in my after life

My life today looks drastically different than it did 5 years ago. I don’t mean in the sense of growing older and the natural progression of life and circumstances. I’m talking about huge, radical changes—like living on a different continent with a new future after the old one disappeared like a shaken up Etch-a-Sketch drawing.

The enormous chasm of a three-year hell has left my life unavoidably split into Before and After.

photo credit: jeremy roof

Swallowed up in The Chasm is a pile of hopes and dreams, a life I once lived, and relationships lost. And part of my new After life is a grief that will always linger close. Grief not only for what was lost and what will never be, but also for the bankruptcy of those who’ve known me on both sides of The Chasm. So many people in my life now didn’t know me “back then”. They only know my now-stories (however few and far between) of life in Africa, as a wife, as a missionary.

I miss being known wholly.

My past, my journey, my loves and losses and joys and sorrows—all of it—are still the fabric of who I am, regardless of how different I may be in my After life. Even when it’s hard for me to see it. The shortage of others who can recognize that as well somehow makes it easier for me to forget.

I got an unexpected note from an old friend recently. She was, like me, a ministry Founder, pouring her heart and soul into the soil of hearts in Southern Africa. She, unlike me, still is. And she sent me a message out of the blue that basically said, “I still see you. You still matter to me. I believe in you and am proud of you. And your life still has value and purpose, though different.”

Reading it, the tears flowed.

She knew me in my Before life—young me, back when my eyes were filled with passion and vision and fire.

She knew that me—the me I now feel such a fraction of. And, with written words and photographs, she has followed my journey through The Chasm into my After, and she still sees me despite all the differences. She sees congruencies where I see only contrasts.

Reading it again, the tears washed away some of the blur.

With fresh eyes, I can now see that my life is not Before then After. It is Before and After.

Once again, I am forced to live in the tension of the ampersand. Not one or the other, but both. I am the sum total of it all, even here and now in my very much After life.

The same is true for you—no matter what your journey has held, how your story has played out, or how deep The Chasm has been. You are not the product of one isolated portion of it. You are the grand, courageous, magnificent, formidable total of it all.

That “and” means you and I are stronger than we think.


60 Responses to “in my after life”
  1. LorIe Greer says:

    Thank the Lord for friends like that, who don’t just think these things about us but take the time to tell us. I hope I’m that person for somebody else.
    I re-read your story and it struck me that my story looks like yours in reverse. My friends and family who knew me when are able to look at my life and worship God. I often get frustrated at those who only know me now, as the missionary wife of a hunky missionary husband, and then lift us up on a pedastal to be admired. I get even more frustrated when I let them…yuck.

  2. Corine says:

    I understand your suffering and pain of living in two halves. Years ago The Lord decided it was time for new wine and new wine skins. I could not understand why I could not keep my old wine skin and add new wine. New and wonderful things cannot be held in an old wine skin, it would not be able to withstand it all. He is teaching me how to live with new wine skins and fresh new wine.

  3. Eileen says:

    Love this reminder! “You are not the product of one isolated portion of it.” I love how each chapter, each season is part of a bigger picture. He uses it all…the good, the bad, the ugly. I

  4. Shea says:

    “…live with the tension of the ambersand.” You have really encapsulated something here, friend and something my heart and mind needed. Grateful for the before and after and for a friendship that that has spanned both. Love you.

  5. Sara

    Can I just tell you that even though I don’t *know* you, that I honestly feel that I KNOW you?!?! I could have written this post myself. As I’ve told you before, I’ve struggled with accepting the before AND after as part of my complete story. But almost daily God reminds me that my beautiful mess is HIS story and He will bring about GLORY from it.

    I have NO doubt that you are being used mightily in ways you cannot fathom or dream; although His usage looks very different than what you envisioned…..

    Thanks SO for recommending Brene’s book. I’m definitely adding it to my queue!

    You are loved, friend!!!

  6. Amy Young says:

    I love the internet. I do. But then I feel teased :). I’ve met you here, but I don’t get to be in the same physical space with you. Alece, I just like you and I think we’d hit it off in person (though older than you by a bit :)). That’s all I wanted to say :)

  7. Melissa says:

    Some days it seems like I have 5 or 6 before lives. With so much transition and a couple trans-Pacific moves has left me with 1 friend who has been there for the whole span. Right now, I am so grateful for the church family I have become a part of. They keep pulling me in, and bless them, they keep asking me to share my whole story & write new pages with them,

    • “they keep pulling me in… they keep asking me to share my whole story & write new pages with them.” — wow, melissa. that is a perfect description of community. so grateful to know you have a church like that!

