Chasing Applause. (The World’s Okay-est Bible Teacher)

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I wanted to be good at it.

Really good at it.

And I wasn’t.

I think, in the smallest of nutshells–that could sum up my first year as a teacher.

I wanted to be great. And I wasn’t.

I don’t write that fishing for compliments. I don’t mean that I was terrible. I don’t think I merited the “World’s Worst Teacher” award.

But what I wanted and what I got were two different things.

I love the movie 500 Days of Summer. It seems to be a movie people either hate or love. I think it’s brilliant. I love the humor. The shots. The shades of blue in every scene to bring out Zooey Deschanel’s eyes. The soundtrack. The quirkiness. My crush Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

In the movie, there is a scene where the shot is split into “Expectations” and “Reality.” You watch the same event occurring simultaneously on either side of the screen with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character’s “Expectations” of the event and the “Reality” of the event. Naturally, the reality is much more heartbreaking.

I think my split screen of teaching wouldn’t necessarily be “Expectations” and “Reality.” I honestly didn’t expect it to be great–rather “Desired” it to be great.

What I wanted. What I got.

I wanted to be great and I wasn’t. I didn’t get the applause.

I’ve been chasing applause for a long time. And teaching ended up being yet another outlet for my chasing.

I chased applause for years on stage.

I chased applause living in India.

I chased applause serving in various capacities.

I’m, apparently, really bad at learning this lesson.

It was funny realizing how much I wanted it. I would work tirelessly on lesson plans, and pour out every bit of me every single day. And there was no instant gratification. There was no long-term gratification. Comparable to those late night dress rehearsals–singing, acting, and dancing my heart out to an empty auditorium.

Or so it felt.

I joked that it was the actress in me that wanted the instant gratification of the standing ovation.

But I think it goes deeper than that.

Instead it is the sinner in me. The broken. Self-centered. Glory-hungry me.

Instead it is the me who wants a ministry of applause.

Time and time again the Lord humbles me. Lovingly and painfully working to wean me off of my cravings for this world. Of my seeking fulfillment in that which cannot fulfill. In drinking from broken cisterns.

The 22 year-old Shara who was angry and jealous that she had gotten on a plane, moved to India, and her efforts seemed fruitless. She had no stories to tell. She had no cause for fame. She wept as she confessed her chasing of applause. Her mentor asked her that day, “Shara, if you knew that no books would ever be written about you, if you would serve your whole life without seeing anything come of it, if no one would ever know who you were, or even care–would you still want to be a missionary?” The brokenness inside her wanted to answer, “No.”

I served for many years as an actress for church youth camps. By far the greatest summers of my life. I love camp–the Lord changes lives at camp. He changed mine. It is, in some ways, a hyper-version of life. A week fully submersed in a “Christian bubble” of brilliant lights, sound, hype, the gospel, service, video, bands, speakers, excitement. In a way, it was the ministry I was chasing. I would go on stage and perform. I would receive applause. Week after week I would see thousands of lives changed. Instant gratification.

And perhaps I carried some of that with me into my first year as a Bible teacher. Into my day to day exhausting, frustrating, heartbreaking ministry as a high school Bible teacher. Perhaps I carried in a somewhat warped view of ministry. Expectations versus reality. Desired versus Reality. What I wanted it to be. And what it was.

We live in a world of chasing applause. How many ‘likes’ we can get. How ‘approved of’ we can be by others.

And I chase it. I am guilty of chasing it.

I have stared in the mirror so despairingly over what reflected back. For beauty earned applause. Applause from men. Applause from women. And I wasn’t beautiful. So I chased beautiful.

The filtered “high points” of people’s lives plastered throughout social media. An exciting glamorous life earned applause. And my life wasn’t exciting or glamorous. So I chased exciting and glamorous.

Meeting cultural expectations of marriage. Having a family. Buying a house. Having a well-paying job that you love and are passionate about. These all are met with applause. I failed to achieve them. So I failed to receive the applause.

There is emptiness to applause. A temporary fix to an eternal problem. A band aid on a severed leg.

A quote from Elisabeth Elliot:

Lord, take away my longing or give me what I long for. The Lord answered, “I must teach you to long for something better.

The Lord must teach me to long for something better than the applause of men. He must teach me to long for Him instead.

The Bible says that our real problem is that every one of us is building our identity on something besides Jesus. Whether it’s to succeed in a chosen field or to have a certain relationship–we’re saying, “If I have that, if I get my deepest wish, then everything will be okay.” You’re looking to that thing to save you from oblivion, from disillusionment, from mediocrity. You’ve made that wish into your savior. You never use that term, of course–but that’s what’s happening.

-Tim Keller

I tried to build my identity on being a Bible teacher this year. A really good one. I thought–if i have that, if I’m really great–if my students love me and many come to faith in Christ because of methen everything will be okay.

I wanted a ministry of applause. Of mountain top highs. Of filtered photographic memories. Of vast successes.

I didn’t want ordinary. I didn’t want hard. I didn’t want the every day trudge through the muck of the trenches of gospel proclamation.

And the Lord looks at me, His stubborn prideful daughter, and He tells me I must long for something better. I must want more. I must stop chasing applause.

Thankfully, the Lord is not content to give me my prideful wants, but, graciously, albeit painfully, works to rip them away. One by one. He works to teach me to long for something better–to long for someone better–to long for Him instead. To replace my idols with Him, the only One who can satisfy my deepest longings, the only One who can give me true and lasting joy.

