Leaving SAGU…

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For the past year and ten months it has been my joy to serve as the Director of On-Campus Admissions at Southwestern Assemblies of God University.  A long, long time ago, I was a nervous high school senior trying to listen and obey God’s voice as He led me to SAGU.  I walked onto this campus not knowing a soul, never seeing it before, in complete faith that this was where God wanted me to be. Without question, SAGU has been one of THE most influential places in my life.  Getting the chance to come alongside students who are stepping out in faith like I did so long ago has been a blessing beyond measure.  

When Aaron and I began praying over this transition to New Community Church in Mesquite, my first thought was that I could keep my position at SAGU. I can commute, right?! People do it all the time. Then one day I realized that staying at SAGU would cost me 12 hours a day with my family…. Hmmmm….

Beyond that, I had already started feeling the longing in my heart to be in ministry with my husband again.  I saw pictures of him in El Salvador and got to hear his stories about Thailand, but I didn’t get to be part of those moments.  In a conversation with a dear friend, she pointed out that this stirring in me had begun long before the NCC transition process began, showing God had already been preparing my heart for change before I even realized it. 

So, with a heavy heart, I resigned my position at SAGU this past week.  This has been bittersweet.  I love my team, my bosses, my job and my organization.  But, what was it I came to SAGU all those years ago to do? I didn’t just learn here how to be a pastor or a teacher. I didn’t just learn how to study scriptures or run a sidewalk Sunday school.  What SAGU taught me went way beyond the classroom or the chapel.  My time as a student here at SAGU taught me to listen for God’s voice and to trust His leading.  I learned what it meant to walk in faith every day and allow my life to tell a story that will live on after I die.  I learned what is most important in life, and though I was “just” a young adult, that profound truth took root in my life. 

How crazy is it that God used the same place and some of the same people to remind me what He spoke to me so long ago?  Every walk across campus reminds me… “Live the dream, Sara. Never stop changing the world to make it better. Never stop telling people that My love IS enough.” 

I’m so, so grateful to all of you that have played a pivotal role in this process.  After all, SAGU is just an organization. It’s the people within it that create the change. I love the way Seth Godin says it: “We don’t change markets, or populations, we change people. One person at a time, at a human level. And often, that change comes from small acts that move us, not from grand pronouncements.”

[ If you’d like to join the SAGU team or are interested in my position, click here. ] 

Our Next Chapter

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I’m sorry it has been awhile since I last wrote. 

And that I left off in the middle of a series. 

It’s not that I think there are tons of people waiting with baited breath for my next post, but I’m honored that you even read at all. I hate to leave you hanging. 

But, a LOT has been going on here in the Esca Casa.  Let me start at… well, as close to the beginning as possible. 

Over a year ago, Aaron and I started feeling like God was preparing us to lead a church.  We didn’t necessarily know where or when, but we started having lots of discussions about what kind of church we would want to lead. We started to form a timeline and a plan for what we thought this new chapter in our lives would look like. 

When we felt the time was getting nearer, we consulted with close friends and family, and Aaron determined that he should meet with our pastor, Scott Wilson, to discuss it with him. So, late last year, Aaron walked into Scott’s office, and before he could explain anything, Scott said, “You’re coming in to tell me God is calling you to lead pastor, aren’t you?” 

Wha???

Within minutes Scott shared with Aaron about how some good friends of ours, Chris and Cara Railey, were planning to accept a new position at the National Assemblies of God headquarters.  Chris and Cara loved their church here in the DFW metroplex, and they wanted to make sure whoever followed them as pastors would carry on their legacy.  Scott had mentioned our names to them- before knowing any of our little “plan”- and they actually felt really positive about the possibility. 

Chris had walked out of Scott’s office minutes before Aaron walked in. The timing was crazy. Pastor Scott asked us to pray about the possibility, talk with the Raileys and see what we thought. 

This began the process that would carry us through the next 8 weeks and bring us to today. Meetings, interviews, conversations, emails, and LOTS of praying and seeking wisdom from our trusted friends and family. We visited the church, Aaron preached to fill in once for Chris, and the more time we spent with the people there, the more it seemed we’d been set up on a blind date. This church was so like our family: a variety of histories and experiences, a bit broken in places, raw and real and honest about the challenges of life.   

They’re passionate about serving their community. 

They’re diverse. 

