Who Are You When No One Is Watching?

FeaturedWho Are You When No One Is Watching?

I pulled into the parking lot of one of my favorite parks to walk at and, immediately, disappointment set in.

There were no spaces available. Honestly, that’s not saying much because it feels like the world’s smallest parking lot with a maximum of 18 spaces. And on this particular day, not only was it completely full, but about 10 additional cars had also parked on the grass—right next to the large sign that says: “Do not park on the grass.”

When it comes to rules, I’m pretty black and white. If it says go, I go. If it says don’t, I don’t. And you know what? I seem to be even better at making sure that everyone else knows and follows the rules too. So imagine my surprise when the first question that popped into my head was, “Should I do it too? Should I follow everyone else’s lead and park in the grass too?”

My rule-following voice immediately chimed in. “You know, Sarah…today’s probably the day that you’ll do that and then return from your walk to find a friendly little parking ticket on your windshield.”

“Highly unlikely,” I answered back. “I mean what’s the big deal? It’s graaaaaaasssss. No one really cares.”

Rule-voice: “Someone cared enough to post a sign about it, so it must matter to someone.”

Friends, I’m almost starting to laugh at the absurdity of this debate going on in my head because it’s a PARKING LOT. A seemingly minor, insignificant decision. And this wasn’t the first debate of the day either. Just an hour earlier, I was defending myself to my husband for refusing to signal a turn with my blinker while driving.

“There’s no one around to see it,” I told him. “Who am I signaling to?”

“That’s not the point,” he replied. “The rules are, you signal when turning. Period.”

For the record, my husband is not necessarily a staunch rule-follower and enforcer, but he knows that I am and his point was to illuminate a rather unsettling truth about myself: It seems that I tend to follow the rules that suit me and ignore the ones that don’t.

And to add to my transgressions, I often exhibit a whole other level of hypocrisy by holding others accountable for their non-law-abiding behaviors while I blissfully blow past them going 60 in a 45—so to speak.

So here I am…in a parking lot…weighing the consequences of my “to park or not to park in the grass” decision while also facing the reality that I’m not the squeaky-clean rule follower that I thought I was…when a third voice entered the mix.

He was gentle, kind, and compassionate as always.

“Sarah, it’s not so much about the rules here as it is about your character. Who you are when no one is watching is just as important—if not more—than when others are watching.”

Point. Set. Match. Jesus.

You see, back in Jesus’ day, he dealt with this all the time. The religious leaders were so focused on the dos and don’ts of the law that they missed the heart of the matter—even when it was staring them right in the face. They were more focused on appearances and doing the right things when others were watching—giving lip service when it suited them to do so. But their hearts were in the wrong place.

It’s always been and always will be a matter of the heart.

So I decided right then and there to do the “right” thing because it was the right thing. Not because someone was watching. Not because I feared a ticket. Not because the “No Parking on the Grass” sign didn’t particularly suit me and my needs.

I want who I am in the little moments to line up with who I am in the big moments, because I believe that if we take time to cultivate our character in the small things, we’ll be ready to face the big things.

But wait, friends, there’s more. After patiently waiting in my car for maybe five minutes, my decision was rewarded. A fellow walker was leaving and a legit parking space was mine for the taking. And just in case you were wondering, I also rectified that other rule I often struggle with and put my turn signal on…with only God and me to see it.

Start small friends…and we’ll win big—whether we have an audience or not.

The Worst Advice You Could Give…Is This

The Worst Advice You Could Give…Is This

It’s happened to me countless times.

I find myself in a situation or circumstances that feel overwhelming. I’m struggling. I’m emotional. I’m not OK. Maybe it’s a health crisis. Maybe it’s a parenting dilemma. Maybe it’s marital challenges.

And then, someone comes along offering this gem of advice: “Well, you know…just remember that somebody’s always got it worse than you.”

Ok. Um, yes, that is true. There is almost always and forever will be, someone who is likely facing a more daunting situation than I. And sometimes, having that perspective can help you to refocus on your situation, find a silver lining, and continue moving forward.

But frankly, I don’t think it’s good advice. Dare I say, it’s the worst advice one could give because while they may be sharing truth with you, what they’re also doing is invalidating your unique experience. What it translates to me is:

“Hey, get a grip. Your situation is not that bad.”

“Stop thinking about yourself and just be grateful it’s not worse.”

“Buck up and put your big girl panties (or big boy britches) on.”

Ironically, I often find myself giving this well meaning but poorly delivered advice to…well…myself. I start to feel guilty or ashamed for feeling the way I do. Damaging self-talk ensues. “You shouldn’t be crying about this, Sarah. That’s silly. Pull it together.” And because I start to believe it’s true for me, it then quite subtly starts to bleed into my conversations with my husband, my children, and my friends.

