guest post

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 »

on becoming brave

link window brave How different would things be if I approached each situation, each person, with bravery?

That's the question that scratched away at my heart and made me choose brave as my OneWord365. I really wrestled with committing to a word like that, for—well—lots of reasons.

At least for me, brave is a big, scary, monstrous word. I have never felt brave. Ever. It's not a word I would ever use to describe myself. I've done brave things at times, sure. I've taken some risks. I've made some choices others have deemed courageous. But deep down, I would never categorize myself as a brave person.

But I want to.

I want to be someone who's life is marked by bravery.

Don't hear me wrong... I don't want to be known for living an adventurous life. I'm not trying to be edgy, or reckless, or thrill-seeking.

I don't want to do brave things. I want to be brave.

And, I'm discovering, there's a big difference.

It's more about the posture of my heart than about my actions. It's about changing my internal dialogue—the words I say to myself, about myself. It's a willingness to lean into who I really am... and live it out wholeheartedly.

Six full months into the year, I paused to take stock. And I have to admit—I'm a little surprised by all the ways I've seen bravery come to bear in my life so far this year. It's probably not been in ways that others might expect (or that they'd even call brave), but it's usually the smallest steps of bravery which are the most difficult. For me, anyway.

I've opened my heart to possibilities. I've let myself enjoy the present without knowing what the future holds. I've let my guard down. I've let others in. I've leaned into relationships. I've used my words more. I've embraced hard truths. I've taken steps towards healthier boundaries. I've put myself first in areas I'd always put myself last. I've started going to church again. I've stuck my neck out work-wise. I've resumed regular writing commitments. I've made big financial decisions. I've intentionally dug into enjoying my now-life. I've faced a huge loss and didn't fall apart like I once thought I would.

I don't expect to feel like I've crossed some huge finish line in December, having arrived-at-last at being brave. But I do sense that I am already becoming brave. And that is what I want to feel every day for the rest of my life.

The process of becoming holds more value than the being, and I don't want to lose the wonder and vulnerability of the journey. 

So I take a deep breath, and I close my eyes, and I ask for an extra dose of courage for everyone and everything I will face.

And I choose to become braver today than I was yesterday...

:: :: ::

I'd love to hear about your OneWord365 journey at this halfway point. If you blog about it, please share the link.  Otherwise, would you share a few thoughts in the comments? 

Originally posted on Velvet Ashes >

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 >

bring the rain

Alece-Ronzino-Bring-the-Rain The list of roles I played in my former life that I no longer play in this after life is staggering. Wife. Founder. Leader. Missionary. Pastor. Ministry Director. Daughter-in-law. Aunt.

And though not the largest, nor the least, of the losses I faced through my divorce, I no longer fit among certain groups of people. Like pastors' wives, or ministry leaders, or ex-pats, or even just people who only spend time with other married couples. I lost a lot of relationships. And a lot of opportunities.

It feels at times like my history has been erased.

So when my friends at A Life Overseas asked me to share with their online community, I was blown away. Shocked, actually. Though I no longer direct a nonprofit overseas, their invitation told me they still value my voice and experience in that arena. And I can't even begin to tell you what that did for my heart.

All that to say, I'm really humbled and grateful to be sharing over there today. Come join us...

Bring the Rain »»

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 >

{guest post} when God doesn't give you what you asked for

If you don't know my friend Ally Vesterfelt, you need to. She is genuine and passionate, and a beautifully honest writer. She's also the managing editor of Prodigal Magazine, one of my favorite corners of the Internet. I appreciate the ways Ally embraces the "grit" in life and invites God to meet her there.

:: :: ::

This last year I prayed big.

It started because I read a book by Mark Batterson called The Circle Maker. The thought of praying the way he prayed (persistently, for specific things) had never really occurred to me.

Usually, I liked to keep my prayers small and manageable.

I didn't want it to seem like I was being greedy or anything.

But when I read Batterson's book I started to see how praying for things I actually wanted (regardless if they were big or small) wasn't being selfish, it was just being honest — and being honest was what prayer was really about, a dynamic, authentic conversation with God.

So my prayers went from being really "spiritual" all the time to sometimes not-so-much.

I would pray for things like a second bookshelf to house my growing collection. I would pray for warm weather for an outdoor picnic with my husband. I would pray for friendship with a person in a similar stage of life.

Maybe that sounds elementary, but for me it was ground-breaking.

Shocking, actually.

I would pray for a specific need to be met by a specific day, and sure enough, it would be. Or I would pray for something that wasn't a need, that was just a luxury, and many times I would get the gift I had asked for.

