Dear Single Girls

18 Aug

Dear Single Girls (particularly those in their early twenties),

My dad called me up this week: “Sarah,” he began, “I’ve been thinking and I want to say ‘thank you’ for holding out for the right young man. I know you want to be married, and I’m proud that you do not allow your desires to cause you to settle.” (Yes, I have a wonderful father; and yes, this made my day.) He then shared with me yet another instance of another father worried about his young daughter because she’s all wrapped up in the wrong guy. 

I see it happen all the time. A girl gets to be in her late teens or early twenties and the first guy who shows an interest in her simply must be “the one.” Just like that, she tosses reason aside, gives her heart away (and perhaps her body too) in some desperate attempt to find love. It no longer matters that daddy doesn’t approve; it doesn’t matter that the young man keeps her on an emotional roller-coaster or asks for things that no true gentleman would ask; it no longer matters what she wanted in a man; all that matters is the fleeting enjoyment of having somebody.

As a girl myself, I understand – it’s an easy mistake to make! God has created us with the natural desire to be somebody’s helpmeet and to be loved. I want it; you want it; every girl I know wants it. On top of that, our culture pushes relationships, love, dating on every front. Your social media accounts show picture after picture of your friends in love. Movies and books tell story after story of the princess meeting her Prince Charming and living happily ever after. Artists sing song after song of love and adoration. And to top things off, you have your friends, church family, or coworkers constantly playing matchmaker or asking when you are going to date. It’s hard to say no; it’s hard to wait; and it’s hard to feel complete without that other half. 

But I am here to say that it is possible! I have been in your shoes and I am still in your shoes. I’ve been doing this whole single bit about ten years longer than I had ever planned, and it’s not all that bad! With that in mind, allow me to share a few lessons and tips I’ve learned along the way.

You are complete in Jesus.

No matter what message the world shoves down your throat, please understand Jesus Christ makes you whole. No husband, no child, no job, nothing will make you complete except the Gospel. So this lie that marriage is your end goal and that you are simply a half until you say “I do” is simply that—a lie. Recognize it, reject it, and rejoice in the truth that Christ has made you perfect just as you are…single.

God works through your parents.

It’s easy as a young person entering adulthood to begin to think that your parents don’t know everything. Girls, pay attention! God works through your daddy. God gave you your daddy to protect you. And your daddy is not so powerful as to mess up God’s plan for your life. Decide now to listen to and respect your parents. If you need Biblical backup, read Luke 2 where an adult Jesus submits to and obeys his earthly parents even though they didn’t understand God’s plan for his life. When I hear a young lady say that God wants her to date her boyfriend, and then I find out that her dad can’t stand the young man, I shake my head. There is no way God wants you to do something that goes against the authority structure He designed for you—and he never designed you to be the head. How do you think you will ever be able to submit to your husband when you disagree on where he leads you if you can’t submit to the God-given leadership of your father? In the occasion that you truly do have evil parents or no parents, find a godly pastor or father-figure and apply the same principles. 

Being alone is a good thing.

Learning to be alone with yourself is a difficult task, but one that will benefit you greatly in life. No one likes to be lonely, but did you know that marriage does not solve loneliness? I know many young wives that struggle greatly with loneliness. Take time now to accept being alone; learn to be ok by yourself and even to enjoy life when alone; then when you get married and hubby is busy at work, you will both be happier because you will already know what to expect and how to handle being alone.

Live life to its fullness.