It’s advice that masks itself as being helpful, when really, it’s a judgment call that suggests we short-circuit our emotional response and the healing we need to receive.

It’s like telling a child not to cry when they lose a toy or scrape their knee. Our job is not to compare their situation to someone else’s, but to validate their pain and emotions, while offering comfort, encouragement, and compassion. Their emotional response is just that—it’s theirs. No one else’s.

One of my best friends who earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Acting, used to tell me about an exercise they would do in one of her classes. Whenever the student shared something, the teacher would lean forward with hands extended outward in a “v” shape, and with a very serious and intentional voice respond with, “That’s valid. That’s valid.”

We would often laugh at the ridiculousness of that response at times because it seemed so over-the-top. Yet the teacher’s response never changed—whether you shared something deeply personal and vulnerable or whether you said your favorite color was red. It was always simply, “That’s valid.”

Friends, that’s what we need. Whatever our struggle or situation, we need to know that we’re affirmed in our feelings.

It’s exactly what Jesus did for sisters, Mary and Martha, when their brother Lazarus died. When Jesus arrived on the scene four days later, He didn’t fault them for their grief. He didn’t diminish the loss or make them feel bad for expressing their emotions. And He certainly didn’t say, “Hey look, gals…my death is going to be way worse. At least he went peacefully.”

No, Jesus wept. He encouraged. He offered them hope—not a comparison trap.

That’s my prayer for you today, friend. That you would know that wherever you find yourself in this moment…you are not alone. Your feelings and emotions are valid. Your struggle is valid. You are seen. And you are loved.

But wait, there’s more. If I could add one final piece of advice to the pile here, it would be this: It’s not a race.

I don’t believe God sits there with a celestial timer hanging over our heads, yelling at us to, “Hurry up! You’ve only got a few minutes left to figure this out!”

He’s patient with us. He’s compassionate. He’s understanding.

Whether it takes you five minutes, five days or five years, it’s your journey. We’re all going to finish this marathon of a life one day, so set a pace for yourself that allows you to fully process your emotions and heal.

And as you do that, just know that there are plenty of folks cheering you on and encouraging you to keep going. You’ve got this, friend.

Is Age Really Just A Number?

Is Age Really Just A Number?

It’s the age-old question—pun intended. Is age really just a number? If we’re going with the literal interpretation of said question…then yes.

If we’re going with the “it’s just a state of mind,” then let me be the first or perhaps one millionth person to offer this humble piece of advice: I call bull hockey.

In one sense, yes…I’m totally with all you lovebirds who want to validate the age difference between you and your soul mate by shouting this from the rooftops or better yet, your Romeo and Juliet balconies. I’m also very much in favor of those who say it as a way of looking beyond your abilities or disabilities. You are choosing to not be defined by what that number says you can or cannot do. Bravo.

Lately, however, I’ve been confronted with the very physical reality that my newly minted 45-year-old body doesn’t always agree with my 25-year-old state of mind. Things don’t quite move with the same fluidity that they used to. Some extra TLC and Ibuprofen are now a necessary part of my post-workout regimen—or more often than not, my “congrats, you made it to the end of the day” regimen. Shedding a few extra pounds requires more effort than just skipping a meal. And as much as I have always proclaimed to be a “night owl,” staying up late now demands multiple days of recovery, coffee on tap, and concealer for the dark-circled eyes that glare back at me in the mirror.

I remember my mom telling me how embarrassed she would get when walking up a flight of stairs because of her knees creaking and cracking. So she did what any sane person would do—she amped up the volume and conversed as loudly as she could with others, hoping to drown out the sound of her two bony offenders. Friends, I’m all but shouting now as I summit the top of any staircase.

I share all of this because I’ve just completed another circle around the sun—and state of the knees and all—I’ve come to the conclusion that notwithstanding the physical realities that come with aging…age is not just a number. Age is more than a number.

In many ways our age can feel like a standardized test (aka the dreaded SAT)…the universal guide by which we’re to assess someone’s general intelligence and aptitude for success. There are definitive age mile markers along the way at 18, 21, 45, and 62—ranging from the right to vote to the right to collect social security. And then there are the unspoken ones. Those more “loosely defined” ages in life that society and culture says are most appropriate for getting married, starting a family, or hitting your stride in your career.

But what if you’re like me and you don’t “just” fit into the mold? Truth is, I excelled in the classroom…but sit me down to a 3-hour standardized test and I turned out sub-par results at best. That test, however, did not define my abilities or aptitude for success in the least.

Age has never been “just” a number for me. And for as much as I love to play by the rules, I seem to have lived a lot of my life outside of them. I didn’t find my soul mate until my late 30s. I started my family at an “advanced maternal age” (doctor’s words, not mine). And now in my mid 40s, I’m just beginning to hit my stride in terms of truly walking out my purpose and passions in life.

