caught off guard


I'm still caught off guard at times.

A memory will rise to the surface, seemingly out of nowhere, bringing with it fears and doubts and insecurities and tears. I question everything, wondering about hidden motives and looking for anything I missed the first the time around. There isn't anger—not really. There is distrust. There is hurt. There is grief. But no anger. At least not toward anyone other than myself. Feelings of foolishness spiral into "How could I be so stupid?"  Inevitably, as the emotional dust settles, I'm left with a deep missing of all the people who were once my whole life who are no longer even a part of it. I hunt for pictures, and sit mesmerized by how grown up my nephew is. By how tall my honorary nieces and nephews of old have become—tall not only with stature but with personality and vivaciousness. Smiles mix in with the sadness, and I take a deep breath...


house christmas

I'm still caught off guard at times.

I walk through the arched doorways of my home, past the wainscoting in the living room, and all I can do is shake my head. Moving about the beautiful kitchen, shuffling around the mess on my office desk, sitting on the front porch with a cup of coffee... over and over again, it hits me: This is my now-life. This is my new life. And I smile—the kind of smile that erupts from deep down inside, that sacred place for which there are no words. I can't believe I get to live here. That I once again have a place that looks like me and feels like me. That I once again have a home. Because as much as I know that home isn't about a house, I've discovered there's something uniquely incomparable about a four-wall refuge. It's anchoring, and rooting, and settling in all the best ways. And the past 6 months of living life unpacked have been better for my heart than I ever anticipated.


I'm still caught off guard at times.

And I'm learning to give thanks in it all...

Would you share some of your own highs and lows?  What are things that have caught you off guard lately—for better and for worse?

if i could

tree line

If I could find big enough words, I would tell you how grateful I am for the big-hearted, generous, and faithful loved ones who’ve walked with me, supported me, and strengthened me since I left African soil.

If I could find deep enough words, I would describe for you how unbelievably amazing it feels to be this settled after so many years of transitional limbo—and how good for my heart it has been.

If I could find strong enough words, I would explain my newfound understanding and awareness of grace.

If I could find clear enough words, I would recount for you my daily journey of learning to acknowledge and own that I am enough, and I have enough, because of the enoughness of Christ in me.

If I could find impactful enough words, I would articulate for you the ways I’m embracing a lack of plans, and my discovery that it really is okay.

If I could find weighty enough words, I would convey to you the matchless, anchoring, and freeing sense of home I’m discovering once again.

If I could... I would.

But I can’t...


Autumn Leaf  

I'm struck by how different my life looks these days. Sometimes, it stops me dead in my tracks and I just have to shake my head... Five years ago if you'd painted this picture of where I'd be, I'd have said you were crazy. Single? Nashville? Freelancing? No way...

And yet, here I am.


Some days, the disparity leaves me heartsore — because in getting here, I was forced to lose so much.

Other days, the contrast leaves me grateful — because in getting here, I've undoubtedly gained so much.


The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord. 

the vulnerability of joy

fleeting joy

Vulnerability is far bigger than owning my weaknesses. 

I've discovered that vulnerability also includes owning my joy.

On a deep level, joy taps into my very worthiness. I question whether I even deserve it. I can think of so many who are worse off, and it feels unfair that anything should go my way at all. Who am I to have good things happen? Who am I to be happy? Especially when so many I care about are currently going through their own challenging and dark times.

The contrast of joy against others' pain makes my heart ache. And I instinctively dim the brightness of my joy because fully feeling, acknowledging, and expressing it seems wrong. Immodest. Arrogant, even.

The battering ram of the past 4 years left my heart tattered and torn. Grif and heartache consumed everything for so long that, without even realizing it, I became afraid of joy. In its place grew a deep, underlying foreboding... a proverbial holding of my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

So when good things happen, of any variety, I find myself dismissing them. It's too good to be true. This won't last long. I shouldn't be happy. I don't deserve good things. 