I pray, by His grace, that He will help me continue to fight against chasing applause.

As the great theologian Ron Swanson once said, “Don’t start chasing applause and acclaim. That way lies madness.”

Long for something better.

Chase something better.

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The doubt of the sower.

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I always knew it would be hard.

I always doubted myself way more than those around me–my colleagues, my professors.

But doubt has always marked my life when it came to my abilities. I have never been able to see what other people see. And when life seemed to line up with what I saw in myself, I began to doubt even more so the words of others.

I confessedly struggle with doubt.

And I didn’t doubt that this year would be hard.

There are numerous things that are hard about my job as a high school Bible teacher. I have left most days utterly defeated. I have fought back tears mid class, and I have had anxiety attacks at lunch breaks.

But here is an honest outpouring of a doubt I am wrestling with currently.

Part of the “hard” of Bible teaching.

It is the doubt of the sower.

Every day, Monday through Friday, I teach 9th and 10th graders about Scripture. About Jesus. I ask them hard questions. I do my best to make class interactive, challenging, and fun. They read Scripture. They hear it. They write it. They have memorized it. Every day, Monday through Friday, I teach 150 teenagers the Bible. Every day, Monday through Friday, I share the gospel.

And every day, Monday through Friday, I can, oft times, almost visibly see their hearts grow colder. Hardened. Indifferent. Apathetic. Embittered. Combatible, at times.

Not all. Definitely not all.

Part of the “hard” is the hardening.

I was not prepared for the hardening.

I was not prepared to be the sower.

I have always known the Lord doesn’t need me. He can speak through donkeys–He most definitely does not need me. I know I am not a John Piper or a David Platt. I know I have so much yet to learn.

But it was always then that I would remind myself of the power of the Word of God.

That the Word of God was living and active. Sharper than a double-edged swordPiercing through bone and marrow.

That the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, was more than able to save completely devoid of me.

But I confess that I have doubted the living and active Word of God.

Because, Monday through Friday, I watch 150 or so 9th and 10th graders, seemingly unaffected by it. Or even hardened by it.

Throughout my life, I have shared the gospel with friends, strangers, coworkers, family members.

But they remained unchanged. I have never seen one person come from death to life.

I was not prepared to be the sower.

I have prayed and prayed for my students. I have prayed and prayed for family members. They have heard and read truth so many times. And nothing.

And I want to doubt myself. And I want to blame myself. That the problem is not the message but the messenger. That I shouldn’t be a Bible teacher. Perhaps these students would respond to the truth if it were taught by someone other than me. And perhaps that might be true.

But I was reminded of 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

The Bible teacher. The Christian. The Pastor. All who proclaim the gospel will feel the ache of that verse. The ache.

The ache brought on by love. By the love that desires for the Word to not be folly. For the cross to not be foolishness to those around you.

But to many–it is.

And I was not prepared to be the sower.

When I lived in India, one of the missionaries I was working with asked me, “Shara, if you knew no book would ever be written about you, if you knew you would preach the gospel and no one would ever believe, if you knew your life would not be a story for people to tell about years later, if you knew you would never see any fruit from your labor, and no one would ever remember you when you died, would you still want to be a missionary?”

I remember how hard this question was, but still how easy. Of course I would. I thought. I said.

And in the years since then I have seen my life as the sower. And perhaps that is what my life will be.

Am I okay with that?

Am I okay with being the one who sows the seeds, but never gathers the fruit?

As an actress, I still yearn for the applause. The instant gratification of making an audience uproar in laughter. The standing ovation. The fruit of my labor.

I wasn’t prepared to be a sower.

 

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

Galatians 6:9

Perhaps my ministry will always be that of the sower. The faithful proclamation of Truth day in a day out until my dying day. Perhaps I will see some of the fruit of that. Perhaps I will not. But do I believe that God’s Word is still powerful? Do I believe that the Gospel is still the greatest news that could ever be shared? Will I not grow weary in doing good? Even if that means setting someone else up to reap in due season? Even if I never see the fruit of my labor.

Is God enough?

I struggle with being the sower.

But He gives more grace.

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And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

2017.

Every year I write the same thing.

Something along the lines of “I feel like I just wrote last year’s!”

And every year that sentiment never changes.

Years are strange. How you have no idea what will happen. No idea who you will meet. No idea what is going to make you laugh or what is going to make you cry. No idea where you might end up.

I would have never imagined in a million years some of the things that happened this year.

That is the funny thing about new years. About life.

So many things will change. But the Lord truly always remains the same.

He is always faithful. Always good. Always in control of the new years. He is already in 2018, ready to hold my hand through it.

This is the 8th “End of Year Blog” I have written. That somewhat feels hard to believe, but, at the same time it doesn’t. 2009 feels like a lifetime ago. In many ways, I don’t even know who that person was. I feel that if we were to meet today, that I would scarcely recognize her or have much in common with the young actress and college student.

My how these eight years have changed you, Shara Lewis.

And how, in many ways, you are still the same.

2017.

Tears welled up in my eyes and I felt a little sick just now trying to pen the words to begin my journey through this past year. I don’t want to return to it. Not to the beginning. But I will.

When the clock struck midnight and 2017 began, I was surrounded with friends. I had donned a beautiful dress earlier that night, although I had nowhere to be. I’d always wanted to dress up for Near Year’s. So I did. Earlier that day, I had ran a 5K. My roommate and I had spent the night watching Parks & Rec, eating chips and dip, and setting off (probably) illegal fireworks in our apartment’s parking lot. It was a really great day. And a wonderful evening.

