Today, Sondra speaks to us about her love of Dressage, good always triumphing over evil and finding gratitude in the midst of health struggles.
Tell us a bit about how you grew up and your childhood: I grew up outside of Philadelphia. I lived in a restored carriage house for most of my life. I wasn’t a complete “country” girl, but I did have chickens and a dog. I also received my first horse when I was nine, but she lived off our property. I was definitely a barn kid. The barn was and still is my happy place.
I have an older half-sister. There’s a large age-gap between us, so we didn’t live together growing up. When I was nine, I became a big sister. Being raised in a family with large age gaps can be challenging. Although, I think it’s really cool that I was old enough to remember my sister’s childhood from infancy on up.
I attended the same private, Christian school my whole life. My parents separated when I was around 11 and divorced after that. This reality made my family stand out from the other family’s I knew. However, this experience deepened my relationship with God.
“The barn was and still is my happy place.”
Inspiring biblical passage of the moment: “Commit everything to the Lord; trust in him and he will help you.” Psalm 37:5 (NLT). “Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and he shall bring it to pass.” (NKJV). “Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him and he will act. (ESV).
I came across this verse a few months ago, and it has become a life verse for me. I like comparing the translations to get a deeper understanding of the verse. This verse is often taken out of context, and it’s important to look at the following verse.
“He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.” Psalm 37:6
God is all powerful. He can do whatever He pleases and wills. This Psalm is an exhortation by David. He’s encouraging the reader to not fear or envy their enemy. The “do it” refers to justice. We will be rewarded for our faithfulness to the Lord, and evil will not overcome good.
“We will be rewarded for our faithfulness to the Lord, and evil will not overcome good.”
Spiritual growth focus at the moment: I’m currently recovering from a health condition that has consumed my life for almost a year. The struggle that’s come with my physical condition was the major inspiration behind my blog Shaped by the Struggle. My current focus is to be a holy version of “happy and healthy.” I say holy version because my goal is not to pursue just anything that makes me temporarily happy.
I want to pursue things that will allow me to grow physically, mentally, and spiritually and have a lasting impact on my life. I’ve been leaning into the joy that comes from being grateful. My health issues have given me the opportunity to find joy in the simple things in life. It’s easy to take daily tasks for granted because of the stress and business of life, but appreciating these little tasks are a great way to practice daily gratitude and experience more joy.
“My health issues have given me the opportunity to find joy in the simple things in life.”
Profession: I’m a college student studying counseling-psychology and minoring in equine studies. I’m also a certified therapeutic riding instructor for people with disabilities.
If you wrote a memoir, what would the title be? Honestly, it would probably be called Shaped by the Struggle. Recent health issues have caused a lot of struggle in my life. These issues influenced my decision to name my blog Shaped by the Struggle. However, I’ve always said that my life is a series of struggles, but I’m successful because I don’t give up. I was born about 12 weeks premature. I weighed 2 lbs. and measured 12 inches, but I later dropped to a 1.5 lbs. The fact that I’m as healthy as I am is a miracle. Although, I’ve had certain obstacles to overcome because of my prematurity that aren’t obvious. I say my life is a series of struggles because of these challenges.
When did you first encounter God and how did you encounter Him? As mentioned, I grew up going to church, and I attended a private, Christian school ’til I graduated high school. So, I was familiar with church and God, but He became more personal to me when I was around twelve to thirteen. When my parents divorced, I pursued a more personal relationship with God.
How has your relationship with Him changed you? My perspective is fixed on him and the hope of heaven. My end goal in whatever I do is to glorify Him. Specifically, my perspective on suffering is different than other people’s. The health issues I’ve experienced have given me a new appreciation for life in general. I’m able to appreciate the little blessings that God’s given me. However, this season wasn’t a chorus of Praise the Lord 24/7.
There were times over the past year that I was very angry with God. I wanted to know why so many of my physical abilities were taken away. Especially, the abilities to serve and honor Him. Although, through a deep process of refinement I’ve been able to see His grace and goodness in the midst of deep, dark suffering.
“There were times over the past year that I was very angry with God.”
What has helped you grow spiritually in this season? GRATITUDE AND PERSPECTIVE. I’m not an all caps kind of girl, but gratitude and perspective have radically changed my life. God has used my suffering over the last year to radically increase my joy. This season has taught me that the Lord is still working in my life when I can’t take action. He is not limited by my circumstances.
Just read/currently reading (and what has it taught you?): The book Suffering by Paul David Trip. This book has given me a new perspective on struggles. I’ve learned that it’s normal to doubt God’s goodness while suffering. These doubts should be acknowledged and discussed with a trusting community. This book has taught me a lot about identity, as well. If my sole identity is not in Christ, I will feel lost every time trials come. I’m not my passions, talents, or abilities. I’m a daughter of the king. I’m saved, and I’m redeemed. These truths never change regardless of my circumstances.
