Deeper Story

hurt hurts

woman staring at sunset "When I asked you how you were feeling, you said it was a high-pain day. But you looked to be having such a great time — talking, laughing, mingling with the group. So it just doesn't add up."

I couldn't believe a friend — one of the few I'd candidly opened up to about my chronic health issues at that point — had written this to me. And had already spoken to other mutual friends about it me. Out of "concern," of course.

She was calling my integrity into account. For my health issues to be as severe as they are, she decided I should always be forlorn. Quiet. Listless.

And all at once, my back was up against the wall, with me defending what shouldn't need to be defended.

:: :: ::

If you endure chronic illness, fatigue, or pain—or love someone who does—would you click over to A Deeper Story to read the rest of my post?


R E A D    M O R E »

you still somehow love Jesus


You were every bit thirteen: skinny as a rail, brace-face smile, unbelievably shy, uncomfortable in your own skin. But from the first moment you learned what a mission trip was, you wanted to go on one. As soon as you hit the minimum-required age, you signed up for a trip to Central America.

Funds needed to be raised, of course, and you got to the hard work of raising them. You baked. Babysat. Washed cars. Wrote letters. Your small, zealous church was puzzled, but supportive. You remember that church, don't you? The one that met in the American Legion Hall, with children's church in the hallway and nursery in the coat closet? They readily celebrated the gifts of the Spirit, but didn't really have much concern about "going into all the nations." But now, one of their own was wanting to "go." And this—this—they could get behind.

You made a poster board map masterpiece with a movable airplane to track your progress as you raised support that would get you to Managua, Nicaragua. With sweaty palms and a shaky voice, you got up in front of the church and shared your desire to serve in a foreign land. Your nervousness was met with happy cheering, a side hug from your pastor, and encouragement from those who saw what a big step this was.

Your pastor took up a "love offering" for you. (You still laugh at that phrase.) And he did that every week for a month, with the church collecting all the funds to pass along before your financial deadline. You were blown away by the generosity of your tiny church family of tongue-talking misfits. Then when the time came for the funds to be sent to the missions organization, you made a painful discovery.

Your pastor decided to spend the money himself. There was nothing left for you. Nothing left for Nicaragua.

You were thirteen.


You were every bit nineteen: no longer skinny as a rail, curves had finally begun to find you. You laughed loudly and often, with a flannel shirt perpetually tied around your waist. Fresh out of a year-long missions internship, you had your sights set on Africa. You had six months to work, save, and raise money to move overseas.

Having graduated from the tiny Christian school at your church (a very different church from your previous one), your pastor knew you well—after all, he'd doubled as your Bible and pre-Calculus teacher. You loved him and the way he made you (and everyone else in the church) feel like family. And you knew he loved you too. He would beam with pride when he'd spontaneously pull you up on stage during a service to brag on something you'd done or said. You hated it and loved it all at the same time.

So when he said you were making a bad decision by pursuing missions, you were caught off guard. He told you that doing mission work was a waste of your time and skills, that you "could do so much better," and that you "could do anything you wanted." Of course you cried (as you always do when speaking about things of the heart) when you told him that contrary to his perception, you weren't resigning yourself to missions out of some strange sense that it's all you could do—but that it was, in fact, exactly what you wanted to give your life for.

Many tears and conversations later, your pastor agreed in the value of going to Africa "for a year, and then we'll see...." He went so far as to commit to covering your monthly support in exchange for you volunteering full-time in the church office until you left for Africa. (You can't help but roll your eyes at your 19-year-old self, stressed over raising $400 a month. You'd eventually be raising half a million dollars.)

So you spent those six months working as his assistant. It was a rocky road, that season of church work—like the time you had to challenge his integrity and stand up for your own when he asked you to write his thesis paper—but you worked hard, and kept your eyes on Africa.

And then came your last week in the office, when he told you he'd changed his mind. "I decided we'll only cover half of your support. The church will give you $200 a month." Amid tears, confusion, and disappointment, you reminded him that this whole arrangement had been based on them supporting your full amount.

"Well, it'll be your word against mine, so..."

You were nineteen.


You are every bit thirty-five: still pretty uncomfortable in your own skin (which now curves in all the wrong places), but you also still laugh loudly and often. And, by the grace of God, you still somehow love Jesus, despite a lifetime of being taken advantage of by those who carry His name.

And that has to count for something on the Sundays you can't bring yourself to step foot inside a church.

Originally posted on A Deeper Story >

gratitude and grief

I checked two bags at the airport, both bursting at the seams, and boarded a flight with a heart that was just as full. My soul was brimming with eager expectancy and apprehension. There were equal parts passion and fear, joy and sadness, excitement and hesitation. Like most people following God’s promptings in their lives, I faced a whole continent of unknowns.

I was moving to Africa.

I was 19.

In high school, I’d spent every summer traveling overseas on mission trips. First it was Central and South America, experiences which made my heart come alive as I discovered and embraced other cultures for the first time. But nothing compared to the way my life changed when I set foot on African soil.

