ONE TRUE SENTENCE

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“The writer’s job is to tell the truth.” Those sage words of Ernest Hemingway have guided the pens of good writers for decades. While in a writing slump Hemingway once encouraged himself with these self-directed words, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

Anyone who has read this blog more than three times might note that I readily and frequently admit that I’m a mess. My days are sometimes a long string of over-introspection marathons: what’s wrong with Sherrie, what’s broken and needs fixing, what needs to be addressed before she can really live the life God has called her to. I write about my life in a way that might cause some people to wonder why in the world I would, not only expose, but publish my underbelly like I do.  I’ve talked about my shameful childhood, my failures, my martyrdom, my mental illness and my pursuit of God.

One of the reasons I’m so raw with what I share is because I want my pain and my losses to be repurposed into a giant arrow that points people to HOPE. I can’t bear the thought that the road paved by my experiences will be of no value to anyone following behind.

As I take steps toward my dream of becoming a viable writer with a relevant message many obstacles crop up and I can become lost in the forest. There are many days, like today, that I just don’t know what I’m doing. I am afflicted an acute case of Second-Guessing Syndrome. Some days the direction I felt so sure of yesterday feels like a mocking vapor today. Poof! Just kidding—you can’t do this!  

We recently took a long road trip to see new places and even with GPS and a good map we felt lost and disoriented at times. One morning we were facing the goal of heading into a well known city with a bazillion points of interest. Before we embarked on our journey the obstacles loomed larger than life: we’re in an RV, how would we maneuver the city streets, what if we don’t get the sequence of stops in the right order, where will we park, what if we get towed, at which point should we start, what if it rains, what if we get lost, etc.?

I’ll do just about anything to avoid the possibility of an anxiety attack so I’m sometimes inclined to bail before I begin.

When the details of pursuing my goals pile up around me and I’m afraid taking the next step will cause me to fall and break my neck—or otherwise make a complete butt-in-the-air fool of myself, this is my truest sentence:

I am His.

That’s it. Some days that’s all I know for sure. And thankfully, it is enough. I sit with that one true sentence and breath it in slowly, rhythmically. I let it settle over me and work the hyperventilation out of my soul. Before long I’m adding another sentence of truth:

He is in control

One by one, the sentences accumulate into that unalterable simplicity of Truth that all other truths are subjected.

Friend, no matter where we are in pursuit of our goals, in the fulfillment of our purpose, in the brave telling of our stories, in the development of our skills, or in the healing of our wounded-ness—let’s allow TRUTH to renew our thoughts and re-direct our paths.

Hemingway had it right; when stuck he simply talked truth with himself. What is the truest thing you can say to yourself right now?

I want to be brave and vulnerable enough to allow God to weave my story into His BIG FAT REDEMPTIVE STORY!  No matter how many times I trip over the jabillion details or succumb to fear or muck about in confusion—I go back to my one true sentence: I am His.

Whatever season of life you are in, whatever seed of purpose He has deposited within you, wherever you are on your path, if you feel like a small child lost in the crowd, if everyone feels like a stranger, if no one even notices you’re afraid; take heart! You are His and He won’t leave you unclaimed in the Lost and Found room at Grand Central.

He claims us.

He calms us.

He carries us. 

He causes all things to work for our good and His glory.

THE BEAUTIFUL MOASIC OF BROKENNESS, A Story For The Telling

Laura Harris, Mosaic Artist
Laura Harris, Mosaic Artist

I have struggled immensely with identity issues.  So, who hasn’t you might ask? Everyone has or will at some point wonder who they are or will question their purpose on this planet. As a victim—I wish there was a better word—of child abuse, my emotional, psychologically and personality development was profoundly interrupted. That’s not a cop out for bad behavior or an excuse to live by a different set of rules, but it can be the very real consequence of childhood trauma, particularly unaddressed trauma.

For years I wasn’t able to put my finger on what was lacking in my personhood, I simply knew that I was different from others. I seemed to view life rather than live it. The world was on one side of a giant window, I was on the other. I felt empty, nervous, rigid, guarded, analytical, calculating, reactive, reserved and artificial–mostly I felt disconnected. I felt like a shell that housed a reasonable amount of intelligence and a handful of natural talents but no core identity to speak of. I was in a perpetual state of confusion and uncertainty–I second-guessed virtually everything and everyone.

