Thursday, December 5, 2019

Reading Between the Lines - Sarah Lynn Phillips

See, I am doing a new thing…I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19 NIV

For months, I eyed the quiet shelf in my office closet, the one holding a lifetime of journals and prayer notebooks arranged in order by date.

Over the years I'd moved them from place to place as I repurposed and rearranged, but seldom did I crack one open to read the chronicles within. In my quest to downsize, I’ve been motivated to spare my children the weight of it all. It's one thing to toss old catalogs and donate VHS documentaries and no-longer-relevant books. It's quite another to decide what to do with decades of handwritten stories. Stories about family, events, celebrations, school days, worries, fears, regrets, and life lessons.

Finally, I mustered the courage to pick up the first journal. I read page after written page and often caught myself smiling—like the time one of the girls danced around the house singing, “I can read! I can read!” Or when said daughter somehow got her head stuck in a chair at school. Another dressed up like Polly Pepper, and at Thanksgiving, a native American, complete with fringe and papoose.

I found the record of when we paid off our house and the season we harvested forty-nine quarts of strawberries. I noted the day when Patches the guinea pig died and how Daddy helped bury him in the garden under a stone painted yellow. I leafed through the celebratory stories of birthdays and end-of-the-school-year-parties, prayers, baptisms, swimming lessons, and family outings.

My eyes also traveled over pages of weary fatigue, frustration, busyness, uncertainty, and desperate prayers for wisdom and guidance. I found where I had scribbled, “God, where are you? I'm trying so hard. Why does it seem I will never be enough?” and where I’d prayed, “Please take care of my girls.” Tears filled my eyes as I laid the book down.

I mentioned my bittersweet experience to a friend who parroted back to me what she and I had talked about in times past. “What is true?” she reminded me. “Read your journals as an act of worship as you recall God's work in your life. Let go of the pages that are no longer beneficial.”

An act of worship. Letting go of the if onlys leaves room for us to read the grace of God between the lines. His unfailing presence. His steadfast love. His promise of redemption. He brought us through those days…the learning days…the growing days…all for His glory.

It's been good to review my life through my own pen. Humbling, really. Words have a way of representing a more accurate picture than a memory. I find myself worshiping God with a sweeter appreciation for His faithfulness—and for His readiness to listen to the broken, hopeful prayers of a mother's heart. 

Take time to do some reading between your life's lines. 

BIO: Sarah Lynn Phillips is a writer from Northeast Pennsylvania whose articles, devotions, and poems have appeared in numerous online and print publications. She has authored the award-winning book, Penned Without Ink: Trusting God to Write Your Story and a companion Leader’s Guide with reproducible study sheets. Her life story has had many wonderful chapters, but it has also taken some unexpected turns, including her family’s near-fatal car crash and, twelve years later, the passing of her husband, Barry. Sarah offers a vision of hope in the hard times through her writing and speaking. She has three adult daughters and three delightful grandsons. Reading, quilting, and tending her garden are among Sarah’s hobbies. 

Visit her blog at and find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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