The summer I turned 16, I spent two full months in rural Botswana, a landlocked country in Southern Africa. I was this city girl from Long Island who preferred to pass a gorgeous day indoors, reading or watching TV. I had never been camping, and, quite honestly, I avoided the outdoors as much as possible. But there I was, spending eight weeks living in a tent, cooking over a campfire, and dealing with unimaginable amounts of dirt and insects—and I loved it.

Basotho Home

I remember sitting on the dirt floor of a hut constructed with mud, dung, and thatch, having a conversation with a beautiful Motswana woman. The lines on her weathered face and hands told stories of a long and hard life. Her clothes were tattered, her shoes peppered with holes, and her simple home bare except for a few essentials: a pile of neatly folded blankets, a tea kettle, some metal camping mugs, a broom. She had welcomed us in warmly and apologized for not having chairs to offer us. After she served us hot tea, I watched her make her own using one of our already-used tea bags.

She joined us on the floor and, with the aid of a translator, we talked about the Bible, following Christ, and what faith means to each of us. As she spoke, her smile lit up her dark, windowless home. Her face radiated joy and hope from a source deep within her, far below the surface of her outward circumstances.

This beautiful Motswana woman’s steadfast faith challenged and inspired me.

I wanted my life to be marked with that same kind of unswerving trust. I had gone to Africa with the hope of making a difference, and yet God was using Africa to make a difference in me.

Mosotho Woman

Later that week, people from the village gathered in the open square to visit with our team. I watched a young girl approach, holding the arm of her elderly grandmother, guiding her over from a nearby hut. The woman’s body was frail and bent, and she walked slowly but deliberately straight toward me.

“Mma?” She called me with the respectful Setswana word for addressing a woman, and looked up at me with milky, cataract-veiled eyes. Through my translator she explained, “I cannot see anymore. Everything is cloudy. But I know Jesus heals. Pray for me, Mma?”

With my mustard-seed teenage faith and a firm belief in a God who heals, I placed my hands on her eyes and prayed. My heart ached for this woman and her incredible faith, and I begged God for a miracle.

The woman began crying and I wiped her tears gently as I prayed. At my “Amen,” she lifted her calloused fingers to her face and rubbed her eyes. She wiped her hands on her dust-stained green sweater and reached into her pocket for a handkerchief. She blinked repeatedly and continued rubbing her eyes, wiping away a thick, filmy substance. A smile spread wide across her face and she began speaking excitedly in Setswana.

My interpreter translated for me. “I can see! I can see!”

“Go over there,” she told me, pointing to the tin snack shop about 10 feet away. I walked over. “I can still see you. Go farther!” I continued taking steps back until I was unnervingly far from the rest of my group, about 50 yards away. The translator shouted to echo the old woman’s excited voice, “I can still see you!”

I will never forget that woman’s smile and the sight of her walking home without the guiding arm of her granddaughter. And I will never forget the growing seed of faith that burrowed deeper into my heart that day.


It was these sorts of experiences that captivated my heart for Africa and her people, who overflowed with joy and faith from a well than ran deep, even in a dry and desperate land.

Africa changed me far more than I ever changed her.

So I kept going back, sensing even as a shy teenager that God was calling me to live in Africa. Not because I thought I had something to offer, or even that I wanted to do something courageous, but simply because I was convinced it was where I belonged. It felt like home.

And so, while friends were buying used books for college and adjusting their class schedules, I was saying my goodbyes and boarding a 17-hour flight to South Africa. 15 years ago today, I arrived in a country that quickly became home, that captivated my heart in every possible way, that became the source of my greatest loves and deepest losses.

I haven't ever felt as sure about anything as I did that day—so long ago and yet seemingly just yesterday. Part of me hopes that I'll someday feel that same confident "knowing" again and the other part of me doubts I ever will... and is absolutely okay with that. That I had one life-changing assurance, experience, and journey is enough—it's actually more than I could have hoped for or imagined.

NY in Africa

Regardless of where I am in the world—or in life—this will always remain my Africaversary. My heart is tender, vacillating wildly between gratitude and grief, joy and sorrow.

But mostly—mostly—I am acutely aware of the once-in-a-lifetime story I've lived, born from the seed of faith planted deep in my heart one dusty summer in Botswana.

Originally posted on A Deeper Story. Read the comments there >

my words around the web

typew I haven't been a very consistent blogger lately. (And of course by "lately" I mean "the past couple years". But, whatever. Semantics.) But over the past few months, my words have found a home in various corners of the web that you may have missed.


Like my post for Deeper Story on "his affair being my fault"

“How do you think you contributed to his affair?”

I swallowed hard and blinked back tears, to no avail. They were quickly streaming down my face.

She leaned forward with an I-didn’t-mean-to-make-you-cry look in her eyes. “Oh, why are you getting upset? I know he made the choice to have an affair. But there had to be a reason he looked outside the marriage. Why her? What was she offering him that you weren’t?”

Read the rest here >>


And my post for Prodigal Magazine on the false promise of abstinence —

Abstinence was drilled into me as a young girl. To the point where it was implied (and at times, even directly said) that sex was bad. At the same time, like a dangled carrot, I was taught that if I wait (because that’s what ‘true love’ does), then sex in my marriage would be amazing.