But there was one prayer I prayed that wasn't answered.

Granted, it was a big prayer. A little far-fetched even. One of those that, when you write it down, you think to yourself: I'd like to see you take on this one, God.

The request had to do with a specific financial debt I owed. I wanted it to be paid off by the end of the year.

So I wrote down the prayer and the specific number, just as I had been doing before. I started making payments whenever I had extra cash, or money left over in a particular budget. For a while, I was really vigilant about it. I prayed about it every day, and the energy to conquer the debt consumed my mind.

But after a few months the prayer slipped to the back of my journal, and while I did occasionally pray that the debt would be paid by the date I had set, I didn't think about it with nearly the conviction I had when I first started.

So when the end of the year came, and the debt wasn't paid off, I cringed a little.

Not because God hadn't given me what I had asked for, but because He had reminded me that,

while He is a God who hears me and cares about what I want, he has something as much to teach me by saying "no" as he does by saying "yes."

I know this, but sometimes I live like I don't know it.

In fact, sometimes I think this is what kept me from praying "big" prayers in the first place. I was worried that if I didn't say it right, or if my heart wasn't in exactly the right place, I would never get what I asked for.

And when I act like prayer is about getting what I ask for, I miss the point altogether.

It's okay to want something (even admit we want it) and still not have it.

The second thing I learned was that, when it comes to what I have and what I don't have, I am a co-creator with God. God has more resources than I do, more grace, more wisdom, and far more patience — but I can't expect Him to answer prayers I am not willing to answer myself.

I have to be willing to make the sacrifices, fork over the cash, go visit the friend, reach out to the person in need, stay up all night working —

All the while praying for God to fill in the gaps.

Many times in my life God has answered prayers i didn't know how to pray, or that I couldn't have dreamed up in a million years. Other times I have begged him for things, laid everything on the line, and he has said "no," or worse, been silent.

There is no reward/payoff system, no formula we can use to make prayer "work," for us, to help get us what we want.

But I think that's actually the point I'm trying to make.

That prayer is its own reward, and that as my prayers change, I change with them.

And for now that is enough.

:: :: ::

Allison is a writer, managing editor of Prodigal Magazine and author of Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage (Moody, 2013). She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband Darrell. You can follow her daily on Twitter or Facebook.

How do you handle God's "no"s or silences?

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.

Partially for the right reasons and partially out of fear. Fear of becoming damaged goods... Fear of messing up God's perfect plan... Fear of disappointing the man I hadn't even met yet... Fear of sex itself: the big, bad, ugly thing it was made out to be.

Then I got married.

And on my wedding night, those fears occupied the bed with me and my husband. They overcrowded and overpowered the room... the mood... me. The anxiety gave way to tears which gave way to more anxiety which gave way to, well, no sex. It just didn't happen.

I mean, how could it? I was terrified. Ashamed, even. I didn't know how to flip the invisible, internal switch from SEX:BAD to SEX:GOOD.

It took a while for me to get there. And, if I'm being painfully honest, I'm not sure I ever quite did. Sex and intimacy were always challenging for me throughout my decade-long. It still felt immoral in a way. Scandalous—as though I wasn't allowed to enjoy that which I'd saved for this very context.

The promise of abstinence leading to a great sex life in marriage felt like a cruel mirage. A ploy. A lie. A deception.

And now here I sit, single-again... Contemplating sex and abstinence in a different light, given the past few years of my life. In fact, this post has been sitting in my drafts folder since 2010, born out of a conversation with a friend—scribbled thoughts that I've been hesitant to formulate or to fully own, since I'm not entirely sure where they're going, if anywhere at all. And also because I don't want people to hear that I'm anti-abstinence—because I'm not.

I still believe that saving sex for marriage is what God intended and is ultimately best for us. But holding to that truth does not mean:

  • That having sex before marriage leaves me damaged and unable to have a healthy sex life with my spouse.
  • That saving sex for marriage guarantees a healthy sex life with my spouse.

Holding to that truth does mean:

  • That I believe God can redeem all things.
  • That a healthy sex life, like all forms of intimacy, takes hard work, honest communication, and vulnerability.

While I wish I'd understood that holistic perspective a few decades ago, I find myself still grappling to understand it now. Somehow, it's as though the myths are easier to believe, or at least easier to live life by. (Fear can be a powerful motivator.)

I figure a good starting point to freedom and healing is to talk about it. And so as I keep staring at this blinking curser, taunting me to find a way to finish this post, all I know is this:

I want to be fueled by love rather than fear.

