Monday, March 20, 2017

Longing for Community...

A couple of weeks ago I returned from a trip to Honduras.  It was probably my 15th time being there, but for some reason, the transition back home was harder than it's been on trips in the past.  Maybe it is was fact that we went from 95 degree weather to 20 degree weather in a matter of 24 hours and I just couldn't handle it.  Maybe it was the reminder that my third cup of Espresso Americano in a matter of 1 hour would be the last for another 6 months.  Or maybe it was just because I had felt a deep sense of community during those 10 days.

I felt community as we sat around the table eating meals together, sharing our stories.  I felt it as we stayed up into the late hours playing games, laughing together, and living "stress free."  I felt is as we served together, ministering to over 1200 kids.  I felt is as we debriefed each night, creating space and time to speak words of encouragement, and to speak about what God was teaching each of us.  I felt it as we shared our struggles and prayed for each other on the spot.

As I've transitioned back into a world that moves at a crazy fast speed, I have felt myself longing for that kind of community and wondering if it is even possible here.

Last night, I was invited to serve communion to a group of college students at what they call, "Kingdom Experience."  I had just finished a 3 day youth event where the average night's sleep was about 5 hours.  I am not going to lie, I was exhausted.  The girl leading stood up before it started and explained we were going to spend some time in worship and then break out into small groups and spend some time talking and praying together.  The theme of the night was "community."

When it came time to break into groups, I figured I would just observe the college students and listen to what they would share, because honestly, I was way overtired to actually participate.  However, I jumped into a group with two young women who I have been getting to know at the college this past year, and God began to move in my heart.

For 20-25 minutes we shared our hearts.  We shared our life experiences.  We shared our struggles.  And we prayed for one another.  I sensed God speaking to me in those moments, saying, " don't have to wait to go to Honduras to experience community.  Just be intentional right where you are."

I realized as I walked away from that place last night that community happens when we make it a priority.  It happens when we invite someone into our life to be a prayer/accountability partner, choosing to be vulnerable, or when we invite people over to our houses for coffee late at night, despite the fact that there are piles of laundry and the dishes haven't been done for days.  It happens when we set aside our to-do list and create space to laugh and be real with each other.  It happens when we are intentional.

The past year, as we have transitioned into a new home, a new environment, and a new culture, I've struggled with intentionality when it comes to community.  Some weeks, busyness drives my agenda.  Other weeks, the thought of allowing my heart to lay bare in front of someone new scares me.  Still other weeks, I deem a million other things as more important.

Deep down inside, I think we all long for community.  We want spaces where we feel heard, understood, and challenged.  Those are the spaces where we lean into our true selves and discover that we not only need each other, but we are better together.   They are the spaces where vulnerability both transforms us and calls us to live courageously.

May our longing lead to intentionality.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The God of Impossibilities...

I'm amazed that Mary said yes.  I found myself sitting in church this morning wondering if I would have done the same.  Would I have said yes?  If the angel would have appeared in my bedroom at the age of 14 or 15, would I have had the courage to say yes?  I want to say I would, but the reality is, even at 37 years of age, "saying yes" to God is sometimes like taking this blind leap of faith in hopes that in the end a parachute will appear (as our Pastor described it to us this morning).  I guess that's what really strikes me most about Mary.  She didn't just say yes.  She said it with a confidence.  She said it as though she knew a little about this God who could do the impossible.

Sometimes I wish that the things that God asked us to do felt a little more like jumping off the first step and a little less like jumping out of an airplane...wondering if the parachute really works.

Last Thursday, Nate and I found ourselves on a conference call with our social worker in which the only thing I think I really heard was, "You could be matched with a child any day."  Several moments later Nate and I began to talk about the financial reality that came with that.  We would also need to come up with a lot of money in a short amount of time.

I am not sure why, but I find myself feeling a bit like I'm jumping out of an airplane wondering if the parachute will appear in this adoption.  When we began praying about adopting again, we really felt like God was moving us in the direction of special needs.  We found out that the India program was looking for families who were willing to adopt special needs, began to pray about it, and eventually started the process.  We aren't sure what needs our child will have, but we know that she will most likely have needs that can be corrected and managed in the states.  That thought can be overwhelming.

Sometimes God asks us to take a blind leap of faith.  I think he does it because he actually loves showing up and doing what we couldn't do on our own or what we deem as "impossible."  I think it's why he chose a no-name teenage virgin to carry the Savior of the World.  It's was unexpected.  Unpredictable.  Unlikely.  But in the end, it was what God was dreaming up and was exactly what the world needed.

