Life Changes.

Some big changes are coming down the road for me! I’ve left my job in Alabama and am moving back home to be closer to my family. Moving day is in two weeks. I’ll also be starting work on my Master’s degree in Professional Writing.

Lots of other things are changing, too.

One thing I’ve learned over the last six years is that life changes pretty fast. This weekend my family and I realized just how fast.

Friday night my grandfather was admitted to the ER with a lot of fluid in one of his lungs. He was diagnosed with pneumonia and the doctors did a chest x-ray to see what was going on. That night they got him in for a CT Scan and found a fist-sized mass in his lung. We are still waiting on test results to see if it is cancer or something else, but life took a pretty drastic turn for me about 1:00 am on Friday/Saturday.

I know God is in control. I read recently in Psalm 145 that he is kind in all his ways. I’m striving to remember that when I’m tempted to despair.

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Redeem the Days

I’m convinced that every year a hole is ripped straight through the space-time continuum during the week before Spring Break. This week never ends. Students are wound up; teachers are exhausted.

To spare you the gory details of my latest Jonah day, let’s just say on Wednesday I morphed into jellyfish woman, able to zap any man, woman, or child in her path. This unfortunate series of events left me so frustrated that I suddenly found myself $20 poorer, sitting alone in a movie theatre, eating enough popcorn to make myself sick.

Yes, I had such a bad day that I spontaneously decided to treat myself to a second viewing of “Cinderella,” the new live-action version starring Lily James. There was something so beautiful and touching about this film the first time I saw it that I hoped my terrible day could be cured by escaping into the Disney-verse for a few short hours.

The mantra of this new Cinderella is “have courage and be kind.” If I’m being honest, the line resonated with me more than I care to admit. I cried through the entire film the first time I saw it. Rather than trying to justify my emotion, I started to think about its source. Why do I identify so much with a fairy tale I’ve heard a thousand times before? Cinderella was never my favorite Disney princess, so why now do I love this story?

I think it has to do with the refreshing, redeeming nature of childhood. The world of the film doesn’t deny misery and grief, but finds a way to turn them into beautiful things. Cinderella’s fairy godmother narrates the story and says that “grief can come to any kingdom.” The Prince’s aging father states that death is “the way of all flesh.” These are true things about our life and our world. Death, aging, misery, unkindness, cruelty—these are the gloomy inhabitants of my days. I see students treating each other with such cruelty and unkindness that it takes my breath away. I see students struggling to understand their emotions and the circumstances in which they have been placed. On bad days I want to run away from these bad things. The sad fact is they will be there tomorrow, too. These bad things are terrible by themselves, but they become more dangerous when I believe that these are the only creatures that will inhabit my world.

This, I realized, is why I flew to the movies again last night. I needed to remind myself that unkindness and sadness are present, but so, too, are joy, happiness, kindness, courage, and love. Ultimately I know that the source of these good things, the one whose mercies are new every morning, will triumph over all hatred and death and wrongdoing. My job is to remind my own heart to have courage and be kind.

Childhood teaches us that magical things do happen, that there is hope for even the vilest stepmother, and that simple virtues trump worldly wisdom every time. What better things to remind myself of on one of the worst days? I’m hoping “Cinderella” has a good long run in theatres, because I have a feeling I might be stopping by on my next Jonah day.

I paid for my spontaneity, by the way, with a debit card and a few hours of popcorn-induced misery.

Nine Things

Today marks the end of the third nine weeks at school. That’s exciting and all, but what that really means is tomorrow we star the LAST nine weeks of the year! So, in the spirit of exciting times, here are nine things I’m loving right now. I’ve included links where possible!

1. The NINE books I have already finished for the year. Say what? I’m actually staying on top of my goal this year. No more waiting until the last second to finish book #50. I’ve fallen a little behind my original goal of “a book per week,” but I’ve managed to read some pretty good ones so far. Highlights include The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, and The Best Yes, which is a total life changer!

