“Whose woods are these I think I know. His house is not in the village though; He will not see me stopping here to watch his woods fill up with snow. My little horse must think it queer to stop without a farmhouse near; between the woods and frozen lake, the darkest evening of the year.”-- Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost
This post will be in essence a continuation from the previous post I did. The time has come for me to finally open up and share how it came to be that I ended up in Christian Ministry. I came to Bacone College back in 2009 as a freshman when I was offered a praise team scholarship. I was still relatively early on in my Christian journey and didn't necessarily have the church support and encouragement that was needed. What I’ve kept hidden from that time until just recently was that there were countless secrets I was hiding beneath the surface. I knew I was called to ministry and entered Bacone’s Christian Ministry degree program but due to my own spiritual immaturity and negative decisions I made, I was on a one-way road to complete and utter self-decimation. I was taking my own anger, frustration, heartache, pain, and shame out on my own body. Externally, I was on Bacone’s praise team. I had great friends. I was involved with a collegiate ministry group in Warner at the Connors campus called BCM. Internally, I was depressed. I was active in behaviors associated with bulimia. I was battling depression of varying degrees. The people I associated myself with were toxic and negative influences that fueled my self-destructive patterns. While I was a great student, all of these factors took their toll on me spiritually, academically, emotionally, and mentally. I finished my freshman year with a 1.02 GPA. Somewhere along the way, I turned my back on God. I thought He had abandoned me and what I thought at the time was me running away from Bacone was essentially my way of running away from my calling and ultimately, running from God.
I spent the following year at a charismatic Bible college in Shawnee, Oklahoma where I endured the most hellish spiritual abuse one can imagine. Things were so bad that it led to me almost committing suicide one night. I was at one of the lowest points ever in my life and suicide seemed the only way out of the pain I was in. To this day, I don’t know what stopped me from going for it but there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t thank God for whatever kept me from doing it. In continuing to run away from my calling to ministry, I ended up in Elementary Education and while I loved it and could genuinely see myself doing it, I still wasn’t happy.
I came back to Bacone one last semester in 2011 to try to bring up my GPA. I went on to Northeastern State University where I spent a few years. I was able to pursue my passions in writing and got great creative and fiction writing training. I got a lot of field experience in teaching in a public school classroom, but I was still battling my self-destructive behaviors. I was still trying to fill that empty void. Things came to a head in the fall semester of 2014.
Like Genesis 20:50 states, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
It was essentially the verse of my life that semester and the entire year of 2015. Spiritually, I was getting my life back on track. I was back in church regularly, had a strong prayer life, was learning how to put my faith and trust in God again, and then things came to halt. My grades were at an all-time low due to various circumstances and things at home were strained. My family for the first time experienced betrayal from the congregation we spent 18 years in. Negative decisions were made by church leadership centered on the violent actions of one individual. We were in uncharted territory. Everything began piling on me. What I didn’t understand at the time was that we were in the midst of a pretty ugly spiritual battle. We’ve all experienced spiritual attacks and satanic schemes at one point or another in varying degrees but this was the first time we’ve experienced anything like this as a family. In my own immaturity, I felt that if I couldn’t lash out at the parties responsible, I could lash out at God. I didn’t fully turn my back on Him like I did a few years before, but it was enough that it caused me more harm than anything else. I let the situation throw me off. I was pushing those closest to me away. In an effort to numb the pain I was in, I attempted to end my life. After a month or so of counseling, I was coming home from church a couple weeks before Thanksgiving 2014 and needed to clear my head. I ended up driving through Bacone’s campus for the first time since 2011 and through an odd chain of events, God called me back to my roots and I’ve been there ever since.