But I couldn’t breathe.

The first half of 2017 I couldn’t breathe.

2016 ended with heartbreak, and 2017 beginning didn’t make it go away.

One night in January, my roommate came in my room and stayed with me all night because I couldn’t stop crying. The pain was unbearable.

I had a permanent ache in my chest that didn’t subside for months. I never thought it would ever go away. I never thought that I wouldn’t hurt anymore.

But the Lord restores broken things. Broken hearts. Shattered pieces He will mend. Albeit slowly.

Perhaps that was the theme for 2017. Broken things.

I’m tired. I’m tired of my life being a series of broken things.

But God.

But God is still good in the ruined life.

As always, in no particular order:

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New Years 🙂

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Heartbroken and terrified, I moved to Rock Hill, SC for 9 weeks to be a student teacher at Westminster Catawba Christian School’s lower school. It was hard. It was lonely. Exhausting. Overwhelming. And it was there that I experienced the darkest moments of my life.

The heartbreak was unbearable. I hated that I couldn’t just “get over it.” I hated that it hurt so badly. I hated that I wasn’t okay.

My mind was constantly filled with lies. That I was worthless. That my life was worthless. That I was treated like trash because that’s what I was. I cried and cried. I would sit in my car and weep. Sometimes screaming out to the Lord for some relief from it all. Oftentimes, the physical pain would increase as I was praying for it to go away. I was overwhelmed with pain and the lies that it was never going to get better. That my life was always going to consist of pain. That God allowed my body to be chronically ill and He allowed my heart to be ripped to shreds. And that was only the beginning. What pain could possibly be lurking around the corner for me? I didn’t want to know. I just wanted out.

And I tried to get out.

But I failed.

And the darkest moment of my life passed by.

Student teaching is much a blur. But God loved me in those dark 9 weeks. He loved me in the form of 50 3rd and 5th graders. From the moment I walked into their classrooms, those kids loved me. They loved me. And I loved them. So much. I loved teaching them. Sometimes when I thought I couldn’t make it through the pain, it would be my turn to teach. And for 45 minutes or so, the pain went away. I didn’t hurt anymore. I could breathe again.

The Lord knew I needed them.

I am forever thankful for those 3rd and 5th graders. My “babies” and my “kids.” I didn’t deserve their love. Their love was grace upon grace.

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I turned 28 and I got another tattoo. That’s three, if you are counting. My mother asked, “Are you done yet?”

Hmm…maybe.

🙂

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I kept trying to become a viral meme.

One day, y’all. One day.

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I was published (IN PRINT). This was a dream come true. I’ve always always always wanted to be published in print. I wrote an article. The editor changed it a bunch (my friend and I still laugh hysterically and make fun of some of it), and voila! I was featured in a magazine. I was thrilled beyond words.

I was also published on Relevant. I tried for years to get published on their website. So, again…thrilled beyond words.

 

 

 

Friends, beach trips, and tap dancing.

 

 

I graduated with my Masters in Bible Teaching.

I didn’t want to walk. I was so ready to be far away from the place where so much pain had taken place. Where I had experienced, for the first time, the ugliness within Christian communities. Where I had been so injured. And let down.  Where I had seen the fake. The ignoring of issues. The whitewashed tombs.

But I walked. And I am thankful I did. There was a lot of good that came from my time at CIU. It unfortunately ended on a bad note, but I don’t regret going there. I was hurt by Christians at CIU more than I’ve ever been hurt by anybody in my life. But I was also loved far more at CIU than I have ever been loved in my life.

I walked. But I never intend on walking back there again.

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Remember how I retired from camp? Yeah. Funny story. The heartbreak culminated in an engagement. I was thankful for that rock bottom. Because I knew that he finally couldn’t hurt me anymore. Around that time, in between paper writing and counseling sessions, I started to miss camp. I sent my friend a text saying, “Hey, I know this would never happen–but if an actor drops out, let me know.” She laughed in agreement.

A few weeks later I got a phone call. An actor had dropped out. And I was asked if I would like the job.

And ten years after my first summer working as a camp actor, I said “yes.”

This summer was the greatest summer of my life. I don’t say that lightly. It really was. It was my 6th summer working camp, and I had never been on a team like this one. The Lord used this team to help mend all that was broken in me. I loved every moment. I am forever thankful for this summer. For GENERATE Camp. For laughter. Friendships. For getting to be on stage again. For getting to create and make people laugh. For conversations with campers. For the dead coming to life. For driving a 15 passenger van. For timed Walmart runs. For Mojo Burrito at the bottom of Lookout Mountain. For white water rafting. For walking under waterfalls. For early mornings and late nights. For restoration.

It was the greatest summer of my life.

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I started my first year as a teacher. It’s been hard, to say the least. I want to add the typical, “But it’s been so worth it.” But it’s hard at this point to say that. I know that God’s Word never returns empty and will accomplish that for which it is purposed. But I didn’t see or feel any effect of my teaching this year. I never left one day feeling “fulfilled” or “Wow, that was worth it.” But I know that the Lord works despite our feelings. And I know without a shadow of a doubt, that I poured my heart out this year. That I worked tirelessly to write engaging lesson plans, to love my students, and to teach them the Bible. I know I failed time and time again. I know I was the hot mess that every first year teacher is. But I tried. I really really tried.