  8. Roo's Mom says:

    Dear Alece, your whole life before and after, including the ampersand, has made a difference in the lives of others. It will continue like waves on the shore in Durban. Unending. To generations. Through the lives that were touched and changed forever, including my precious daughter, and those that were given new life, healing & hope through your ministry then and now. You matter. Even when you feel like it is dark, God’s light shines through you.

  9. Linda Stoll says:

    Dear Alece ~

    I hear you well. I guess we all have befores and afters. Some more wrenching and life-altering than others. To have a friend that sees right through the muck and mire and sticks ‘closer than a brother’ is a rare gift. How blessed you both are.

    And we are blessed to share a bit of that sacred space with you today …

  10. Missy June says:

    I was having just this conversation over the weekend. My youngest turned five and my life is just so drastically different than then. I’m not in ministry (Officially), I’m no longer married, our residence has changed, our circles have changed – almost everything! Yet that part of my life is still within and makes me who I am today. I can’t be who I am now without the loss of who I was then. It’s strange paradox and there is much contradiction.

    I’m so glad for the far-away-friend who knows you in each season. That is a treasure!

  11. annie says:

    I suspect a lot of people can relate to a “before and after” … I certainly can as well. Mine is … well, it’s interesting, because in many ways I feel like exactly the same person, while in others I can see the enormity of the shift my life (and a good part of me) went through. It really is a before and after … and like you, I value those who have seen me on both sides.

  12. Andrea says:

    I SO get this! I find myself longing for my Before life and trying to jump that chasm to get back to it. Of course, this is impossible and there I am in the chasm, bruised and battered, swimming amongst the sadness of the hopes and dreams that will never be. I’m working on trusting God’s plan for me and believing that even though there is an ampersand and there’s been painful years, there’s a reason for it and that there are great things waiting for me in my After life.

    Alece, I can’t tell you how often your words have been a healing balm for me. I’m so thankful that you are part of my After life!

  13. Great reminder for me today, Alece!

  14. Dre

    “The same is true for you—no matter what your journey has held, how your story has played out, or how deep The Chasm has been. You are not the product of one isolated portion of it. You are the grand, courageous, magnificent, formidable total of it all.”

    ^ and that made those big hot tears come streaming down….. I have been so lost the last year and a half I have no idea what I’m doing or who I am….. so crazy. Thank you for this friend. I love your heart, even though I didn’t know you ‘before’…. I truly wish I had! I would have been right along side you working instead of with YWAM ;) hahaha those ppl are whack and screwed me over. hahahah. :p YWAM is my big ‘chasm’

  15. Morgan says:

    I appreciate that you spoke of the grief that “will always linger close.” When you lose so much, there is a grief that remains. I had hoped it would lessen because I felt too young to carry it, but as time continues, I am trying to embrace my dark and light because having lost is also what makes me empathic, compassionate, and able to sit with others in their “grit.” The before AND after = one beautiful Morg.

  16. This is so full of truth, Alece. It can be so hard to feel like you’re not “wholly known.” I know that for me, having moved so much (pretty much every 4 years), life feels like a patchwork quilt of identities and friendships. Several span from one chapter to the next, but it’s a rare person who knows ME across them all – not just the me that I am here, now. That’s probably been the biggest challenge of moving here to Nashville for me. It’s been a blank slate. Everything I used to define myself with doesn’t really have much to do with my life here. Sometimes it hits me that people don’t know me as the musician or the social justice advocate or the lawyer and those parts sometimes get lonely for attention :)

    PS – miss your face. Too long since I saw it. Must fix.

    • “a patchwork quilt of identities and friendships”… yes. i always called my life on the mission field “a revolving door”–constant goodbyes and hellos. there’s joy and grief in that for me.

      “those parts sometimes get lonely for attention” — i love the way you put that. i can relate…

      {and ummmm, YES. when are we hanging??}

  17. I love your blog posts, Alece. You write with a complex simplicity and an unforced authenticity.

    My story is so different than yours, but yet I can still relate- simply by the fact that I have moved a few times in the last few years. Making new friends is a joy, but I also mourn that they didn’t know me during the huge, life-shaping years when I lived in my old city.

    I love your call here to live integrated- our past and our present. I am so glad your friend sent you that note.