I say all that to say this—God has a funny way of ordering our footsteps. I spent a lot of time being angry about the situations I found myself in, but what I failed to realize was that it was God shaping my life to make me more effective in my ministry. I am a double major in English and Christian counseling and I ultimately want to counsel and help at-risk kids and women on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Another thing I failed to realize was that if all of these things in my life hadn’t of happened- I wouldn’t be where I am today. I don’t believe that God works in mysterious ways. I believe He works in glorious ways. It was in these trials and immeasurable pain and heartache that my faith was strengthened. It was in these dark seasons that my calling to ministry was edified. Ultimately, it was in this season of weakness within myself that God showed how strong He is.
What I ultimately failed to realize was that if these situations in my life, as hellish and as heart wrenching as they were, my life would have been completely different. Seeing my life for the beauty it is today made me realize that these dry, painful, brutal seasons in my life needed to happen to make way for the seasons of blessings God has so richly and graciously given. I know now that these times in my life weren’t God punishing me for whatever reason, but strengthening me to grow me in my faith and relationship with Him. Above all else, if these days hadn’t of happened, I wouldn’t be as effective in my ministry. I’ve been almost irreparably broken and wounded. While it would be easy for me to stay in that place where I allowed my situations to make me bitter, I want to use that fire and energy in helping others. I want to go onto Pine Ridge and help young girls battling low self-esteem and eating disorders. I want to go into the schools and help teenage girls battling suicide and dating violence. I want to help young moms who are battling domestic situations and depression.
My journey to get to this point has been a long one. I’m not perfect but a work in progress. I never imagined myself in this area of ministry but I thank God daily for entrusting such a powerful and important calling on my life. This is not something I take lightly and it is definitely not something I take for granted. I am so blessed and so thankful to still be here. I am so thankful and feel so blessed that I’m alive today and I’m able to share my story.
Like the great Mr. Robert Frost once said, “…the woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.”—Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Love and light,
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both; And be one traveler, long I stood; and looked down one as far as I could; to where it bent in the undergrowth; then took the other, Just as fair; and having perhaps the better claim, because it was grassy and wanted wear; though as for that the passing there had worn them really about the same…” —The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
I just want to start out by saying that this particular post is one that I wasn’t sure I wanted to share. I’m still trying to figure out how I want this blog to work. As I have said, I want this to reflect just what the title says—life according to a millennial in the church. I want it to look professional but also have a balance of stuff God has been speaking to me and a few glimpses into my life as a college senior. I feel like this really should have been one of the first posts I wrote but at the time, there were things God was dealing with me about and I wasn’t at a place where I felt I was ready to share this side of myself. In the past week, God has been speaking and convicting my heart of a lot through two of my Christian Ministry classes—Homiletics and Principles of Biblical Research and Writing.
Since the end of December until now, I have been in what God has deemed a “Season of forgiveness”. There are things in my life that I have self-harmed, purged, starved, and self-medicated beneath the surface. In this time of forgiveness, grace, renewal, and healing, God has moved in so many ways. I feel that in order to better forgive others, I first need to forgive myself of my own shortcomings.
In one of my Christian Ministry classes last semester, we studied Acts 16, which has to do with the conversion of Lydia, Paul and Silas being thrown in prison, and ultimately converting the jailer who imprisoned them, who then tried to attempt suicide because he thought the prisoners had escaped. Until this discussion in our Postmodern Christianity class, I had never read Acts 16 before. When I began studying the role and actions of the jailer, it broke my heart because of how closely it paralleled my own life. I have struggled with forgiving myself for the choices I’ve made in life that are centered around a history of suicidal ideation, eating disorders, depression, PTSD, anxiety, and self-harm. Along the same lines, I have had a difficult time seeing God at work in these dark times in my life.
The account of the jailer’s conversion ends with the jailer crying out, “What must I do to be saved?” I’ve seen this preached several times throughout the years in various churches. The striking thing about it—he wasn’t asking it from a spiritual sense. He knew the Roman Empire would have him killed for falling asleep and the inmates escaping. He was literally afraid of living.