“I’m saved, and I’m redeemed. These truths never change regardless of my circumstances.”
Top three essentials: My water bottle, protein, and mascara. I’m on the go a lot so I have to stay hydrated and energized. I always try to keep a snack on hand, so I don’t get crabby. Wearing a little mascara in the morning makes me feel confident and ready for the day– even if I’m rushing out the door.
How did God speak to you recently? No one understands you like Jesus.
Sometimes, we struggle because of our own choices, and sometimes we struggle because we live in an imperfect world. Often, life can feel unfair. Often, we are weighed down by mountains we did not create, bruised without throwing the first punch, and isolated without walking away. Jesus experienced these realties on the cross. He was weighed down with sentences and sins He did not commit. He was bruised with hands He wanted to hold, and He was isolated by people He loved.
Although, if you created a mountain, threw the first punch, or walked away, He still sees you and hears you. He knows you, empathizes with you, and loves you. The cause of this heartache does not erase the hope you have in Him.
Hobby: I’m really bad at hobbies because I take lots of activities seriously. It’s hard for me to find one thing that I can do for fun and not care about the outcome. That being said, I’m a competitive horseback rider. I have a horse, and I ride about four days a week. Shaped by the Struggle takes up a lot of my free time as well.
Top three practical tips for staying spiritually strong:
1. Practice gratitude
2. Meditate on the word (however that looks like for you).
3. Engage in community
Favorite person in scripture? David. Sometimes, I have unrealistic expectations of what my walk with God should look like. Sometimes, I question if I’m living how I should be or if I’m missing out on God’s plan for me simply because life is hard or mundane. Trials, temptations, and doubts will come. I’ve struggled with doubts about God’s character, and I was afraid to discuss it because I didn’t think other Christian’s wrestled with similar thoughts. David demonstrates that you can love God and still fail God. Our goal should be to follow Him, but we have to recognize that being a Christian doesn’t erase your human nature.
“David demonstrates that you can love God and still fail God. Our goal should be to follow Him, but we have to recognize that being a Christian doesn’t erase your human nature.”
What do you want people to learn about God when they look at you? That He is so loving and gracious, but part of love is being just. He saves imperfect people. These people don’t become perfect, but they become new.
“He is so loving and gracious, but part of love is being just.”
How do you engage with your community? How I interact with community changes based on the season of life I’m in. Currently, community is difficult for me because of health issues, but I try to meet with friends at least once a week. Usually, it involves a meal or Starbucks
Recently, I met with a few friends once a week to read through Suffering by Paul David Tripp. Having a specific time to chat and process difficult thoughts outside of church meetings and events was really special.
Favorite holiday? Christmas. The lights and excitement make the cold a little more bearable.
A goal you have? Earn a bronze medal from the United States Dressage Federation. Dressage is a specific discipline of horseback riding. The word means training in French. Both the horse and rider have to use their bodies correctly and gracefully. The sport requires the perfect balance of beauty and strength.
A special tradition you and your family engage in or keep: We have a habit of purchasing our Christmas tree very late in December. This habit is pretty established so I’ll call it a tradition, at this point. The one thing I like about this decision is that we get to enjoy it through mid-January.
“We have a habit of purchasing our Christmas tree very late in December.”
Question you will ask when you get to heaven? This question is so hard! I’ll definitely want to know how God used my pain and struggles to bless other people. Trials can bring us closer to God, but how we respond to those trials can also encourage others. I think our personal testimonies can positively impact so many people behind the scenes– even if we only feel pain at the time.
“I think our personal testimonies can positively impact so many people behind the scenes– even if we only feel pain at the time.”
Thing you want to raise awareness about:
• Struggles that premature babies have post birth as infants, children, and into adulthood;
• Mental health in the church and the church’s approach to mental health;
• Equine assisted activities and therapies.
What does your morning routine consist of? My morning routine varies by the day. However, I always brush my teeth and eat breakfast first thing in the morning. I’m one of those people that needs to eat first thing in the morning. I usually make an egg sandwich and a cup of tea.
After I’ve eaten, I usually stretch, diffuse some essential oils, and make my bed. I try to listen to an abide meditation or read a devotional after I stretch. I then get dressed and either rush out the door with a to-go cup or sit down with my lap top depending on the day. This routine is definitely a guide. Some days, I jump out of bed and eat breakfast in the car in order to make it to an 8 am class.
What is on your nightstand? Books, lavender oil, and a hodgepodge of hair ties, papers, or some cluster of clutter. I try to keep it organized, but sometimes, I toss papers there that I don’t want to forget about. These papers often go un-noticed for a little bit
Define Christianity in a sentence: An imperfect relationship with a perfect God.
For more Sondra:
Facebook: Shaped by the Struggle
Until next time, keep witnessing!