Being Alive

Life is so hard.

Life is so beautiful.

I see it every day. I feel it every day.

Life is so hard because we’re coming out of a season that is so easy to view as one big loss. When I look back and see nearness to family and friends that ended, a job that didn’t work out, and hope that was lost, my human flesh automatically declares it bad. One big loss. Time that we’ll never get back.

Life is so beautiful because we have family and friends back home who care about us and love us. It’s beautiful because God provided a new job for my husband in our same community and orchestrated the process in ways that only He could. It’s beautiful because staring hopelessness in the face drove me to resources and techniques that are helping me process and heal from a lifetime’s worth of unhealthy thought habits and deep, unresolved emotions. That season grew and shaped us in ways that we could only experience by walking through it.

 

Life is so hard because being the new person at a church is scary and intimidating. Being an introvert and a minister’s wife feels like a double whammy: the underlying (yet false) expectations of people like me in the church can be mentally binding. So often it’s my own mind that’s holding the rope.

Life is so beautiful because we have felt so loved and welcomed at our new church. They have opened their arms and their homes to us as a couple, and I have been befriended and invited to get-togethers as an individual, not as a minister’s wife. (Trust me, there’s a difference.)

 

Life is so hard because people that we love so dearly and hold so close in our hearts are sick. Cancer is an unrelenting beast that we can’t control, as much as we beg and plead for it to stop, stop, please stop. It is deaf to our heart’s cries, unmerciful to the least-deserving.

Life is so beautiful because things like love and family and friendship exist. Best friends are engaged to be married to the love of their life and babies are being born and families and siblings and grandparents exist within and outside of blood ties. How special this is can bring tears to my eyes in an instant.

 

Life is so hard because children and babies have been torn away from their families at the border. Our laws have been made a priority over having humanity, and every image and video that I have seen of those little ones suffering and crying out for their mamas and daddies has torn. Me. Up.

Life is so beautiful because there are people fighting against this treachery with their resources, their money, their phone calls, their emails, and their words. Churches are denouncing biblical defenses being made for the separations and there are people on the ground fighting for those children and babies. Steps are being taken, even though it feels like we have so far to go.

It feels like it’s all too much. Too much feeling. Too much emotion. Sometimes it is.

Life is so hard.

Life is so beautiful.

Advertisements

Nearsighted Reality

Today marks one year since we moved to Florida.

One. Whole. Year.

Wow.

When we first moved to Orlando we thought we had our lives alllllll figured out. We made the decision to move here and literally had the next five to ten years of our lives mentally planned out. A year has passed and our lives look nothing like we thought they should, and that is so humbling to me.

A lot of our plans have held together, but at the same time from our perspective most of our plans fell completely apart, crashing and tumbling to the ground with no hope for repair. We battled through homesickness, adjusting socioeconomically, mental illness, figuring out God’s calling in our lives, and a job change. To say we were discouraged at times would be an understatement. Sometimes all I could see was hopelessness, an emotion that became so massive and dark that it shrouded over every part of me, even the part of me that knew the love and healing power of Jesus.

There has been a recurring theme that I have heard over the past few weeks during graduation ceremonies and church services and have read in some of the books on my reading list and from some of the authors that I follow on social media. I have come to own the truth (and really own it, not just hear it and declare it to be right and accurate and good) that we cannot always see what God has planned for us. In a way we are blind to the future, and as hard as we might try to envision it for ourselves, in the end it is God who is sovereign over the course of our lives. We can’t always see how long of a journey we have ahead of us. The only certainty that we have is in knowing who God is and how His character defines how he treats us, his children.

We know that he is love, and that he loves us and all people without limits or conditions. He is good and wants what’s best for us, whether that means learning through trials or delighting in life’s victories. He finds joy in us and is cheering us on (What an amazing visual that is!). He is patient with us when we make mistakes and try to plan our own way through life. Pick any of the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5 and that is who our God is, the same God who is laying down the pathway of our lives in the most perfect way, mountaintops, valleys, and all.

I’m learning to walk blindly with the Spirit as my guide. Before when it seemed like our plans were falling apart, God was telling us, “Pay attention. Look at what I have for you. This is what is best for you. Walk this way. I’ll be right beside you, even when it doesn’t feel like I am.” I have no idea what the next year of our lives will bring, but I know who is already preparing us for the journey and I’m confident that His plans are far, far greater than ours will ever be.

So when it seems like your life plans are falling completely apart, crashing and tumbling to the ground with no hope for repair, they probably are. It’s okay to grieve that. Know that in the midst of the crashing and the tumbling that God is strengthening you and rebuilding the plans that he has for your life. Even though we can’t see the entire journey ahead of us, we can know that the One who is forming it is trustworthy and sovereign.