This passage hits home especially hard for me. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I have a history with suicidal ideation and I’ve attempted suicide twice. What I learned from those experiences was the driving force behind why I’m in ministry today. Like the jailer, for the longest time, I was afraid of living without the security blankets my past self-destructive behaviors were. Up until now, I have heard this passage of Scripture preached that the central moment is when the jailer asks, “What must I do to be saved?” In church at one time or another, we have all heard that if we have a relationship with Christ, we go to Heaven when we die. After studying this passage more in-depth, I’ve come to learn that the jailer wasn’t afraid of dying— he was afraid of living. This truth hit me hard. As someone who has a long history and an even longer battle with mental illness, and is considered to be a suicide survivor, I can relate to the jailer.
Until recently, I have allowed myself to be defined by my past. I have allowed past actions and decisions decide for me what my place in the world is and I’ve allowed it to define my relationship with God. I used my own fear, insecurity, and shortcomings to fuel my self-destructive behaviors. Like the jailer, I wasn’t so much afraid of dying as I was afraid of living a life wholly devoted to God, away from my self-destructive habits. I was afraid of living period. I was so used to allowing myself to be defined by these behaviors and was terrified of being free from them. There came a point where I was at my lowest and cried out to God to save me from myself.
In leading up to this point, I feel that sharing this part of my life is integral in the healing process and a large part of fully healing. In order to go deeper in my ministry, I feel like I need to share how I was called to ministry in general. I don’t want this post to be too lengthy and I feel like in order to convey this story well, I need to do it in two parts- my salvation and then how I accepted the call to ministry.
In closing part 1 of this post, I want to encourage whoever is reading this to stay strong. Remember who you are and whose you are. Always remember that you are never too far gone to be forgiven and you are never too far gone to have a relationship with Christ. God’s grace is sufficient and there is nothing He cannot do. As hard as this is, try to remember that it’s not about how big your problems are, but to remember to tell your problems how big your God is. There’s nothing you could ever do to make God stop loving you.
Remember that you’re beautiful. You’re fearfully and wonderfully made. Never forget that you matter.
“…And both that morning equally lay in leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back. I shall be telling this with a sigh; somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”—The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
Love and light,
“In love, He predestined us to adoption as sons through Christ Jesus to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise and glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the beloved”—Ephesians 1::5-6
In my Principles of Biblical Research and Writing class a few days ago, we were discussing how to dissect the context behind Scripture. This verse was used as an example for what we were doing. The professor of the class, who is also the head of my Christian Ministry program, doesn’t know this, but this particular passage of Scripture has played a key role in my journey of spiritual healing.
I want to start out by saying that while this post may not be as deep as my past few have been, it’s still extremely personal to me. A little background about myself—I am an adopted child and the product of a teen pregnancy. In being completely transparent, every possible generational curse you can think of was stacked against me genetically. Because of this, I struggled with my identity. For the longest time, I felt that there was something wrong with me for her to give me up. I don’t say that to diminish my biological mother, but it played a role in why it has taken several years for me to reach a place where I’m not full of bitterness. Being active in a women’s ministry that’s been dealing with the topic of an identity crisis and figuring out not just who I am as a woman but who I am in my relationship with God has done more for me and brought me more healing than any family counseling or therapy session I’ve attended.
While I grew up in a home where I knew I was loved, I had parents who adore me, and great friends, I still felt empty and it felt as if there was a part of me that was incomplete or broken. I did everything one could imagine in trying to fill that void.
It really made me think about how I viewed my relationship with God and how I viewed Him as my Heavenly Father. In being transparent, my dad and I have a rocky relationship. We are still in the process of righting some wrongs, rebuilding trust with each other, and working on becoming close again. Due to such a tumultuous dynamic relationship, it has taken years for me to come to a place where I could view God not just as a personal savior but my Father in Heaven.
Due to the above mentioned family dynamic, I struggled with wondering how…or even if…I could trust God. I let that distrust and the lack of faith in Him take me to some of the darkest places one can imagine. I had no idea how to trust or view Him as a father figure. The verse I used at the top has always had a special place in my heart.