They’re eager to grow and become more like God created them to be, and they seemed resilient in the face of the pastoral transition that- for many- was their first EVER. 

Still, a process like this is ripe with challenge. We all experienced moments of fear for the future, anxiety over impending change, and tears over the loss of leaders and friends.  

This process has tested my faith in some pretty significant ways. It would be so easy to just stay where we are. We love The Oaks. We love what we’re doing there, our friends, our partners in ministry, and things are going well. Things are comfortable and predictable. Things are safe. 

But God never really told us to live safe lives, did He? The Bible is full of stories about God leading people on all kinds of adventures, and the consistent thread is found in the way He shows His people His faithfulness.  When we find ourselves in the midst of the storm, we recognize our need for a savior.  Faith is a choice. So is doubt, cynicism, negativity and despair. God loves to set us up and put us in a place where we’re drawn to look up and realize that what we see is not all there is. 

This morning, 5 years and one day after our first Sunday at The Oaks, Aaron and I accepted the position of Lead Pastors at New Community Church in Mesquite, Texas.  We are heading into a new chapter in life and ministry.  I have no idea what this will look like, but I know it will not be easy. Easy is for chumps.  I want my life to be proof to people that God is real.  I want my children to be able to tell their children stories about how God showed up in crazy ways for our family.  We want the difficult things. We want to live the adventure. 

Want to join us? 

“15 Years of Marriage” Lesson #2: The Wife’s Job Description

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When Aaron and I first got married Stormie Omartian’s The Power of a Praying Wife was very popular. As you already learned, we had plenty of resources at our disposal, so I read through that book within weeks of saying, “I do.” As a dedicated newlywed, I was determined to not just be A praying wife. I was going to be THE praying wife! Sure, there were things Aaron did that frustrated me, but I was going to *insert gentle, gracious voice here* lovingly bring these things before the throne of grace and trust God to work on Aaron Himself. After all, my engagement counselor taught me that I needed to accept Aaron as he was and trust God with the rest, and danggit, I was going to be my counselor’s dream student.

I think that lasted a month. Maybe a week, if I’m realistic.

I mean, *insert annoyed, impatient, whiny voice here* did Mrs. Omartian have nothing better to do all day than to just pray for her husband for hours and hours? And, sure, I trusted God to work on Aaron’s rough edges, but isn’t that why He gave ME to Aaron? I feel like there’s a scripture in the Bible somewhere about what a great gift I am to my husband….

Welp, 15 years later, I’m not much better, but I hope I am a bit wiser. I totally missed the point of sweet Stormie’s book and much of my engagement counseling. Accepting Aaron as he was and is isn’t about keeping a list of all of the faults and failures I’m enduring for his sake. God just wants me to love Aaron as God loves me- in the middle of my mess, seeing the beauty through the brokenness.

SO- what’s a wife to do?? Well, I don’t think this is a comprehensive list, but I think it’s a start:

1. Be His cheerleader.

Let’s be honest- your husband will have enough critics in his life. Do you REALLY want your name at the top of that list? I spent way too much time keeping track of Aaron’s faults, and I am so grateful that he did not return the favor. We have all been around wives who are “the dripping faucets” the Bible talks about- nagging and nitpicking, belittling their husbands in front of others, bossing their husbands around like he is one of the kids. These women exhaust ME! I never want to be part of that crowd. Loving someone means seeing the best in them and helping to draw that out. Cheer your husband on! I joke with Aaron about getting a real set of pom poms so that he’ll know I’m enthusiastically behind him. 

2. Be his biggest fan.

Cheering is about how we talk to our husbands. Being a raving fan is how we talk about our husbands. Wives, we get the distinct honor of being our husbands’ biggest fans. Think of that new lipstick you love or that restaurant you tell everyone about. THAT is what being a fan is all about. Brag on your husband! Tell people how awesome he is. When he gets a promotion or excels at work or just does something great at home, broadcast it to the world!! If you can brag more about your favorite TV show or clothing store than your husband, you’ve stopped studying him. Remember the layers- there will ALWAYS be more to learn about your best friend. Dedicate yourself to being his greatest student and biggest fan. It’s important to remember, that if you are not your husband’s biggest fan, another woman will be. This isn’t something to live in fear of, but it should serve as motivation to not let anyone shout louder, hold higher or talk more positively about our husbands than we do.