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The best thing about moving home to Louisville is that my entire family is here. My older brother moved back to Louisville with his wife, and I live with them and my roommate in our “party house.” (more like a house with no furniture, haha) My sister moved home in June, and she gave birth to Carter Knox on December 7th. I’m so proud of her. And I’m so thankful that I get to drive 5 minutes to hold him. And I can’t wait to love him his whole life.

 

Another year of the ruined life. But there has been a lot of beauty. A lot of good. A lot of God’s continued faithfulness in the midst of pain.

I hope to write more this year. I hope to keep learning. Keep growing. Keep healing. To not be so afraid. To keep becoming more comfortable in my skin.

The last year of the 20’s is upon me. Yikes. How strange. Life is strange, isn’t it?

Almost forgot. I always write an update on the “love life.” There may or may not be a boy. But if there were to be one, he is not for social media yet. Or blogs. But if he were to exist, it should be noted that he is kind. Patient. Charming. That he bears with me through the broken pieces. That he is helping me learn to trust again. And if he were to exist, that would be what you get for now.

🙂

Seven years ago I asked the Lord to ruin my life. He did.

And I am still thankful.

 

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My fear of growing up.

I’ve thought about my age a lot recently.

I never really thought about my age in the past.

In high school, I never mentioned my age because I skipped a grade. I didn’t want anyone to know how young I was. I always dreaded when someone asked me how old I was and I would intentionally avoid the subject.

In my early-mid 20’s, age was just another thing. Mostly a thing for my single friends and I to poke fun at–deeming ourselves “Old maids” in “Christian Girl World”, and trying to navigate the ins and outs of college, grad school, and surviving the seemingly inevitable list of odd jobs worked to afford rent and tuition.

However recently, I have felt such an unease. A discomfort. A fear. A strong sense of
awkwardness. A sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

The strange feeling of being afraid of growing up.

Perhaps, in many ways, a loss of belonging.

It’s this strange reality of no longer being a child. But in some ways feeling like one because of the lack of “milestones.”

Without the marriage to move you on into the “next stage of life.”

Without a child (or several) to move you on further.

Without the purchase of a home. Or the financial stability provided by a “good” job.

How do you “grow up” without those assumed life stages?

When you’re not really sure if you should buy acne products or anti-wrinkle creme (I use both).

The odd reality of feeling you have more in common with an unmarried 21 year old than you do someone your age who is married with 3 kids.

No longer really belonging in the world of college students. Not belonging in the world of the married.

No longer feeling like you belong anywhere.

What metaphorical table do I sit at in the lunchroom of life?
What ministry do I sign up for at church? When am I no longer a “young single”? Is there a place for “old” ones? Is there a place in a church for me?

Is there a place in life for me?

Where do I belong?

I realized this was part of the unease I have been feeling. The loss of belonging. Which led to the fear of never belonging.

The fear of aging. Of growing up without ever “growing up.” Of growing old and somehow missing all the boxes I should have checked off.

Never belonging.

This fear, I assume, is something all humans feel regardless of their ages. Regardless of their “stage in life.”

We all desire to belong.
We all crave it.
And search for it.

We want the unease to end.
We search for belonging in our jobs. In our relationships. In a significant other.

I have felt so often like a square peg in a round hole- desperately wanting nothing more than to find a fit at last.

We want to know we aren’t so different. Aren’t so odd.

We want to know that we haven’t missed the proverbial mark. That we are growing up just fine in all of growing up’s peculiarity.

We want to be acknowledged and seen and heard. We want to walk into a room and have people smile at us- welcoming us in, because we belong there. We are wanted. And we belong.

I don’t have all the answers. I don’t offer the secret to growing up or belonging. But I offer three “Remembers” in the midst of the peculiarity of growing up.

1) Remember who He is.
Remember His faithfulness and His goodness. Remember His immutability- that as you age, change, and inevitably “grow up”, He remains the same. He is with you. And He understands. Perhaps we forget that Jesus had to grow up. He is able, in every way, to sympathize with our weaknesses. He is acquainted with our griefs. He knows the ache and the hard of growing up in this broken world. And He hasn’t left you to figure it out on your own. He is not surprised or angered that you feel unease, sadness, disappointment, or fear. He is not angry at you for feeling like you don’t belong. He, instead, beckons you to come. Come as you are. Come to Him. And trust Him with all the messiness of your growing up. Trust that He has you. And trust that His ways are higher and His ways are better, even when we do not understand.
2. Remember what He’s done.
God, in His grace, sent His Son into the messiness of growing up. He didn’t “belong” in this broken world. But He took upon Himself this broken world so that one day those who trust in Him can belong to a different one. The one they were always meant for. Let your unease remind you that you were created for a different world- a world with no pain, heartache, awkwardness, and discomfort. And remember and proclaim what He has done as you live in the “already, not yet”–speaking the truth in love as you grow up in every way into Christ.
3. Remember His future promise.
There is coming a day when we will be home. When the hole aching deep inside of us will be filled. Where discontent will not exist. Where our deepest satisfactions will be met. Where we will truly belong. God’s ways are perfect and He only allows what is best. There will always be a sense in us that we don’t belong. There will always be an unease until we reach the other side. But don’t let that unease stop you from moving forward- from growing up. With or without “milestones.” Keep moving. Keep going. Keep embracing the peculiarity of growing up.

And as you walk through your life. As you learn to grow up. Remember who He is. Remember what He’s done. And remember His future promise.

Fix your eyes on Jesus in the peculiarity of growing up.

I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!

C.S. LewisThe Last Battle 

 

Camp.


So I’m at camp again.

The Lord is funny.