5.2018 (2)

Arriving on a Journey: A Life and Ministry Update from the Sotos

In Jamie Wright’s book, “The Very Worst Missionary,” she expresses her struggle with this phrase: “Do the next right thing.” As a former missionary in Costa Rica she has experienced what it is like to, “’Do the next right thing,” and then have her plans completely change, her life flipped upside down, and bad circumstances happen all while trying seek God’s guidance for that next right thing. She would rather go by the phrase, “Do the next most practical thing after careful exploration of the facts, so that even if it turns out to be the wrong thing, at least you can say you made a solid decision based on sound research, and if after a period of evaluation you find out it wasn’t the right thing, then you can try something else. God will handle the rest.’”

It lacks brevity and catchiness, but I couldn’t agree with her more.

This past March Lauro resigned from his position of Creative Arts Pastor at Thrive Church. It definitely was not an easy decision for him to make and was something that both him and I had wrestled with for several months prior. As much as he loved his job and what he got to do with Thrive, he did not feel like he would be the best fit for Thrive’s long-term vision. Thrive needs and deserves someone who will serve out of 100% of their giftedness, and we did not foresee Lauro fitting in that environment while serving to his greatest potential. After months of prayer and seeking wisdom and advice from mentors in our lives, Lauro made the decision to step away from the position.

It’s difficult for me to give this season of our lives a pretty presentation for you that is conclusive and has a happy ending and a feel-good lesson learned at the end. We have been wrestling hard with God about His “calling” for us (and what a buzzword that term has become in Christian culture). I’ve personally had to sort through a lot of my beliefs about God and how he works, realizing that I had a lot of expectations of God that were false beliefs. I’ve never been angrier at God than I have been during these past few months, and I’ve also never realized how much I needed God during these past few months. It has been a crappy and confusing place to be.

We have been reminded that we are not in control of our lives, as much as we try to be (and believe me, Lauro and I have definitely tried). We have been reminded that having an “arrival mindset,” a perspective of getting to a place and that place being IT, that place being where you will plant your roots and where you will stay forever, can (and will) change and prove you wrong. Ministry is tough unlike any other job is tough because it touches every part of your life: your employment, your finances, your friends, your faith, and your extra activities throughout the week are all wrapped up in ministry. It’s something that makes being a part of it so wonderful, but also so, so difficult.

As of now we are planning on staying in Lake Nona, an area full of culture and people we have grown to love. Lauro is taking a break from working while exploring other job opportunities in the area (and getting ready to graduate this month! Whoo!). I still plan on keeping my blog updated, so you can stay connected with any future changes in our lives here. We’ll also be, “Do[ing] the next most practical thing after careful exploration of the facts…” You get the idea.

We want to sincerely thank you all for the ways that you have supported us in prayer and financially. These past ten months have been a huge growing and learning experience for the both of us. Your emotional and monetary investments have in no way been a waste; the things that we have learned about ourselves, ministry, and Christ’s bride, the Church, are priceless to us and will continue to mature us and draw us closer to Jesus for years to come.

We were never promised a perfect and easy journey walking with Jesus. Now more than ever we can confirm that that is true. Lauro and I thank you for walking with us on this narrow road and always reminding us of how loved we are.

In Contrast

 

Confession: I often mistakenly call Good Friday, Black Friday.

For example, last year I asked Lauro, “Are we leading worship for the Black Friday service this year?”

I know, I know, who could mistake the day we remember Christ’s crucifixion with the day people flock to stores and malls in hopes of getting the best deals on materialistic items? That’s me, this girl. (But in my defense, Good Friday is a day of dark and sad remembrance and Black Friday can be good and exciting to an extent, so the backwards analogies fit one another.)

Easter in Christian circles is very often associated with bright and happy things: New life! Resurrection! Rebirth! He is risen! I have found it to be a rarity, however, that we stop to really contemplate what makes these bright and happy things so bright and happy. It’s easy for us to rush through Good Friday and Holy Week itself because we know how the story ends.

I believe that the contrast between the bright and happy and the darkness is part of what makes Easter so powerful. There was death before the resurrection. New life happened and is still happening because there was also death. Death makes resurrection transformative and revolutionary.

It’s natural for me to have a more personal perspective on Easter and resurrection this year because of the darkness I have been working through these past few months. There were so many times that I questioned God angrily and out of great frustration why He would make depression part of my life. I had been a faithful and devoted follower for my entire life, my husband makes his living doing ministry, and we moved halfway across the country for God and for the Kingdom to be glimpsed more here on earth. And yet the darkness shrouded over me.