3. Be his girlfriend.

Do you remember why you fell in love with your husband? Do you recall those first moments you spent together, the first time you held hands, the first kiss? When you’re dating you treasure every moment you get together, and the air is filled with electricity! It’s a common misconception that the reason marriages fail is because that initial flame just cannot last. The spark that causes the flame does seem brighter, but we’re not after fleeting sparks are we? We want a healthy, long-burning fire.  Flirt with your husband. Act like a silly teenage girl sometimes. Find an activity that your husband loves and do it with him! Who cares if you totally stink at it. Let him teach you (another opportunity to flirt shamelessly). 🙂 Leave him love notes. Wear sexy clothing to bed and, for heaven’s sake, throw away those sweat pants! If you had to win your husband over every day, how differently would you treat him?
 
4. Be his confidant.
 
It is estimated that women speak 13,000 words MORE every day than men do.  There is no argument that we can monopolize the conversation.  Be sure to give your husband a safe place to talk about his day, too.  Don’t share private things with your girlfriends.  As females we not only talk a lot, but we tend to need more nurturing than our male counterparts.  This doesn’t mean that your husband doesn’t need a place to vent or time to lay his head on your shoulder, though.  Be a comfort to your husband.
 
5. Be his prayer covering.
 
Stormie Omartian was onto something.  It has been said that the best way to reach the heart of another person is to ask God to do it. Only He can deal with matters that go beyond the surface of our lives.  Remember those 13,000 extra words you use every day? Guard yourself against the gossip some women feel comfortable with and start investing those words into something meaningful. Ask God to bless your husband and lead him. Ask God to help you to love him the way God does. Pray for favor over his life. Ask God to make you the wife your husband needs. If you are angry with your husband, pray. If you’re hurt by him, pray. If you’re confused, pray. A wise person once challenged me to pray daily for the individual I was most angry with or hurt by, and it is remarkable how differently you feel about someone when you are dedicated to talking to God about them. 
 
An insightful minister once described my relationship to Aaron as though Aaron were a kite, and I was the one holding the string. He told us that Aaron loved to fly high with these wild and crazy ideas, and I had enough sense to keep him connected to the ground (aka reality). “But,” the man told me, “you have to let him fly sometimes, Sara, because he’ll go crazy if he is too tied down.” This has served as one of the most powerful challenges to me.  Aaron stretches me. I am details and systems and practicality. He is visions and dreams and stretching reality.  We are at our best when we are allowing these differences to complement one another. 
 
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17
 
Next Time: The Husband’s Job Description

“15 Years of Marriage” Lesson #1: Trash the Myths

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In the beginning… we tend to think of marriage as blissful.  Sure, many of us have a bad taste left in our mouths about eternal union by parents who divorced, an unfaithful parent or just society in general.  Still, the moment a ring is accepted is usually joyous and full of hope.  Sometimes, though, we can allow that hope of a life of bliss blind us from some common myths we believe in order to avoid the honesty of how tough marriage will truly be.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m no grinch trying to steal away the sparkle in the eyes of the newly engaged couple.  I’m just speaking from experience with many couples: believing these myths has the potential to harm or even destroy your marriage.

Myth #1: “We know everything about each other.”

Whether you’ve been dating or courting (or whatever) your future spouse for 6 years or 6 months, you will NEVER know everything about them.  People are like onions, and no matter how transparent the outer skin may be, we all have things about ourselves that we don’t even know!  Aaron and I have been married for 15 years, and we are still learning about ourselves and each other.  This isn’t a bad thing.  Your job as an engaged or married couple is not to memorize every tiny detail about the other person.  Discovery is one of the central, most joyful things in marriage!  In addition, if you are growing daily (which you should be) you’ll always be changing. 

So, engagement counseling? A MUST. Non-negotiable, people.  The more seminars you can attend and books you can read, the better, but you also need at least 4-6 sessions of true counseling with a professional counselor or experienced pastor.  Maybe you have lots of great mentors in your life already, but the value of having a 3rd party evaluate your relationship and walk through some general marriage topics is invaluable.  Don’t trust me? Go to your fiance or spouse and do the following exercise in entirety in separate locations and then meet to share your answers:

  • Each of you make your own list of all of the household responsibilities (chores, finances, etc.) you can think of and assign them as either to be completed by husband, wife or as a shared responsibility.
  • Write down the amount of money you think either of you should be able to spend without consulting the other person.
  • Describe the atmosphere in your home growing up. How did your parents handle disagreements? How were you disciplined as a child? What was meal time like? What was your family schedule like on a daily basis? How would you describe your parents’ parenting style? Then do the same for your better half- what were these things like in their home?
  • Write out a monthly budget that you feel is reasonable.  Estimate your married income as best as you can, and plan out every number- rent/mortgage, utilities, shopping, savings, etc.

