Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Within the Eye of the Storm. Inside the Center of the Sun.

  It started with the leaves, leaves that did not belong to any of the trees around me, leaves that longed to rest on the forest floor but were being pushed towards me at an alarming rate by a strong whistling wind. Then came the birds, birds flying with such quickness in the opposite direction of where I was heading I could hardly imagine the rate their hearts were beating within their fragile chests. I was driving from Pennsylvania to Tennessee and was somewhere in southern Virginia, I’d gotten multiple calls and texts earlier in the day asking if I was safe in the weather. With 90 degree air pouring through my windows and gorgeous sunshine all around me I was perplexed, to say the least, at their concern. Now, as I drove closer and closer into the ink black wall in front of me I understood. Before I hit the rain the expanse of the storm was evident, and sheets of purple lighting illuminated the sky from one mountain ridge to the other. Then, the rain slammed into my car, it came down with such force I couldn’t see anything in front of me. The speedometer sank from 70 to 5 mph, I chewed my bottom lip, and my index finger nervously rubbed the nail bed of my thumb as I strained to see. My wipers were powerless and every so often a thick bolt of lightning would attack the earth and light it up for miles, it was then I could see my comrades in this storm, inching along as slowly as I. The thunder was hideous, it wrapped around me like the groans of some unearthly beast and brought with it crackling, untamed displays of lightning. This went on for what felt like hours but I rightly have no idea how much time passed as I was berated unceasingly by the wind and rain. Then, to my right, the sky began to change in the way blood is soaked into a wet rag. It was a sky so red I thought the whole earth must be on fire. The rain dissipated as if the heat of this fire consumed it, the reds and orange hues went on for miles and poured over every possible piece of land. However, to my left, the storm drove its army on, and I could see the trees bending to its will. So there I was, this finite and very frail witness standing in between the collision of two worlds of nature. I gasped as lightning streaked across the horizon of the sky from the right to the left over and over again, as if it was being propelled from the very center of the sun itself. I didn’t imagine this display could become any more beautiful when on the left, in the very center of the storm, yawning up from the downtrodden, crippled earth, came the largest and brightest rainbow I have ever seen.  Lightning bolts continued to pierce the earth all around the rainbow, and yet it shone. The proclamation of faithfulness steady, the coat of arms for the King of Kings waving triumphant amidst the battle.

Tumultuous weather has been the theme as of late; it seems like when we catch our breath from the first wave another even stronger still, breaks down upon us.  Not just the heavy storms and hail damage in my little piece of Tennessee, but the devastation in Alabama, the flooding of The Mississippi, most recently the tragedy in Joplin MO and even as I write this, a massive storm system races across Oklahoma. When we see these natural disasters, when our very beings thunder with questions as the news reports of the death tolls and devastation, I am reminded of one who slept soundly as a storm raged about him. In the Gospel of Mark, the disciples have to wake Jesus up from a sound sleep in the midst of a submerging boat. “Do you not care that we are perishing?!” they cried and yet “He stood and rebuked the wind and said to the sea; peace, be still. And the wind ceased and there was a great calm” Many times, especially now, we probably are side by side with the disciples, asking whether or not He cares that we are perishing or questioning why He doesn’t command the elements to cease. The very simple truth is that He does care and He holds us all within His hands.  Through the prophet Isaiah He tells us “ When you pass through waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” We may be too finite and frail to understand His ways, but know this…even the wind and waves obey Him. Even in the midst of the elements, He is eternal. Not just in the tangible, physical world either but in the storms that devastate our souls. When a mother loses her son to a war he did not start, when a young woman becomes paralyzed in an accident not her fault, when tornadoes rip through our towns stealing everything we hold dear. In the moments that cripple us to our knees in despair, when we curl up against the cold cement and cry out into the blackest of nights to be held, we can rise up from the downtrodden and crippled pieces of this life and hold on to the promises and peace of God. Jesus said, “ Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let it be afraid”. When we are within the storms, we are still in the center of the Son. He knows the hairs on our heads, He cares when even a sparrow falls from the sky, He is a good and loving Father and He offers hope when all other lights go out. Just as I watched the sun cast it’s rainbow into the storm, so does the Son of Man cast His sovereignty, provision and faithfulness into the darkness; the coat of arms for the King of Kings waving triumphant amidst the battle.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Lime Water, The Limelight and the Love of My Mothers....