Somewhere along the line, I unknowingly convinced myself that being happy in this "new life" means I'm glad my "old life" fell apart. That enjoying Nashville is somehow an acknowledgement of gratitude that I'm no longer in Africa. Saying it out loud, I know it's ridiculous and untrue. My own journey of the past few years has taught me rather vividly that joy and grief usually reside together. I can be completely joyful and grateful for today, while still grieving over yesterday. One doesn't nullify the other.

And yet, still, even when joy comes, I don't embrace it. Knowing just how fleeting it can be, I send it on its merry way and close my eyes, cringing, for whatever might come next.

This is no way to live...

So I am intentionally forcing myself to lean into the vulnerability of joy. To look it straight in the eye, pull it close, and hug it tight. To allow myself to feel it and own it. To smile, to lift my eyes, to give thanks.

I don't know what tomorrow will bring, or if there's another shoe waiting to drop, or how long anything in this life will actually last. But I do know that the God who gives and takes away wants me to be fully present in the moments He's woven into my story.

It's not up to me to control what happens. But it's up to me to choose to live wholeheartedly—honestly accepting and embracing all that comes my way.

And so today I'm leaning in, embracing the risk, and owning my joy.

[photo credit]

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.

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.

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 >

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.


wall of thanks

My Thanksgivings the past few years have looked (and felt) very different than they used to. Granted, I've celebrated most Thanksgivings of my adult life across the ocean in a country that doesn't even recognize the holiday. But it didn't matter. We made them uniquely special, and always a memorable celebration of giving thanks.

My favorite tradition is one I began in Africa. Every year, we build a Wall of Thanks.

I place out Post-it notes and markers, and throughout the day, people write down things they are thankful for and post them on the wall.

I always make multiple trips to the wall—to read and to add more things I am grateful for—and love watching others do the same.

It is heart-filling to stand and read the gratitude plastered on that wall. Deep, meaningful, significant things as well as the humorous, inside-joke-only kinds of things.

The wall stands as more than a list of what we are collectively thankful for. It holds memories, hope, promises, truth. It holds what was and may never be again, but also what will someday be. It holds the joy of loving and being loved. It holds... me.

And this altogether new and different and somewhat strange Thanksgiving, I'll surely have my Wall of Thanks yet again.

Will you join me?

Maybe it's a new tradition you can start with your own loved ones. And together we can build our Wall of Thanks wherever we are...

If you post pictures of your Wall or your Post-its, I wanna see them! Tag me on Facebook—and on Twitter and Instagram, use the hashtag #WallOfThanks, so we can celebrate with each other.

No matter what is going on in our lives—no matter the season we've just endured or are currently crawling through—we can choose to say "Thank You" to the One who understands even when we don't.

And please know this... YOU, my Gritty family, will certainly be a Post-it note on my Wall of Thanks.

Will you join me with your own Wall of Thanks this year? What's your favorite Thanksgiving tradition?

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 >

God was in both

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 usually opted to pass a gorgeous day 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. I remember sitting on the dirt floor of a hut constructed with mud, dung, and thatch, having a conversation with the Motswana woman who lived there.

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. She welcomed us in warmly and apologized for not having chairs to offer us. After she served us 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 following Christ. As she spoke, her smile lit up the 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.

So I kept going back, returning two more summers in a row. I knew that missions world be more than a short-term endeavor for me and felt God drawing me back long-term. Not because I thought I had something to offer, or wanted to do something courageous, but simply because I was convinced it was where I belonged. It felt like home. So at 19, I decided to just go and see what would happen. Because more clearly than I’d known anything in my entire life, I knew that God was calling me to live in Africa.

And regardless of how things ended 13 years later, with marriage and ministry dissolved, I still know that I followed God to Africa. Just as I know I followed Him through the painful choices to close and move back to the States.

I may be unable to reconcile God leading me to life and ministry in Africa with Him taking it all away, but—even if it's with tear-filled eyes and trembling hands—I can't deny that He was in both.