At the right time, with the right person—in a marriage relationship—sex would be good. It would be better than good. It would be incredible. Easy. Passionate. Fulfilling.

And so I waited.

Read the rest here >>


There's also the interview I did with Jeff Goins for his podcast —

Jeff wrote briefly about my decision to move to Africa in his book WreckedIn the podcast, I unpack my story some more, talking through my thoughts on commitment, being wrecked, and dealing with life not working out the way we plan (or hope).

Listen to my interview >>


 Happy April, Gritty friends. 

on his affair being my fault

The conversation started with, "Why do you think he had an affair?"

Between a string of "I don't know"s, I spoke of it not being the first time... of the strains of ministry leadership... of a pattern that had been modeled for him... of the hardships in our marriage... of the choices that, one by one, little by little, led down a slippery slope. Her pursed lips and nodding head let me know it wasn't the answer she was looking for, even before she reworded her question.

"How do you think you contributed to his affair?"

I swallowed hard and blinked back tears, to no avail. They were quickly streaming down my face.

She leaned forward with an I-didn't-mean-to-make-you-cry look in her eyes. "Oh, why are you getting upset? I know he made the choice to have an affair. But there had to be a reason he looked outside the marriage. Why her? What was she offering him that you weren't?"

I sat there, incredulous—and, not knowing what to do, I just started rambling through the sobs. I explained why I think he chose her... I hypothesized on the reasons our complicated, cross-cultural marriage was so challenging... I outlined a long list of my own flaws and failures... The conversation eventually ended, though I don't think my responses ever fully satisfied her. Then again, I still don't know exactly what she wanted out of me.

Looking back, that conversation was one of my lowest moments.

Because I was forced to defend what shouldn't need defending. Because I allowed someone to treat me as though the affair was my fault. Oh, she said all the wrong things in all the "right" ways—making sure to avoid words like fault or cause or reason—yet that is still what she was implying. I felt trapped in a corner, trying to defend myself against a pointed finger and assigned blame.

Disappointingly, I believe her take-away from that dialogue was that I was resistant to taking a close look at my own heart and shortcomings—that I don't allow friends to ask hard questions. And while I know that isn't true of that conversation (or others like it), I was (am) frustrated and hurt at feeling so misunderstood and misrepresented.

Because I've owned my part of the challenges of our marriage. Soon after the news of the affair broke, I processed at length with my therapists about my own personal issues, faults, and sins, and how those impacted my relationship(s). I even had difficult, humbling discussions with my still-unrepentant husband in which I apologized for the ways I'd hurt him and our marriage.

I am extremely introspective, self-analyzing, self-critical. If anything's gone wrong or anyone is upset, I automatically believe it must be my fault. So to assume I haven't taken a hard look at myself throughout the journey of the past few years—the most grievous, painful, heartwrenching season of my life—would almost be laughable. If it wasn't so hurtful.

Believe me. I blamed myself plenty, all on my own.

I waded through the blame my ex-husband heaped on me as well. I analyzed to death all the things that I could have done differently, wondering if it would have led to a different outcome. I assure you—regret, shame, and self-blame abounded.

Even in this, as with most everything—joy and grief, faith and uncertainty, pain and healing—I grapple in the ampersand arena. I live in the tension of two opposing truths I am forced to accept together: I am a co-contributor to the demise of my marriage relationship, and my husband's decision to have an affair is not my fault, in whole or in part.

Both true. Both painfully hard for me to swallow. And both have caused me heartache enough for lifetimes.

You, my friend, need not add to it.

{photo credit}

Originally posted on A Deeper Story. Read the comments there >

resolution revolution

focus. clarity. I don’t know about you, but New Year’s Resolutions always used to leave me feeling like a big fat failure. Six weeks into the new year, inevitably I’d barely be able to recall what was on my lofty list of goals... which meant I’d obviously not been doing much to work on them.

I’d beat myself up over it, and try harder. But in an oddly contradictory kind of way, making a list of resolutions paralyzed me from achieving them. It was a mental roadblock I just couldn’t seem to conquer. So I scrapped the idea altogether.

And in my own personal resolution revolution, I started choosing just One Word to focus on all year. 

Just One Word, because that’s easy to remember all year long. I place visible reminders of it around my home and workspace, keeping my word ever before me.

It’s become a spiritual discipline of sorts.

Each year, my One Word stands as a touchstone: a reminder not of what I need to do, but of who I want to be.

It becomes the filter through which I make decisions; the home-base to which I return when I’m unsure which way to go. It forces clarity and helps me concentrate my efforts, energy, and time on intentional growth.

It’s a simple concept, but not an easy one. My One Word has always been a challenge more than a comfort. It’s like a pebble in my shoe—an unavoidable nuisance, a constant nudge, a discomfort that causes me to walk differently.

I always have a love/hate relationship with my One Word—and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I figure if it doesn’t scare me at least a little, it’s probably not the right word.

