His Grace Shines in our Disgrace

A couple of years ago, one of my close friends sent me a link to a sermon from his church. The text said, “best sermon about depression I’ve ever heard.” I was intrigued. I’ve heard sermons that address mental health before; pastors with smiles, telling me that joy comes from the Lord, and if I pray hard enough and have enough faith, I’ll be happy.

If the link had not come from a friend who had taken more than their share of late-night phone calls, I would have rolled my eyes. But he knew better than to send me unempathetic garbage, so I gave it a listen.

I wouldn’t say the message was all about mental health, but the guy had a point. He didn’t tackle the question of why I’m depressed, or how to fix it. He reminded me that God feels my suffering and that He doesn’t waste a tear. God doesn’t hear my cries and think, “She’ll get over it soon enough,” or belittle me and tell me how I’m being too negative all the time or consider my mental breakdowns a just punishment. He hurts with me.

Not only does God feel my pain, He says, “Watch me bring goodness out of despair.” As the pastor said, His grace shines in our disgrace. As I am broken and crying and disgraceful, He turns broken pieces into beautiful flowers. It’s who He is.

This week, I’ve had to remind myself of this daily. Ever had one of those days when you can’t seem to do anything right? That’s been my life recently. My dog escaped twice this week, and he’s a runner. In the past two years, he’s escaped four times that I remember… and now we’re at six. Each time he gets out, I mentally prepare myself in case I’m about to witness my emotional support animal get hit by a car.

It takes a toll.

But both times, I had complete strangers pause their lives to help me catch him and get him home safely. Angels come in many forms. The first time, I got him leashed and walked home, sobbing. The second time, I cried and spent an hour looking at Shiba Inu forums online to remind myself it’s common for his breed, and he doesn’t hate me. If it weren’t for my dog, my life would look very different. God has used him to help me stay stable, and without him, I wouldn’t have my current job.

Every time something went wrong this week, I talked myself out of spiraling. I was feeling so proud when my emotions settled and I didn’t completely fall apart. I’ve come a long way. Maybe feeling proud about not freaking out when you do a whole load of laundry without soap isn’t an award-winning feat, but I take what I can get.

I didn’t spiral when I made a stupid mistake with our trash company, leading to confusion and a few extra cans. I didn’t spiral when I accidentally left the dome light on in my car for 24 hours and my battery was dead. I didn’t spiral when I tried a menstrual disc for the first time and couldn’t get it out (although that was a rough one, and I consider it a huge accomplishment).

I didn’t spiral until this morning when I realized my work key was missing. Since I was recently promoted, I now have a key to our store, as of Wednesday. By Sunday, I had lost that key. Fighting tears, I began retracing my steps. It clearly got pulled off my lanyard, but how? Did I drop it outside of my car and run it over? Did it fall into the toilet at P.F. Chang’s? Did it fall out of my pocket yesterday while I was chasing my dog all over the city, or into the stranger’s car who gave me a ride home? While driving home, I contemplated what it would feel like to call my manager crying, get fired, and start a new career, possibly in a new country. I began praying.

Lo and behold, you know where that key was? In the back pocket of the jeans I wore Saturday night.

I canceled my to-do list, drew up a hot bath, and made some tea. I was spent.

As I listened to the slow draining of the tub that I have yet to fix, I remembered that sermon. In these moments of failure, big and small, I am not enough. I never will be. I never can be.

I live in disgrace. That’s the nature of this broken world and my broken self. I am an absolute mess. My life is chaotic, I make mistakes, forget things, accidentally hurt people I love. Sometimes I cry during Disney’s Mulan because I’m so impressed by how far the soldiers have come by the end of “I’ll Make a Man out of You”.

I think of “Liability” by Lorde, how someone told her he “made the big mistake of dancing in my storm”. I am a storm, beautifully and wonderfully made. But in this hurricane, I witness God every day.

Grace has allowed me to cry with people who are sad like me, because I can understand. Grace allows me to experience love I do not and cannot deserve. Grace says, “You are not enough. But I am.”