Unlike me, God was not surprised or caught off guard by the circumstances of my life. He didn't have to scramble to come up with a new plan and purpose for me. What feels to me like a “Plan B” is still the original story God is writing with my life.

While some days it’s easier to believe than others, I know that the Author and Finisher is still writing. He never needs an eraser or a backspace. He needs no editor, no second draft. He writes it perfectly the first time. And He finishes what He starts. No abandoned stories. No half-hearted attempts. He is writing my story completely. Thoroughly.

All the way to the end.

... ... ...

This post is part of a group blogging project celebrating the release of Inciting Incidents, a book featuring my beautiful friend Tracee Persiko along with five other creatives. Buy your copy right now! Read posts from other contributors and link up your own post here >

{and it won't be the last}

I am quickly skimming through my inbox when I see it. An unexpected name. I hastily open the message only to read—of course—a hateful remark. Teary eyes. Deep breaths. Conscious effort to stop the spiraling thoughts.

And I remember the truth I know so well: Forgiveness is a choice. It's time to choose it again.

'Jesus Does Maths' photo (c) 2008, LivingOS - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/{And it won't be the last.}

Frustrated with myself at first—Ugh. I shouldn't still have to pep talk myself to forgive!—I realize something. I haven't thought of the situation in a long time. Not like this. Not in a way that leaves me feeling hurt or betrayed or upset. Not in a way that reminds me I still have a long way to go in the forgiveness journey.

The things that have come up, oddly enough, have all been good. Appropriately reminiscent.

So while I may get annoyed with my seeming lack of progress when a "surprise attack" catches my heart off guard and requires conscious effort to forgive, I also have to acknowledge that the days, weeks, and even months that go by without even a second thought about it is a sure sign of progress.

And I am grateful.

Lifted eyes. Thankful breaths. More graciously—less gritted-teeth-fully—forgiveness is mine to choose.

And so I choose.


{And it won't be the last.}

gypsy landing

The past several years, I have felt a bit like a gypsy. I've lived for months at a time with different people—in Columbus, Ohio... Kennesaw, Georgia... Medford, Oregon... Nashville, Tennessee. Initially it was for what I thought would be a season of restoration in my marriage. Then he decided he was done—with counseling, with marriage, with me. I stepped back from ministry—even resigned my Board—and did almost nothing but engage in intensive therapy for about a year. Then I slowly got more involved in the ministry again, focusing on fundraising efforts. My "dark night of the soul" got unimaginably darker when the funding drought left us no choice but to close. I closed down the ministry in Africa and walked away from the only home/job/community/life I'd known since I was 19. Back in the States, I spiralled again into a deep depression, unable to find my smile or my hope or my energy.

Through all of this, friends graciously took me in, opening their hearts and their homes to me. I was always made to feel completely loved, welcomed, and part of the family for however long or short I was planted there. I'll never find words big enough for the gift that was to me in the midst of my most painful season. Thank you, loved ones, for caring for me so graciously and generously, continually extending yourself for me when I had nothing to offer in return. You held me up me when I didn't have strength to stand on my own, and you loved me loudly. I am forever in your debt.

Slowly but surely, some normalcy began returning to my life, and in the past six months, the remaining "big pieces" all seemed to come together. Finally. Since February, I've been sharing an apartment with a friend. Countless people reached out—passing along furniture, housewares, kitchen supplies, and filling this place with their love and generosity. It was overwhelming in the best possible way.

I was finally able to purchase a car, which I still thank Jesus for every time I get behind the wheel. All these years, the families I lived with were more than generous with their vehicles. But there is just something about being able to run to Target when I need to without asking permission or joining someone else's errand run. It's like I've reclaimed a bit of my independence that had been lost over the past few years.

And then just a couple weeks ago, my shipment from South Africa arrived. When we'd closed down the ministry, I was left with a house full of belongings and, well, life. The majority of it was given away or left with my ex-husband. But some of it was irreplaceable—like my entire lifetime worth of photographs, family Christmas ornaments, heirlooms that have been in the family for decades, childhood keepsakes...