I never thought in a million years I would ever again be pulling long days, late nights, and super early mornings. Wearing matching t-shirts with 27 other people. Driving a 15 passenger van across the country. Mic-ing up and acting ridiculous on stage in front of hundreds of people every week. Having timed Walmart runs. And proclaiming Jesus to thousands of students and leaders.

But here I am. And my heart is so thankful.

The healing process has been long, slow, and hard these past several months.

I looked at my teammates through flowing tears and apologized that all I had was a shattered heart. It was in pieces. I only wanted to give them my whole heart. But I felt I didn’t have a whole heart to give.

Thankfully, God uses broken things. He still shines through the cracks of our brokenness. To the praise of His glorious grace.

And sometimes His grace and His mercy and His healing come in the form of camp.

In the form of 27 beating hearts that surround me daily and love me.

I struggle with love now. I struggle with “real.” I struggle with “true.”

But every day those 27 souls make me laugh until it hurts. Every day those 27 encourage me, build me up, help me, serve me, listen to me, walk beside me. And every day those 27 love me. And every day the Lord uses those 27 to mend the cracks. To pick up the pieces. To ease the ache. To remind me and reteach me what is true.

And sometimes it is in the form of students.

A camper walked up to me last week. She was maybe in 8th grade.

She put her hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Hey, Shara. I felt like the Lord was telling me to come tell you that He loves you. And that you are valued. And that you matter.”

The words caught me off guard. It took me awhile to register them. To let them be real.

How I have fought with “matter” these past months. How I have wept uncontrollably over “matter.” How the lies have screamed and shouted and ripped and torn away at me. How I have struggled to fight back. How I came incredibly close to losing that fight forever.

And the Lord whispers to a student to remind me of the truth. To reteach me what is true.

It has often been in the form of the men on my team.

They truly are men. And I’m proud to know them. They love and serve hard. They don’t want anything from me. They affirm me and encourage me. They tell me that I’m beautiful. And they aren’t lying. And through them, the Lord is reminding me what is true. He is reteaching me what is true.

I am slowly relearning what is true. Rejecting the lies that still fight to fill my mind. I am slowly relearning to breathe again. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t breathe at all. Every breath hurt. Every breath was agony. Every heartbeat unbearable.

And the Lord’s mercy came this time in the form of camp.

And He is using camp as a stepping stone to healing. To teach me to breathe again. To ease the pain of each breath. To remind my heart to beat. And that it is not a wasted heartbeat. That my life is not a wasted life.

I am so thankful. The lessons are still coming every day. Grief is still there. Life is still hard.

And God is so good.

Psalm 34:5 “Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.”

Those who look to Him will never be ashamed.

Whatever may come. Whatever the Lord allows to come. Trusting Him. Looking to Him–I will never be ashamed. His way is perfect. His Word is true. I will never be put to shame when my trust and my hope are placed in Him.

Through it all

Through it all

My eyes are on You.

And it is well with me.

Naked. 

 

I sat down in front of a mirror in my room naked.

I have never liked being naked.

Naked was for showers. Then quickly back into clothes.

I never liked to look at myself naked.

I didn’t want to see the flaws. The seemingly endless imperfections tattooing my body as the years went on. The skin I lived in was not the skin I wished for. The skin I lived in was not desirable. The skin I lived in was marked. And veined. It was scarred. It was imperfect.

How often I have worked to cover my nakedness. Many times in the name of modesty. When in actuality, it was my shame I was covering. My skin that I hated. My body that was not beautiful. My body that was not perfect. Not perfect like it ought to be.

In my mind I assumed people were staring. Scrutinizing. Laughing at my nakedness. Laughing at my skin. Comparing in prideful glee theirs to my own.

So I hid. Hid my nakedness from others. From myself. From mirrors.

And I thought about the other kind of nakedness that I hide. The nakedness of my soul. The nakedness of my sinful flesh that wages war against me every day. The nakedness of complete vulnerability with struggles and sin that are still part of me.

I think the Church is okay with certain kinds of nakedness. Okay with certain sins. We have measured them out and some have come out far worse. We have made them gender specific. We have made it okay to struggle with some but not others.

We have made it hard to be naked.

So we hide. We hide behind filters and “authentic” lives. We hide our nakedness from others. From ourselves. From mirrors.

We don’t want people to see the real us. The flawed us. The imperfect us.

Yet we long for people to see the real us. The flawed us. The imperfect us.

And we want people to love that us. We want people to love the naked us.

We forget that Jesus does. We forget that the gospel frees us to be naked — to be vulnerable. To sit exposed. Because Christ bore our shame.

He died for our shame. He died for all the ugliness and all of the imperfection that sin has wrought and wrecked within us.

Do we believe that the gospel is big enough for our nakedness?

Do we believe that Jesus’ substitutionary propitiatory death is big enough to cut deep into the very marrow of our souls — the deep dark nakedness — the most horrific parts of us that cause us the most shame?

Do I believe that? Can I stand in front of you naked — with all the gory parts of my sin on display — proclaiming that Christ is enough and that Christ has paid the price for all the brokenness in me?

That there is grace. Unmerited grace. Grace that does not leave us as we are but beckons and insists that we come out of hiding and walk in the light. Grace that changes the broken us into something beautiful because He who is gracious is beautiful. The grace that says, “Be free.” For freedom Christ has set you free.

There is freedom in nakedness.

I sat there last night in front of my mirror.