Many of the Deeper Story writers have embraced the One Word practice as well, and found it equally life-changing:

Sarah Bessey: "As the year unfolded, I began to realise that my little nudge to choose Fearless was more of a gigantic shove off a cliff by the Holy Spirit, a sort of dinner bell clanging “COME AND GET IT!” for almost every fear and insecurity I’ve petted, hidden, and indulged in my life. I don’t think I’m fearless now. Not by a long shot. I am braver. I am practicing fearlessness, over and over, with the hope it takes deep hold in my life. I want to carry this word with me, for the rest of my life, every day. This has profoundly changed me."

Kelley Nikondeha: "My word for 2012 was Covenant. The word unfolded as commitment, life-long fidelity and tethering to traditions that anchor and nourish me. I found covenant touched my connection to God, to my spouse and even my children—how do I lean into fidelity toward them daily? One Word allows me to focus, the word works on me and in me mysteriously. But, as a cognitive girl, I also allow the definition of the word to flower and unfold over the year so that the meaning is richer now than before."

Elora Ramirez: "Two years ago, my word for the year collided with my heart. As I glanced around at the shattered pieces around me, I wondered how in the world God would bring jubilee to such a place as this :: a broken hope, wounded and wanting. And this past year? He wanted me to abide. For a girl who runs – for a heart that hides – this proved excruciating. I will not lie :: these past two years have been hard. But what’s left is beautiful – a deeper understanding of His love, a freedom to live in His light and a readiness to breathe deep and jump."

Will you join us in our resolution revolution?

Quiet your heart and see what word rises to the surface. Who do you want to be? What character trait do you want to intentionally develop? How do you want to live your life?

Let’s focus this year not on doing more, but on being who we were created to be. 


Once you've landed on your word, write a blog post about it, and post it on January 4th to join in our synchroblog. Then add it to the community link-up on the One Word 365 site.

{photo credit}

Originally posted on A Deeper Story. Read the comments there >

Emmanuel: God with us (DS)

"Give us an advent spirit," he whispered as he ended his prayer for our meal. And as we picked up forks and drinks and napkins, that phrase kept bumping around inside me. And it bumps still. I don't feel expectant or joyfully waiting, and so I'm struck by those words. Give me an advent spirit.

The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas have always been my favorite time of year. No matter which side of the ocean I was celebrating on, I waited expectantly all year for the sights, sounds, and smells of this beautiful season.

But that was before the darkness creeped in, marring my whole world and tainting even the holidays I loved. Now this time of year feels like labored breathing. It's exhausting. Hard. Like I'm just waiting for it to end instead of wishing it would linger a while longer like I once did.

This year, I've been intentional to remember my power to choose. And right now more than ever I'm forced to remember that joy really is my choice. No matter the circumstance or the feeling. And while the holidays aren't as sweet or as magical as they once were, I can still choose to find joy within them.

There's a reason we sing, "O tidings of comfort and joy." Somehow, the two hold hands.

And so I put lights on the wooden giraffe by my front door. I placed a nativity on my mantle. I strung lights into wine bottles strewn about my apartment. I stare often at my star-topped tree that stands as a beacon of light, pushing back the darkness. Comfort and joy.

In the words of Elisabeth Elliot—"Joy is not the absence of suffering, but the presence of God."

And what better time than right now to take comfort in that. To allow my heart to breathe, to hope, to anticipate. Because no matter what, God's presence abides...

Emmanuel. God with us.

And because He is here, I can choose joy.

For those, like me, who find the holidays uniquely heartsore, will you join me in choosing to discover joy and comfort in the presence of God, made visible in a manger filled with hay? Let's "lift our eyes", being purposeful to not only seek but also to be comfort and joy.

And for those who love this season, will you be intentional to remember that it is bittersweet for many? Open your eyes and hearts to see the heartsore among you. Extend invitations. Hug tightly. Through you, others can be reminded that God sees and knows and cares.

God is with us.

Comfort and joy, friends...

Originally posted on A Deeper Story. Read the comments there >

emmanuel: god with us

"Give us an advent spirit," he whispered as he ended his prayer for our meal. And as we picked up forks and drinks and napkins, that phrase kept bumping around inside me. And it bumps still. I don't feel expectant or joyfully waiting, and so I'm struck by those words. Give me an advent spirit.


shifting sand

I've been thinking about riverbeds lately.

And how, over a span of time, the rushing water cuts itself a unique course. In flood seasons, the water may overflow the banks, and once the flood recedes, the river's path is likely different than it was before. Maybe slightly. Maybe drastically. But even one rock overturned makes the river flow differently.


I've been thinking about suffering lately too.

And how it carves and scrapes and plows through the riverbed of our lives, ultimately changing our course and our current. The changes—sometimes slight, sometimes drastic—lie far below the surface of what others can see, leaving us more different inside than our exterior lives will ever show.


The entire path of our lives is transformed by the ever-changing current of our experiences. No matter how hard we may fight it, we are changed by what happens to us. But as Maya Angelou so beautifully said, we can "refuse to be reduced by it." And we can refuse to be defined by it.