Share your answers with each other and have an honest discussion about how these answers affect your relationship now or in the future.  Even if your answers are very similar, there is something to be learned about the love of your life.  Don’t miss this and other opportunities by assuming you already know all there is to know.

Myth #2: “The One”

Only God knows how many great relationships or marriages have been sabotaged by this myth.  You might believe that God has one plan for your life and when you make mistakes he is standing at the very spot you went off track, tapping his foot, waiting for you to return so you guys can get back to what He was doing.  However, even IF this were true (which I don’t believe it is), God doesn’t give us a “do-over” for marriage.  LOVE IS A CHOICE.  Just kill that touchy-feeling romantic comedy crap you’ve been fed and take a look at Scripture.  Take a look at life! Some parents do not love their children.  Is that because the kids are the wrong ones? Hardly. 

Romance is no different.  We fairy-tale and fantasize this up, but loving another person for the rest of your life is purely decision, not feeling.  Is chemistry involved in relationships? Absolutely.  Is it important to be attracted physically to your spouse? Heck, yeah. But love is a different thing entirely. 

Aaron understood this before I did.  The night before we got married, one of his friends asked him how he KNEW he was supposed to marry me. His answer? “I don’t! But I know I love Sara.  I know we both love God and want to be in ministry together, so why WOULDN’T I want to marry her?”  He chose me. Was I predestined since the beginning of time to marry Aaron?  Who cares?! We said, “I do,” and now it’s all about effort and decision and hard work.  There is no greener grass, folks.  That guy you dated in high school? He has his OWN set of issues, so don’t even let your mind go there.

Myth #3: “Real love” comes naturally.

This offshoot of the myth of “the one” is just as damaging to relationships.  There truly IS a difference between REAL love and the kind of love sold by Nicholas Sparks and beer commercials.  Want to know how you can tell which is which?  REAL LOVE IS HARD WORK.  I know. Now that you wanted to hear, but all of the married couples said a hearty, “Amen!”  Feelings are fickle and emotions are like the weather.  Your spouse is never going to be able to read your mind.  Ladies, your future-husband is not always going to know when you want to be held or when you want time alone.  Guys, your wife may never know that her asking you to take out the trash every day makes you feel like a 12-year-old.  We’ll talk later about the importance of proper communication, but let’s note that communication is a vital vehicle for creating real love in your relationship.  

This is a great opportunity to bring up The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.  Go through this book together, and discuss how you can better communicate your love to one another.  It might not feel magical, but these things are what real love is built upon. Forget the perfect dialogues from “The Notebook” and be real with each other.  Laugh at yourself (and one another).  Talk about what really makes you feel loved.  Then stop expecting perfection.  Work at it! This is where marriage gets really powerful.  Iron sharpens iron, and when you’re committed to studying and serving someone forever and ever, great things happen.  It has been said that it takes 9 years of marriage before you start thinking of the other person FIRST.  Nine years of practice.  Nine years of forming new habits.  Nine years of building real love together. Sounds like a great adventure…

NEXT LESSON: Job Descriptions- His & Hers

What 15 years of marriage has taught me

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This is Aaron and me about 6 weeks after we were married.  A church friend uncovered this photo last year, and when I saw it my first thought was, “Holy cow….we were sooooo young.” And we were! In this picture I am 19 and Aaron is 20. We were beginning our junior years at SAGU, and we had NO idea what we were doing!  We had fantastic preparation for marriage- probably better than anyone I knew at the time.  I worked for a professional Marriage and Family Therapist, so she gave us free engagement counseling.  Aaron’s parents were pastors, and Aaron’s dad stuck to his rule of not performing our marriage ceremony until we had completed counseling with him and my mother-in-law.  We had lots of wonderful mentors in our lives who invested and poured into us as a young couple. 

But when you’re two strong-willed people in the middle of an argument, those lessons on using positive “I” statements and communicating calmly just fly out the window.  We had our share of loud arguments and disagreements those first months and years of marriage.  We had so much to learn!  Still, there were certain standards we’d set in place prior to our marriage that ensured we weren’t allowing the tension between us to ruin the bond we had.