So I dance in my own storm because it isn’t about me. I withstand the hurricane, taking hope in the God who knows my sad heart. I live in freedom from my shortcomings, embracing my imperfect self. God’s law was intended to show humanity how far short we fall, but He doesn’t leave us there. He gave us grace.

“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

Galatians 2:19-21.

Christ died in disgrace. A criminal’s death, stripped and assaulted. Verbally abused and mocked. He died in disgrace so we could experience His grace.

Every time we accept His grace in our disgrace, we reminisce on how Jesus was raised in glory. When God sends me strangers to help me keep my runaway dog safe, he’s sending me grace. However disgraceful I can be, Jesus bore that on the cross.

Whatever grace you need to accept for yourself right now, I hope you take it. It’s a good and perfect gift, being given whole-heartedly. Jesus died because you aren’t enough; He is. He was, is, and always will be. When you’re a complete disaster like me, reminisce on how Christ was raised in glory.

His grace shines in our disgrace.

With humility,

K.G.

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Indonesian Brown Chicken

Today, I’m blessing you with one of my favorite Indonesian recipes. I grew up eating this frequently, and it’s one of my favorite comfort foods from my Indonesian family’s collection of recipes! When I had to give up some foods a couple years ago, I came up with this adjusted version, and it’s so good I felt I needed to share the love. As always, my measurements are estimations and you should taste as you go. Enjoy!

-Sarah

Indonesian Brown Chicken

Ingredients:
1.5-2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs
⅔-ish cup coconut aminos (Big Tree is my favorite brand because it’s not as sweet as others)
2 pitted dates
1 shallot, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1-2 Tbsp. sambal oelek (adjust to your taste – I like a ton of spice, so I use 2+ tablespoons, plus more for serving)
½-1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. chopped fresh ginger or ¼ tsp. ground ginger
Juice of half a lime (or the whole thing if it’s not very juicy)
Smidge of sesame oil

Directions:
-Preheat oven to 350.
-Put coconut aminos and dates in a measuring cup/jar/bowl and blend with an immersion blender (or do it in a regular blender) until dates are pureed. Add the other ingredients except the chicken and stir to combine. Dip your finger in, taste, and adjust seasonings to your liking.
-Lay chicken thighs down in a baking dish and pour sauce over them evenly, then turn them a couple times to make sure they’re coated.
-Bake for 30 minutes, then flip thighs. Bake for another 15 minutes and flip again, repeating until they’ve cooked for about an hour and fifteen minutes or so (depending on the size of the thighs, it could be more or less time).
-Remove from the oven, serve over rice or cauliflower rice or roasted veggies or whatever your heart desires, and enjoy!

Gospel Personality Type

Twitter heard it from me first but… Enneagram is the new astrology.

I haven’t felt the need to discuss it much until the past few months when it suddenly became everywhere. I studied it a little during my human resources degree work a few years back, thought it was an interesting tool, and moved on. I wasn’t expecting to hear about it to the extent that my eye starts twitching when I hear any number between one and nine.

When my roommate asked me a couple of weeks ago what my thoughts were on the Enneagram, I immediately rolled my eyes. Then I checked myself. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with the Enneagram. It’s actually fairly reliable in the long term, which is better than many other personality tests. My problem is when someone asks me what my number is, all I hear is

Astrology and the Enneagram are very different beasts, but ultimately they satisfy our needs to more deeply understand who we are and why we are that way. It’s human nature to seek to after the why‘s of things in our lives. The thing that fascinates me about the Enneagram takeover is the astounding amount of Christians I know who are deeply immersed in the secrets of their numbers.

Like Myer’s Briggs, the DISC test, and tests surrounding love languages and spiritual giftings, the Enneagram can be a useful tool.

A tool. Not an end all, be all. Helpful, but not Gospel.

If you want to get me ranting on personality tests, the absolute best way to do it is to excuse poor behavior because of your personality type.

“Oh, I’m an Aquarius, so I don’t do well with commitment.”

“As an INFJ, I’m sensitive and don’t respond to criticism positively.”