This is one of my favorite aspects of being single…the fact that I get to do so many awesome things that married couples can’t! I just booked a flight to Jordan and Israel for November. I’ll be a part of history working with Syrian refugees for half the time, and the other half I’ll be touring the Holy Land. I plan to ride a camel and swim in the Dead Sea and to worship my Savior where he was born. How awesome is that! How many married couples your age can say they’ve been zip-lining over the Amazon jungle, straddled the Equator, rode a peki-peki (oversized canoe) to visit a primitive tribe in Peru, spent a year as a missionary, traveled several other countries, and experienced countless other memories? I’m already planning a return trip to Peru for next year. Instead of moping over not having a boyfriend, come and go with me! Live life to its fullness! There will be hard days no doubt (sickness, death, etc.), but don’t let loneliness and the fact that you’re single be one of those hard days. There is no better time than now to do the things you’ve always wanted to do. Travel, learn other cultures, get your concealed carry permit, watch a sunrise, climb a mountain (or two or three), eat cereal for dinner, buy yourself flowers, learn a new language, take music lessons, get your masters or doctorate, swing in a hammock and read a good book…and the list goes on. Someday you’ll have three little kids, healthy meals to prepare for five, and a never-ending pile of laundry and dishes. Perhaps you’ll still be able to pursue these things after marriage (I certainly hope so), but there is no guarantee. So why not live out your dreams now, today?

Please don’t settle.

The boys will come along, telling you you’re beautiful and amazing and all the other things you want to hear…but just because he likes you does not mean you are supposed to like him. And yes, it’s very easy to have the wool pulled over your eyes. This is why it is vital that you involve wise people (for me, my entire family) in any relationship. Look for red flags; don’t be afraid to test him; and if he starts asking you to be something that you are not, stand your ground. My pastor once said “It is better to be lonely and single than lonely and in the wrong relationship.” Wait for a real man; if he’s a real man, he’ll wait for you. Don’t settle.

Learn to provide for yourself.

God designed men to be the providers so learning to provide for yourself and juggling the pressure of a career is a tad more difficult for us. However, it is a skill you will never regret. Don’t sit at home letting mom and dad meet all your needs and fix all your problems. I am so thankful for a dad who pushed me out of my comfort zone and taught me to be independent! I’ve learned to figure out my own car problems, to visit the doctor alone when necessary, to grocery shop and manage my schedule, and to care for my housing needs. I have a good job, I’m good at what I do, and I hold the respect of both my male and female coworkers. All this has infused me with a confidence that does not come naturally to me. I’ve learned to step up and do what needs to be done even if it terrifies me. As a result, when the wrong guy comes along, it is so much easier for me to say no because the alternative is not so scary anymore. Plus, if and when God brings the right man into my life, I’ll be a better helpmeet to him because of the skills I’ve learned providing for myself. 

Invest in people.

Someday, your focus will be your husband and your children. Today though you have time to invest in others. I’ve been able to spend so much more time with my little sisters and to make so many more memories with them than my other siblings…simply because I’m here and available. We’ve gone on road trips, experienced the fair, watched movies, enjoyed the snow, and spent countless other fun times together. Do you have a sibling, niece, or nephew that could use your love? What about other children or adults in your church or community? Everybody is looking for true friendship. Go be that friend, and share Christ’s love with others. You’ll find yourself blessed beyond measure in return.

My heart goes out to you, dear girls. I know the struggles, worries, insecurities you face. And yes, I’d trade my singleness in for marriage in a heartbeat if the right guy came along. But please make sure he truly is the right guy. In the meantime, know that you are already loved by Christ more perfectly than any man can ever love you; know that you are not alone; and know that being single is not a bad thing, it’s just a different thing. Don’t be in a hurry to escape your singleness; instead live each day to its fullest and have fun!

The ‘Club No One Wants to Join’ (And Why It’s Not All Bad)

9 Jan

The “Club No One Wants to Join” – that’s what my dad calls it. The membership list consists of people throughout the world of all ages, sizes, shapes, and colors, all with one thing in common. Two years ago today marks the induction of my family and I into this club. I remember it as if it were yesterday: The loud ringing of my cell phone at 5:30 in the morning, followed by stark fear that became reality as I heard my daddy’s broken voice give me the news, the instant and permanent weight deep inside my chest, and I became a forever member. My brother was gone, just like that.

