The Christmas Baby

This Christmas season of tinsel, trees, and treats brings only joy—for some. For others, it feels like a cruel reminder of life’s disappointments or awakens emotions about absent family members.  For both, Christmas might be a time when the magic of the manger gets lost in the pressing realities of life. This year for me, I find myself looking up, thinking not of a babe in a manger, but of Jesus on the cross or of the great, supreme, and holy God who sent Him there.

Christmas Sarah Clews“When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
    the moon and the stars you set in place—
 what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
    human beings that you should care for them?Psalm 8:3-4 (NLT)

Thinking about the God of the universe can be a frightening and intimidating thought. He, God the Father, is so big, so majestic, so all knowing, and sometimes, feels so far away. Does the God who created the whole world care about me? Do the life events of my family and friends affect Him at all?

I saw a friend post on Facebook, “Sometimes I wonder if God even cares.” While I felt a surge of sadness reading that, I have to admit at times I’ve wondered the same thing. If I think about it too hard, my mind starts swirling and I feel utterly helpless and insignificant—a blip in time that will soon fade.

That’s why, as Christmas approaches, the reminder of the gift of God’s son is so incredible. Immanuel—“God is with us.”

Sarah Clews ChristmasIn case we doubted whether God could sympathize, or whether our daily lives matter to Him, He sent His only son—a gift of love. In case we doubted whether God was invested in the outcome of humanity, or whether He might destroy us in a fit of disgust, He sent His son to take on a human form. Jesus is a sign to us of the significance God attributes to the human race. He is invested! So invested that He sent His only Son to join humanity on earth and later sacrifice His life on the cross to purchase our freedom.

Recently I heard again the familiar lyrics of “Silent Night.” This time one line really stood out. “Silent night! Holy night! Son of God, love’s pure light.”

That old familiar story of a baby lying in a manger in a stable does have magic after all. Because that baby was Jesus—“love’s pure light.” The purest form of love and the most tangible reminder of God’s heart for us.


sarah-c-squareSarah Clews is a wife, mother of two little girls, and prolific reader. She received her BS from Corban University in English and still loves writing. She helps her husband run their martial arts school, and in her free time, enjoys sewing, experimenting with makeup, and reading blogs.

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The Discipline of Change

I’m going through a difficult season right now where I feel broken and tired at every turn–health difficulties and struggles, emotional and mental instability, and also just the tiring parts of adulting. In this season, one where I feel so helpless, I’ve been forced to trust God like never before. I’ve been forced to give over control (mostly perceived!) in so many areas.

Sarah Clews ChangeI can’t believe I thought I knew what trusting God looked like as a young adult. Have you ever looked back on something you did or said when younger and just cringed with embarrassment? Too many times I look back with horror at my judgmental nature, hasty conclusions, overly direct and harsh words, and thoughtlessness. Sometimes I’m surprised I still have any friends after how I behaved!

I’m encouraged though by how God has been working on changing and transforming my soul over the years. The kind of trust I’m learning now…it’s so much more painful and brutal and soul stripping. It’s the kind of pruning that hurts bad but brings forth the best fruit. I’ve recently discovered just how many props I’ve been leaning on. What does one do when these props are stripped away? What’s left? My bare naked soul is finding that I control so much less than I ever thought.  

change sarah clewsGod has used my three little girls to break me down and root out my selfishness. The constant needs of three tiny humans, the mountains of laundry, the endless wiping, cleaning, cooking, and so on, refines me. I really identify with the hashtag #motherhoodissanctifying, and have found encouragement as my children need discipline, because it reminds me true discipline comes from love. All of life, I see it serving as part of the process of change. Paul reminds us it will all be used to make us into more Christ like people. “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6

We take hope in being disciplined and changed by God, “For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” Hebrews 12:6 The change, the hardship, the mundane routine, it’s a sign that we are His beloved children. The best part? God never says, “You know what! I’ve told you this a million times and you just don’t listen.” He’s the Pursuer, the Rescuer and He never gives up. I am not a lost cause, and neither are you.


sarah-c-squareSarah Clews is a wife, mother of two little girls, and prolific reader. She received her BS from Corban University in English and still loves writing. She helps her husband run their martial arts school, and in her free time, enjoys sewing, experimenting with makeup, and reading blogs.