 I always order lime with my water. I’m sure that I am not a favorite patron of wait staff across this great city, I have to be “that girl”…I can’t just be easy and get lemons like the rest of the table. That however, is precisely how I prefer to drink my water; I find it unique, glamorous, and altogether more refreshing. It’s part of who I am, it’s on the great list of quirks, oddities and particulars that make up Sarah Belle, or if you’re my mother: Sarah Elizabeth Ruth Adele Stonier. Yeah, had to be “that girl” with 5 names too…. There’s other things on the list that compile the portrait of who I am; I love socks fresh out of the dryer, I enjoy breathing in the scent of old books, I could eat avocadoes for days, I hate salads because I personally feel they are too cumbersome to be eaten gracefully, I am notorious for forgetting to RSVP, I over think just about everything, and so on and so forth. Each of us has those lists and it’s what makes us such a brilliant tapestry of creation that could only have been designed and woven together. With our lists, come our stories, and with our stories come our pasts, and the years that have already slipped between the slender turn of the hourglass. The compilation of those years is different for everyone, yet none are without a purpose, and each story is written and given to who was intended to bear it. In college I was able to share my story over and over again to groups of young people, I was thankful to see God work in their hearts and continue to draw beauty from ashes. But it was always easy to bare your soul to a group of strangers you would never see again, I would cast the seeds from my satchel and bid the field farewell. However, being in the business that I am today ( ie: “public figure” Miss Walking Tall)  it was only a matter of time before God moved to shine a spotlight though I had already left the stage. My dear friend and pageant sister Miss Nashville, Chelsea Jensen felt called to use my testimony for the subject matter in her journalism project. We both agreed that the purpose behind this joint venture was to glorify Jesus Christ and how the hand of God had moved within my life. She did a wonderful job, and I look forward to her career and how she will one day take the ranks of our personal favorites; Diane Sawyer and Anderson Cooper! But, the moment she posted the link my heart began to race and I quickly realized how large the fear of man was in my heart. These were not strangers whose faces I would never know listening, these were people who were an every day part of my life, people I worked with, laughed with and worshipped with. Not only that but people who might see it knew my mom, was it my place to share the details of her story though there is hardly a way to unclasp hers from my own?

I’ve never liked the limelight…I know that’s a strange statement from a girl who thrives on performance, the theater, beauty pageants and singing in front of large audiences but it’s so entirely different. On stage I can’t see peoples faces, there’s variants of shadows and I’m looking into the lights, the applause is more like leaves rustling in the wind and the stage is more a place of solitude for me than it is of celebratory status. Off the stage, it’s intimate, it’s raw, it’s real life.  And if you know me well or spent any amount of time with me you’ve observed that I’m quiet and reserved and get an uncomfortable feeling when Chad Ridner calls on me to talk at Care Group. (Which is precisely why he does it…) It took me 4 years to muster up the courage to even write this blog!  I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m painfully shy, but I am definitely not an effervescent, sparkling, outspoken lass either. So you realize why my nerves kicked in when the off stage, intimate details of my life became public domain. Yet scripture says, be anxious of nothing, let the peace of God guard my heart. Then people started responding, and reposting, and rejoicing not in my strength, but in Gods! The very reason why I’d agreed to do it in the first place! The reason is this, ultimately the spotlight is not shining on me, I am merely holding it and shining it back on to the Father. My Abba. His faithfulness is more assured than the sunrise, His friendship is more intimate than a brothers, His freedom is the greatest peace you could ever know.
To those of you who have seen it, or who will watch the video link below. I’d like to speak more in depth on my mother, especially because today is Mothers Day, and she deserves to be honored, because at the end of the day, she’s still my mom. I forgave her, I love her with all my heart. She never told me I couldn’t be anything I dreamed to be, and always told me she was my biggest fan.  The abuse I speak of was not premeditated, but moments of rage and weakness from an exhausted woman battling the trials of her own story and the effects of a then undiagnosed illness outside her control. I won’t dilute the facts of my childhood, I won’t trivialize the pain of watching the horrors of a mental illness but it has no power over me. It is only by Gods grace that I’ve been given the clarity to see that, the desire to pray for her, and the strength to forgive her. Happy Mothers Day Mom, I love you!
In the title of this blog it states “the love of my mothers”, and that’s precisely because I’m lucky enough to have two. When I had nowhere to go, Robin Gorki opened up her heart and home to me, the entire Gorki family has adopted me as one of their own. My childhood photo hangs in their house, where before it would have laid in a box or found its way to the trash, I have a bedroom in their home, I have a seat at their table. Their love for me has only more beautifully displayed the adoptive love of my Heavenly Father. In Robin, He’s given me someone to call home to about boys, about work, about friends, about my greatest fears and my biggest hopes. Happy Mothers Day Mom, I love you!