We are more than our age, friend.

I think of Sarah, wife of Abraham in the Old Testament, who more truly defined advanced maternal age by having her first child at age 90.

Or Grandma Moses, who began painting at age 77, achieving incredible success as an American folk artist.

Or Amanda Gorman, who at age 22, became the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history.

In all of these instances and more, age was not the defining or limiting factor in their success or fulfillment of their dreams. These individuals were so much more than their age. And you are too.

Let’s not just be 20 or 30 or 50 or 70 years old. Let’s be more than what others or our age deem us “capable” of. Let’s do the unexpected. Let’s step out in faith. Let’s chase after our dreams no matter how “advanced” they may be. And let’s make every birthday candle we blow out a beautiful reminder that we’re not done yet.

Because there’s still more.

What Do Your Dreams and German Shepherds Have In Common?

What Do Your Dreams and German Shepherds Have In Common?

I’ve recently started walking again with two goals in mind. One, get healthier. And two, relive my “glory days” by fitting into a pair of jeans that haven’t seen the light of day in quite some time.

One of these goals is far more realistic than the other, but hey, we’ve all got dreams. The important thing is to realize that our dreams don’t just materialize on a wish and a prayer. They take time, focus, and discipline. They—as I’ve recently come to witness—require German Shepherd-like intensity. Allow me to explain.

One of my favorite places to take a morning walk is at a local park. The paved loop there is just shy of a mile, with a huge open field in the center and a babbling brook hugging the pathway’s exterior. It is peaceful, serene, and inspiring—all the things I need to help me stay the course in my quest for health and non-spandex jean wearing.

On a few occasions while walking there, I’ve had the opportunity to witness something truly amazing: a German Shepherd doing obedience training with his owner. They arrive to the park walking side by side, the dog off leash.

I’m slightly nervous because of the unpredictability of what could happen with an unrestrained dog. I mean, all it takes is a rogue squirrel or me appearing as a threat and we’re all toast.

But not this dog. He walks confidently and calmly in step with his owner. A few moments later, the owner, with leash coiled in hand, points to the field and the dog follows. He points again, and the dog sits, his eyes focused on his owner. Watching. Waiting.

The owner begins to walk away from the dog, only turning his head for an occasional look back about every 20 feet or so. When he reaches to what seems like nearly a football field of distance between him and the pup, he finally stops and turns to face the dog.

It’s the longest staring contest I’ve ever seen. Neither dog nor owner is even flinching. And then, the owner gives the long-awaited sign. He raises his arm straight up into the air and deftly flicks his hand up. The German Shepherd launches into a full-blown sprint toward his owner and once he reaches him, circles him a few times before quietly sitting by his side.

I’ve seen some pretty amazing obedience training before, but this just blows my mind—and mainly for one big reason. Not a single audible exchange happens between the pair the entire time. And I mean entire. From the moment they exited their car it was as if they had taken a monastic vow of silence of the Canine Order. There were no vocal commands or affirmations. No barking. No nothing. Just two simple hand gestures and loads of unspoken trust.

I can only imagine all the things that have to work together to pull off a performance like that. Hours and hours of practice to learn the commands and refine their communication. And the focus. Had that dog taken his eyes off his owner as he walked away he could have easily lost sight of him. And had he lost sight of him, he would not have seen the hand signal. His ability to focus and maintain that intensity was paramount to his success.

So what does all this have to do with my dreams? Because I believe that in life, we are the German Shepherd and that owner represents our dreams. And I’m not just referring to my jean-goal-wearing dreams. I’m talking big dreams. Life purpose. The things we want to look back on at the end of our lives and smile about because we accomplished them.

It’s so easy to get distracted and lose focus. Especially when our dreams seem so far in the distance. We get disappointed and lose hope. It’s too far out of reach. But that’s when the payoff usually happens. The hours we’ve poured into it—pursuing knowledge and refining our skills—all hinge on us being able to stay the course and not miss that all important hand signal.

That moment when preparation and opportunity meet, and we get the green light to go for it.

But here’s the kicker. It’s a hand signal. Not a message blasting through a PA system or an alarm ringing obnoxiously in our ears. It’s quiet, it’s subtle, and it’s nearly imperceptible except to the one who remains focused on it. Watching. Waiting.

Wherever you’re at, friend, don’t give up. Your sprint is coming. That gap between you and your long-awaited dream will close. And your victory lap will happen if you stay focused on the callings and purposes for your life. And when it does…my…my…my…what a beautiful thing it will be to watch.