I don't want to be a person who spends my days wondering if I should have jumped and I don't want to settle to jump from that first step.  God is dreaming up impossibilities that will leave us breathless if we are just willing to take a blind leap of faith.  May our response be like that of Mary:

"I'm Yours with me what you wish."

To make a donation towards our adoption, check out our Go Fund Me Page at:

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Life Updates...

The past 8 months of my life have seemed to move faster than I can keep up.  I don't know if there are shorter hours in the day when you live in New England, but it has certainly felt that way since we moved here.  Moving is hard work (see my blog post on Transitions).  You're constantly working on forming new relationships, establishing yourself wherever you go, jumping into everything, and if you are like me, you tend to live life fuller than full so you don't miss a beat.  You experience a million emotions and just when you think you have them under control, something reminds you that you don't!  Moving kind of flips your world upside down for a bit.

That being said, I have epically failed at blogging these past several months.  Seriously...if I were in a blogging class I would have an "F" right now.  So here is my feeble attempt to fill in the gap and catch you up on life, ministry, and the endless Sawtelle adventures.

The Move:  We are finally settling into a routine here in "The Q" as they like to call our bustling city of Quincy.  We love our house (seriously a dream house), hate the traffic, love the church (dream job central), love our youth group (our teens are awesome), hate the traffic, love practically living on the campus of Eastern Nazarene College, and....well, we just really hate the traffic!  While we miss our friends and family in Maryland a lot, God has also been gracious to bring some new friends into our life and has allowed us to live close to other parts of our family.

Youth Ministry:  We constantly have opportunities to minister here.  Our youth group is awesome and we are really working hard to create a culture of welcome.  We are encouraging kids to bring their friends from school, and that is a somewhat new concept.  New England is a different context to do ministry.  Christianity is definitely not as talked about in the school setting and there aren't nearly as many youth ministries around here.  I actually think this means there is a TON of potential. It's kind of like it's own mission field which is awesome, so we are plugging away to build relationships here.

ENC:  I have spent the past semester teaching my very first college class (Philosophy and Methods of Youth Ministry...which by the way sounds way more intellectual that I am).  It's been an awesome experience.  I have loved it and have found it very life giving.  It's also been a boat load of prep work and extra time.  Nate and I also have about 10-12 college students over for spaghetti every Wednesday.  That's been pretty awesome too.  We try to attend as many sporting events as possible and even Biruk loves that.  I get to go to chapel a couple times a week and feel like that's a gift.

Adoption:  Nate is amazing and has pretty much dedicated the last 8 months of his life to working on our current adoption process.  Because our agency didn't have a Massachusetts office, we had to do our home study through another agency.  It has been a HUGE undertaking.  Just this past week, the home study was finalized, which was a really big step.  But, when Nate went to take all of the rest of our paperwork to get it state sealed notarized, he was told that we did all of the notary stuff wrong.  He will have to go back and do 18 pages over again.  Not a good day.  We hope to re-do that fast.  The time frame we have been given for bringing home a child is about a year.  We have A LOT of fundraising to do before then!!!

Biruk:  Our little guy turned 4 on Thanksgiving.  We can't even believe he's been home for that long or how big he is getting.  He goes to preschool 3 full days a week and loves it.  He runs around non-stop, sings all the time, and talks regularly about the sister that we are adopting (let's hope its a girl, because he definitely has his heart set on that!).  He talks about missing his old house and also talks about his new friends here.  I think it's setting in that this is home.  He regularly gets to see his cousins, who are only 20 minutes away and that's pretty great.

God is definitely up to A LOT of somethings here.  We feel it on a daily basis.  While this adventure he keeps inviting us on wears us out at times, it's still pretty sweet.  We make every effort to listen to Him and continue to say yes to what he asks of us.  We believe he's all over this new chapter and we can't wait to see all that unfolds.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Courageous Together...

When I was about 14 years of age, I remember standing in front of my high school, with my Dad, hoping and praying that someone else would show up.  I figured if just one showed up, it would be a reminder that I wasn’t alone in my school, that I wasn't the only one attempting to figure out what faith looks like in the 9th grade, and I would feel a little less of an outcast that day.  That day, no one showed up.  As I stood there with my Dad, praying for my school, my classmates, and my teachers, I was reminded of two things.  One…sometimes God asks us to be courageous and it can be really uncomfortable.  And two…being courageous together paints an unbelievable picture of the hope of Jesus.