And Happy Mothers Day to all the moms out there, not just the many women in my life who bless my heart and invest in my soul but every single woman out there who tirelessly loves their children, and day in and day out give of themselves for their families. Enjoy today; the breakfasts made for you in bed, the goofy cards, the delicately wrapped boxes. Enjoy today; the blessings of your family, the Sunday afternoon brunch, enjoy being treasured, and while you’re at it, go ahead, order your water with lime.


"This is my anthem, this is my song
The theme of the stories I've heard for so long
God has been faithful, He will be again
His loving compassion, it knows no end"

Friday, May 6, 2011


For the first time, this year April 15th represented something more than finding myself logging on to TurboTax with a wrinkled W-4 form and a caramel apple spice in hand…it was also the deadline for Ad Pages in The Miss Tennessee program book.  I still sometimes can’t believe I’ve been given such an opportunity, that one day I’ll sit with my niece, or my daughters and granddaughters and watch Miss America and tell them; that was something I was a part of!  Preparing for Miss Tennessee is a lot more details and things to focus on than you would expect, just another piece of proof that beauty queens are more than just hairspray, lip-gloss and butt glue. Yes, I said it…butt glue. From time to time this can be the perception of those of us who wear a crown, and television shows like Toddlers and Tiaras do nothing but enhance a vapid and shallow perception of beauty pageants and beauty queens.  However, to kneel down with a group of children and explain to them what it means to be a servant to others, to have a sweet red headed little girl stare up at you, cross legged with her head in her hands, absorbing every detail of what its like to pursue your dreams….well that is a foundational element of why we do, what we do. In 5 very short weeks I will find myself in Jackson, Tennessee. I will wave and smile and sign autographs, I will interview for the job of being Miss Tennessee, I will compete in evening gown, talent and swimwear. I will give a final on stage answer hoping to capture the hearts of those determining who will win the crown that final night. But to reference a comment by my pageant sister and more importantly my sister in Christ; God has already determined that woman. He knows exactly who it will be and why He has called them to complete that journey.  This does not mean I’ll shrug my shoulders and concede to an unknown destiny. It means I will walk onto that stage knowing I have given every shred of endurance, every last bit of effort. To quote a favorite of mine, Winston Churchill, I will offer all of my blood, sweat, toil and tears. I will leave that week knowing I put all of myself out there without reserves, retreats or regrets.  If I am first place, and the Miss Tennessee crown placed on my head, to God be the glory and may my life be a proclamation of His sovereign grace. In turn, if I am ranked 36 out of 36, if the only purpose for my time there was to shine as brightly as I could for  Jesus Christ and leave others touched by His Gospel than that is why I won, and that is why I went. Too often I find myself anxious over the to do lists, over bills to pay and taxes to file, I fret about work out schedules and breathing exercises’ and wether my song sounds perfect, yet I must always remember that this life, is but a whisper in the great song of eternity.  It is temporary and my prayer would be that I would never lose sight of things eternal and never stop listening to the great melody written by our Master Composer.

With taxes filed and tiara in tow,
Sarah Stonier
Miss Walking Tall