“Type 6s are very fear-driven, so you should know I’m really insecure.”

Your flaws are not an excuse to act poorly. For the record, these are all some of my scores and their corresponding weaknesses. Even the parts that are true don’t give anyone a free license to be the worst. In fact, if you are aware of your weaknesses, the best thing you can do is recognize your triggers and defense mechanisms, and share those when you feel comfortable so others can understand you more. This allows you to have accountability rather than deflect things because of your type.

Mini-rant aside, excusing flaws isn’t the root of this issue either. The issue is seeking and finding identity in a standardized test rather than Jesus Christ. While a deeper understanding of how you function on an individual level is extremely helpful, it always needs to point back to Christ.

Fear-driven? How does the Gospel tell you to respond to fear?

Perfectionist? How does that benefit (or hinder) your ministry?

Knowledge-focused? How does that help you interact with Scripture?

When mankind was created, we were created in the image of God (check out Genesis 2). A creative masterpiece, we were not intended to live a life apart from God, but to live in community as a creation that reflects the Creator. God personifies every good and positive aspect from every number; and when He created man and woman, He did not create people types numbered one through nine.

Who we are is rooted one-hundred percent in God. Our worth and value come from the Gospel. Everything good in us is a blessing from Him and a reflection of how we were created to be. The giftings any personality test encourages in you should be a reflection of Christ. At the same time, any weaknesses they describe should point you towards grace and growth– Biblically.

There are surely aspects of ourselves that will remain steady throughout our lifetimes. However, as we continuously seek to be refined by God, we are changed. Sanctification is a process, and we should expect ourselves to change.

So change. Change radically for the sake of and because of the Gospel.

While tools like personality tests are helpful, I firmly believe the best thing anyone can do to understand themselves more fully is with the help of a counselor. Counselors are trained to understand and interpret the intricacies of your life on an individual level, which is going to be far more telling than any standardized test or Enneagram coach. Heck, even walk through your Enneagram test results with a counselor– but dive deep personally and unpack yourself, and look for Jesus.

The more deeply we know Jesus, the more deeply we will know ourselves. We will know more of who we were created to be if Eden were still home. Because creation reflects Creator, and when who we are seems shaky, He is not.

With humility,

K.G.

Bring Your Mess to God’s Table

I’m sharing some more music with y’all today, but this time it’s just one song. One of my friends shared it last week, and I haven’t been able to stop listening to it.

We often feel like we need to have ourselves (at least somewhat) put together before we can come to God, but that’s the complete opposite of the truth. This song starts out with the lines, “I found you in the middle of my mess/You had been there all along.”

God wants our whole selves – mess and all. He is ready to “set a table in the middle of my war,” no matter what that war is about. God can use our mess to bring us closer to him and, ultimately, to bring glory to him. The miracles Jesus performed were about taking a messy situation and turning them around so the works of God could be displayed.

Shame over some stuff is something I’ve been working through for a long time, and this song speaks right to my soul. Fear can go to hell, and shame can go there too. God takes our fears, our sin, and our shame, and he scatters them as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:11-12). Part of this whole trusting in him that I talked about a couple weeks ago is trusting him in this process of removing sin and shame and replacing it with the joy that comes with believing in him.

He doesn’t care what kind of “baggage” we have, he wants it all because it means we’ve turned to him. If you’re struggling with letting fear or shame rule you, give it to God. He’s there waiting with open arms and open heart, ready to crush the lies of the enemy and fill us with his truth.

Give this song a listen, and then put it on repeat until that message sinks in.

With love,
Sarah

Replanting my Heart and Renewing my Mind

This evening, I took a glance at the seeds I had planted the day we moved in. I was shocked to see that one of the pots had tiny green sprouts coming out– and they looked kind of moldy.

Will I ever have a green thumb? Probably not. Is it a symbol of my life? Not really, but I felt stupid giving you the “so we actually did move like I said we would” update. A couple of posts ago, I felt the Lord telling me to uproot. To pack up my things and follow, to consider changes I hadn’t before, to make space for replanting. I spent so much time fantasizing what would come my way when I replanted. What adventure starts here? How will I be growing? And when I replanted, I asked God, “What next?”