Dry riverbeds don't change. It's only the violent, rushing water that has the power to shift and shape an entire river. I cling to that visual reminder that the pain, heartache, and discomfort stand as proof of life.


What I've learned from the shifting sand of my own riverbed is this: Embrace the shaping. Don't fight the current. Give yourself grace for the new normal.

And trust that the divine finger isn't finished carving the course yet.

{photo credit}

i'm that girl who's drowning

I've heard that the biggest challenge with rescuing a drowning victim is how they instinctively fight against their rescuer. The sheer panic and fear is so great that they can't stop themselves from flailing, even at their own detriment. But trying to snap them out of it—to awaken them to their need to simply relax and lean into the arms of their rescuer—is nearly impossible.

I'm that girl who's drowning.

I've been fighting against my new normal, almost without realizing it. Maybe if I just surrender to it, I'll discover that rescue is only breaths away. But maybe if I surrender to it, I'll discover there is no rescue at all... That it simply is what it is, and no amount of fighting or accepting is going to change it.

A counselor told me that all I've been through in the past few years wasn't just traumatic. It was trauma. Leaving me with a sort of PTSD that is very real, and that lingers still. {To be honest, that's still a hard pill for me to swallow.}

One of the greatest challenges of my new normal is memory loss. {I can't believe I just said that phrase out loud. Memory loss. But that's what it is, even if I prefer to hide behind calling it Fuzzy Brain Syndrome.}

I used to be the girl who remembered everything. My ex-husband was notorious for forgetting that he'd seen a movie. Even after I described it in detail, explained where and when we watched it, and showed him the cover... Nope. He couldn't remember. Until about 5 minutes into the movie when he'd bust out an, "Ohhhhh yeah." We laughed about it all the time. And now... that's me. I can't for the life of me remember the moves I've seen.

I can't remember names. Or where people live. Or the names of their spouse or kids. Or details of the last conversation we had.

I can't remember much of anything.

It scares me. It brings tears to my eyes and sometimes even causes me to full-on ugly cry. It makes me hate my brain.

I knew I had blogged once about my Fuzzy Brain Syndrome and my battle with my new normal. So I went back to find it. You know what? I wrote it two-and-a-half years ago. Two-and-a-half years. {Here come the tears again...} That is a long time, people. A long time to not be feeling like myself. A long time of feeling like I'm living with diminished capacity. A long time of wondering if it's just a phase and hoping for old-me to surface again.

Two-and-a-half years later, I'm starting to think this may be reality from here on out. And that really makes me hate my brain.

So I just need to say this:

When I ask you again—for the eleventy-second time—what your husband's name is, how many kids you have, where you live, or how we know each other, please, please know I hate it more than you do. It hurts my heart because I know it comes across like I don't pay attention or don't care... and I promise you that's not true.

I realize now that my only choice is to surrender, even while I doubt that a rescue will ever come. But fighting it is just too exhausting. So I give up. I cease flailing, throw my arms upward, and let the current take me under.

And pray grace finds me there...

photo credit: Duncan Rawlinson

Originally posted on A Deeper Story. Read the comments there >

i am (not) third

Jesus.Others. You.

I was raised—rightly—to put others first. But somewhere along the way, that distorted into putting myself last.

Which isn't good. I know. And it needs to change. But it's a struggle.

Maybe you can relate?

I'm unpacking my thoughts on (not) being third over at the new-and-improved Deeper Story today. Come check out the new digs and join the conversation...

it all comes down to choice

'I'm with you' photo (c) 2010, rosmary - license: asked me the other day where I'm at in my journey. She was talking about the traumatic loss and transition I've endured in just about every single area of my life over the past few years. "Do you feel like you're on the other side of it?" I didn't really know how to answer that question because I don't think she fully understood what she was asking (though I know she certainly meant well.)

I'm in a much better place than I've been in a long time. Although I'm painfully aware of how fragile it all is, life feels good right now. And I haven't been able to say that truthfully in years.

But that doesn't mean I've gotten over—or even through—my loss.

I think the idea of "recovery" from loss is a harmful and misleading mirage. It's unrealistic to expect that life could ever go back to normal after catastrophic loss of any kind. In a way, life will be forever divided by before and after. And to strive to go back to normal—to return to how things were and how you felt before your loss—is like trying to get somewhere on a treadmill: exhausting and impossible.

I don't know if I'm meant to come out on the other side of my heartache. At least not in the usual sense.

I'm discovering what it's like to live in the delicate tension of sorrow and joy. What we deem to be opposites are not actually mutually exclusive. They can be—and maybe they should be—embraced together. We don't move out of sorrow into joy, as if we've recovered from our heartache. Instead we learn to choose joy even when that seed of sorrow remains ever present.

Jerry Sittser, in A Grace Disguised, said it so beautifully:

"I did not go through pain and come out the other side; instead, I lived in it and found within that pain the grace to survive and eventually grow. I did not get over the loss of my loved ones; rather, I absorbed the loss into my life, like soil receives decaying matter, until it became a part of who I am."