Feeling Stuck? Stop Feeding The Dead Things In Your Life

Feeling Stuck? Stop Feeding The Dead Things In Your Life

Don’t worry, friends. This is not a foray into the world of the “Walking Dead.” As much as my husband tells me the character development in this show is incredible, I just cannot get past the rotting flesh, zombie apocalypse stuff. Sorry, it’s just creepy.

What I do want to talk about is a recent revelation I had while tending to my indoor plants. For the record, I’m no horticulturalist. I’m just a girl trying her best to keep her plants alive. For the longest time—back in my rookie gardening days— if I saw a leaf or branch starting to turn yellow and die I would just leave it alone. I figured it was harmless, right?

Not quite.

What I discovered was that even though the branch may be dying or is already dead, the plant will still continue to send nutrients to that branch as long as it remains attached to the plant. So not only is it needlessly feeding something that can no longer benefit from the nutrients, it is also simultaneously robbing the healthy parts of the plant from the nutrients it needs to grow.

The dead branches are literally sucking the life out of the plant. If ever there was a zombie apocalypse for plants, it’s this—as well as a botanical truth that was about to rock my world.

Here I was, blissfully watering and pruning the dead leaves off one of my plants, when a voice in my head silenced every other thought with one simple question:

“Sarah, what dead things in your life are you still feeding?”

Holy mulch, Batman. The Master Gardener had just called me out.

“What in your life,” He continued, “are you pouring your time, energy, and effort into that is not only a dead end, but is also taking away from the areas of your life that should be growing?”

You see friend, I can often get stuck and become stagnant from prioritizing non-essentials over essentials. Instead of nurturing areas of my life that truly matter and could benefit from my time and attention, I end up spending that time in other areas that ultimately end up draining me.

I watch television shows and then complain that I don’t have time to write. I proclaim that I want to be healthier and then choose to eat ice cream instead of going for a walk. I miss opportunities to connect with friends and family because I’m too distracted by dirty toilets and a pile of laundry.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with a clean house and clean clothes. Dessert is a wonderful treat. Movies and shows are wonderfully entertaining.

But if I’m stuck and not growing…if what should be feeding my emotional, physical and spiritual self is instead going toward something that is stealing from it, then it needs to be pruned.

Jesus himself used this analogy when speaking to his disciples about their relationship with him. “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more” (John 15:1-2).

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to waste my time being unfruitful. It’s time to cut off the dead things and feed the parts of me that are alive and growing. It’s time to sow more into my purpose and calling and not into the excuses that keep me bogged down, unmotivated, and distracted.

It’s time to take down some metaphorical zombies and bury them for good. Are you in?

Gratitude Vs. Anxiety: Winning The Battle Over Your Mind

Gratitude Vs. Anxiety: Winning The Battle Over Your Mind

I’m just going to put this out there. If there’s an opportunity to panic, stress or overreact, I’m your person. Spill your milk or set the house on fire…it’s all the same to me in terms of my emotional response.

In fact, I’m a proactive panicker. If I even THINK something remotely bad could happen, I preemptively react. In the battle of gratitude vs. anxiety, you could place a solid bet that anxiety would win every time in my world. Knowing this then, you can likely imagine my response when an alarm of epic proportion occurred at my house.

I had just sat down in the calm, cozy, quietness of my home to start penning some thoughts onto my laptop when I noticed that the WIFI wasn’t connected. In fact, our home network wasn’t even showing up on my computer. “Maybe it just needs a restart,” I thought.

Nada.

I walked over to our security panel to check the settings. Not only was the WIFI down, but it was also telling me that everything was disconnected. No power, no heat, nothing. I flicked on a light switch just to confirm. Nothing.

I was puzzled, but still fine. Cue the emergency in 5…4…3…2…1.

All fourteen of our house alarms go off in a blaze of glory. And I mean all of them. Flood, fire, security, probably the carbon monoxide too—the entire house was reacting like a cuckoo clock on steroids. My phone dings with the following text message: “WARNING! Fire has been detected at your home…”

Oooook. So you know, at this point, I should be firing (pun intended) on all four of my anxiety cylinders. Yet strangely, I’m not. Even as the security company calls me through the emergency telecom system to verify my wellbeing, I calmly shout back to her over the ear-piercing alarms, “Yeah, um…I think so?”

I surveyed each room, sniffing for smoke and searching for foul play. There was none. As it turns out, it ended up being a false alarm—likely triggered by a blown transformer that took out an entire grid or two of our city.

About ten or so minutes later, the alarms subsided, the power returned, and I began to process why only half of an anxiety cylinder went off. Sure, I was feeling some stress and sensory overload from the sheer volume of the alarms, but I was also keenly aware of how my thoughts had begun to shift toward gratitude in the midst of it all.