I’ve learned, both academically and firsthand, that we don’t know why there are trials and suffering in our lives. It is impossible for us to completely understand why bad things happen under the existence of a sovereign God; it’s one of those things that our human brains are incapable of making complete sense of. Our limitations as humans leave some questions unanswered to our satisfaction, especially when those questions are about the God who formed the entire universe.

When that suffering makes its way into our lives the natural reaction of our hearts and minds is, “Make it stop! Make it stop!” Can you imagine, though, how different we would be if it weren’t for the trials in our lives? I know that because of my inner battle I have become someone new, a better version of myself. I am better equipped to face adversity, not because my skin is thicker or because it’s easier for me to just tough it out, but because now I have more knowledge and tools to help me navigate through it. Trials are not necessarily easier to get through, but now I have a different mindset and healthier ways of handling them.

My perspective shifted significantly, and a major step I had to take in order to come out of the darkness was untethering myself from all the cliché reasons people gave for my suffering. There are no cures or long-lasting remedies for suffering. Instead of trying to wrap it all up with a pretty bow and believing in a happy ending I had to learn to lean into the pain. As much as I wanted to get out of it, what I needed to do was stay in it for a while and learn from it. Hear me when I say, though, that there are some types of pain that are also harmful to us and we need to get out of their reach as soon as possible. For me, however, this season was something I needed to go through and grow through.

It’s all easier said than done, of course. Even the act of writing about pain and suffering grieves me. I’m sad that pain exists in our world and that we see it play out every single day. I still find my heart crying out, “Make it stop! Make it stop!” Whether it seems like it or not, though, there is hope (and that hope may look different from what you picture). I’m here telling you that beautiful things come from the darkness and that things will get better, and the optimist in me wholeheartedly agrees, “Yes! It will!” The realist in me knows that you deserve to be seen in your pain, not for it to be minimized or made excuses for. What you need is for people to just be there with you in it, to communicate to you that you’re not alone and that you can take the time that you need to be in your pain. The realist in me knows that you’re probably tired of people trying to bring your story to its happily ever after when you just want them to acknowledge it for what it is right now.

And so we live in both the bright and happy and the darkness. It’s awful and beautiful and miserable and incredible. We can’t avoid the suffering that comes into our lives, but know that it’s not a waste. Death was what made the resurrection so powerful, so be encouraged: Even when things seem hopeless, the darkness can be a catalyst for your transformation if you let it.

Perfect Storm

IMG_1790

Hey, readers.

It’s so good to be back here. I had mentioned in my previous post that I was taking some time away from blogging in order to work through some of my inner busyness and intentionally taking time to learn more about myself. It was time that was much needed for me. I have learned and grown so much and I’m definitely excited to share those things with you over time as I get back to writing publicly.

So, in the spirit of vulnerability and raw honesty, the short explanation for my time away is this: Life got hard. Life got really, really hard.

There is a lot to the story of this season of my life, and it would take more than a single blog post of sensible length to unpack it all for you. I’m sparing you the many details for now with plans to give all the different aspects of my story the full exploration that they deserve in the future.

For now, I’ll start by saying that over my entire life I had developed some poor emotional habits. For 22 years I stuffed away any negative emotions that I felt. I lived by the motto of serving Jesus first, others second, and yourself last (J.O.Y. being the acronym that I would eventually and regrettably find to be so ironic). I did not know how to manage and embrace my thoughts and emotions in healthy ways and never gave myself the grace to make self-care and self-love priorities in my life.

When we moved to Florida that huge change in my life magnified everything that I had stuffed away and deemed to be “fine” over all those years. Things that I had struggled with (that I thought were small, forgettable things) all became a whirlwind that broke out into this perfect storm inside of me. It was probably about three months after we moved that I started experiencing emotional and physical symptoms that weren’t anything that I could push aside and forget about, although I tried to. Over the next few months they got worse and even frightening at times because I didn’t know what was happening. I later learned that those were things called triggers, bouts, and panic attacks. I became familiar with compartmentalizing and an emotional experience that I can only describe as “hitting a wall.” I slept a lot and had frequent headaches and tension in my neck and shoulders. It was all very scary at the beginning because I didn’t know what was happening to me.

I made the decision to start seeing a therapist just before Thanksgiving of last year. It has been hard freaking work, but so worth it. I was able to put a name to my struggle—situational depression—and start my healing process, fighting the battle that would rage between my head and my heart. Every week I unpacked a little more of the junk that I had been stuffing away for so long, and I learned about the power of my thoughts and emotions. I was able identify the symptoms I was experiencing. I was given tools and discovered things that I can do to help me heal.

As of now, I’m still putting in the work on my own and twice a month with my therapist to continue in my healing process. I’ve started to feel better, which is exciting to me, but I also recognize that this is a journey that I am on and that my mental and emotional growth won’t stop here. My thoughts and emotions are part of what make me human. They are valuable and powerful, so I’m looking forward to sharing more about the different parts of my journey with you in the near future.