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Here we are….15 years later, and I can’t imagine how differently our marriage would look were it not for the investments by so many caring, thoughtful people.  Because of the incredible mentors we had, Aaron and I feel a burden for families and married couples- young and old- who are struggling to make it work.  So, although we’re no “experts” by any means, I thought we could take a few weeks to walk through some of the lessons we’ve learned over 15 years of marriage.  If you are in a place where it takes every ounce of your effort to continue to love your spouse, or you feel you have the healthiest marriage you’ve ever had, these lessons are for you.  We all need each other. We aren’t meant to do this thing alone.  If you need advice or a listening ear, please let me know, and check back over the next week or two.  Maybe something will jump out at you. 🙂

The evasive Sabbath

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There’s a reason God told His people thousands of years ago to take a day of rest and rememberance each week:  they would never do it otherwise. We value progress, growth, increase and fruitfulness.  Our modern culture bounces between lethargy and hyperactivity, a fact demonstrated through the problems with our children who are either couched playing video games or bouncing off the walls at school.

But Sabbath wasn’t a time to simply take an afternoon nap or fast activity.  Sabbath was a focused rest- a time to remember that no matter how hard we work, everything we have comes from God.

A few years ago an opportunity opened up for me to participate in the beta level of a brand new spiritual formation experience.  One of my favorite authors and speakers, Alicia Britt Chole, was looking for women to join her in one year of intentional, focused spiritual growth together.  Alicia herself would lead the group through times of mentoring, group and individual lessons and an annual prayer retreat.  In addition to joining this group, I felt God leading me to step back in my job and spend some time focusing on growth and personal healing.

It was time for a period of Sabbath in my life.

I cannot express strongly enough how deeply that year changed me.  Alicia’s wisdom, an incredible community of women and fasting my strengths created a healing space that my soul desperately needed.  I had begun to believe that my battles must be fought alone, but having Alicia’s hindsight as my foresight allowed me to stand on the shoulders of her wisdom.  My fellow mentees allowed me to experience the incredible joy of true friendship, support and accountability. These incredible, strong, gifted women have been such a source of life and love and hope in my life.

My heart needed the space to heal and grow, and so does yours.  How often do you step away from fruitfulness to grow roots? When was the last time you rested to regain your strength (physically, emotionally, or spiritually)?  How often do you fast your strengths, setting aside the need for extrinsic encouragement to allow God to remind you you’re worth just as much to Him without the great things you do?

If you’re interested in further study on this topic, I highly recommend Alicia’ book Anonymous, Margin by Dr. Richard Swenson, and the Leadership Investment Intensive mentoring opportunities listed here.

Home

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I have these moments of nostalgia sometimes. 

I could be listening to a song…
It could be the sound of someone playing the piano…
   the scent of fall…
   the cool, spring breeze on my face, or the warmth of a summer sun.
 
These things reach into my soul, to a place I forget is there, and they recall this feeling I can’t quite put into words….
It’s the feeling you get when you’re sitting around a Thanksgiving table with a house full of family and the scent of apple pie in   
the air…
 
the feeling you get when you walk in the cool of autumn, hearing the crunch of leaves under your feet, holding the hand of the
one you love….
 
the feeling you get when you hear a song that sings the lyric you’ve been trying to speak out for years…
   the feeling you get when you are HOME. 
 
These moments,
These feelings make me catch my breath and realize that I’m not home yet.
There is some other realm I’m meant for.
The home I have is simply a reflection of the home my heart longs for.
It isn’t the real thing. 
Each piece of furniture, each smell, each picture, each color reflects something about the home my heart longs for….the one it was made for. 
 
I treasure these moments and the things that trigger them, because they make me stand and look at the bigger picture. 
   They give me this birds-eye view of my world. 
   They widen my gaze and help me to remember….
 
One day, I will truly be home. 
The reflection will fade away in the reveal of the real. 
The people I love will surround me, and I won’t have to cry tears of sadness over their suffering any longer. 
I won’t have to worry about ruining the relationship with attitudes or words that don’t fit in this place. 
I won’t count calories or think about grains or fats or cellulite or cleaning up after dinner. I will enjoy each moment with no need to look back or forward with longing. 
My heart will be completely fulfilled in every way. 
 
My heart will truly be home.