“Wow, that’s good to know that in a real emergency, all the alarms work. And bonus, someone was alerted and called to check on me,” I thought. “And you know what? Even if our house burned, I’d be ok. My family would be ok. We would get through it. I’m so thankful for emergency responders.”

Gratitude in the midst of anxiety-producing circumstances is so not normal for me. But I was winning the battle of the mind—and here’s the reason why.

For the three days leading up to this epic non-emergency, I had been doing some intensive Google research on the relationship between anxiety and gratitude, and as it turns out, both the Apostle Paul and neuroscience have a lot to say about it. From his prison cell in Rome around A.D. 61, the Apostle Paul writes a letter to the church at Philippi, encouraging them on how to remain positive, hopeful, and full of joy.

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand” (Philippians 4:6-7, NLT).

Don’t be anxious. Be grateful.

Paul was on to something. Not only was he the lyrical predecessor to Bobby McFerrin’s Grammy award-winning song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” in 1988, but turns out he was a neuroscience pioneer as well.

Lots of research and studies have been emerging recently on the connection between anxiety and gratitude. As it turns out, it is physiologically impossible for the brain to respond to anxiety and gratitude at the same time. They cannot coexist. Our minds cannot focus on both positive and negative information at the same time.

When we experience gratitude, our brain releases neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin—the “feel good” emotions. Anxiety on the other hand, triggers neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine to be released—aka the stress hormone.

And here’s the real kicker. Author Alex Korb of the ‘Grateful Brain,’ notes that our brain is conditioned to function in a repeated way. That means those of us who are constantly worrying are subconsciously re-wiring our brain to only process negative information. If we make a conscious decision to practice gratitude however, we can train our brains to focus on positive emotions and thoughts, which in turn reduces our anxiety and worries.

Let’s be clear, though. Choosing gratitude does not mean you’re ignoring the reality of your situation or circumstances. But it does put you in the driver’s seat. You can control how you respond. I love how author Tanya Peterson puts it: “You don’t have to ignore reality; instead, you choose what part of reality you take in…. Cultivate the perspective you want to have, even when you’re anxious. It’s a powerful way to disrupt anxious thoughts, worries, fears, and obsessions. The more you respond by finding things for which to be grateful, the more you’ll strengthen positive responses in your brain.”

Friends, we can do this. We can literally rewire our brain to be more positive. We can win the battle over anxiety by not giving it a place or space in our mind. We can find victory through our gratitude.

Trust me, I know. I’ve walked through some anxiety-ridden landmines in my life. Unbearable grief from losing a loved one. My husband’s cancer diagnosis. Loneliness and insecurity. But, I’ve also known the peace that comes from focusing on the good. From choosing faith over fear and gratitude over anxiety. And if this proactive panicker by nature can do it, well then, there’s hope—and joy—in store for us all.

**For more science behind anxiety and gratitude, check out these helpful articles:
The Neuroscience of Gratitude and How it Affects Anxiety & Grief by Madhuleena Chowdhury
Gratitude and Anxiety: To Be Less Anxious, Be More Grateful by Tanya Peterson

Your Life Has Rules. Know When To Break Them.

Your Life Has Rules. Know When To Break Them.

I knew it was bad.

Standing in the kitchen on a Sunday afternoon, my normally 24/7, over-the-top, silly and joyful husband just looked at me with his eyes glazed over. The week prior, he’d mentioned that he hadn’t been sleeping well and his overall energy was low. The brain fog was in full effect too, causing him to make a few missteps in both his school and volunteer work that under normal circumstances he could have performed with eyes closed and arms tied behind his back.

“I’m burnt out,” he confessed to me. “I just need to get away…maybe a weekend somewhere to rest and clear my head.”

This was a 9-1-1 call and I had just answered the line. The problem though, was that I could have just as easily placed that same call.

In the six years since having kids, we’ve gone away together…zero times. Zero.

My reasons seemed perfectly legit.

We don’t have family nearby to come stay with our kids. We can’t afford it. There are other things that need our attention right now. Our schedules are too busy. All our friends are equally just as busy—asking them to help would just be a burden.

That same day, I happened to see a Facebook post from a friend in a similar situation. She and her husband had never been away from their brood of four kids. They had similar reasons that she was sharing with her therapist and friend who—after listening and nodding empathetically—responded back with, “Try harder.”

Well that seems like a bit of a gut punch. But like any good gut punch, it got my attention. It was the wake up call I needed to hear. The tough love that tells you it’s time to break a few of your rules (many of which are self-imposed), because following those rules right now aren’t doing you and those you love any favors. In fact, they’re actually hurting the situation instead of helping it.

I was having an Esther moment—and it was time to break some rules.