I filled in the blanks and gaps of my ambiguous and unanchored personality by studying people and situations. Like an understudy on Broadway, I played out the roles I had considered. I imitated, parroted and scrutinized social behavior. I did this without realizing that I was simply trying to discover what was missing inside and figure out how to install it. I not only needed a program upgrade, there were large chucks of code missing as well.

To make up for the identity and self-esteem I lacked, I focused on others. I had an ill-proportioned commitment to their good, their success, and their happiness. I jumped on their bandwagons, rode the wind of their interests and championed their causes all while modeling behaviors appropriate to the need.

I had no problem whatsoever believing in the dreams and aspirations of others. Sometimes I could spearhead their projects and ambitions better than they could themselves. I readily saw their potential, equipped them with helps and encouraged them vigorously. And it didn’t even matter to me that my name wasn’t printed on their Acknowledgement page. When it came to me–to my dreams, I needed others to convince me of my possibilities, potential and purpose–when they did, it was never enough.

Helping others was what connected me, made me feel alive–it’s what anchored me. I altered myself according to the current needs of those around me. I was brilliant at acquiescing, pleasing and placating.  It was the only way I knew to fit in and function relationally. I hid my empty self behind the ego of others. As you can imagine, it was a cheap substitution for living. It also further damage me, I had unwittingly added my own name to the list of my abusers.

All this impostership culminated into rage. A fire was being banked inside me. The tinder lay un-kindled for many years, hidden behind duty, loyalty, obligation and fear. Predictably a spark ignited and I became an angry, angry woman. The accelerant to my harsh words was deep, unaddressed pain. What others experienced was simply an angry, hyper-sensitive, reactive woman. Naturally, they backed away and I felt more rejection and disqualification.

I couldn’t articulate preferences, I couldn’t voice my opinions, I didn’t have confidence to dream or to aspire. I didn’t have personal boundaries or the ability to recognize when I was being taken advantage of and if I had, I didn’t feel courageous enough to refuse what others required of me.

It would be difficult to characterize my soul malaise in one word. The pervasive sense of emptiness and disconnect could be described as invalidity. Invalidity doesn’t dream dreams, and when dreams percolate to the surface they are disqualified. When dreams surfaced in my heart, like writing and speaking, I reasoned they were insignificant and inconsequential–why try?  Dreams weren’t permissible for someone like me. My life was better utilized by serving the dreams of others.

I may have refused myself permission to dream, but God would not allow the ember of me to be extinguished.

My sense of vagueness meant that my life, my self-esteem, and my dreams required the invitation, initiation and approval of others to buoy validity and give me permission to be–whatever that may have looked like. In other words, I couldn’t step out into my life and all its potential without the permission and approval of others; my husband, my family, my friends. Who has the energy to perpetually huff and puff at a smoldering fire?

The apostle Paul tells Timothy to do his own fanning into flame! (2 Tim.1:6).

My life unfolded in what seemed like a meaningless course on a Packman Screen (that certainly dates me). I scurried about trying to keep from being eaten, proverbially so. My purpose seemed random and chaotic at best. The rules kept changing, the path redirecting. Finally, in extreme fatigue, I hit a high and unyielding wall.

I dropped in an exhausted and frustrated heap of surrender, exactly where God wanted me—where He had been waiting for me all along. 

I wish I could say that all the pieces of broken Sherrie came together in some miracle version of Humpty Dumpty. They did not. Much like people who have had catastrophic injuries, God employed divine triage with a specific hierarchy of care.

I know a pilot who experienced a horrific airplane crash. For a while it was uncertain if he would survive the ordeal. After intensive surgeries and recovery time, it was discovered that the persistent pain in his face was from a knob from the airplane’s control panel that had lodged upon impact inside his mouth then hidden within his swollen facial tissue. The knob wasn’t initially discovered because the focus of his treatment was on life saving measures. My injuries were treated the same way, based on urgency. My recovery came in stages.

That Knob represented for me Connectedness and Purpose. While I was preoccupied with the pain of feeling invalid–disconnected and without purpose, God was focused on revealing to me His fathomless love for me.

A revelation of God’s love must be the genesis of purpose for any of us, regardless of where we came from.