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Death is no respecter of persons; it can strike anyone at any time. And when it strikes someone, especially in what we would call an untimely fashion, those left behind to grieve find themselves members in the “Club No One Wants to Join.” Life is different; people are different; and you, also different, have to learn how to live in this new world. I would never actually wish to be a part of this club – hence the name. And if I could roll back the pages of history, I would change something at a chance to have my brother back. Still, membership in this club has taught me many good things that I would not have otherwise learned. So it’s not all bad.

In honor of my brother Ben, I’d like to share a few of these lessons.

  1. God is always good. The fact that even in the midst of deepest sorrow I can still know the peace that passes all understanding proves His goodness. The fact that He can take something so ugly and work it for good proves His goodness. The fact that He promises beauty for ashes, that He bore our grief and carried our sorrows, that He counts each tear proves His goodness. Before January 9, 2013, I had only realized to a small extent the reality of God’s promises. But now? My brother’s death showed me just a portion of the grief God must have felt as He watched His Son die on the cross; it taught me the loving-kindness of a Father who knew my pain and cried with me. I now know a much fuller and deeper realization of God’s incredible goodness to His children.
  2. My family is a treasure. Knowing firsthand that losing a family member can happen in the blink of an eye helps me to value them even more. Sure, friends and other people are important too; but never to the extent of family. Nothing can take the place of family, and nothing, (outside of a personal relationship with Christ) should have a greater priority than family. God has gifted me with incredibly godly parents and amazing siblings who are my closest friends. We’ve always been close, but now we treasure each other even more.
  3. Don’t sweat the small stuff. If you think that particular work or home responsibility just has to get done in order for the world to keep turning, you’re wrong. From someone who over-worries and over-achieves and over-stresses, I’ve become amazed at all the “important” things I would simply drop (and it still be ok) if I got a call that a loved one had died. I do my best, of course; but if that report doesn’t get turned in by the deadline, oh well, no one died. Really. No one died. I now know the difference. Most things just aren’t worth my worry. (FYI, that’s not to say I never worry!)
  4. Compassion is best. That first day after my brother died, my sister, her husband, and I spent nine hours in the car as we traveled back to Arkansas. We had to stop for gas, the restroom, and food – and we had to interact with people that didn’t have a clue as to what we were facing that day. Now, when others aren’t up to par with how I think they should be performing, I am a little more compassionate and a little less judgmental. I have no idea what they may be facing.
  5. I understand better. The day my brother died is the day that I tasted what true pain is. Certainly there are many others who have faced much greater trials than I; but up until two years ago, rejection and a broken arm were about the best I could do with conjuring up a trial. A brother who dies at his own hand? I think I can safely say that’s a pain there. Now I have two little sisters from China who have faced even more pain and suffering than I can imagine. God knew they needed a family that had had a little taste of suffering. And only God knows how He will use our grief and the comfort He has given us to heal their little hearts. I now have a greater understanding of what grief truly is, the comfort that only God can bring, and what helps and what doesn’t. With that comes a greater ability to comfort other aching hearts.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but gives a little idea of what God has taught me over the past two years. And that’s why the “Club No One Wants To Join” can actually be a very good thing…especially since I know there will be even more lessons to add to the list as the years pass. James 1:2-3 says, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” Today I choose to “count it all joy” – the “it” being my membership in the “Club No One Wants to Join.” It’s really not all that bad!

Today I celebrate the everlasting life that is Ben’s in heaven. Happy second heavenly birthday, Ben! You are greatly loved and missed!

This Day In History

22 Sep

On this day in history two years ago, I said goodbye. After spending a year in Peru, it was time to head back to America. I remember it as if it were yesterday.

Right after the Sunday morning service, several girls and I walked downtown to eat “chaufa” (Chinese food). After that, we walked all over Tacna through several of the plazas taking pictures. They taught me to say our version of “dirty bum” in Spanish, and couldn’t hold in their laughter as I called them my “cholita cochinas.” (On a side note, please don’t repeat that phrase to anyone but a close friend. They might find you highly offensive!)