  18. I’m so glad you’re friend took the time to write to you. That “and” distinction is so important but so easy to lose sight of. I may only know you on this side of things but I’ve learned about who you used to be through your stories. You might feel like two different people (and in some ways, that may be true) but you’re wholly you, just an evolved version. This is true for all of us, no matter what we’ve faced. This is all the more clear when you move somewhere new, where you’re building community. I’m lucky to have my best friend here, to have one person who’s known me more than half of my life. She serves as an anchor amidst all the fits and starts of new friendship.

  19. You’re in my head, Alece. Besides the marriage part, I could’ve written this word for word-if you replace Africa with Peru. Since being back in the States, working as a nanny no less, it has been a struggle to feel like I have purpose here. Back in Peru, every moment seemed to have meaning. This is an encouraging reminder that my before, during, and after are all valuable and a sweet display of God’s goodness in my life. Thank you!

    • oh man, i miss that too — “every moment seemed to have meaning”… and i know it requires a recalibrating of my heart and mind to see that no matter where i am, no matter what i’m doing, every moment has meaning. it’s up to me to do something significant with the moments i have now…

      thank you, kristi.

  20. Darla says:

    i needed this today. Although different circumstances, pain and adjustment to what is next is still the same.

  21. Amy says:

    This is written so beautifully and is spot on. I can absolutely relate to the sentiment and have very similar thoughts and somewhat similar circumstances, but I don’t think I could have articulated this point so well. It’s very hard to accept that so many aspects of our lives that we were so deeply, innocently, and sincerely invested in could vanish etch-a-sketch style. My soul also aches to be seen as whole and I long to feel as complete and secure as I felt back then.

    But the thing is, looking from the outside, I do see you that way. The love and passion in you did not vanish just because he couldn’t cherish it properly. And I still believe there is more good to come for us in the after – but it’s been a rough week. The grief comes back in waves. Thank you for giving us a voice!

    • the way it all vanished etch-a-sketch style is making it hard for me to let another picture fully be drawn — to trust, to hope, to dream again… in some respects, i’m enjoying the freedom and flexibility of being less of a planner, but in other respects, i’m desperate for the anchor and security of it — then i remember it’s not a security at all…

      anyway, just rambling now. i’m sorry to hear you’ve had a rough week. i hear you, amy. the grief comes in waves… thinking of you as you ride this wave out…

    • and i just have to say that “thank you for giving us a voice” is one of the greatest things i’ve ever been told. thank you for that.

  22. Jason says:

    A…This is such a great post. It reminded me of something my counselor said Monday…
    “We don’t un-love something or someone. Instead, God makes a way for our hearts to expand, to deepen and widen, if we allow Him.”

  23. From one thriver in grief to another, bless you! I love how you said it, that it’s the and that shows we’re stronger than we think. And the timing of this post? Crazy God timing here. I am right in the middle creating a new online coaching group for fellow thriver/grievers and the theme is on living hard pressed but not crushed. Will link to your post in that for sure! Keep pressing in to Him, girl! So blessed by your testimony!

  24. Ayla says:

    You know my one word is “Whole” and this is exactly why. I had become shackled to a place in between then and now, vacillating between the two, desperately trying to figure out where I belonged and which Ayla was more authentically me. Then God told me I am the sum of all of it; both my unsaved and saved life; the wife I was to my first husband and the wife I am to ny second one; when I wasn’t a mother and while I am etc. It’s a little overwhelming, you know the liberty that comes from being able to acknowledge and accept all of you, but as I am learning through this one word journey this year, THAT is what it means to be whole. Love you friend.

    • YES!!! so good. so true. i cling to the word shalom because of its meaning: nothing missing, nothing broken. the wholeness God sees in me, calls out in me, loves me toward is a wholeness that includes my past, present, and future — no matter how disconnected they may feel.

      thank you for this!

  25. Nancy says:

    God has taught me so much through my own before and after, but yet . . . as I’m still a work-in-progress, I feel the tension. Trying to rest in the shalom of it all isn’t easy.

  26. Heidi

    I. Love. You. Fierce! Both before &after. Love, ft

  27. yeller says:

    What a gift she sent you. I’m so glad.

    You’ve are & always have been brave, inspiring & delight. Love you, friend.


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  1. [...] In My After Life (one of the most powerful things I’ve read in a while) — “No matter what your journey has held, how your story has played out, or how deep The Chasm has been. You are not the product of one isolated portion of it. You are the grand, courageous, magnificent, formidable total of it all.” [...]

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