He’s been eerily quiet lately. Periods of silence are a normal part of a relationship with God, but this feels different. Like when someone grabs you by the hand and leads you towards something. Someone once told me that if God has commanded you to do something, keep doing it until He says otherwise. Perhaps you aren’t done yet.

God’s been my sounding board as I process, listening as I pray throughout my day. His Spirit has been present in my day-to-day activities, listening intently and saying nothing, just offering a hand. I reflected on my life and where I’m at, and I came to realize that even though I’ve replanted many external pieces of my life, God’s wanting me to replant my heart.

Okay, that sounded cheesy. God wants me to rip my heart apart and rebuild it in His image. Maybe that’s a little too Gladiator, but you get me, right?

There are these deeply ingrained things in my heart that need to be removed. There are things I need to spend time working on within myself in order to serve those around me better. The thing about sin is that it permeates everything we see and do; we’ve never seen life without sin’s influence. Our world is warped by sin, and it ultimately affects our choices, perception, and our very state of being.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- His good, pleasing and perfect will.” -Romans 12:2 (NIV)

In Romans 12, Paul is describing what it looks like to be a living sacrifice for the Gospel. In renewing my mind this season, I want to do some serious work in myself. The Lord has been grabbing me by the hand and silently leading me towards these dark places I’d been avoiding. He says nothing and allows me to sit and look at the damage. In Hebrew, the word leb (pronounced LAY-v) means heart and mind, and culturally, the heart and mind were considered together, as the same interdependent system. In context, the work of the mind is the work of the heart, and vice verse. If any of these things I’m about to share ring true with you, I’d encourage you to walk with me.

Not being complicit in white supremacy. My fellow white Christians, we’ve got plenty to talk about here. There is no such thing as a “good” white person in terms of racism. As not-racist as you may feel, we are privileged by systems that benefit us at the cost of others, especially in the States. As Rachel Cargle (@rachel.cargle on Insta) has said, it’s not enough to be not-racist. You must actively be anti-racism, and we are responsible for deconstructing the racist systems established by our ancestors. The steps I will be taking towards working through this is re-reading The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. I will also be doing Layla Saad’s “Me & White Supremacy” 30 day challenge, available from her Instagram (@laylafsaad). If what I’ve just said makes you uncomfortable, good. Talk to me, read with me, listen to Black Indigenous women of color. I feel like this season will better prepare me to write a longer post about racism in the American church, and I’m looking forward to it.

*As a side note, I highly recommend you follow @rachel.cargle and @laylafsaad and learn from them. They are educators, and I also ask if you take in their work, you pay them for it. You can pay them via links in their Insta bios. They also provide tons of resources. Please respect their work and spaces, and take the time to read their guidelines before jumping ignorantly into the work they do with their pages.

Not consuming unethically. I’ve been working on being aware of the things I purchase, but we’re going deeper. R. Kelly, you’re cancelled. Chris Brown? Cancelled. Artists and creators and those who benefit from my consumption will be people who actively recognize their mistakes when called out and learn from them. I will be filtering through my music the most (because I’ll admit, in terms of content, I listen to some stuff that would make Eminem blush). I will not support violent men, people that are complicit in the mistreatment of others, and I will pay attention to where and who the things I consume come from. I’ll be taking time this season to go through what I already consume, and research anything new I am considering.

Walking through past trauma. Recently, I admitted something to some of my friends: I think I’m interested in being open to dating again. They’ve been freaking out with excitement, which is concerning on its own level. I have a myriad of reasons why I haven’t wanted to, some surface-level that are easier to share; and some deeply rooted fears that I’m going to have to face if I ever want a partner. In a previous post, I talked about how many fears I have surround the theme of family. It’s time to roll up my sleeves and do some work.