Peruvians are very affectionate people and I had become quite close to each of these girls. Rosmery had spent hours with me over the last several weeks doing discipleship lessons, having fun, and trusting me with many of her deepest secrets. She had become my little sister. Katy put on a tough exterior, but inside she shouldered more burdens than most nineteen-year-olds can imagine. Though she worked incredibly hard, she still found time to laugh. Cenaida had welcomed me the very first time I showed up in church, praying with me during the Wednesday evening prayer time and patiently helping me with my broken Spanish. I still remember the awe I felt at her sincerity as she poured out her heart before God for her backslidden father. Lica was my most recent “protégé,” having accepted Christ as her Savior just weeks before in her tiny one-room apartment. I’ll not forget sitting on her bed (the only furniture in her home) with her older sister, explaining salvation and answering her questions. She was one of two that I was able to lead to the Lord that year. I never fully understood Karen. She was a hard case – still is – but for some reason she liked me. Maybe it was the time we slept on the floor of the bus station at 5:00 in the morning after traveling all night to camp that stuck in her memory. Then there was Luz Ester, Jenny, Michelle, Claudia, Yanella, and more. Ah, the memories!

From left to right: Katy, Lica, Rosmery, me, Luz Ester, Cenaida, and Karen

From left to right: Katy, Lica, Rosmery, me, Luz Ester, Cenaida, and Karen

During the evening service, I played the guitar and sang one last time. The youth had worked hard all afternoon to put together a surprise slideshow of my year with them. And it brought tears to my eyes. The church presented me with special gifts – all the more special since I knew they really didn’t have the money to be buying these things for me. Then they presented me with a Peruvian flag signed by each of the youth. I ate my last bowl of chicken foot soup. As I set aside a piece of cartilage and soft bone, they informed me that they usually ate that part. “Oh really?” I said, and downed it, bone and all. “Not the bone!” they cried; but it was too late. So we all enjoyed one last laugh at my expense. Then came the tearful goodbyes and hugs. I didn’t cry. My tears would be shed later in private. Besides, I had plenty of hope that I would be back in no time at all to continue working with the people that had become my family.

From left to right: Rudy, Anthony, me, Yanella, Luz Ester, and Cesar

From left to right: Rudy, Anthony, me, Yanella, Luz Ester, and Cesar

How God has changed my plans! Over the past two years, I have lost family and gained family; I have traveled many miles and spent weeks on the road preparing for the mission field; I’ve worked random jobs and lived in random places; I gained an incredible church family and then moved away; I joined a mission board and resigned…. To any outsider looking in, these past two years wouldn’t make a lick of sense. But to me, I can see how God brought me to each point along the way and then moved me on to the next one. As one dear lady once told me: “God doesn’t always take you from Point A to Point B; instead He often leads you in a full-fledged circle until He gets you right where He wants you to be.” I’m still somewhere in the circle. But, as I look back over the last two years since saying goodbye, what a comfort to know that God has His hand on my life!

What does this day in history look like for you? Does it seem as if you’ve made countless mistakes or faced far too many setbacks? Just remember, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Each seeming delay may not be one at all – instead it may be God leading you to the next point on the circle.

Do You Love Me, God?

15 Sep

Esther reached up and patted my face, tweaked my ear, then grabbed for my hand.  After squeezing it several times, she meticulously entwined her fingers with mine.  A happy smile filled her face as I bent down and gently kissed her, whispering “I love you, Esther Lou.”  Esther does this all the time with various members of our family.  She loves to be touched; and it doesn’t matter if it’s at dinner, at church, or while watching a movie.  Sometimes she’ll indicate that she wants to be held; and as I pick her up, she’ll hug my whole head, touching as much of her face as possible to mine.  Other times, she’ll wrap my arm around her tummy, and if I end up moving it for any reason, she’ll grab it and put it right back where she wants it.  The first nine years of Esther’s life, she’s been unwanted and unloved. Now she’s safely and securely a forever part of the Parks family.