What happens in me matters far more than what happens to me. It's not my experiences that define me, but my responses to them.

So instead of making it my aim to get through what's happened to me, I am learning to focus on my response to what's happened to me. As with most things, it all comes down to choice.

That's the reason "choose" is my One Word for this year. Because I need constant reminding that even when I have nothing else, I always have the power to choose.

While I can't control what's going on in this world or in my life, I do have control over my responses to those things. So today—same as yesterday and the day before—it's entirely up to me to choose how I will respond to pain and sorrow and loss. I need to continue to choose to face, feel, and work through it, rather than to avoid it. And I need to continue to choose joy and trust right here, right now.

So if you're wondering where I'm at in my journey, know this: You can always find me right here, in the middle of the tension between joy and sorrow, grief and gratitude, weakness and strength, questions and faith.

Join me here, won't you?

Originally posted on Deeper Story. Read the comments there >

more than money

Bona is 17. When I met him in Ethiopia last week, I was immediately caught up in his handsome face and soul-stirring smile. Hearing his story and heart only endeared him to me even more.

His mom passed away when he was in first grade, and his dad died last year. There was a visible sadness in his eyes as he talked about loneliness, his older brother living several hundred kilometers away.

The social worker bragged on Bona for a bit. He is first in his class. In fact, he's been first in his class throughout his entire school career. Bona smiled, and I know his heart must have swelled in that moment, hearing all of us say how proud we are of him.

He's been sponsored through Food for the Hungry for five years. With their help and the grace of God, he's pressed on with perseverance and hope in the face of countless difficulties.

Next year, Bona ages out of the sponsorship program. All kids do at age 18. Food for the Hungry will continue to help him with his educational costs and supplies as he goes on to university. He wants to be a doctor, and he has the grades and the drive to actually do it.

I asked Bona how he feels about his sponsorship coming to an end next year. He told me that he really appreciates the tangible benefits of his sponsorship, but wishes he felt more connected to his sponsors. He said he feels as though he's missed out on the relationship aspect of sponsorship. "I wish they would write to me more. And even send me pictures of themselves. I don't even know what they look like."

Man, that hit me like a ton of bricks. Up front, we think the biggest commitment is the $32 a month. But ultimately, writing the monthly check is the easy part. And that's not even what the child is most hoping for. They want to feel connected—like they belong.{Don't we all?}

They don't just want our money. They also want our love and affection. They care more about the letters, notes, and pictures we send because those make them feel loved, cared about, and valued.

I felt so challenged and inspired in that moment to write to my sponsored kids more frequently, and to send pictures of myself, my family, my city, and things I enjoy. That takes more time and effort than writing a check, but these kids are worth it.

If you have sponsored children—through any organization—make some time this week to strengthen your relationship with them. Write a letter. Print some photos. Have your kids draw some pictures. And put a reminder on your calendar to do it again next month. And the month after that.

Let's not just be generous with our finances. Let's be generous with our hearts and our time.

For that's the most life-changing sacrifice we can make.

Originally posted on Deeper Story. Read the comments there >

ask a storyteller

Wow! The questions that came in for my Ask a Storyteller post on Deeper Story were good and hard all at the same time. Why didn't I get easy ones like What would your superpower be? or What's your favorite Starbucks drink? Nope. I got none of that.

You guys asked some seriously tough stuff, which demanded challenging, heart-level answers from me.

So brace yourself.

My Ask a Storyteller post is l - o - n - g. Way longer than any of my posts here have ever been. Feel free to skim it for just the questions/answers that interest you. Unless you're bored enough to read the whole thing. ;)

And I'll keep answering questions in the comments there all day, so feel free to keep the conversation going if you want.


Read my answers here >

on trust

'Google Webmaster Relationship Loss of Trust' photo (c) 2009, Search Engine People Blog - license: Trust has always been a challenge for me. After my husband had a long-term affair with my friend, and then decided to leave... well, let's just say my trust issues multiplied. Exponentially.

When sharing with a friend about how hard it is to bounce back from that, and to learn to trust again, she said, "Remember the people you can trust and focus on them."

Solid words.


Five years ago, I thought I could trust my husband. And I did.

See, my problem with trust isn't when it's misused by people I know I can't trust to begin with. My problem is when those I believe I can trust, end up abusing it.

So I find myself living in this tension of the desire to dig deep, live all-in, and trust those closest to me, with the reality that all of us are fallible and anyone can fall. Myself included.

I'm not really sure where it leaves me, except in a place of wrestling with who and how I should trust. What does healthy trust look like? How do I keep putting my heart out there after it's been trampled by the untrustworthiness of those who should have been trustworthy?

As always, I have more questions than answers...

Have you dealt with this in your own life? How do you navigate trust after it's been broken?

Originally posted on A Deeper Story. Read the comments there >

healing in the heartache

I flew to Africa over the weekend... I'm here for 5 weeks. I am spending a month in Maun, Botswana—the place that stole my heart for Southern Africa when I was only 15—to help Love Botswana Outreach Mission develop communications policies and strategies. Then I'm heading down to Cape Town for a week to work with Bridge for Hope on some project development possibilities.