Being more intentional with my belongings. Taking quality care of the items I do have, and not wasting money and time on items I don’t need. I’ll be continuing to watch “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” (perfect organization and efficiently folded clothes are what I imagine sex feels like). I’ve already started this process, but I want to be better about taking care of my clothes, caring for my home, and for my car. I’m ignorant in all three of those categories. I also want to take the time to invest in emergency stock of things I might need, and being intentional with my money.

Now that I’ve written this all out, I’m not gonna lie– this feels like a lot of work. If these were New Year’s resolutions, I’d feel a little better. But I can’t neglect God like I neglected the six-pack abs that I resolved to obtain eight years ago. This list also vaguely reminds me of Rachel Held Evans’ book Year of Biblical Womanhood, which I highly recommend. These are a few of my practical steps and challenges towards living a life that reflects the God I love.

Instead of growing outward, God’s telling me to pause and focus inward. Dig up some roots. Maybe deal with some moldy seedlings, like on my kitchen windowsill. He’s seen me gather all my energy to move forward, and is telling me to sit still and sift through myself.

It feels like preparation of something big. Maybe not Noah’s ark big, but a movement of something coming in my life. I’m not claiming I’m a prophet, but I trust my gut feelings. I’ll let you know what God does.

In the meantime, I’ll pass this challenge to you. What roots to you need to dig up this winter? Feel free to reach out if you want to walk with me or have questions.

With humility,

K.G.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd; Trust in Him

I have been making it a point the last six weeks or so to wake up early before work or other plans so I can start my day in the Word and in prayer.

I could tell you the ways this has changed how my days go, like my mood being better, feeling more rested, feeling spiritually filled to serve effectively in my line of ministry/work, etc. I might save that for another post, but today I wanted to share something God has been speaking to my heart through these early morning times with Him.

I’ve been jumping around between a few different Bible studies during these times of devotion, and it seems that every one I’ve started in the last few weeks has brought me back to the idea that Jesus is our Good Shepherd. Every one. After the third study I randomly started ended up at this same passage in Scripture, I decided God was really trying to tell me something, so I better listen up.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”

John 10:1-5

This first chunk of this chapter about shepherds and sheep stood out to me. If you know anything about sheep, you know they’re pretty stupid animals. They get distracted easily and are prone to wander or follow other sheep without thinking, they’re defenseless, they’re stubborn, and they have poor eyesight so they don’t know where they’re going half the time.

Sounds a lot like myself, so I don’t have to think too hard to see why God uses this metaphor to describe our relationship.

I am his sheep, and he is my shepherd.

What stands out to me about these first few verses is that idea of the sheep knowing their shepherd’s voice. They might be prone to wander, get lost, and have bad eyesight, but they know the voice of their shepherd really well. Enough to know to run when a stranger is trying to lead them.

What a powerful picture. God is our Good Shepherd and we are his sheep. I’ve been feeling really convicted to learn to discern his voice because of this. Because without knowing his voice, how am I supposed to know who to follow? I’ll just end up one of the sheep who wanders, gets lost, and can’t find a way back. Thankfully, God will come after us when we do get lost (read Luke 15:1-5 if you need an image of that), but wouldn’t we make it a whole lot better for ourselves if we just learned to recognize and listen to his voice in the first place?

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

John 10:14-15

Jesus, our Good Shepherd, knows us. And not just a factual, head knowledge type of knowing. This particular word for know comes from the Greek word “ginosko”, which means “to come to know, recognize, perceive.” In other words, it’s a knowing through experience – a heart knowledge. God doesn’t just know our names like we remember the name of the school we went to. He knows our hearts – what we struggle with, what we desire, what brings us joy. And he wants us to know him in the same way.

As I kept circling back to this passage, God laid on my heart the word trust. You see, he knows my heart. He knows that I might hear his voice, but I’m not always ready to move toward his voice or go where he says to go. If I’m being honest, the things that hold me back the most from fully listening to God’s voice are stubbornness and fear of where he’s going to lead me (because it’s probably not going to be easy). I’ll hear his direction, but instead of following it, I’ll allow myself to get distracted and end up going a different way.