Thanks for listening. It’s good to be back here.

It’s the Season

Hello!

I wanted to very briefly drop in and give you all a quick update of what I have been up to over the past couple of months. Since my last update we’ve entered into the holiday season, with Halloween quickly being followed by Thanksgiving and Christmas being only a few days away now. Lauro and I have been busy outwardly so, yes, but even more than being tangibly busy I have been busy inwardly. My heart, thoughts, and emotions have been busy, and I’ve had to intentionally set aside time to learn about those parts of myself and how they have been shaping me. For that reason I’ve stepped back from my blog for a bit, but it’s my desire to keep writing and to keep you updated. You can definitely expect to hear more from me in the coming New Year.

For now, I hope that you have a Merry Christmas and a meaningful time of celebrating and remembering the birth of our Savior. However you’re celebrating this year, I pray that it’s filled with people that you love, rest, and plenty of good food. Know that we’re thankful for each and every one of you and that the work and ministry we’re doing in Orlando is an outpouring of the love that’s been poured into us from you all and from Christ.

Until next year, here’s a Christmas photo of our doggy to make you smile.

Phase-Two: An Update of Thrive Church

At the end of last month our church had its second Grand Opening at our new location here in Lake Nona. This phase-two launch served as another big push to establish Thrive Church’s presence in our community and to publicly open our new location at a local middle school. Months and months of prayer, planning, and hard work all came to fruition and we were able to welcome about 180 people to Thrive that morning! It was a beautiful sight to see this place of public education transformed into a place of spiritual learning. The band room, choir room, and regular classrooms were crafted into environments for infants all the way up through middle schoolers to learn about Jesus. Within a matter of hours the cafetorium (cafeteria + auditorium) became a worship center where we had our main service. The coolest part is that God provided ALL of this!

Before Setup
Before Thrive’s service set-up
After Setup
After Thrive’s service set-up

Kids' HallwayWe are so excited about all the new opportunities that are to come in this school! Just the fact that we have so much more space is a huge blessing, because more space means room for more people and their kids to comfortably come and be in a warm, spiritual, learning environment. We cannot thank our Jesus and the leadership and administrators at the school enough for making this space available to us.

Worship

 

Our hearts are full and we are celebrating our new space, but not for the sake of the space itself. Our celebration isn’t because we have a brand new building to meet in with shiny floors and classrooms that hadn’t been touched until a couple of months ago. Our celebration isn’t because we have an actual stage from which to lead worship with a full band and to give sermons. It isn’t because we have an entire multi-purpose room to use for our services and now we can break out our pipe-and-drape and make use of our stage lighting. Our celebration is not because we’re that much closer to meeting aesthetic expectations and living up to the modern-church culture.

Our hearts are full and we are celebrating because this larger space allows us to welcome more people to join our church family as we all pursue God together. We’re celebrating because we have more space for babies and children and middle school students to be introduced to Jesus and His love for them. We’re celebrating because we have more resources to reach people where they are at spiritually and to teach people of all ages in the way that they learn most effectively. We’re celebrating because we can welcome and provide enough space for mamas with strollers, the disabled with service dogs, and the elderly with wheelchairs into our main service. We’re celebrating because the ability to include more gives us the opportunity to serve more, and therefore the opportunity to love more.

This is not so much a defense of our new space as it is a reminder. For me. For my church. For the Church. May this remind us and encourage us to keep Jesus at our innermost core as we minister to our communities in ways that are culturally relevant. What is so beautiful about the Church is that churches will look different in the ways that they minister and teach. In fact, they must look different in some aspects in order to effectively reach the cultures and people groups of their community. What unites us all is Jesus as our center, offering the hope of salvation and extending grace so rich that it seems foolish to the human mind and love so great that we can’t even begin to measure it.

We are grateful to have been able to see how God has provided for Thrive and are so humbled that we get to be a part of His work in our community. May His name be praised through it all!

 

Will you pray for us as we continue serving and working in our church and community?

  • Pray that Thrive will continue to grow and be a gathering place for people of every generation, culture, and background to come experience Jesus.
  • Pray for the many groups within our church that will start or continue to meet on a regular basis, like our community groups and the middle/high school groups. Lauro and I are currently leading the high school group and are working on starting a college-age/young adult community group in the near future, and we’re very excited about both!
  • Pray for perseverance and rest for our family as this season of our life is definitely requiring a lot of work physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Thank you so very much for your prayers and support! Are there ways that we can be praying for you in this season of your life? If so, please let us know and we would love to pray for you as well!