God held me in the most gracious of mercies. Layer upon layer He has been reconstructing my life with the very Breath of His Own. I believe I’ll always be in the process of restoration, it’s the nature of psychological trauma in early childhood–it’s part of being human in a fallen world. BUT today I have confidence that my life matters—that I matter. I have conviction that I’m not only responsible to live my life fully, I have divine permission to do so. And I have the compass of an intimate relationship with Him by which to navigate life.

My path doesn’t look like hers and your path won’t look like mine. But if I have learned anything on this broken road it is this: each life has value and each life has purpose. Unquestionably. No matter how busted up your life may look or how bruised your soul may feel, would you just take a moment to consider something?

God does not glue our shattered souls and broken lives back together in some haphazard, makeshift fashion. He graciously handles each jagged piece, one by one, and creates an intricately designed, light reflecting mosaic of His grace, for His glory. He puts us on display, beloved! That is a story that waits to be told.

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SOJOURNING AND THINGS THAT DECAY

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(Sherrie St. Hilaire Photography)

There’s plenty of time for pondering and ruminating on a 6,800-mile road trip. So I do.

We stay on the back roads when we travel. Back roads offer an older version of life; life the way it was before Big Box gobbled up Mom n’ Pop; when time was more a slow waltz than an ER code blue.

For three weeks I have been viewing some absurdly spectacular views, iconic cities, sprawling farmland, popular attractions, historic battlegrounds, famous monuments and chatting with interesting people.

There are thousands upon thousands of decomposing homes, farms and businesses dotting the prairies and planes of this nation, peppering the backwoods and hillsides of this land where dreams are made of. As we pass I picture them in their robust years—when a dream, some ambition and a lot of hard work hit the right note and made a mark.

Little towns like Kennear, Wyoming–population 40—appear out of nowhere and I wonder: How do they do life here?

How do we do life anywhere?

Life lived in 1730 and life lived in 2015 have many things in common. People then, as people now, whether carving out a nation or carving out a name for themselves, are prone to fixing our eyes and placing our hearts on the temporary right now.

While we are building and accumulating and striving and feuding we forget that the end result will be, at best, a study in decomposition. As is evident in cemetery after cemetery across this land, time will not only claim our lives and erode our kingdoms; it will eat away the name and epitaph of the very stone that marked our existence.

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PHOTO CREDIT https://www.flickr.com/photos/8569015@N02/16914307221/in/dateposted/

As Psalms says, “Even the memory of them will vanish.”

I get it. We have to occupy, right? We can’t just sit on our haunches and wait for our heavenly home and eternal gloriousness. God placed within us dreams and callings; He made us in his image as creators and called us to inhabit.

Traveling reminds me that life really is a sojourn in temporariness. Those of us who journey in Christ are reminded that we actually do just have this 1 day and that the big picture is much grander than we imagine. Cloistered in our castles and kingdoms, striving to make our mark in this world we can easily forget that our soul’s were made for the world to come.

At nearly 10,000 feet a road winds toward the Grand Tetons. The sun illuminates the eastern face of these stone mountains. We stop at the Continental Divide and I am reminded of the brave pioneers who pushed through this way on unpaved trails in an untamed wilderness. They pressed toward a dream against elements and limits, they lost lives and limbs because in them was what is in us. We are longing for a place our hearts call home.

But home is not here. Wherever it is you call home, it’s just a meager sampling of what we were created for–a citizenship and kingdom not made with hands, a treasure this world can’t measure, where our identity is not contained in skin.

This 22-day road trip has been full of reminders about dwellings. Living in 220 square feet reminds me that I don’t need much and the much I receive isn’t measured or marked by worldly standards. My home is in Him–wholly and fully in Him. The only mark that truly matters is the mark on his palms—where he has the whole of creation held until that day we shake off the dust of this life, this planet, this universe and we see Him face to face.

What lies within us is the pulsing gestation of our eternal home.

Yes.

LIVE!

Let’s live every second of our lives with every cell of our being. Let’s dream. And build. And discover. Let’s push the envelope. Let’s redefine normal. Let’s add words to the dictionary. Let’s lay down new roads and raise the bar for the next generation. Let’s write our name in granite. Let’s leave a legacy of grace.

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(Sherrie St. Hilaire Photography)

He is our dwelling place, our only true home.