You see, Esther was born a Jewish exile but eventually married King Xerxes and became Queen of Persia. Around 479 B.C., a plot was devised to kill all of the Jewish people, however Mordecai, who was a cousin to Esther but raised her as a father, caught wind of the plot and shared it with her.

In order to save the Jewish people—including herself—from total annihilation, Esther would have to petition the king. And that meant breaking some rules. Big ones. Anyone who approached the king’s inner court without being invited or summoned by him would be put to death unless the king extended his gold scepter toward them, thus sparing their life.

That’s not exactly a rule you want to break.

Esther reminded Mordecai of this rule, to which he responded, “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14).

Allow me to paraphrase:

Esther: I can’t do it. I’ll die.

Mordecai: Try harder.

That’s a gut punch, folks. Her reasons for saying no were legit. The rules were legit. But in this case, the consequences of breaking said rules far outweighed the benefits of upholding them.

And this is my point, friends. While we may not be facing a literal life or death situation or carry the fate of an entire people group on our shoulders like Esther did, nonetheless our decisions hold weight. Both the rules we live by and the ones we break have an impact on ourselves and on others. What we need is the wisdom to know when to choose the breaking over the following.

What we need are more Mordecais in our life. More friends, family members, or therapists who can speak into our lives and wisely encourage us to take a step into that “inner court” we’re hesitant to go into. The court of our rules, our reasons, and our excuses. The court that we fear will bring us death if we disobey or break the rules, when in fact it may stand ready to offer us life, blessings, and rewards.

Esther’s step of faith was rewarded. The king extended his scepter and saved her life, which in turn allowed her to save the lives of her people. She understood the risks and sacrifice involved. She understood the opportunity that lay before her. And she understood that in that moment, it was time to break the rules for the greater good.

And so did I.

Shortly after that Sunday afternoon conversation, I took a step of faith. I booked a weekend getaway for me and my husband, knowing that we desperately needed it even if our bank account didn’t agree. I reached out to a friend for help watching our kids, fully expecting an “I’m sorry, we just can’t,” and instead receiving the most enthusiastic and gracious, “Yes, we would love too!” A golden scepter had been extended to me and I was overwhelmed with tears of gratitude and relief.

I broke a few of my rules that day for the greater good—pursuing what seemed like the impossible for so many reasons to seize an opportunity to restore our souls, nurture our relationship, and exit the weekend as better parents than when we went in.

Maybe the “inner court” you’re up against is not one of self-care and relationships but stepping out in faith to pursue a passion, a career, a ministry, or a purpose. You’re weighing all the reasons why you shouldn’t do it with the one reason why you should.

Wherever you’re at friend, my encouragement to you is this: find your Mordecai, seek out wisdom, and then boldly and prayerfully step into that inner court. It’s time to break some rules for the greater good.

Finding The Good In The Grind

Finding The Good In The Grind

One of my favorite coffee shops back when I was in college was called “The Daily Grind.” Located right in the social center of campus, this coffee shop quickly became for me a near daily ritual where I’d grab a latte, the school newspaper, and a bag of yogurt-covered pretzels before heading out to change the world…by way of my history 101 course, that is.

Sometimes I even went crazy and ditched my usual pretzel order for…wait for it…a slice of zucchini bread. I know, right? Wild times.

I loved that java joint. It fueled me through so much of my collegiate experience, plus I thought the name was genius. Coffee grinds, daily grind…coffee made daily. I don’t think it ever occurred to my naïve and barely cultured 18-year-old mind that it could also be coy reference to the routine and cyclically repetitive nature of life.

Fast-forward to now…where my daily grind is well, not quite as glamorous. No one is handing me coffee and pastries as I head out to start my day. It’s more of a chaotic, frenzied version with me slinging black coffee mixed with collagen peptides into a to-go mug whilst transforming into a pack mule and loading my shoulders with all my kids’ backpacks, jackets, snacks, umbrellas, and whatever else the day demands.

Then, if I’m lucky…and let me assure you that I am…I’ll come home from schlepping more bags from a trip to the grocery store and find myself inexplicably drawn to the kids’ bathroom where an eau-de-toilette is coming from the “ew…the toilet.” I proceed to start cleaning the pungent remains of my precious son’s potty-training but wow-did-you-miss-the-mark-on-that-one session, only to discover several additional pools of water at the base of the toilet. There’s a leak somewhere and it’s beyond my pay grade.

The plumber is called. The budget is adjusted. The laundry begins. The kids are picked up. The dinner prep starts. The lunches are made. And the coffee pot is cleaned and prepped with fresh grounds so we can start all over again tomorrow.

Forget the espresso and the pour overs, guys. This is the real deal, daily grind. And sometimes it’s hard finding the good in the grind. Whether you’re a stay-at-home grinder, a commute-to-corporate grinder, a work-from-home grinder, or a for real barista grinder, life in all its repetitions and surprises can often be exhausting as we cycle through moments of grief and joy, sickness and health, success and failure, love and heartbreak.