2. The new park I have discovered near my apartment. It’s sad that I’ve been living here for a year and a half and have just now realized that there is an amazing park within walking distance of my casa. There’s a lake, trails, and a disc golf course. It’s fabulous and I’m so excited to be moving my evening runs to a more scenic location. Speaking of evening runs…

3. My Fitbit. Last week I bought a Fitbit flex after some research and several pro/con lists. The verdict? I’m obsessed! That 10,000 step goal is like a challenge every day, and the app lets me track my water, calories, and sleep. Plus the wristband acts as a silent alarm that vibrates to wake me up in the morning. I can always use some extra help getting out of bed.

4. The Weather. Today was heavenly! Sunshine, 85 degrees, a wonderful breeze blowing. It was a great early spring day. I wish this weather would last so we could avoid the humidity as long as possible.

5. Pantene’s Expert Collection Fade Defy Shampoo and Conditioner. This duo cost me a few extra bucks at the drug store, but I love, love, love the way it keeps my hair color looking fresh. The day after I started using it a friend asked me if I had retouched my roots. The truth? Six weeks and still going strong!

6. The Season Finale of Downton Abbey. For the first time this finale didn’t make me cry tears of anguish–just happy tears for Anna and Bates, Carson and Mrs. Hughes, and hopefully Mary and the super snazzy racecar driver played by Matthew Goode (AKA Finn Polmar from The Good Wife).

7. Starbucks Latte. Okay, we all know Starbucks makes the best lattes. But recently I’ve stopped ordering the syrupy drinks and gone back to just a straight latte with one sweet n’ low. Heavens to Betsy is it perfect!

8. Burt’s Bees Lip Shine in “Flutter.” This has become my go-to lip gloss. It’s natural looking, very shiny, and has just a little bit of color. It’s on sale on their website, so I’m afraid they’re getting rid of it!

9. Russ Ramsey’s Lent Devotional Behold the King of GlorySeriously, so great. Ramsey is a fantastic author, I read his book Behold the Lamb of God every year during advent, so I was incredibly excited to see that he had written a companion for Lent. If you need to be reminded of the wonderful story of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, this is the book for you.

So, there are my nine things that I’m loving right now! Let the countdown to spring break and summer and all things warm begin!

An Oasis in the Desert

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
    the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;
 it shall blossom abundantly
    and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
    the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
    the majesty of our God.

 Strengthen the weak hands,
    and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
    “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
    will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
    He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
 then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
 the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;

–Isaiah 35:1-7 emphasis added

Tonight was perfect. The reason? I had the chance to attend an Andrew Peterson concert. AP is my favorite singer/songwriter, and he is also the proprietor of the Rabbit Room, an online community of like-minded people who love art, storytelling, music, and the Lord. The concert was like an oasis in the desert; it was just what I needed when I felt like I was dying of thirst.

Needless to say, my blog has been a pretty dry place lately. I haven’t been posting mostly because I’ve been so busy at work. Here at the end of the year I know I won’t be getting less busy, so I’m sneaking some writing time in tonight.

It’s not just the blog that’s been feeling like a desert. Work is getting more difficult every day. I am fighting battles with my students on just about every level–behavior, learning, everything. I have seen some improvement the last few days with our poetry unit, but with more visitors coming on Monday to observe, grades due in a week, and RtI graphs due on Friday I am feeling overwhelmed and cranky.

Well, I was feeling overwhelmed. Right now I just feel grateful and refreshed for the night of music I’ve enjoyed. I sat there in the sanctuary listening to the songs that have been the soundtrack of my journey for the last few years, and I realized that with every inhale I was drinking in the music like ice cold water. I felt physically calmer and less anxious by the end of the concert. AP played songs that deal with sanctification, the crucifixion, and the resurrection–all timely themes in my relationship with the Lord.

There’s not much to add to this blog post, except to say that I have been blessed by AP’s ministry tonight. I am ready to face the next two weeks before Spring Break.