That's what I'm doing now.

I consult with non-profits, assisting with communications and development—translating my 13 years of leading a ministry in Africa into ways I can strategically help other growing non-profits.

It feels like a natural fit and like I'm in way over my head all at the same time. But I am beyond grateful for the chance I have to do this, and the opportunities I have to still be involved with what God is doing through ministries around the world. Such a tremendous gift.

Bittersweet at times, but still a priceless gift...

I forced myself to find words for what's going on in my heart being back in Africa again. About the unbelievable timing of this trip. About healing in the heartache.

And I'm sharing them over at Deeper Story today.

... ... ...

Fourteen years to the day since I first moved to South Africa, I arrived there again. On Saturday. My first time to return since I had to close our ministry and move back to the States.

Fourteen years.

To. The. Day.

The irony coincidence full-circle timing is unavoidable.

As if I didn't already have a kaleidoscope of emotions wrapped up in this first-trip-back, I go and do it on my Africaversary.

A big hot mess.

That's what I've been. For weeks now, leading up to the trip. On the entire (ungodly-long) flight over. And since my feet touched the ground.

The landscape of my life looks incomprehensibly different than it did 14 years ago. I'm no longer 19, chasing a dream, following a call... heart brimming with hope, expectation, and excitement.

Instead I'm exhausted inside and out... broken... still trying to locate and pick up the shattered fragments of my life... bearing what feels like a permanent scarlet letter... returning to a place that was home for so long, but doesn't feel like home any longer.

In fact—and I'm only realizing this now, as I'm typing it—it doesn't just feel like Africa is no longer home. It feels like she's betrayed me. Cheated on me. Hurt me.

But I know it wasn't her. I know I can't blame her for the heartache my ex-husband caused. And yet, there is heartache here nonetheless.

And there is nothing to do but face it and feel it, and trust the Healer to heal it.

To heal me. Through her.

Because while I don't feel drawn to live in Africa full-time again, I know I will be here often. And no matter what, at some point there needed to be a first-trip-back again, the hardest trip yet.

So these next 5 weeks in Southern Africa will be filled with old and new memories, heavy and light moments, grief and restoration. And then there won't ever be another first-trip-back.

The hardest will be behind me.

That's the joy that's set before me right now. Not sure if that's good, bad, or otherwise, but that's what's helping me keep breathing and keep going.

While she no longer feels like home, Africa still has my heart. She captured it when I was 15, and she will have it for always. Firsts, lasts, and everything in between...

So I'm trusting asking Him for the courage to do it afraid, to seek the healing in the heartache, to show me parts of myself I've lost, and to reveal parts of Himself I've never seen.

Originally posted on Deeper Story. Read the comments there >


When people hear I got divorced after 10 years of marriage, the question is inevitable. "Do you have kids?" I usually purse my lips together and shake my head while I answer. "No... No kids."

And then I hold my breath.

Because nine times out of ten, the response is the same. And I catch myself bracing for it.

"That's good."'26/365 Bittersweet.' photo (c) 2009, Vinni - license:

I keep my lips pressed tightly together, and slowly nod obligatorily.

I understand what they're saying. With as much as my life fell apart when my husband decided to leave with another woman, I am grateful there weren't children's hearts also so deeply wounded. So yes. That part is good.

But what most people don't realize is there is such a bittersweetness there.

I don't not have kids because I didn't want them.

I longed to have children, and we were finally at a place of attaining certain goals that would allow me to step back from working full-time so we could start a family. And the irony is that he began pushing for a baby right when he started his affair. And since I knew something was going on—even when I didn't know how bad it really was—I knew adding a baby into the mix wouldn't "fix" anything. So I'm the one who made the decision to wait. Because I needed to be sure we were okay.

And we weren't.

And we never had kids.

So while I'm glad there weren't little people dragged through the devastation of my past few years, and I'm beyond thankful I don't need to figure out an international custody arrangement, there is also a huge sense of loss for what could have been... and for what will never be.

It's an added layer of grief. Of mourning. Of letting go. Of uncertainty about ever having the opportunity again.

So yes. "That's good." But it also sucks.

Just think twice before you make a quick remark to someone. We never know the whole story. We can never comprehend the full situation. Don't presume. Don't preach. Ask.

Ask questions. Hear what the other person is thinking... feeling... saying... not saying...

Don't jump to conclusions.

Just ask.

And love.

Originally posted at Deeper Story. Read the comments there >

on choosing your own adventure

'forkinroad' photo (c) 2011, Koji Minamoto - license: reading Choose Your Own Adventure storybooks when you were a kid? I loved those books. But I cheated.

I'd read ahead and skim the different options to see how they all panned out. And then pick the best one. I wanted the most ideal outcome to every situation — the best story possible.

In some ways, I've tried doing the same exact thing with my life.

When faced with choices, I wish I could peek ahead and see how all the options will turn out. (I'm not talking about moral issues, but things like where I live and what job I take.) I want to make sure I pick the one that is God's perfect will for me. I want to stay in line with exactly what He wants me to do.