Not even King David’s son Solomon—the richest and wisest man of his time who literally had everything he could want or imagine—could escape the grind. He writes in his book of Ecclesiastes, “Everything is futile! What does a man gain from all of his labor? The sun rises and the sun sets; it hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows southward, then turns northward; round and round it swirls…all things are wearisome, more than one can describe” (v.2-8).

That’s right, friends. Folks have been experiencing the grind since at least the 3rd century BC…and dare I say since Adam and Eve got the official boot from the Garden. But here’s the good news. What Solomon also recognized was that there’s a season for everything, and even in the tough grind seasons you can still experience something good. Moments of beauty, blessing, and joy.

“He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time,” (v.11) Solomon writes, “and there is nothing better for people than to be happy and do good while they live…all people should eat, drink, and enjoy the results of their hard work” (v.13).

For me personally, I’m grateful for the schlepping of groceries—because it means a full pantry and full bellies for my family. I’m thankful for my son’s “happy accident,” because if not for the noxious smell, I wouldn’t have found the bigger problem of the water leak and potentially hundreds more dollars worth of damages and repairs.

So I celebrated in the spirit of Solomon. Yep. I stroked a check to the plumber, then treated myself to a latte…and wait for it…a slice of pumpkin bread. There’s good in the grind, friends, and I’m right there with you. We got this.

Having An Impact on Others: It’s Easier Than You Think

Having An Impact on Others: It’s Easier Than You Think

Every month I get the opportunity to teach the preschool class at my church. And every month, I put an inordinate amount of pressure on myself to make sure I’ve followed the lesson plan to a tee.

I know. I can’t believe I just said that. Preschool and pressure.

Usually the only pressure involving preschoolers is the one these sweet kiddos are feeling on their bladders as they finish out their potty training. Yet here I am, sweating it out and asking myself questions like, “Did I hit all the points? Did I teach the right things and ask the right questions? Was anyone listening? Did anything stick?”

It seems almost absurd to fret about such things when your audience of four, five and six-year-olds are more concerned about when they’re going to have their snack, if I can put a Band-Aid on a boo-boo only they can see, and why we have run out of emoji stickers to decorate their craft.

But I do feel pressure. It probably has a little to do with my personality and my desire to do things well (if not perfectly), but I also believe it has something to do with the sense of responsibility we feel when we’re placed in a position of leadership or authority.

There’s a weightiness that comes with teaching. The goal is to propel students forward with truth, knowledge, and the tools they need for success. To do that requires preparation on our part. I don’t want to be the reason someone else fails because I failed to do my part well.

On this particular Sunday, my teaching confidence was at an all-time low. Like a zero on a scale of one to 10. I wrapped up the lesson and all the activities and glanced at my watch. Twenty-five minutes left to go.

“Well,” I thought to myself. “When all else fails, play games and sing silly songs.”

We launched into a rousing rendition of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” We played “Doggy, Doggy, Where’s Your Bone?” and “Mr. Judge.”

And then something amazing happened.

I was looking at their faces and what I saw was pure joy: grins from ear to ear, giggles, and uncontainable delight. It was like watching a movie in slow motion—and as I watched, I heard God whisper to me, “Sarah, you didn’t fail. Do you see their faces? Today, you created a safe place where they experienced joy and love. That…is a GREAT success.” 

Friends, don’t underestimate the impact you are having in someone else’s life. What you might perceive as a failure on your part could be exactly what they need. It may seem silly, illogical, and the complete opposite of what you planned to do. It may be completely perfect in a way you never anticipated or expected. Maybe it’s not the sermon or the lesson that impacts someone’s life, but a hello, a hug, and a simple word of encouragement: I believe in you. You’re doing a great job. You got this.

Having an impact on others is easier than you think—just do your best and let the pressure and expectations go.

**For the record, turns out I was wrong about the full impact of my efforts that Sunday. Three days later at breakfast, my daughter (who was in the class) casually mentioned a key point from the lesson. Cue the shock and awe. It did stick.

Maybe, just maybe, I can do this teaching thing after all. Maybe we all can.

How To Move From Your Breaking Point To Your Breakthrough

How To Move From Your Breaking Point To Your Breakthrough

We all have a breaking point. That place where life and circumstances cause you to hit an emotional, physical, and spiritual wall. For some of us (all arrows pointing to me) that wall can come quickly and is easily aided and abetted by a spilled cup of coffee, a missed night of sleep, or sitting down to an empty toilet paper roll.