I smiled at my tattoos. Then I tried to sit in a way that didn’t make my stomach look as fat. But then I stopped. Sat the way I had been sitting. And let myself learn to tell those rolls they were okay. And I let myself stop sighing over the spider veins and the scars. And the cellulite and the acne. And I just sat there for awhile. Until it was okay. Until I didn’t hate that I was naked. Until I didn’t hate the image bearer of God in front of me.

And I think in sitting there — exposed — I felt free.

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24

He stayed. 

It was word vomit.

My counselor wrote quickly as more and more words were spat out and choked back.

The room. The air. The notepad. All filled with my words.

She looked at me with those kind, understanding, and heartbroken eyes. I appreciate this about her. I know she is genuinely grieved for me. And she said, “Shara, you touched on it earlier, and I agree. Eventually, you have to stop processing through this. You aren’t ever going to understand.”

I knew she was right. I have to stop processing or else I can never move on. But I want to understand. My mind has searched tirelessly for logic. But there isn’t any.

My mind went to Job. Job never saw why he suffered. God never explained it to him. Understanding “why” is not a prerequisite for faith.

Faith is hard.

I walked down and sat in the spot where it all ended. When I had no idea what was to come. And I said out loud all the things I’ll never understand. And I told the invisible him that he has hurt me worse than anyone ever has. And that I forgive him. And that every day I ask God to help me to keep forgiving him. And I said that I was leaving him and all of it there. And I have to let it go. All of it. Understanding. Wanting answers. Wanting justice. Wanting resolve and reason for all the pain. I have to let it go. And I prayed for God to somehow make something profitable out of this pain and mess. And then I walked away.

And the thoughts still come. The lies still fight. And I just keep reminding myself (so many times a day) that I let it go. Stop processing. Think about other things (Philippians 4:8). I left it there. It has to stay where I left it. I have to keep going. I have to learn to be okay again.

I sat in the Good Friday service at my church last night as we meditated on the cross.

Have you ever felt like God doesn’t love you?

It’s something I know is true. Like how I know my jeans are blue and my shirt is white. But I have often struggled to feel like God loves me.

I think it’s because I struggle to see love as sometimes being the allowing of pain. I think I often believe love is giving me what I want, fulfulling my dreams and desires, and making my life easy and pain-free.

By that definition, God doesn’t love me.

My pastor looked at us and implored us to look at the cross. Because of the cross, we can never dare to say that God doesn’t love us.

Jesus was despised, rejected, betrayed. And for the first time, I felt those words with Him. I felt them deeply. For the first time I shared them, in a small part, with my Savior.

His body broken and destroyed. Annihilated. Nailed naked to a cross. Suffocating. Battered. Beyond recognition. And He drank the cup. The wrath of God.

And He was innocent. He didn’t do anything to deserve death. But I have. I have done so many things and not done so many things I ought to have done. And I deserve to die. And He knew that. So He died instead. Ultimately to satisfy God’s character, and ultimately for love. He loves me.

He loves me.

Tears fall as I try to let that sink into the cracks of my brokenness.

He loves me. 

Charles Spurgeon said, ‘Jesus Christ was up on the cross, nailing, bleeding, dying, looking down on the people betraying him, and forsaking him, and denying him, and in the greatest act of love in the history of the universe, HE STAYED!’

He stayed.

Tim Keller writes,

“If he wouldn’t abandon you then, he wont abandon you now. If he wouldn’t abandon you when Hell itself was coming down on him, if that didn’t separate his love from you do you think you having a bad week is gonna do it? Do you think there is anything that you can do that could destroy his love for you when that couldn’t do it? Or when bad things are happening to you all over and you say, “I must be abandoned!” If he didn’t abandon you there, he isn’t going to abandon you now. He spared not himself. The Father spared not his own Son. … He gave us the ultimate gift, and you think somehow that he is going to let your life go off the rails now? He’s not going to deny you anything you need. This is the love you’ve been looking for all your life.”

No matter what this life brings, there is the cross. 

I have to keep telling myself that I left it. I have surrendered my desire for understanding into His wise and sovereign hands. I have to remind myself this constantly for the thoughts keep resurfacing no matter how busy I try to keep myself. 

But I also have to keep the cross at the forefront of my mind. Not only is He wise and sovereign, He is loving. He loves me. Even when life screams the antithesis of love. He loves me.

When life screams at you the contrary, remember Good Friday. Remember Easter. God loves you so much. With a love that does not fail. Does not fluctuate or change. Is not based on your performance or the way you look.

It is a love that does not spare pain. But it is a love that broke into our pain, took our pain, and died to free us from pain. A love that hates our pain. A love that holds us in our pain.

A love that will never end.

The proof of this love?

He stayed.

A Better Dream.

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When I was 9 years old, I dreamed of being an Olympic figure skater just like Tara Lipinski and Michelle Kwan. In awe I watched them on the old TV screen in my childhood living room. And I believed with all my heart that I could do that too.

As a little girl I would place cassette tapes in my Karaoke machine and sing into the attached microphone, proudly recording original songs–lyrics scribbled in scented milky pens in my journal. I dreamed of being a Christian pop star. And I believed with all my heart that I could be one.

I began performing at a very young age. I won the scholarships. And I went to school to become an actress. Broadway was the dream. And I believed with all my heart that I could be on a Broadway stage one day.

I’ve had many dreams.

Some dreams faded quickly. Like being an ice skater. Some dreams, the Lord asked me to walk away from. Like being an actress.

Some dreams, I’ve had to learn to grieve.