But God, being the Good Shepherd that he is, can always find me and lead me back to himself. And so here he is telling me to trust.

Trust his voice.

Trust his ways are higher than my ways.

Trust his thoughts are higher than my thoughts.

Trust and walk in his wisdom.

Trust in him, and receive joy and peace and hope.

If you’re struggling to trust in God – whether out of fear, stubbornness, selfishness, or something else – read his Word and see how he speaks to you. That’s one of the easiest ways we can hear his voice – read his Word. The Bible is the literal Word of God. It gives us wisdom, understanding, direction, peace, comfort, and joy. Trust in it, trust in him, and follow his voice.

With love,
Sarah

The “War” on Christmas

I understand that this post is a little late. All is fair in love and war, as they say, and I am getting really tired about hearing about this one war in particular.

Allow me to start by saying, I absolutely believe there is a war on Christmas– but it isn’t the phrase “Happy Holidays”. There is oppression in the U.S. that insults the story of Christmas– and it’s not against Christians.

‘Tis the season for everyone to tell you, “Let’s remember what Christmas is really about,” while later still participating in the same traditions and societal expectations that supposedly distract from the “true meaning of Christmas.” I’ve provided a very abbreviated version of the story below in case you are unfamiliar or want to entertain my annoyed attitude:

A young, betrothed Israelite woman named Mary is visited by a celestial being and told she would carry the Son of God; God in the human flesh. Although she was a virgin, she became pregnant with the son she was told to name “Jesus.” As God humbly came in human form into the world, he was born into a manger, as Mary and Joseph were traveling in Bethlehem. He was to die on a cross for the sins of humanity.

The King of Kings was born in a trough in a barn. The Lord of Lords was born to refugees.  The Prince of Peace came humbly into the world and humbly hung from a tree when He left it.

As many of us gather in homes with our families this Christmas, others are still separated from theirs from when they approached our border. While front yard’s display inflatable white nativity scenes, Black mothers face the highest infant mortality rate in the States. While wassail and eggnog are being passed around, Flint still doesn’t have clean water. STILL.

This holiday is meant to remind people of how the Word became flesh and was brutally crucified and betrayed by His creation over 2,000 years ago so that we, the sin-infested, imperfect, selfish creation, could possibly be in a relationship with the Creator.

We are celebrating an anniversary of a birth that led to ultimate sacrifice, for our own sake. A time to remember that we are unworthy, imperfect, and naught but dust. Because God sacrificed His perfect and holy Son, we are able to know God. No. Other. Reason.

The message of Christmas is the message of Christ: God loves us and gave everything for us so we could know Him, and He calls us to share the gift we have received with others.

War is being raged on the Gospel, aka the main point of the story of Christmas. Oppression, racism, sexism, abuse, assault, theft, idolatry… the list can go on for days. Other winter holidays are not a threat to God– the supreme, Almighty, and omnipotent God. Recognition of diversity is not a threat to God. However, God does hate idolatry, so hang on to your Apple Watch, Becky.

You do not need to fight to “protect” Christmas– Your sins killed Christ a long time ago. Take a seat.

We need to fight to protect God’s people. His beloved creation that he made in His image and breathed life into. The people He came and died for. Jesus’ birthday party during His lifetime probably looked a lot like what He did every day. He probably preached the Word, fellowshipped, and ate dinner with sinners.

Saying “Happy Holidays” is not, and has never been, an attack on Christmas. It is a simple way to recognize that not everyone is like you, Karen, so maybe you should be a little more considerate and love those around you. If an acknowledgment of people being different from you makes you feel personally threatened, it’s most likely because you’re suffering from fragility. It might be worth saying that you, Deborah, are the snowflake.

So this Christmas, keep calling your congresspeople because God’s people are on a mission to love others. God doesn’t need our protection. Instead, He needs our humility to abide in Him, pursue Him, and show Him to the world. He loves us endlessly, and all we need to do is admit we need Him.

So Happy Holidays, ya filthy animals.

With humility and mistletoe,

K.G.