Edith, on the other hand, though she also loves to be held and touched, needs to hear “I love you” over and over and over again.  When I come to visit my parents, she’ll squeal with delight and run to give me a hug.  As I scoop her up and squeeze her tightly, I tell her that I love her.  She adores attention; and one “I love you” is not usually enough.  One time, after I had told her that I loved her several times in one evening, she asked, “Why do you love me so much, Sarah?”  I just smiled, kissed her hand, and replied, “Because you’re my sister.  I will always love you!”  That seemed to satisfy her for a few minutes at least.  Edith too spent the first ten years of her life in and out of foster homes and orphanages before becoming a permanent Parks family member.

The argument could be made that the mere fact that my parents flew to China and adopted Edith and Esther is proof of their love for my new sisters.  Perhaps these little girls should stop worrying about feeling loved and just trust the facts.  After all, they are an official member of the Parks family.  They can never take themselves out of our family.  And none of us would ever change their status as Parks girls.  Isn’t that enough?  Not always.  From my perspective, I recognize that they will always be loved by us.  At the same time, every time someone reaches for my hand or tries to climb up my leg, I am thrilled and eager to let the little face that is pleading “Am I really and truly loved?” know and feel once again that she is indeed dearly loved.

Esther (left) and Edith (right) enjoying some Florida sunshine...

Esther (left) and Edith (right) enjoying some Florida sunshine…

Adoption is such a wonderful picture of the love Christ has for each of us.  We too are adopted into the forever family of Christ.  Nothing can change that fact.  And yet, even though my head knowledge tells me that Christ’s death on the cross is enough proof of His love for me, my heart doesn’t always feel loved.  And so I pray, asking Him to show me His love once again.  So often I have felt guilty after one of these prayers – as if God was looking down from heaven disapprovingly as I asked once again, “Do You love me?”  It wasn’t until my parents adopted Edith and Esther that I recognized how absurd that guilt really was.  If we, sinful humans that we are, don’t tire of showing our love to Edith and Esther, how much more perfectly so does our heavenly Father enjoy revealing His love to us?  “But it is good for me to draw near to God” (Psalm 73:28a). “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10b).  Reach for His hand; ask for His love; He is waiting and eager to bestow it.

Last Missions Update

10 May

Dear Friends and Family,

Yes, you read correctly – this is my last update for now. I know it is a bit lengthy, but please take the time to read this one through.

The last update you received detailed the beginnings of the deputation trail for me. From my point of view, things were looking good – I had just participated in a mission’s conference and had officially presented at my first church. Since then, things continued to progress. Several people had contacted me regarding support; my deputation packets were ready; and I had just lined up my next meeting. 

Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Two days before I was scheduled to present at my next church, my parents asked to talk with me regarding the direction I was taking in regards to missions. As we sat down to visit, my dad began to share how un-at-peace he was with me going to the mission field. He proceeded to tell me that though he had given me his blessing each step of the way as I pursued missions, he had never quite been at peace with it. His hope was that peace would come as he saw me successfully moving forward. However, despite the “success” I had seen, he had grown more and more uneasy in his heart over my career choice – so much so that after praying for more than a month and seeking counsel himself, he decided to share his feelings with me. He told me that he believed I was heading down one track when God had designed me for another. He asked me to consider unplugging.

You can imagine my shock. However, I could tell that my dad understood the gravity of what he was asking of me (and he was still asking it). I knew too that he had spent weeks seeking the Lord before ever approaching me, and that it took quite a bit of courage on his part to share his views with me. I agreed to consider his request.

The next several days were spent with lots of tears, praying, searching Scripture, and seeking counsel.