More than any other dream, I’ve always dreamed of marriage. I’ve always dreamed of being a wife. I’ve always dreamed of being a mom. It has always been my greatest dream.

I do not know if I will ever marry. I hope I will. But the Lord has never promised marriage. With recent, oft unbearable heartbreak, that is a hard pill to swallow.

But even if I marry one day, I realized recently, that there are still dreams that I must grieve.

Never would I have ever imagined that I would be single at 28. Ever.

I will never be the 24 year old bride.

I will never be the 28 year old holding her newborn in her arms.

That isn’t my story. And that was my dream.

There is the life we thought we would have. There is the life we dreamed we would have. And there is the life that we have.

Perhaps, the life you dreamed you would have and the life you do have, align. Or, perhaps, your life is “more than what you dreamed.”

But perhaps, like me, your life is not at all what you dreamed it would be. Maybe your life has been marked by suffering. Perhaps you have lost a loved one unexpectedly. Perhaps you have struggled to find financial stability, or the job you have is not what you want. Maybe you received a frightening diagnosis, or are enduring life with a chronic illness. Perhaps you are weeping through infertility, a struggling marriage, depression, anxiety, an aging parent, or various broken relationships. Perhaps nothing is going as you always dreamed it would.

John Piper writes,

“Occasionally weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have.”

 

Weep. Grieve. Grieve what is not and will never be. Grieve the losses.

Then.

Then trust.

Trust God for a new dream.

Elisabeth Elliot writes,

“My heart was saying, “Lord, take away this longing, or give me that for which I long.” The Lord was answering, “I must teach you to long for something better.”

 

There are dreams that create a deep longing within me. There is nothing wrong with these dreams. There is nothing wrong with my desire to be married. I believe that God created us to long for marriage and to be married. Like Elisabeth Elliot, I have prayed for God to give me what my heart longs for or to take away my longing because it hurts too much. Hope deferred indeed makes the heart sick.

But He graciously reminds me that He must teach me to long for something better–to long for someone better. To long for Him.

To long for a new dream.

To allow Him to teach me to find my greatest dream fulfilled in Him.

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The famous Philippians 4:13 is often quoted wildly out of context. Paul writes, beginning in verse 11, “for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Paul is writing about contentment. And notice a word used in verse 11 and again in verse 12: learned.

Contentment is learned. And like most things that do not come naturally and we have to learn, contentment is hard. Especially in a social media filled culture of “authentic” lives and intense comparison. Finding contentment in whatever circumstance has to be learned. And I would argue that it is something that, through discipline, must be continually learned every day for the rest of our lives. But contentment, graciously, is something that is empowered by the strength supplied by Christ. And true contentment is ultimately only found in Christ.

Through Christ who strengthens, we can grieve our dreams. We can grieve our losses. Trusting all the while in His unchanging character.

And through Christ who strengthens, we can take hold of a new dream.

He is the greatest dream. The dream that will not end. The dream that will not fail. The dream that will not abandon or betray. The dream that will satisfy. The dream that heals. The dream that mends what is broken in us.

So occasionally grieve your dreams.

And by God’s grace, take hold of His hand.

And by His grace and through His strength, find in Him a new dream.

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red lipstick.

I never wore red lipstick until I got sick.I was 25.

I had just gotten back from church and I hopped in my bed to finish a 24-hour rental of The Fault in Our Stars on ITunes.

Then I got out of bed, and my life was never the same again.

My world began spinning. Literally. As the days progressed, my health quickly deteriorated — spiraling downward as my symptoms worsened with every passing moment. I always felt like I was moving, even when I was standing perfectly still. The pressure in my head was unbearable. The spreading neuropathy felt like insects crawling mercilessly all throughout my body. My hands weakened. Objects within them often fell to the floor. I began to lose the ability to walk. The nausea thought little of ever subsiding. Relief from any of it was nowhere in sight.

Within a few short weeks, I was bedridden.

It would be a year before I received any relief from my debilitating illness — an illness deemed a mystery to the countless doctors and specialists.

It’s almost been three years since that day. I am still not well, and I do not know if I ever will be again. I am an “Invisible Illness” fighter, and the Lord has taught and continues to teach me so much through my struggle with health. Maybe one day we can sit and chat about it over a cup of coffee.

Three years ago, I lost my health. And three years ago, I started wearing red lipstick.

I was never a very brave person. Never bold. Even during my years as an actress, my closet was filled with plain black tops. I owned two trusty pairs of flats — one black pair and one brown pair. Practical enough. My makeup was muted. I always tried to look nice, but color was never in my comfort zone. I always felt self-conscious. I rarely, if ever, felt beautiful. And I preferred not to stand out.

Then I got sick.

I had no control over my days. I was at the mercy of my symptoms. Days became labeled as “good days” and “bad days.” I laid in my bed most days — all day long — physically incapable of doing anything but.

But, every morning, no matter what, I got out of bed and took a shower. Some days I could barely stand, but I determinedly, often praying desperately, would take a shower every day. Then I would get dressed, do my hair, and put makeup on. Because that is what I had always done — every day — for most of my life. Then, if it was a “bad day,” I would crawl back into bed and stay there until I could get out again.

And one day, I bought a tube of red lipstick.

And every day I would put on red lipstick. Even if it was applied with shaking hands. And every day I would lay in bed donning bright red lipstick.

It was something I could control. It was some sort of “normal” that I could hold onto. I had lost “normal.” There were so many days I felt like a mere shell of who I once was. I had lost so much of what made me “me.” And I didn’t know if I would ever get “me” back again. I had to learn to say goodbye to that which was and take hold of that which is.