I want to fill my lungs with the atmosphere of His presence and leave my mark written with indelible grace.

CALLING CARD

CallingI marvel at those who can confidently identify their calling and describe when and how they received it. I’m sure I gaze into their dazzling certainty like a deer in the headlights. I’m inching toward my sixth decade and have yet to Sherlock my way through the mysteries of my calling. It eludes me. My quest to unearth it has frustrated the liver out of me.

In my twenties I was convinced I was called to be a pastor’s wife. Apparently the call was a wrong number because the pastor no longer needed a wife nor wanted the pulpit.

After several years of single parenting I felt a call to missions so early into my third decade I followed that call. I quit my job with the two-hour commute, sold my home and its entire contents, packed up three mini-me missionaries and rode Anticipation all the way to Montana. After completing the prerequisite training for the proffered position that call was abruptly disconnected and I was left with a certificate, a dial tone and no Plan B.

Bless me, a new call began ringing off the hook! Remarriage. I decided my bungled mission quest was actually a God-orchestrated detour to my true calling–Mrs. Farmer. I threw myself into that calling: wife, mother, homemaker, grower of our food, baker of our bread and volunteer of every para-church opportunity that presented itself.

Years eased into decades. My forties brought an empty nest, grandchildren and an inability to answer the oft-asked question: So, what do you do?” I was busy but I couldn’t summarize what it was I did. I became discouraged by a sense of undefined purpose.

My call remained undefined in my fifth decade as well. While friends were reinventing themselves with post-childrearing calls my call was still undiagnosed. I began entertaining the notion that I was too flawed, too old, too a-lot-of-things for God to waste a call on me. I struggled with the fear of having wasted my life with nothing significant to show for His kingdom. Depression set in.

Through the years I had investigated, attended and participated in trainings, workshops, conferences and events trying to discern my calling. No heavenly marquees lit up—no tweets or IMs from God either. I decided, I must have squandered my call somewhere along the way.

If formal callings were steak and lobster, my calling, if I had one, was more like goulash and saltines.

Is anyone relating to this?

I’m not a calling basher and I’m definitely not debating the scriptural foundation for the way we endorse calling today. It’s no longer important to me to nail it down. I got off that hamster wheel and prayerfully began reframing my understanding of calling.

There had to be a simpler way to follow Jesus!

So here’s what I’ve concluded about my calling:

  • I wasted too many years looking and waiting for it.
  • I assumed calling came with a title and recognition—that it was measurable.
  • I thought calling needed a platform, a website, a following or a brand.
  • I believed calling would validate me as a worthy card-carrying follower/servant of Christ.
  • And sadly, I thought calling indicated God’s seal of approval.

Calling is simply an invitation to life by the Giver of unmerited and irrevocable grace. Calling means I live my each and every moment yielded and available to Him. Calling is a directive to lay down my life and agenda to pick up His.

Calling is my welcome into an intimate relationship with the lover of my soul.

For the majority of Jesus-followers, calling is simple, informal and title-less.

I now say with tongue in cheek, I’ve been called to the Ministry of Availability. I’m here when He needs me! My part is to know God and make Him known. It’s God’s job to determine how He wants to choreograph our dance. I might bring home a young woman involved in prostitution. I may take meals to a weary mommy. I may pay for the groceries of the disadvantaged person in front of me or I might scrub the dead skin off the feet of a woman confined to bed.

Whatever

The greatest fruit of my calling on any given day might simply be to pray for someone who not only won’t hear me but who will never know that I brought them before the throne of God.

Our lives beg to be acknowledged, our contribution recognized and our value affirmed.

We might rather be a prized flower in an vase displayed for others to appreciate than to be a wildflower whose blossom is seen and enjoyed only by God.

I’ve come to understand that those who have answered God’s call–the invitation to join His family and be part of His purpose–do indeed have a calling. Whether we’re in the mission field or in the laundry room, Jesus Christ himself acknowledges us, recognizes our contribution and affirms our purpose.

Weather you lead people through a Red Sea or through a crowded room, it matters to Jesus. Everything done in His name coalesces into His glorious will and grand purpose.

His call on our lives is not hidden in the middle of some congested set of vague hints or in a complex formula for success.

Calling is about Him, not about me!