Disciplined Contentment

Home ownership is  a dream of mine. For the last three years, after spending nine renting, I’m really looking forward to increased privacy, the ability to make changes and do maintenance without consulting a landlord, and better parking, just to name a few.

Sarah Clews Discipline (1)This desire has frequently led to me feeling discontent with my current living situation. However, I realized that if I don’t practice gratitude and contentment now, I won’t  be thankful or content when my dream is realized. I need to  it part of my routine. Choosing contentment must become a discipline.

I want to be like Paul and have Phillipians 4:11-13 pouring out of my life,“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Taking commitment seriously means  practicing stewardship. Instead of dwelling on bunching carpet, peeling paint, and disintegrating caulk, I’ve been routinely keeping these things in the best condition I can, and thanking God that our apartment is warm, and can be kept clean with a little routine elbow grease (and bleach!). When I feel frustrated that the yard maintenance guys blow bark dust into the window tracks and under the doors every Monday, I’ve been replacing my whining with cleaning the window tracks, and remembering to be grateful that I have windows.

I keep this quote from C.S. Lewis close at hand, “Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature.” How much I would rather be heavenly than hellish, but my decisions don’t always proclaim that.

So, I’m making a choice. A choice that my routine is going to include being grateful. I have to practice being filled with gratitude every day. On Sunday, the sermon (taught by Brian Condello) referenced the story of the healed lepers in Luke 17:11-19. They cry out to Jesus for mercy and healing, and He does just that. But only one returns to thank Him.

“One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”

Discipline Sarah ClewsBrian Condello concluded the sermon with, “Gratitude allows us to see what Jesus is preparing for us.”

I need a routine of giving thanks, of finding something to grateful for. It’s only when I’m coming from a place of gratitude, of knowing I’m abundantly loved and cared for by my Creator, that I have anything to share with others.

 


sarah-c-squareSarah Clews is a wife, mother of two little girls, and prolific reader. She received her BS from Corban University in English and still loves writing. She helps her husband run their martial arts school, and in her free time, enjoys sewing, experimenting with makeup, and reading blogs.

That Which Cannot Be Earned

Years ago, I sat across from my counselor to hear her say, “Nothing you do can make God love you more or make God love you less.” My thinking was forever changed.

Freedom Sarah ClewsTo some, this might sound like a no brainer. But even though I was raised as an evangelical Christian, it was news to me. I knew my good deeds wouldn’t save me. Yet this felt like a new and remarkable truth because I did think my deeds could change God’s love. I found myself laboring under this idea that God was perpetually disappointed in me, that my sins and failures were making Him love me less. I lived my life in a cycle of shame and striving.

I had been so burdened by a yoke of slavery where I was constantly living in self-reproach, agonizing over my ungracious response to a family member the previous week or my unkind action to a friend a month ago. I was desperate for spiritual and emotional freedom. Jesus offers just that, freedom that says, “Not only do I forgive you, but I also free you from your shame.”

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 (NIV)

God is so clear in the Bible that He has FREED us from our striving. Living by a religion of works is so exhausting because it’s clearly never enough and obviously imperfect.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2 

Sarah Clews freedomWhat freedom this scripture brings! I was recently thinking back to the story of when Adam and Eve first sinned. For the longest time, I thought they were ashamed for God to see them because they were naked. But they weren’t naked! They had tried to cover themselves with fig leaves. They tried to remove their own shame by their own efforts, by their own works. Yet it wasn’t enough. They couldn’t truly be covered until God covered them by His work.

It was God’s work that freed them from their shame, not their works.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Because I know my own weakness and inability to follow every rule, what a relief it has been to know that God’s love doesn’t depend on me at all! It is a gift that sets those held captive free. There’s no better hope than that.


sarah-c-squareSarah Clews is a wife, mother of two little girls, and prolific reader. She received her BS from Corban University in English and still loves writing. She helps her husband run their martial arts school, and in her free time, enjoys sewing, experimenting with makeup, and reading blogs.

Remembering Carol: A Legacy of Devotion

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”-Hebrews 12:1-2

A dear, dear friend of mine, Carol, joined this great cloud of witnesses on March 19th. Carol was a quadriplegic and our friendship began when she hired me to be her personal caregiver. Over the last 7 years, conversations,visits, and most importantly, our hope and faith in God deepened our connection. At her recent memorial service, I was struck by the legacy she left behind—a legacy of faith, hope, and love.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” –1 Corinthians 13:13

Carol’s faith was unshakeable. At the tender age of 18 her life was changed by a devastating spinal cord injury, and though she never married or had children she had many who drew near. She changed lives due to the way she followed Jesus under trying circumstances. She never turned her back on Him.

