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Sara B.

Today, Sara speaks to us about the ministry of availability, making it to Seattle and changing her pace.

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Sara B.

Tell us a bit about how you grew up and your childhood: I grew up with a Jewish father and an Italian Catholic mother in a small Indiana city. There were a lot of complexities there: I’m an introvert, and my Italian family is loud and spirited, with extra helpings of spaghetti and meatballs at the ready. My Jewish family is smart, urban, and cool, but I didn’t grow up around them. My dad converted to Christianity in the 70s, and unlike his siblings who moved to the East or West Coast, he decided to stay in the Midwest.

The dynamics of not-quite-fitting in were formative for me, for better or worse. In high school, I starting thrifting, writing poems, and found other folks dipping their toe into 90s subculture that centered around college rock and Manic Panic hair dye. I loved coming of age in the 90s, where Seattle hovered like a dream in my teen mind. The mythical land of Nirvana and coffee is where I’d end up, but it would take another decade to get me here.

“The mythical land of Nirvana and coffee is where I’d end up, but it would take another decade to get me here.”

Inspiring biblical passage of the moment: “He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me.” Psalm 18:19

Spiritual growth focus at the moment: Listening prayer and sitting in silence without a racing mind.

Profession: Writer and nonprofit communications.

When did you first encounter God and how did you encounter Him? Like a lot of kids, I asked Jesus into my heart at a young age, and then kept asking every night for years. The first time, the one that’s marked in my memory, happened when I was three, sitting in an overstuffed jungle print chair in the living room of my childhood home.

How has your relationship with Him changed you? I am type A, wired to take on a lot and push through. But when I stop and breathe, on a weekend without plans or on retreat, it becomes clear that I’m not really at rest, or that I don’t know how to rest well. By sitting in silence, going to spiritual direction, and praying the examen, God is changing my pace, which creates room to sit and experience God’s love and ever-nearness.

“God is changing my pace, which creates room to sit and experience God’s love and ever-nearness.”

What has helped you grow spiritually in this season? I wrote prolifically in my 20s, then all but stopped writing in my 30s, when I had kids and went to grad school. I started writing again just after the 2016 election, and realized that I have something to say.

Navigating life as a Christian in a city like Seattle is challenging; I always say that if you go to church here, it’s not by accident. But I was paralyzed by fear for years about sharing my writing, worried about how I’d be criticized or ghosted by people in my life that didn’t know about my faith. After praying and encouragement from my best friend, I decided to hit publish on a website. It has been a tremendous year of growth. The sweetness of rooting my identity in Christ and moving into a wholehearted identity as a Christian has been truly liberating.

“I started writing again just after the 2016 election, and realized that I have something to say.”

Top three essentials: Well, that’s easy: Fresh coffee, a warm blanket, and a laptop.

Top three practical tips for staying spiritually strong:

  • Find time to pray every day, even if it’s for 10 minutes. Even if you need to set a timer.

  • Don’t hide anxieties or thoughts from God, because that’s really about control.

  • Pray with other people. My husband and I have a monthly meal and prayer time with old, dear friends. Our heavy worries and afflictions can lighten when when we bear each other’s burdens and are accountable in community.

Favorite person in scripture? It has always been John the Baptist, since I was a kid. He’s wild—the locusts and the honey. And Jesus trusts him; they’ve known each other the whole way through. As a person who is comfortable working under the illusion that I’m in control, I’ve found John the Baptist to be an inspiring example of simplicity and groundedness.

“As a person who is comfortable working under the illusion that I’m in control, I’ve found John the Baptist to be an inspiring example of simplicity and groundedness.”

What do you want people to learn about God when they look at you? That God wants us to be available. The Annie Dillard quote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives” makes me think of my husband’s grandmother Elsie. She had sweet tea ready for guests and when people would visit, announced or on a whim, she would stop what she was doing and really sit and be with them.

Elsie was practicing a ministry of availability, while I think is very counter-cultural. We’re wired to be productive– I’m first in line here, and when someone drops in or commands attention for prayer, a listening ear, or whatever, it disrupts. I’m convicted that welcoming interruption is exactly what we’re invited into as neighbors and friends and is how God works, one conversation at a time.

How do you engage with your community? The way my husband Drew and I most love to engage with community is by hosting, by practicing what we declared in our wedding vows more than 15 years ago: radical hospitality.

We live on a little land near Seattle in a farmhouse we named Agnes, after its first owner in the 1920s, a small but tough woman who dug out part of the basement with two hands and a shovel to keep her jams and preserves. There’s a separate space in the house that the former owners built that’s perfect for hosting folks on retreat or needing a rest or creative space. We’re praying God would send people our way, and we’ve already been able to host new friends.

A goal you have? To finish my book proposal this winter.

A special tradition you and your family engage in or keep: We try to practice a weekly Sabbath, 24 hours on the weekend where no one does any cleaning or cooking or errands. Inspired by Shelly Miller’s “Sabbath Society”, we bring out the paper plates on Saturday, eat pizza or something simple, and spend time hanging out. Like board games, art projects, long walks, whatever is easy and light and brings togetherness and rest. We end with a Shabbat meal on Sunday night.

Thing you want to raise awareness about: We need more vocal and committed Christian environmentalists and young people of faith fighting climate change!

What does your morning routine consist of? I wake up around 5:30 am, write and pray for an hour, and if I have extra time walk around our yard with coffee and pray.

What is on your nightstand? A lamp and a stack of books: The Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett, Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith, Selected Writings of Hildegard of Bingen.

Define Christianity in a sentence: God’s goodness came to earth, in a person, in a crazy but true story that leads to hope in suffering and a forever home.

“God’s goodness came to earth, in a person, in a crazy but true story that leads to hope in suffering and a forever home.”

For more Sara:

sarabillups.com

instagram.com/sara.billups

twitter.com/hellobillups

Until next time, keep witnessing!

XX

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