So I bought space on a shipping container: the smallest amount of space you could buy, with the disclaimer that I would only receive it when the container filled up, by other people shipping to the same destination. The day before I left Africa, the movers came and packed up my "must-keeps". They said there was still room left in my allotted space, so I also packed up my African baskets (a prized possession), some artwork from my walls, and a few favorite kitchen items. When they said there was a lot of remaining space, they took a few random pieces of furniture just to fill it.

And two weeks ago, 20 months after I packed it up in Africa, my things arrived here in Nashville. Unbelievable! It feels so good to have some of my "former life" back. We quickly added baskets and signs and art all around the apartment, and it looks amazing. To look around and see glimpses of my old life mixed in with my new... Man! It's honey to my soul.

This gypsy is feeling more settled than I have in a long time. And, with Africa splashed all over my apartment, I feel more at home than I ever thought possible again.

Grateful is an understatement.


God is good

My friend and fellow Deeper Story writer, Seth Haines, wrote a post recently that really resonated with me. He wrote about the unintended double-edged sword of proclaiming God's favor. "I’ve heard the creeping theology of prosperity in the averted tragedies of others. They spill wonder-filled, mystical stories, recounting God’s graciousness in piecing together the impossible jig-saw puzzles of life."

You need to read his entire post to really get it. The comment I left there ended up being long enough for a post of its own, so I figured I'd share it here as well.

... ... ...

I have found myself in the wrestling ground of this very issue for the past few years. I haven’t even been able to find words for what I’m grappling with, and I certainly haven’t come to any answers or conclusions.

But having walked through infidelity and then divorce, while surrounded by countless others whose infidelity journey (thankfully) ended in restoration/reconciliation, I am left with a pit-in-my-stomach feeling over my former position on the favor and goodness of God. Because as much as I’ve heard the seemingly careless remarks, I know I’ve made them in my lifetime as well.

“God is so good, and our marriage is better today than it ever was before.” “By God’s grace, we caught it in time and they got all the cancer.” “God is so faithful, and provision was there right when we needed it.”

'May God help me!' photo (c) 2005, Bashar Al-Ba'noon - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Sometimes the provision doesn’t show up—sometimes the bills don’t get paid and the ministry God had clearly started is forced to close its doors. Sometimes the healing doesn’t come—like my beautiful, faith-filled friend who passed away last year or the chronic pain I live with daily. Sometimes the marriage doesn’t get restored—sometimes he really leaves to begin a new “happily ever after” with the other woman.

So do those outcomes mean that God isn’t good or faithful? Do they negate His grace or His love or His kindness? I know that they don’t. Because I know I can’t trust the God who gives without also trusting the God who takes away. He is one and the same, and His goodness is in anything His hand extends (and even in what it withholds). I know that He is both good and sovereign. The challenge lies in believing He is both of those at the same time.

I know that my gut-level cringing reaction to those seemingly flippant remarks about God being good when His favor is evident says more about me than the one who says them. Because I know they don’t mean them flippantly and I know they are right that God’s goodness is evident there.

The gritty sandpaper grating I feel inside is because I’m left wondering if I could say the same thing had the outcome been opposite. Or really, it’s because I’m left fully aware that I haven’t always done so. Even now, can I honestly and truly say I believe God’s grace, goodness, and faithfulness is evident in the way things turned out in my marriage? Maybe evident isn’t the right word. If “faith is the evidence of things not seen”, then I need to believe His goodness is there even if it isn’t evident.

And so I wrestle.

He is good. And He is sovereign. And both are displayed when the protection, provision, healing, and restoration shows up. And both are displayed when it doesn’t.

Lord, I believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.

it all comes down to choice

'I'm with you' photo (c) 2010, rosmary - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Someone 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 >

the grace of fragility

Cozied up in my comfy chair—still in pajamas, coffee in hand, snuggled under a blanket—I close my eyes and take a deep breath. And I can't help but smile. I have a home, a job, an income. I have friends and family who love me. I have health insurance, a car, a closet full of clothes. I have all I need, really. I shake my head in wonder. All gifts. All grace.