Before her accident, Carol was quite the athlete. She played both basketball and volleyball in high school and  loved long runs around her home town. For anyone, quadriplegia would have felt like torture, but particularly so for such an active young woman. Many would have lost hope and succumbed to bitterness and resentment, but  Carol spent 41 years in a wheelchair and still shined.

conversations,visits, and most importantly, our hope and faith in God deepened our connection. At her recent memorial service, I was struck by the legacy she left behind—a legacy of faCarol demonstrated a joyful attitude and lived with a fervent hope in Jesus, and she went to him in prayer constantly. She was a cheerful soul who loved the balmy days of summer and cherished spending time in her yard amidst her vibrant flowers. I recall many an afternoon spent on her back patio sharing lives, watching  hummingbirds swarm the feeder, and discussing the things of God. A true prayer warrior, Carol frequently asked me for prayer for herself, dear friends, and family. I asked for prayer as well,  knowing she would be sure to pray for me. 

hummingbird legacyI will especially miss how Carol loved those around her, myself included. She shared the love of Jesus with everyone she came in contact with, especially the many women who became her caregivers over the years. She loved big, and I always left her house feeling the warmth of her love.

At the memorial service, a short video clip was played in which my friend shared her testimony of unending faith and hope in God which had been undeterred by her trying circumstances. It will always be  treasured in my memories. She truly lived her faith out loud, leaving behind a worthwhile and lasting legacy—a life devoted to Christ.


sarah-c-squareReaders, Who has left a lasting imprint of faith and love in your life? Tell us in the comments.

Sarah Clews is a wife, mother of two little girls, and prolific reader. She received her BS from Corban University in English and still loves writing. She helps her husband run their martial arts school, and in her free time, enjoys sewing, experimenting with makeup, and reading blogs.

At the Door of Obedience

My adult life has not been marked by a lot of risk. That is, up until the fall of 2015. After 14 years of working for the same employer, things had come to a head at my husband’s job at a martial arts school. One evening my husband came home and revealed a troubling situation that had unfolded at work. There was only one thing to do. Through uncertain tears, I told my husband I just wanted to be done. It was no longer the right thing to stay at this job. My husband looked at me with agreement and said, “Okay, I’ll quit tomorrow.”

obedience martial artsThat night, he stayed up in the wee hours of the morning, trying to meet the unknown with hope, he began the search online for other job opportunities. Jobs for martial arts instructors in the American Taekwondo Association (ATA) aren’t exactly ripe for the taking. North Carolina was an option, but for people who are planners, not risk takers, the thought of moving across the country terrified us.

Obedience through Faith

God was calling us both to radical obedience and to have faith in His unseen plan. We are typically the kind of people who plan out our next move, months, if not years in advance. But in this situation, we had to obey without any clear direction in mind. We hadn’t premeditated my husband quitting his job. We didn’t have the next move lined up. We couldn’t rely on our own strength. We had to obey and trust God that He would show us the next move. I found myself leaning on God’s strength like never before. This was definitely a whole new level of obedience for me.

He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:29-31 (NIV)

My husband went to work that next day, informed his boss he was quitting and would leave enough time to train a replacement. Because of this unprecedented move, the way things went down at his work went differently, which was good, but it meant my husband spent the next week on the phone, exploring what might be our next move. It was terrifying. We both felt sick to our stomachs. The future we had planned on seemed to have evaporated, and now we had no idea where God would place us. Then God opened a door and my husband secured a position as head instructor at a martial arts school, not in North Carolina, but just 45 minutes away from home.

Trusting God for an Unknown Future

Each step of the way, God called us to have faith and obey. He opened one door after another but only one door at a time. In this journey, God gave us one clear direction but only for each step. It wasn’t obvious how all the steps would connect, how each would help my husband’s career goals or secure the needs for our family in the future. We just had to obey and move forward in faith.

When the panic attacks started. I tried to embrace this new level of faith in God for me as we faltered into an unforeseeable future. I remembered, Abraham had also been called to obedience without being able to see the future.