With regards to Scripture, Luke 2 seemed to apply to my situation. Over a year and a half ago, I found myself wrestling with where the boundary lines should be between single adult children and their parents. I believe most young adults wrestle with this question at one time or another, and I believe that it may or may not land in the same place for each person. As I pondered my own beliefs on the matter, my Bible reading took me to Luke 2 where Jesus as a twelve-year-old adult (by Jewish standards) found himself in opposition with his parents. Jesus had a God-given job to do that his parents didn’t understand quite yet. They wanted him to come back home and do the work of his earthly father. Jesus, though an adult, submitted himself to his parents and went back to work alongside his earthly father for the next approximately eighteen years. I determined then that the example Jesus had set would be the example I would follow. And now, a year and a half later, though my situation was obviously different from Jesus’, I still believed this passage applied. Another verse the Lord gave me as I wrestled with this decision was Psalm 40:3 – “And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.”

As far as counsel goes, my mom agreed fully with my dad. I also went to my brother James for his opinion. He agreed completely with my parents and told me he wished he had shared his feelings long before this. James encouraged me to step out in faith and trust God to lead through my parents. In addition, I had several conversations with my pastor. One thing my pastor helped me to understand was the difference between a calling and a burden. He told me that just because I had seen a need and had a burden for something did not necessarily mean that God had called me to meet that need. He asked me to think about whether or not I could be content doing something besides missions. What I learned from our conversations is that my being a missionary was in fact fulfilling the things God has called me to do, but that it was not the only way to fulfill my calling – I could in fact be content serving the Lord in some other way. I realized that I would not be going against something that God had specifically called me to do by unplugging from the mission field. I also realized that I would not have peace continuing to pursue something that my family believed was not right for me.

With all of this in mind, I chose to take a leap of faith and resign as a missionary. Over the past several weeks I have made the necessary calls to my mission board, written letters to each of my supporters, and traveled to Pensacola, FL and made the announcement to my sending church. Everyone has been very supportive and gracious with regards to my decision. The last step is to let each of you know the direction God is taking me.

Let me at this point stop and say that this has been by far the hardest decision I have ever had to make. My heart is still very much connected to missions. My burden and love for Peru is just as great as it ever was. And if God ever opens the door for me to go back into missions, I will jump through it in a heartbeat. There are obviously several unanswered questions in my mind as well as tons of uncertainty regarding the future. I do however have peace that the decision I have made is the right one.

So what’s next? I plan to stay in Arkansas near my parents and little sisters. God has provided an ideal apartment for me, and I’ve spent the last couple of weeks moving, shopping for furniture, and trying to get somewhat settled. My goal, if not to be a missionary, is to support missions in every way possible. I believe I can best do that by having a flexible work schedule. With the support and encouragement of my parents, I have started my own business – Certa Financial Services. I offer customizable bookkeeping services to business professionals, and currently have three clients. So far, the door seems to be wide open for me to pursue starting a business – and I hope to have as much work as I can handle within a couple of years. This fall, I hope to start classes at a local university working towards my master’s in accounting. This will allow me to pursue my CPA license which will expand my credibility and the services I can offer. And, Lord willing, I hope to further my knowledge of Spanish and to pursue some type of certification in that area as well so that I can continue to work with Hispanics. Please continue to keep me in your prayers as I hunt for a church and settle back here in Arkansas. Pray too that I will continue to remain open and submissive to God’s will wherever it might lead me.

I cannot thank each of you enough for your love, prayers, encouragement, and generosity to me. A good portion of you have followed me over the past several years as I have pursued missions, especially during my year in Peru; others of you have jumped on board within the last several months. Some of you have prayed regularly for me; some have written encouraging notes; some of you have opened your homes to me; some have spent hours and hours working on my materials; some have supported me financially – the list just goes on and on. You are all special to me! My prayer is that God will bless each of you for your kindness to me.

Thank you for taking the time to read this lengthy update. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.