In keeping with the theme we’ve been using in Summit’s women’s ministry, “Identity Crisis:: searching for me; who am I?”, I spent the summer of 2015 figuring out who I was as a child of adoption. I posted something on my social media page about my birth mother and was directed to that passage of Scripture. It was really at that point that I began realizing my worth, not just as a woman, but as a child of the Most High. To really process what it means to be “predestined” or that God chose the family I was meant to be placed with…there are really no words to describe what an amazing blessing it is. Outside of a an emotional and personal level, this passage of Scripture hits me on a spiritual level. In the darker seasons of my life when I struggled with the spirit of abandonment, knowing I was predestined to be a child of God and adopted into His family, allowed me to come to a place where I was receptive to His voice. As deeply wounded as I was in those dark seasons, knowing that I needed to endure these struggles to get to where I need to be in my relationship with Him, it’s powerful.
When we studied this passage in class recently, a mentor and I were discussing it. As I was leaving Bacone’s chapel, I mentioned that it was a verse that allowed me to come to God in a special way. It was essentially the gateway to reconciling with my father after a serious physical and emotional altercation happened several years ago. Above all else, this passage of Scripture is a reminder to me to always remember who I am and Whose I am.
For anyone reading this, know your worth. Know that if you’re feeling sad or angry, lonely, or scared—you are a child of the Most High God. Know that you’re never alone. God has predestined you for such a time as this. Always remember who you are and Whose you are!!
Stay strong, my loves!!
Love and light,
“…It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.”—Luke 6:12
For those who don’t know me outside of this blog and church, I am a complete adrenaline junkie. I rarely say no to adventure. I spent the summer training in Mixed Martial Arts, I am an avid stickball player, which is a Native American contact sport similar to field hockey, only more intense and at times, a little more violent, and I run and hike in geographical areas that most people wouldn’t enter. I also have experience with being interrogated by Communists in Nicaragua back in 2008. It’s safe to say that I am pretty much fearless. This post will be about my experience yesterday at Sparrowhawk in Tahlequah, Oklahoma and will most likely be another emotional post.
Yesterday was difficult. I stook in spirit with the Bacone community as we celebrated the life of and said goodbye to one of our own. Dr. Sein still means a lot to me. I was not taking his death or funeral well at all. I had a weighted-down spirit and a heavy, hurting heart.
Today was an emotional day. I stood in prayer with the Bacone community as we celebrated the life of and said goodbye to one of our own. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was unable to be at the service. I went to praise team practice yesterday morning with a lot of heartache, pain, a weighted down heart and a heavy spirit. I made the last minute decision to go off by myself to Sparrowhawk to clear my head and get away from reality for a little bit. I am so glad I did.
I used the verse at the top because, like Jesus did, there are times where I need to go off by myself to decompress, pray, search my heart, and allow God to speak to me where I’m free of all distractions and can really focus on Him. The drive to Sparrowhawk was a lengthy one. It involved driving on Highway 10, which is where my grandmother passed away in a car accident many years ago. The whole drive up, I was asking God “Why”? I got to the Primitive Area of Sparrowhawk Village and still felt heavy.
I began hiking up the trail, which was a challenge. While I’m not afraid of a lot, I’ve had ankle and knee injuries and re-injury from something like this is always in the back of my mind. I changed my mindset and with each rock and obstacle I had to climb over, I began meditating my own life and my own mortality. I thought of choices and decisions I’ve made in the past and the implications/consequences of those choices. The main thing I kept going over and over in my head was this:: “Okay, God. It has been said that while I was free to make my own decisions based on my own free will, You let me do it, but you wouldn’t let me die. When I was close to death, You intervened. Why is it that my life has been spared so many times but Gideon is gone? Why did you let me suffer so many times and wait to intervene when I was at the point of no return?”