 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

Hebrews 11:8

Opportunities would emerge then the door would slam shut. It was discouraging, disheartening. Until December of 2015, when an opportunity to buy a local martial arts school opened up. It was very unexpected.We thought that door had closed. It looked promising, but how would we manage the financial end of purchasing a business? Was it God-given or a fool’s foothold?! Could we risk again? He unveiled the path. Just one way. So united in love and faith we said “yes!” and walked through the door.

obedience YesI worried during this time that the bottom would just fall out from underneath us. I found hard questions circling all the time. Could my God be trusted? Could I trust Him with our future? What would become of us and our two little girls? Even after we bought the school, our fears didn’t just disappear. We wondered how we would pay the bills each month. Yet God provided the exact right staff, as well as new students for our school.

May 1, 2017 marks our one year anniversary of being owners of our own martial arts school. It’s been an exciting, frightening, and victorious year for my husband’s career. It’s also been a life changing 20 months and a spiritual journey of obedience as we’ve trusted God to provide for our needs.

 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Jeremiah 29:11

This verse doesn’t mean difficult things won’t happen or we won’t have struggles, but it is a comfort to know that God has an endgame in mind and has provided everything we need as we hope and trust in Him.


sarah-c-squareSarah Clews is a wife, mother of two little girls, and prolific reader. She received her BS from Corban University in English and still loves writing. She helps her husband run their martial arts school, and in her free time, enjoys sewing, experimenting with makeup, and reading blogs.

He Makes Things Beautiful

My husband and I are expecting our third child, a daughter, at the beginning of April. The state of my house indicates that clearly I have reached the third trimester. The cupboards are gutted and rearranged. Things that probably don’t need cleaning are cleaned. My seeking to add beauty to our final baby’s room has overflowed onto the rest of our apartment, as browsing through Pinterest and Instagram inspire dreams of new décor and transforming our space.

After giving time and attention to these things, I sometimes find a guilty monologue echoing through my thoughts. These things don’t last. What eternal value do they have? What good will come from surrounding our lives with the material glitz of this world? Is it honoring to God to be so enamored  by all the pretty things?

he-makes-things-beautifulThen as I looked out my window at the creation whose beauty cries out praise to the creator, that it can be honoring to Him! God didn’t create a purely utilitarian world. He dressed it beautifully, adorned it for our enjoyment and to remind us that He is with us. The appreciation of something beautiful truly brings a spark of hope to the downtrodden soul.

“All that is good, all that is true and all that is beautiful brings us to God. Because God is good, God is beauty, God is truth.”~Pope Francis

How I love the stillness and purity of the outdoors after a fresh snowfall! I don’t love the cold, but I appreciate the magic of the untouched white as it gilds the bare, leafless trees. Oh, and how delighted I am to find the first cluster of tulips poking up after a hard winter. Even the Bible takes time to recognize beauty’s ability to impact living things.

Flowers appear on the earth;
    the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
    is heard in our land.” Song of Solomon 2:12 (NIV)

Instagram has a virtual corner that has set itself up as a  marketplace, full of beautifully staged photos and lovely things people have taken the time to make and sell. I do love browsing through and enjoying the diversity of gifts God has given. I’m amazed by the abilities of freehand painters, and enjoy the beauty people are choosing to share. Investments in beautiful things others have made, add to my home. They remind me that created things, though never as great as the Creator, can remind us of who He is. Every time I look at them, I feel a little thrill of happiness and hope.

beautiful-thingsWe too can offer beauty. Occasionally, I find a project that’s within my scope and I get  to engage in creating my own beautiful things. I’m so thankful God didn’t just place us in a sterile  and industrial world with no color and no “scope for imagination” as Anne of Green Gables would say. From the freshly fallen snow to the first pink buds of spring, He has brought us beauty in every season. Whether I simply appreciate the natural world, or make beautiful things with my hands, I’m loving God’s generosity in allowing me to enjoy, find inspiration, and take part in beautifying a broken world as we hope for the day when beauty will be all we know.


Readers, How can you be a steward of beauty in your places? 

sarah-c-squareSarah Clews is a wife, mother of two little girls, and prolific reader. She received her BS from Corban University in English and still loves writing. She helps her husband run their martial arts school, and in her free time, enjoys sewing, experimenting with makeup, and reading blogs.