Others seem to have a superhuman strength and patience that confounds the rest of us. Wherever you land on the scale however, at some point…we ALL break. We all experience the frustration, angst, and weariness that comes from being human and realizing we’ve officially maxed out on the limits of our personal strength and fortitude.

That moment for me came one evening after having battled a virus running its course in my home. After a week of nursing my daughter back to health, I finally felt we’d rounded a corner. I’d successfully managed to get her to take her medicine through fits and tears, stayed up with her during the night when she hacked and coughed, and personally couriered about 300 or so tissues from her nose to the trash can. Victory…and a full night’s sleep were nearly in my grasp.

And then it hit my son.

I was done. I was frustrated. I was tired. My attitude stunk. My complaining was off the charts—both in my head and the under-my-breath mutterings. I desperately wanted my kids to feel better, yet the finish line seemed to keep moving further and further away. Thankfully, we did eventually cross the finish line, but in retrospect, there were some things I could have done differently to help better manage my emotions and navigate my circumstances more gracefully.

Over a steaming hot latte at one of my favorite java joints, God showed me a picture of what it looks like to successfully navigate a crisis and move from your breaking point to your breakthrough. For the record, it seems these gentle nudgings and communications often come to me through coffee, hot showers, or intimate conversations with friends. It must be a comfort thing. What I do love though, is that God speaks…a lot…and often, in unexpected ways.

The picture He showed me was of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, followed by his immediate arrest, and ending with his crucifixion. Not the prettiest of pictures, to say the least. He prayed until he literally sweated drops of blood, suffered the betrayal of a close and trusted friend, and endured a brutal beating and tortuous death by crucifixion. It was, in effect, the breaking point and culmination of his life and ministry—only he didn’t break down. He broke through.

“How?” I asked. “How did you go through one of the most physically, emotionally and mentally painful times of your life and not once get angry, lose your composure, or throw in the towel?”

That’s a loaded question to unpack, but what did immediately jump out at me were three principles to help move us from our breaking point to our breakthrough when we are walking through a dark time or moment of crisis.

Principle #1: Keep the Conversation Going

Jesus didn’t wait until the eleventh hour to cry out to God. He didn’t wait until his last reserves had dried up or attempt to rely solely on his own strength. He was in constant communion and conversation with the Father. He prayed in the Garden before the chaos of what was to come, and he prayed on the cross at the pinnacle of his suffering. Frankly, prayer was the hallmark of his ministry. He prayed often, many times privately, but also publicly—before and after miracles and healings—and with his disciples. He understood that constant, daily communication and conversations were necessary to sustain him—both in the highs and lows of life. The same is true for you and I. We were not meant to be “islands” and live life in isolation. We were built for relationships—and communication is key for both our sanity and survival. Keep praying, keep talking, keep engaging with others. When you do this consistently, especially when things are in non-crisis mode, you’ll be well equipped to maintain the conversation when a crisis hits and find the peace and help you need to carry you through the storm.

Principle #2: Turn Your Focus Outward

If you’ve ever watched the reality series, “Survivor,” there’s always a challenge that tests the physical limits of the contestants—tests designed to bring them excruciating nerve, muscle and body pain. The ones who endure and ultimately win said test are those who find a way to channel their focus and attention onto something other than their pain and circumstances. They’re focused on their victory. Likewise, Jesus in his ministry never lost sight of his end goal. In the midst of incredible pain, discomfort and betrayal, he kept his focus on others and not himself. In the Garden, he healed the soldier’s ear that had been cut off. On the cross, he extended mercy and salvation to the thief being crucified next to him and forgiveness to those who persecuted and mocked him. Whatever crisis you are facing—be it grief, financial, marital, as a parent, in your career, or your health—stay focused on your end goal…your victory…your breakthrough. If you’re in the quicksand of life right now and so focused on all the sinking muck and mire around you, you just might miss the branch hanging right over your head offering you a way out.

Principle #3: Be Willing To Let Go and Let Others

This may be equally both the hardest and easiest principle to apply, particularly for those of us who like to channel our inner Luisa from “Encanto.” She was the strong one, the one who shouldered all the burdens—literally—for her family. To ask for help or admit that she needed a break would signify weakness and failure on her part. Or so she thought. When we place those expectations on ourselves, we’re essentially doubling our burden and choosing to navigate the crushing weight of a crisis by way of our own strength. At his physically weakest point, when Jesus could no longer carry his own cross toward Golgotha—the place of his crucifixion—Simon of Cyrene stepped in to help carry it for him. It doesn’t really matter that Simon was “volun-told” to do it by the Roman soldiers. The bigger picture here is that we all need Simons in our life. When help is offered, accept it. When you need help, ask for it. Receiving help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of maturity. And it makes crossing that finish line all the sweeter when we can celebrate our breakthrough with those who helped us get there.