God let me have my little tantrum. I reached the top point of the mountain and was blindsided by how peaceful it was. I sat down on a rock overlooking the Illinois River and it felt like all of the anger, bitterness, resentment, grief, hurt, pain, everything instantly went away. I began pouring my heart out to God like never before and I spent a lot of time crying and grieving over Dr. Sein’s death. I was looking ahead at the view and began changing my thinking. The question was never “How did You let me get to a place where I thought suicide was the only way out” but “How do I live my life for You?”
The response He gave wasn’t groundbreaking, but to simply continue being obedient to the calling on my life. There have been so many doors that have been opened for me in ministry and I am forever thankful for all of the amazing opportunities I have been blessed with. While most my posts up to this one have had some sort of Scripture application, this one doesn’t. I’m still figuring out exactly how I want this blog to run. Some posts, like the last 3 have a Scriptural principle attached. Others, like this one, are just little glimpses into my life.
I spent a little more time just thanking God and admiring the beauty and peacefulness He created. When I finally decided I had had enough and was ready to make the climb down, I realized that the grieving process for me is going to be a long one. It’s going to be difficult but I left so much of my pain and sadness at that point. I know God is my heater and my restorer.
I identify myself as biracial. I am part Caucasian and also part Cherokee. In the Cherokee language, there isn’t a word that translates to “goodbye”. In my culture, we believe that it’s too final and that we will see our departed loved ones again when the Creator opens the Heavens for us. While I’m not fluent in the language, the word we sometimes use is “Stiyu”—Be strong. (also used as a way of saying “until we meet again”).
Stiyu, Dr. Sein.
Love and light,
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”—Genesis 50:20
This post will be slightly different. As much as I love the ongoing theme of “Unity in the Community”, this post is one I have been strongly convicted about. This will be another personal post. I have been wanting to write about this for a good while now but the time was never right. There were other things I needed to sort out and expose in my heart before I could begin to open up about this.
In life, there are trials and seasons we must endure to get to the place of godliness God has destined His children to become. A great mentor once said, “Your real testimony is what helps you”. We learn through our experiences. This is not an easy post to write and in being transparent—this is a cross I wish wasn’t mine to bear.
The image used is a photo of a tattoo I have on the left side of my back. I was conflicted on whether or not I wanted it shown. As a millennial in the church, and as a woman in general, there are things in my life that I need to speak into existence for me to begin dealing with in a real way. In the span of the past month or so, I have been in what God has called my “Season of forgiveness”. There are things in my life that I have buried, suppressed, self-medicated, starved, purged, and self-harmed beneath the surface. These dark times from my past came to the surface at a conference I attended recently in Colorado Springs. Since that time, I have wrestled with unforgiveness. What I’m about to talk about is a large part of my testimony of how I was called to Christian Ministry. It also plays a large role of why I want to go into Christian counseling.
I mentioned in my previous post that 2010 was one of the worst years ever in my life. I spent a year at a Charismatic Christian Bible college in Shawnee, Oklahoma called Family of Faith. What started out as a great experience evolved into some of the darkest emotional and spiritual abuse one can imagine. I don’t want to go into specific situations that happened at this college but to give you a general idea of what I endured:: I was told that because I was Cherokee, my heritage and cultural traditions were not welcome and therefore were not allowed to be practiced. I was already struggling with my heritage and my identity as a Cherokee woman and this was like the final blow and it caused me to turn my back on my heritage. Time progressed and things got more intense. I am a high-achieving student. I set a strong standard of excellence for myself. In what was a disastrous family counseling session, things were at an all-time high. My grades were horrible, I was battling depression that was almost to a life-threatening level. Things at home were strained because I wouldn’t talk about what was happening at school. All of these factors finally came to a head and the dean of the college told my parents that I was nothing more than a D and F student; she went on to say that they were wasting money for me to go to college. This particular individual continued and told them that because of how rebellious and toxic I was becoming, the world would be a better place without me in it. Needless to say, it hurt to hear. There were negative choices I made. I admitted that I turned in a downloaded paper for a class and a few other negative choices I had made.