And I whisper a "Thank You"...

I open my eyes and breathe in deeply again. This nagging thought—the same one that's been hovering just beneath the surface for weeks now—scratches again and reminds me it's still there. It lingers close, threatening to steal my exhale and my smile. Like a funhouse mirror, it plays tricks on my mind, distorting hope into a frightening creature and making fears appear larger than they really are.

The thought I can't seem to shake is how fragile everything in my life feels, in a way it never used to. I'm painfully aware of how quickly it all can vanish. How in an instant, everything can be taken away.

Realizing life's fragility is ultimately a good thing. It keeps me mindful that nothing and no one ever belongs to me. It forces me to hold things (and people) more loosely. No matter how strong my death-grip, the concept of "mine" remains a mirage. Nothing is mine. And I'm not in control.

The constant reminder of fragility also leaves me feeling unsettled... insecure... unstable. It makes it difficult to invest in relationships, trust wholeheartedly, and put down roots. It feels harder to dream, to laugh, to enjoy the good that's present right now. Joy takes more effort than it used to and anxiety comes more easily. Hope often seems like a cruel joke. Remember Lucy and the football?

Sometimes that's what hope feels like, and I'm left feeling stupid that I fell for it yet again.

Even as I say all this out loud, I know how ridiculous it sounds even in my own head. I hear the nudging reminders not to worry about tomorrow as today has enough worry of its own. I see the "choose joy" on my arm and feel the heart hug of my ever-present friend who showed me what it means to live that out. I hear God calling me to hope. Again. No matter what.

I want to believe that eventually dreaming will feel easier again, that life—though fragile—will feel more secure, and that thoughts of the future will breed more hope than fear. I want to.

So I close my teary eyes again, and take a deep breath. I hold it as long as I can, and as I let the air out I shake my head. All gifts. All grace.

And I whisper a "Thank You"...

rounded the bend

The other day I was responding to a friend's email and found myself rambling. In a good way (hopefully). I was updating her on where I'm at and how I'm doing, and — as usual — writing it out was so good for me. I wanted to share bits and pieces (edited for context) here in this space, because I want you, my friends, to also know what's going on with me. And I already found some of the right words to articulate that, so I might as well start there. The first half of this year has been crazy-transitional... I've moved into an apartment, begun navigating a new "career", and started to get established in a new city. The changes I've faced in the past few years have been plentiful and overwhelming, and I feel as though I am finally exiting the limbo stage. I'm beginning to feel some stability and normalcy, like I haven't experienced in a very long time.

It's all still very new and it's a daily process of embracing my "new normal", but it feels good.

And it is no small thing for me to say that. Things haven't felt good in years, and so it's almost with trepidation that I acknowledge out loud that they do now. There was no light at the end of the tunnel for so long that it feels almost surreal to be out of the tunnel. Quite extraordinary actually...

My Africa trip brought a lot of much-needed healing. It was equally good and hard to be back again, but my time there was long enough for me to eventually begin feeling okay with where things are. With where I am.

A place that once felt like home no longer does, but it will always have my heart... and I'm more okay with that now. For so long I've grieved the loss of even that sense of home and belonging, and I am really starting to be okay with that having been a season. I'm not saying there isn't still grief in that — there probably always will be to some extent — but there is nothing to do but embrace it.

Africa is — and always will be — in the fabric of my DNA.

It is a huge part of what makes me who I am, and for that I will always love her and be drawn back to her.

I am a contributing author to a book that is being published in September. My section is about finding God in Him leading me to Africa as well as in Him leading me away from it. As always, it's about my wrestling... about my questions rather than my answers. While I'd written it prior to my trip, I rewrote it while I was there as I worked on it with my editor. It was certainly not a coincidence, and entirely reshaped the direction of the entire piece. And God really used it to work His healing in my heart. Just incredible...