This morning I pulled up in front of the house of one of our teens at a ridiculously early hour.  As he and three others loaded into the car with my family, we ventured to their high school to stand together around their flagpole to pray for their school, their classmates, their teachers and our world.  Two others from our youth group joined us, one who had only been coming to our youth group for a few weeks, and together, 9 of us, circled around the flagpole and began to pray over the school as classmates, administrators, and teachers passed us by.

To be honest, despite the fact that there were 9 of us, it felt a little like that day my Dad and I stood alone…uncomfortable and a little out of place.

When we were finished praying, one of the girls turned to me and said, “I know I shouldn’t be nervous, but I am nervous to go back inside.”  I hugged her and told her I would be praying for her and was so proud of her for coming.  Later that day, her mom texted me to say that her friends had given her some “crap” for what she did.  She also said she was really proud of her.

I’ve wept several times today.  Tears of gratitude that we have teens who aren’t afraid to stand up for their faith at an event like See You at the Pole, and tears of brokenness over the many students in this new mission field of New England who have not yet stumbled on the hope of Jesus.

I also saw again, just like that day with my Dad, what being courageous together can do.   It paints a picture of hope.  It’s the hope that has the power to bring healing to broken hearts, to help kids understand they have a purpose in this world, to restore families, to stop bullying, to bring an overwhelming sense of peace, to remind every teenager that walks through the doors of that school that they are loved, valued and worth something.

Wolly Naz Youth…thanks for that picture.  It’s that hope that has the potential to change the mission field in which we find ourselves.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Life Giving Transitions...

I wish that I had creative words to write tonight.  I almost feel like I should, due to the sheer fact that it's been almost three months since I have blogged.  Surely, I should have something inspiring to write.  The truth is, I have felt so many different emotions the past 5 months since our move to Boston, and I've struggled to sort them all out.  I think that I didn't realize just how hard, painful, exciting, and crazy awesome a major transition could be.

Leaving everything familiar and known...definitely hard.
Discovering a world of opportunity and possibility...crazy exciting.
Trying to find your place and start everything over...painful.
Realizing you have been brought to a place for such a time as this...crazy awesome.

While on vacation, we decided to buy Biruk a hermit crab.  Don't ask why.  This actually turned out to be a decent timely purchase, because we wound up putting our dog down a couple weeks later, a dog that's been a part of our family for almost 12 years (that's a blog for another day).  There was just one problem.  The hermit crab didn't do anything.  He didn't crawl, didn't come out of his shell, didn't play on the water sponge.  In fact, he buried himself every day in the sand.  He quite possibly became the most boring hermit crab to date.

A couple weeks ago, Nate looked in the cage and there were claws and hermit crab leg parts everywhere.  It was disgusting.  He was like, "Ang, I think we killed the hermit crab."  That was surprising because his cage sat on the really hot porch (I guess we gave up on including him in our Sawtelle Family life.).  For some reason, Nate didn't bother to clean it up, and when he did a couple days later, he saw something moving in the shell.  The hermit crab...was alive...seriously.

Now I have no idea what all those legs were doing in there, but I am going to assume the crab molted his shell.  For some reason we had forgot that was part of their job.

Here's the deal...since then, that Spidey (which Biruk so lovingly named him), has seriously come to life!  He plays in the water, walks around the sand, has conversations with us (ok, maybe he's not that life filled, but he is at least not burying himself in the sand anymore).

This got me thinking.  Change is not only hard, but it's ugly sometimes.  Sometimes in the process, we feel like we lose a piece of us.  We look at our life and feel like everything we knew about ourselves, the things that we had come to love and be confident in, suddenly feel like they are scattered around us in pieces.

But then something exquisite happens.  God's grace and beauty shows up and just starts transforming things.  I saw it this summer.

I saw it as 15 teenagers gathered in our small living room for Bible Study.
I saw it as my son was embraced by a youth group who has now become his extended family.
I saw it as I served communion to student leaders on the campus of the college I graduated from.
I saw it as I watched a teen who was disconnected suddenly feel like she was surrounded by family.
I saw it as I watched my son jump into the deep end for the first time.
I saw it as I watched a group of 8 junior high girls in my camp cabin feel valuable for the first time.

And you know's been incredibly life giving and beautiful.

Tomorrow, for the first time in 15 years, I won't walk into the gym to coach volleyball.  Instead, I will walk into the college classroom to teach a Youth Ministry Class.  It's a transition...and an opportunity to watch God's exquisite grace and beauty unfold.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Glimpses of His Kingdom...