Love for the Hurt Person

Author: Sarah Clews

I’ve been tempted to believe I am one of those people who will be betrayed. I feel it has tried to be the theme for my last year or so. People I thought were my friends really weren’t, and those I thought I could trust proved me wrong. I shouldn’t be surprised. We live in a fallen world with a fallen nature. But after you’ve given so much to something or someone, often at no cost, and then those you have come along side burn you, it’s hard to not feel hurt. I’m sure I am not alone. Many have felt the pain of turning in trust and then being stabbed in the back.

It’s  easy for me to take on the identity of a hurt person, but I find that only leads to more turmoil. When hurting, my shoulders slump as I physically try to protect myself from these emotional wounds. I withdraw, shying away from social events and finding myself unable to trust even those I rationally know I can trust. I find myself overwhelmed by paranoia and anxiety.

Recently, while driving around town, I was thinking over the last year and touching on some of the hurts I had experienced. I don’t want to be this bitter, walled off person, but it’s hard when you feel like you’re being burned over and over.

I thought of Jesus and the ways in which He was betrayed. His disciples, his 12 closest friends, wouldn’t even admit they knew him when stuff went down. One of his disciples, a friend of several years (Judas), sold him out to the Pharisees for money.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last couple years, it’s that some people will cross lines they never thought they would for money. I doubt Judas started following Jesus knowing he would betray him. But when Jesus became an obstacle to potential riches, Judas did just that.

Judas, the great betrayer, wasn’t just an acquaintance. He was a disciple of Jesus who sat at his feet and KNEW Jesus was the Messiah. He sold out Jesus for about $600 (the modern day equivalent of 30 pieces of silver).

It’s important to remember that even if Judas didn’t know he would be the betrayer, Jesus did. He KNEW, and He loved him anyway.

When it comes down to it, this is what separates Christ followers from everyone else. It’s loving anyway, over and over again. Love is the first quality listed in Galatians when Paul talks about the fruit that should overflow out of believers.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love…” Galatians 5:22

I have been hurt. And I have felt betrayed.  Those feelings don’t magically go away. I don’t have to live the rest of my life hurt. Instead, I can choose love. I will love anyway, in spite of it all, because loving with the kind of love Jesus is all about is what brings freedom to the betrayed, change to a broken world, and hope to those who have been hurt.

~~~

Readers, Where can you choose love today?

Sarah Clews is a wife, mother of two little girls, writer and prolific reader. You can find more of her writing at Just Little Things. Interested in submitting your work? Check out our submissions page.

When the Good Opinion is Lost

This one is for the Jane Austen fans out there, you may recall Mr. Darcy saying in Pride and Prejudice, “My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.” This arrogant statement is laced with finality. *Spoiler Alert*  Mr. Darcy does change his mind in the end about a certain young lady (Lizzy Bennett) and actually marries her! They get a new beginning.

One of my favorite things about God is His willingness to give us new beginnings. What a hopeless world it would be without forgiveness, particularly God’s forgiveness! Recently, I found myself feeling heartsick as I looked at my 3 year old daughter as she sobbed. I had gotten upset with her and made a judgment error in my parenting. She felt I had been harsh with her and I was cut to the heart. I apologized, she forgave, and I knew we would begin again. Young children, like God, are relentlessly forgiving. But I didn’t want to forgive myself. I didn’t want to let myself have a new beginning.

Maybe this is why I am particularly addicted to “firsts.” The first day of the month. The first day of the year. They represent a new start to me. It’s a time when I feel I can give myself permission to let go, move on, and start over. This is silly of course and more symbolic than anything. With God, when I repent and confess my sins, I will always be made clean. My God is not a God of guilt. I love Psalm 103:11-12:

“For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.”

God gives us the ultimate chance at a new beginning . God isn’t saving our sins up to use them as a weapon later.  He removes them completely. They are no longer held against us. I think it’s human nature to wallow in guilt and self-pity. As if by punishing ourselves, we can make up for our own wrongs.

Remember: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”~ 2 Corinthians 5:17

Jesus already paid the ultimate price, and He commands us to leave the shackles of the past behind. We get a new beginning. We are new creations. Let’s embrace that.

Readers, What do you need to leave behind so you can step into your new beginning?

 

Sarah Clews is a wife, mother of two little girls, writer and prolific reader. You can find more of her writing at Just Little Things.

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