**P.S., I also got to MEET AP and get his autograph (Cue massive “geek out” session).

Liminality and Into the Woods: Or, What I’m Learning

It is early Sunday morning and I am sitting on the couch watching the thunderstorm outside turn from really dark to a slightly less-dark color. There are cinnamon rolls in the oven and half of my apartment is sparklingly clean and clutter-free. Even still, I am not sure that I’m ready for “real life” to begin again tomorrow.

I wanted to take some time before I get back into the craziness to reflect on what I’ve been learning over the last two weeks. Isn’t it funny how God will use different threads in your life to create a startling or new image of something He’s been trying to teach you? That’s been my experience in the last couple of days.

The first thread: I’m not sure if any of my recent blog posts have given this impression (ha!), but I feel that I am facing a crossroads in my life and my career. There have been some really dark moments lately where I’m not sure if teaching is the right career, I’m not sure if I’m in the right place, and I’m really not sure where I should be headed. It’s easy for people on the outside to say, “Trust God!” or “He knows right where He wants you!” I know this advice is well-meant, but it’s very difficult to take that advice and apply it practically. I believe that God has my best interests at heart, but when I’m the one who has to make decisions without the benefit of a burning bush or cloud of smoke, how do I know when to stay and when to go? Over the break I was able to have some great conversations with friends who have been in the same situation. I am constantly being reminded of little lessons I have learned before but somehow keep forgetting. The main one? Obedience is obedience. Wherever I am, if I am being obedient to what the Lord says, then I am being obedient. Isn’t that what I am called to be? I shouldn’t get caught up in others’ opinions if I know in my hear that I am being obedient to the Lord.

The second thread: Any fellow readers of The Rabbit Room out there? Well, the Lord has greatly used that community to minister to me. Friday as I was driving back I listened to a session from the 2013 Hutchmoot on Liminality or Liminal Space. It seemed like my heart was speaking an “amen” to every word I was hearing. How refreshing to hear that there are other believers who have struggled with this threshold time of liminality. Liminality is the time “in-between” social rituals. It’s basically the moment when you realize that you’ve left the familiar behind and you’re staring out into the great unknown. I didn’t realize that my feelings of disorder and uncertainty had a name! The speakers emphasized that just as chaos necessarily comes before order, so liminal space will come before any sense of structure or security. Knowing that there are others who have trusted God to show them the right path out of this swamp is a huge encouragement. It’s like all of the uncertainty and doubts the first thread caused, I can now name them–I can say to myself, “Sarah, you are in the sea of liminality right now. What choices can you make that demonstrate faith and obedience while still waiting on the Lord to show you the way out?”

The third thread: It seems silly, but I was really impacted by the movie Into the Woods. I saw it Friday night after my enlightening drive learning about liminality, and if you’re looking for the perfect cinematic display of “liminal space,” the “woods” of Into the Woods is perfect. All of our favorite familiar storybook characters end up going into the woods to make their wishes come true. While in the woods, they are confronted with giants and witches and the consequences of their wishes. The woods are the perfect visual metaphor for liminality. It’s a place without place, its a space of confusion with time to reflect and learn from your mistakes.

The main theme: One of the songs from Into the Woods is called “No one is alone.” Here’s my favorite little bit:

Mother cannot guide you.
Now you’re on your own.
Only me beside you.
Still, you’re not alone.
No one is alone. Truly.
No one is alone.
Sometimes people leave you.
Halfway through the wood.
Others may decieve you.
You decide what’s good.
You decide alone.
But no one is alone.

Because there are no coincidences in God’s economy, it’s no coincidence that I’ve also been listening to Jill Phillips’ new album that deals with a lot of these same issues–one of the songs is called “You are Not Alone.”