I came home for Christmas break. My father was experiencing the worst “Dry drunk” behavior I had ever seen. He was disappointed and upset about what all was said in that family meeting. I don’t remember what prompted it but he was angry and in a bout of blackout rage, he grabbed me by my shoulders and threw me up against my doorframe. I couldn’t tell you what happened the rest of the night. I woke up the next morning and went about my normal routine, pretending it didn’t happen. I never dealt with it in a counseling setting and never told anyone until just a few weeks ago about what happened that year.
I mention such a personal and private time in my life because I believe in being transparent. More so than that, I believe that it’s in these dark seasons that true character and faith are revealed. My faith crumbled. Looking back at this time all these years later, it was God who carried me through it. At the time, I thought He had abandoned me when in reality, I turned my back on Him.
Today, I have come full-circle. I had a meeting with my mentor in Bacone’s Center for Christian Ministry. I opened up about some struggles I’ve had recently and the above situation was mentioned. I incredulously said, “How am I still alive? After all the stuff I’ve done, how did I not die of suicide or accidently?”
This mentor is also one of my professors, whom I both respect and love dearly. Their thoughts and opinions are invaluable to me. They looked at me and in a tone of voice I’ve never heard before said, “Sarah. While God allowed you to make your own choices based on your own free will, He has His hand on your life. He let you make your own decisions but He wasn’t going to let you die. You have a strong calling on your life for ministry. You’re alive today because of the grace of God.”
This. This is why I want to go into Christian counseling. I firmly believe that what I experienced was spiritual abuse in its purest form. While I spent a lot of time traumatized and years battling my sense of self-worth, I made a decision last year that I wanted to use this time in my life to help others. I realized about a week and a half or two weeks ago that I was finally at a place where I could speak out about what happened to me. Life goes on and the only way I can move on with my life is to forgive the college administration at Family of Faith of the damage that was caused. I’ve come to realize that it was hurting me more than them and I will not let this impact how I do ministry. I realized that I was at a crossroads. I could either take what happened to me, allow it to draw me farther away from God, or I could turn it around and use what I learned to be more effective in my ministry as a Christian counselor. I chose the latter.
My future career plans after I graduate from Bacone next year include going on to pursue my Master’s in Christian counseling and ultimately become a family and marriage therapist on an Indian reservation. Ideally, on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. I want to work with children in foster care and girls who are suffering from depression, eating disorders, and addiction.
In order for me to better minister to my future clientele, I need to address my own spiritual strongholds. This is why I’m allowing this part of my life to be seen. The photo of the tattoo next to this post is on the left side of my back on my shoulder blade. There was a scar left from where I hit my doorframe. The phrase, “Whisper words of wisdom, let it be” is a constant reminder to me to always speak life, even in the darkest times. When I’m angry or scared, it reminds me to speak positive energy and life, even if I have to whisper.
The reason I chose the verse at the top of this post can be summed up as this:: in a situation that Satan meant to destroy me, God intervened. The weapons and principalities Satan tried to use against me, God shielded me from. While I was wounded in the battle, God carried me through the darkest season ever in my life until I was strong enough to walk on my own.
In closing because this was a lot longer than I intended, I just want to encourage whoever is reading this to remember that God is always in control. You are more than a conqueror in Christ. If you’re ever in a season of dryness, brokenness, or darkness like I found myself in, I want you to remember that God has a plan and a purpose for the season you’re in. Try to keep your eyes fixed on Him, a trusting heart, and a teachable spirit. As painful and dark as I know days like this can be, remember that He makes beauty for ashes and these struggles bring forth more growth and maturity. Ultimately, always remember that these days are necessary and it’s all about being obedient and relying on Him to get you to where He has called you to be.
Stay strong, lovelies.
Love and light,