But that way of thinking paints a picture of God having one ultimate plan for my life, which includes specific choices in even the smallest of decisions. And while that may sound holy, it leaves me feeling a bit like a puppet. As though if I get one thing wrong in my attempts to navigate His will, the rest of my life is basically a wash.

I'm not sure that's how it works. Maybe God doesn't hold my future in the balance based on where I choose to live. Or what career I step into.

In the midst of navigating the greatest transitions of my life, there is freedom in realizing God isn't controlling me. My prayers don't need to be, "Tell me what to do, God, and I'll do it." I can operate in the gifts, abilities, and common senses He's given me. Maybe He just wants me to discover and embrace who I am and what I would enjoy.

That doesn't mean my decisions are devoid of God. Quite the contrary. It requires an enormous sense of trust in Him as my Shepherd and guide. "Christ in me, the hope of glory..."

So maybe He really is letting me "choose my own adventure", guiding me with the desires, dreams, vision, and wisdom He's placed inside me. And maybe I don't need to strive so hard to peek ahead and confirm the outcome in advance, because no matter what, I remain in His hands.

I am still trying to nail down specific thoughts on all this... I'm in no way implying that we shouldn't pray or seek God's specific guidance. I'm not saying we can do whatever we want because His grace will carry us regardless of our willful choices to sin or disobey or go our own way.

I'm just saying I think there may be more lateral freedom in "God's will for my life" than I've ever before grasped.

What's your take on all this? I'd truly love to hear your thoughts.

Originally posted at Deeper Story. Read the comments there >

the beginning of the end

'Autumn at Mt Macedon' photo (c) 2011, Ryk Neethling - license: past few years of my life have been filled with untold endings. The end of my marriage. The closing of my ministry. The loss of my home, job, community...

The endings can be so obvious that it's often easy for me to overlook the new beginnings. But they're there. When I take the time and make the choice to look for them — to dust for God's fingerprints — I see them. Plain as day.

The beginning of my heart re-awakening. The launch of a new journey. The start of a new home, job, community...

I am reminded once again that the new life of spring actually begins with the dying leaves of autumn.

And I'm brought back to The Beginning.

"There was evening, and there was morning—the first day."

While we usually picture our day starting with the sunrise, God created it to begin in the darkness of night. Though it seems like an ending, the night — with all its bleakness and uncertainty — is really just the beginning...

What endings are you experiencing right now where you need to dust for God's fingerprints of new life?

Originally posted at Deeper Story. Read the comments there >

worship on a high pain day

I don't talk about my health issues very often. Or with very many people. For lots of reasons.

Not the least of which is that I have more questions than answers, both in terms of actual diagnosis as well as my heart's processing of it all.

So this post feels like a tremendous risk for me.

It felt frighteningly risky when I began writing it a month ago. And it feels even more so today as it goes live online.

So I'm holding my breath. And doing it afraid.

Because maybe my questions will help someone else. Even if it's only to let them know they're not the only one asking...

... ... ...

'Worship' photo (c) 2009, Renee Youngblood - license:

I believe You're my Healer I believe You are all I need I believe You're my Portion I believe You're more than enough for me Jesus, You're all I need

That song gets me every single time...

I have a love/hate relationship with it because I always feel challenged to sing the words honestly. Even more so this Sunday morning, because...

It's a high pain day.

I battle chronic health issues, some days worse than others. Today is one of those days. And today, the aches have settled angrily in my hands and arms.

Since I woke up, I've been subconsciously massaging my hands. Rubbing my arms. Trying hard to find some small bit of relief however possible.

And then that song starts.

You walk with me through fire And heal all my disease I trust in You...

Oh my heart...

I'm left whispering that simple prayer that seems to be all I can muster at times like this: I believe, Lord. Help me in my unbelief.

So I lift my sore arms Heavenward and declare -- maybe mostly to myself -- "I believe You're my healer... I trust in You... Nothing is impossible for You..."

My heart wrestles through the tension of trusting that God heals, despite the fact that He may never heal me here on earth.

I've seen Him heal. I've watched it with my own eyes. I've seen Him do it through my own hands.

I've witnessed cataract-clouded eyes opening, lame men dancing, deaf ears hearing for the first time. I've experienced scores of miraculous healings. And yet, every day, I live with pain.

So my heart continues to wrestle through the tension of faith.

How do I reconcile what I believe to be true with what I actually experience everyday?

I don't know that I can.

Maybe all I can do is choose to keep wrestling. To worship Him anyway, with my pain-ridden hands held high. To acknowledge with honesty, "God, I don't get it... but I want to trust You. I need to trust You. Help me trust You."

Painfully praising.

Wincing in worship.

It isn't mine to understand. It is only mine to trust. Even in the pain. And the uncertainty. And the heartache.

I'm not called to understand the mind of God. I'm only called to pursue His heart.

And to trust that ultimately His heart is for my good and His glory, no matter what.

So even though I may not get it, I want Him to still get me.

All of me.

High pain days, wrestling heart, unanswered questions, and all...

Originally posted at Deeper Story. Read the comments there >