So what does this all mean? Well, I think it comes to this: I am not alone; no one is alone. I feel like I am about to be overtaken by the seas of uncertainty, but I have friends and family and strangers and movies and Scripture to tell me that God will not leave me here or let me live in uncertainty forever. I have a savior who has experienced these feelings Himself and He won’t leave me. He won’t forget me or fail to show me the way of escape. He has only ever been faithful to me, He drew me out of the woods of my sin and into the light of his presence. I can trust him to show me the way out, and I can be obedient even while I am still in the midst of confusion. My prayer is that I can transfer this into my real life come Monday morning.

Movie Review: The Imitation Game

Caveat Lector: I am a professing Christian, and I would classify myself as a very conservative person. I believe what the Bible teaches about homosexuality. For a brief understanding of these views, here’s an interview with John Piper. That being said, I have tried to put as much thought and tact as I can into these words. It’s my desire to be understood, not  misinterpreted.

Review: I thought The Imitation Game was a really great story. It tells about Alan Turing, the man behind the machine that ultimately led to digital computers. Along with a team of analysts, he helped crack the Nazi code “Enigma,” which saved countless lives and probably shortened WWII by years. This synopsis alone was enough to get me into the theatre! I’m very much into any movie that deals with history or little known stories. I thought that the historical elements of this movie were fascinating. These people working on the code were incredibly smart–to be honest, it made my brain smoke.

From the human interest side, I understand why the directors and actors chose to focus on Turing’s homosexuality. It is apparent from watching the film that Turing was mistreated because of his homosexuality from an early age through adulthood. Regrettably, his life ended with a suicide that no doubt sprang from the endless assaults and frustrations he endured, not least of all the chemical castration or “hormone therapy” to which he was sentenced. Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Turing, does a remarkable job at showing the damage to Turing’s psyche that these affronts caused.

From the religious/conservative side, I did feel that at times the makers of the film were trying to push a liberal agenda on me–it almost seemed as if they were saying the only way Turing could have accomplished this feat was because he was a homosexual. That seems like a fallacy to me. Religious differences aside, I thought the movie did a really good job of portraying someone who feels helpless in their situation. Turing, with all the possibilities that intelligence could afford, still needed a savior desperately. In that regard, isn’t he just like me? While I cannot condone his lifestyle, I recognize that he is like me, created in the image of God, and desperately in need of Jesus.

I encourage Christians not to be put off by the messages about homosexuality in this film. I believe that we as Christians can remain firm in our convictions while also being sensitive to the hurts of others. Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” While I do not accept Turing’s way of life as healthy or pleasing to God, I can view him as a puzzling figure, a man who helped saved lives but who could not, in the end, save his own. There is only one Man who can save us:

“But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

-Hebrews 7:24-25

2014 is in the books!

I have just triumphantly finished my 2014 book goal! Horray! Hurrah! Huzzah! Cheerio!!

As I am typing this there are literally fireworks going off in the neighborhood behind mine, so I am feeling very celebrated by the world at large.

If you’re interested in the breakdown of my 50 books for the year, you can find them at the top of the page. You can also see last year’s unsuccessful list and 2012’s 50 books. I say that 2013 was unsuccessful, but when I consider that I’ve read 130 some books in the last three years I feel pretty accomplished! (More fireworks, I’m raising my can of cherry coke zero)

And so in a few short hours I will embark again upon the quest to read and enjoy books of all genres, types, and length. Before I get in my car and race to the bookstore, though, here are my top books from 2014:

All Around Most Delightful: Letters to Children by C.S. Lewis

Most Practical: Boundaries with Teens by Dr. John Townsend

Best Biography: The Terrible Speed of Mercy by Jonathan Rogers

Most Harrowing: Atonement by Ian McEwan

Most Accurate Portrait of This Season of Life: A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle

Most-Read Author: Rick Riordan

Latest to the Party: The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Best Old Book: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Best New Book: Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

And there you have it! Here’s to 2015, to new goals, and to all that waits for us in the month ahead. May your new year be full of blessings, both hidden and in disguise.