My Africa trip also brought some much-needed stability. My roles with the two organizations I work with there were solidified and clarified even further. I am now the Brand & Communications Manager for Love Botswana Outreach Mission (Maun, Botswana) and the Communications Director for Bridge for Hope (Cape Flats, South Africa), working from here in the States with trips back there as needed (hopefully a couple times a year). I am assisting both ministries with branding initiatives, online presence development, design project management, and copy writing, and also getting to do some program architecture, which I love. I feel very blessed to be able to work for such incredible organizations, each at very different phases of development: Love Botswana will soon be celebrating their 25th year and Bridge for Hope is in their first. I absolutely love that, as each comes with unique challenges and joys, and I'm grateful I get to be involved in both.

For the first time in years, I have a steady income again. And for the first time in pretty much ever, I'm being paid an actual salary as opposed to raising financial support. It feels unimaginably freeing. Just this past week I was able to purchase a used car (thanks to my parents' assistance with a loan). It feels like such a gift to be mobile again. To have reclaimed a level of independence I haven't had in a very long time.

I've heard it said that in walking through grief, you don’t realize you are turning a corner toward healing until after you’ve rounded the bend.

Then you look back and see that somewhere, something changed, even though you may not be able to identify specifically what or when. That is exactly what happened with me. Right now, looking back, I see a bend in the road. And I have no idea how or exactly when I turned that corner, only that I did. And I find my heart open at last to the possibility of a different future.

I am not saying it was a passive process — that I just woke up one day and suddenly I am “better”. Because that’s not it at all, and I think “better” is somewhat of a mirage anyway. Walking through grief is active. Very active. And doing the hard work of actually walking through it means eventually you find yourself on the other side. Looking back. And seeing that you’ve rounded the bend.

It remains a road I am still walking, and one I will likely be walking for a long time to come. But now, just like way back when I moved to Africa — practically a lifetime ago — my heart is once again filled with a cocktail of hope and doubt, faith and foolishness, and as always, more questions than answers.

And it feels good. Really good.

Thank you for standing with me. For walking with me. For prayerfully carrying me through. I'm grateful for your love & friendship. Tell me about you. Where & how are YOU?

on trust

'Google Webmaster Relationship Loss of Trust' photo (c) 2009, Search Engine People Blog - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ 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 >

On Getting Tested for HIV

I was the all-American good girl growing up. I turned my homework in on time, studied for tests, and got straight A's. I never drank or smoke or did drugs. I went on mission trips. I never dated. (I was, after all, part of the "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" generation.) And I saved myself for marriage...

I never even kissed a guy till I met my husband.

We fell in love as missionaries in his home country of South Africa. We got married and pioneered a ministry in the poorest region of the country.

It was the thing of fairy-tales...

So I never in a million years expected I'd ever have to get tested for HIV.

But I did.

Because my husband was unfaithful. And because we lived in the country with the highest AIDS-infection rate in the world.

He was with her for over a year-and-a-half before the truth came out. And when it did, he chose her. Over me. Over the ministry. He walked away from it all, in pursuit of a new fairy-tale all his own.

With my life crumbling all around me, I was forced to face things I'd never imagined.

Like an HIV test.

I couldn't hold back the tears as vial after vial of blood was taken.

My heart hurt far more than my arm did. I sobbed over the fact that I even needed to get tested. And I wished I had someone there with me. To hold my hand, literally and metaphorically.

My HIV test came back negative (for which I was—and am— overwhelmingly grateful), and I was given some heavy-duty antibiotics to kick any possibility of STDs. So all is well.


But, even two years later, I'm still trying to process the reality that someone who professed for-life love put me in this vulnerable position.

And I wrestle with feeling that saving myself for him was a waste. (Even when I know it wasn't.)

I wish there was a pill that could cure my heart of distrust, fear, and insecurities. But there's no quick remedy for broken trust, a violated heart, and a deep-seated fear of rejection.

All I can do is trust the Healer...

Even when it still hurts.

Originally a guest post on Prodigal Magazine. Read the comments there >