So I got out of bed every day — no matter how hard, no matter how painful. And every day I put on red lipstick.

And slowly, I began to feel beautiful. And bold. And much stronger and braver than I was.

The colors in my closet began to broaden and expand. And I had a new favorite color — yellow. I filled my room with yellow — a bright yellow bookshelf held all of my favorite books (many of which had been converted to audiobooks because my illness made reading nearly impossible), colorful photos filled my walls, and fresh sunflowers sat on my lampstand. Yellow became a source of joy and light in the midst of incredible pain and darkness.

And, of course, there was red lipstick.

Sometimes that’s all you can do — put on red lipstick. Sometimes all you can do is choose to get out of bed. And choose to keep getting up. No matter how tough that is. And choose to keep putting on that favorite outfit. And to keep putting on that perfect shade of red lipstick. Choose to keep going.

My life has not been what I dreamed it would be. The past several years have been filled with disappointment, unimaginable pain, incredible heartache, and great loss. I have not always felt like getting up. I have not always wanted to keep going. I have thought seriously many times to not keep going.

We will all go through dark seasons in this life. We will go through storms — through pain, through suffering. Believers in Christ are not immune to suffering. But God promises His sustaining presence throughout life’s brokenness. He does not promise us health, wealth, and prosperity. He does not promise to give us all of our dreams or even our deepest longings. But He does promise to give us Himself — the greatest good. The true satisfier of our souls. And He promises to work all things together for our good and for His glory. Even the unimaginable things — the things that make us cry out to Him, pleading and weeping as we ask, “How is this love?” Yet He is loving you perfectly in all things.

Author and pastor, John Piper, writes, “It is utterly crucial that in our darkness we affirm the wise, strong hand of God to hold us, even when we have no strength to hold him.”

I confess I have had no strength to hold Him. But He holds tightly onto me, leading me on, guiding me forward, and whispering sweetly: “Keep going.”

Choose to keep going. Choose to keep getting up. Choose to keep choosing faith and hope and trust in the God who will never leave you or forsake you.

And never forget to choose an incredible shade of red lipstick.

The Depressed Christian.

 

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I’ve been sad for a very long time.

At the height of my struggle with illness and consequent intense decline of my health, I sat numbly in a counselor’s office as I spoke the words, “I don’t know how to not be sad anymore.”

Over the past several years, I would come to describe myself as a very sad person.

I like to write out prayers. I have stacks of journals filled with them. I’ve always processed life better through written words. Which is one of the reasons I feel I have poorly chosen my degree’s intended profession.

I was sitting in the back of the classroom today and began writing out a prayer. And I told God that I was sad. That my heart is tired. That I am worn to my core. That I have nothing left.

I know He was not surprised by these words.

I taught my littlest ones today about the Psalms. I had them write their own. I fought back tears when I heard them read them.

I love the Psalms. The Psalms are God’s way of letting us know that it’s okay to be sad. He looks at the brokenhearted and He says, “I know.” And He doesn’t scorn our tears. Or tell us to feign happiness. The Psalms see this broken world and allow us to weep. They allow us to scream out, “Why?”

The past several years of my life have been really hard. Depression is a common symptom of chronic illness because your body was not designed to be in constant pain. The physical side alone can rob your brain of endorphins–not to mention the emotional toll it takes on your body and mind. There have been days–weeks–months, when I thought I would go insane from being trapped inside the torture chamber that was my own flesh.

There has been much disappointment throughout these past years. Loss and brokenness. The past few months have been hell to process through. Deception and mistreatment of such intensity is impossible to understand. The sadness emanates throughout every crevice. Not wanting to leave. Filling me with more lies–lies like, “Well, you were treated like trash because that’s what you are. And, guess what? No one cares.”

Lies are easier to believe when you are sad. Because lies make more sense with your reality than truth does.

Lies say “I don’t matter.” Truth says “I do.” Life says “You don’t matter.” God says “Yes, you do.”

As a sad Christian, I live in this tension–the tension between lies and truth. The tension between my reality and the hope of the gospel. The tension between everything I feel and everything that is true. And it’s really really hard.

I am afraid to hope because life keeps destroying me. I am afraid to dream because they never come true. I am afraid of receiving gifts because they get ripped away from me.

As they say–it’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay to be sad. But there’s always the added–“Just don’t stay there.” But what happens when you are stuck there? When the sadness will not go away? When you have been sad for years?

You keep going. By His strength. You keep believing. By His grace. You keep walking, or crawling. By His power. You keep choosing Him every day because, despite every sadness you feel, His Word holds true.

I am thankful for the joy the Lord gives me in the midst of my sadness. My joy is not feigned.

But this exhausted heart yearns for relief. I long for the darkness to lift. People tell you it’s only for a season. But when the season is 7 years and counting, I truly empathize with those of you who want to give up. I know I do. I don’t feel like God loves me. I don’t feel like He is with me. I don’t feel like He gives a crap about anything in my life. I feel like He left me a long long time ago. But, as always, feelings do not define truth. None of those things are true.

I pray the Lord gives you joy in the midst of sorrow. I pray He lifts the pain from your chest. I pray He lifts the fog from your eyes. I pray the sadness goes away.

But if not, He is still good.

I will praise Him in the sadness. By His grace, I will keep going.

Eagerly awaiting the day when He will wipe away every tear from my eyes. And sadness will be no more.