Sometimes God graciously allows you to see glimpses of His Kingdom unfolding right before your eyes.  Tonight He was incredibly gracious.

As I gathered together with my new church family to walk around our neighborhood, praying for the people that surround our college campus, I couldn't help but notice His Kingdom unfolding.  I saw it in the faces of 8-10 teens that showed up to pray for their community because they love Jesus and want others to love him too.  I saw it as a 4 year old offered to be the first one to pray over a house of a neighbor whose name was unknown.  I saw it as one of our senior high boys prayed over our house thanking God that we were here.   I saw it as a mother prayed for our neighbor who is soon to be a new mom in just a few weeks who I am not even sure knows who Jesus is.  I saw it as our groups that had scattered, gathered back together and shared stories of how God had used a short 40 minutes to enlarge our perspective of why we are here.  And it...was...awesome.

The glimpses didn't stop at the prayer walk either.  Tonight happened to be the night where the summer ministries teams for Eastern Nazarene College had invited friends and family to gather and experience various forms of worship throughout the campus.  Two of my former youth group kids happen to be on those teams.

I saw his Kingdom unfold as Krystal, a teen whose life had been transformed by Jesus while in our youth ministry, invited us to experience prayer stations and for the first time, she led me and my family to experience Christ the way we had led her so many times. Wow.  Not sure there are words of this Youth Pastor's heart.

I saw his Kingdom unfold as I held my 3 year old up to "paint" what he thought about God...he loves that he watches over me.

I saw his Kingdom unfold as a student who I just met prayed prayed words over me that resounded in my heart in a way that only God could have placed them there.

And then I saw his Kingdom unfold as we closed out the night worshipping the one who called us to this life so long ago.  The ones leading us in worship included Bubba, another former teen whose life had been transformed by Jesus.  As I watched Biruk clap, sway, and try to figure out what was happening, it hit me.  The teens we had invested in once were now investing in my kid and giving him a glimpse into the Kingdom of God.

This Youth Pastor's is full.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Presence Matters...

Last weekend my Dad decided to do something we probably should all do.  He decided to be present.  Let me back up.  For the past 8 years of my life, my Dad and I have had the opportunity to sing in the Ordained Ministers Choir at our District Assembly, since we were serving on the same district for our denomination.  It's not been something my Dad is dying to do each year, but he has done it because it's been important to me.

So this year, when I moved 8 hours away to a brand new District, just two weeks before our Assembly, the reality sank in that our "run together," was officially over.  We had been given the privilege to serve as Pastors on the same District for more time than most Father/Daughter Pastor duos are given, and I knew that I should be grateful, but change was still really hard.

About a month ago, my Dad called me up on the phone to tell me he had booked tickets to come to Boston to sing with me in the Ordination Choir on my new District.  I know that my Dad knew I was would be excited, but I am not sure he knew how much it meant that he was willing to just be present with me.

Last weekend was our District Assembly, and while my Dad didn't sit through every meeting, he showed up when it mattered.  Knowing I knew very few people, he sat with me through the first session and we laughed a lot together.  He invited me to lunch with some of his friends (which ironically he knows way more people than I do here), but we didn't just sit there together, he led the way in some significant conversations that personally encouraged me that day.   He bought me coffee when I needed it, waited with me while I finished work stuff, spent time talking the very people I am just forming friendships with, and was just present.

Friday night, when it came time for us to sing in the ordination choir (which by the way required us to sit up on a stage in front of everyone for 2 hours...not a good thing for us tiny bladder Long family), I looked at my Dad and felt incredibly grateful that he chose to show up when it mattered in my life.   It's not just my Dad either.  It's people like my mom, my sisters, my youth pastor, my mentors, coaches and friends that really get me, that have shown up when I have needed it the most.  They chose to be present when it mattered.

I could have sung in that ordination choir without my Dad.  It wasn't like I felt alone, was fearful, or nervous, or even felt out of place.  But my Dad knew that it mattered to me.  So he chose to be present.

I remember showing up to a girl's 8th grade graduation with a few of our youth workers last year, thinking it really wasn't a huge deal.  She came from a pretty tough life and we thought we would surprise her.  When she saw 6 youth workers in the back of the auditorium that night as she marched in, she literally ran into the kid in front of her.  She's still talking about that night.

We don't always think our presence matters, but the truth is, our presence screams..."I'm with you, I believe in you, and I'm for you."  And in a world where people are searching, that might just be a game changer.