makes you an incurable fanatic. It will be different than what makes me an incurable fanatic. But we are all called to find what is in our hard wire that makes us such a fanatic. And as much as I encourage you, reader, I encourage myself that we will pray for our hearts to “be broken by what breaks the heart of God.”