In this thing.

In all things.

Originally posted on Prodigal. Read the comments there >

it's not about doing more

I've lived most of my life by shoulds. Growing up, I was the all-American good girl. I did well in school. I went on mission trips. I moved to Africa when I was 19 to serve as a missionary. I did everything "right". By the book. The way I was supposed to, expected to, told to. The way I should. But the treadmill of striving is exhausting. If only I could do more... If only I could do better... Yet for every should I managed to check off, more got added to the list. It was a vicious cycle of defeat.

In my painful journey of the past few years, I realized how badly I needed to stop should-ing on myself. And I discovered how challenging it can be to get off that treadmill.

One of the ways I've found some freedom from the should shackles has been by ditching New Year's Resolutions. I used to make a long list of goals I'd like to achieve in the new year, but never managed to live up to them (or, at times, even remember what they were).

It only left me feeling like a failure.

So I began choosing just One Word as I step into a new year. One word that sums up who I want to be, or a character trait I want to develop, or an attribute I want to intentionally add to my life.

And since it's just one word, it's easy to remember. I place reminders of it around my home and workspace, and I inevitably start seeing and hearing it everywhere, which helps me stay mindful of it.

One year, I committed to risk more—it forced me to step out of my comfort zone and do things I wouldn't ordinarily do. Another year, my word was look—it gave me eyes to see God's divine fingerprints even in the darkest of moments. This past year, my word was choose—a daily reminder that while I can't control what happens to me, I can always choose my response.

My One Word isn't another to-do list. It's simply a guide as I make decisions, set plans, and go about my every day.

And I've seen these words shape not only my year, but also myself. They've challenged me, inspired me, changed me. Such is the power of intentionality.

I've chosen enough as my One Word for 2013, and with equal parts trepidation and curiosity, I am anxious to see how it will grow me this coming year.

Will you join me in choosing One Word for the year? It's not about doing more, but about being who you were created to be.

Maybe a word popped right into your head. Maybe you need to let the idea percolate a bit longer. Either way, more often than not, your word finds you.

You’ll probably have a love/hate relationship with it. That’s okay. If it doesn’t scare you at least a little bit, it’s probably not the right word.

So… Together, let's stop should-ing on ourselves.

What do you want to focus on in 2013? Who do you want to be by the end of the year?

Once you've landed on your word, write a blog post about it. Then add it to the community link-up on the One Word 365 site.

Originally posted on SheLovesMagazine. 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

"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}

around the interwebs

I have the amazing privilege of writing for Deeper Story once a month. And I'm over there today, sharing some thoughts on suffering and riverbeds... and what the two have in common. If you've ever endured any kind of painful heartache, link over and read it. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

My friend Jeremy Statton graciously interviewed me for his blog, aptly called Living Better Stories. He asked some poignant questions about shattered dreams, asking God "why?", and choosing joy. Link over to read my responses.
Will you do me a favor and share a link to one of your favorite posts that you've written recently? I know, I know... That might feel strange to do. But I asked, so no need to worry about it seeming self-promoting. Honestly, I'd love to read the best thing you've written lately... So go 'head.
Share the link!

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...

love and respect {now}

I'm sure you've heard of the marriage ministry (and book) called Love and Respect, by Emerson and Sarah Eggerichs. They're amazing, and I believe in their message. But it took me a while to get there. That'll happen when you have their book thrown at you. Literally.

I read it begrudgingly, and in the context of my life at the time I couldn't really even hear the message of the book over the cacophony of pain in my heart.

Fast forward a few years to when I realized my new friend, Joy Eggerichs was that Eggerichs. (As in the daughter of the couple who wrote and run Love and Respect.) Joy pioneered Love and Respect (Now), an incredible online resource and community that helps facilitate conversations about relationships. Her focus is on helping us figure it out NOW instead of someday saying, “I wish I had known then…”

Well, I'm guest posting for Joy today.

Come read about our unexpected friendship, my experience with her parents' book, and the time respect was thrown in my face.

Link over to read my post HERE >

bringing hope to the hard places

I sponsor three children in Ethiopia through Food for the Hungry. I had a vague idea of what child sponsorship meant, but if I'm honest, I really had no clue how it worked. Until I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Ethiopia in July to see it all firsthand.

Food for the Hungry believes in child-focused community transformation. They measure the health of a community by the health of its children—physically, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically. Then by meeting the children’s needs, they empower and build entire families and communities.

They focus on people, meet needs holistically, do things with excellence, and bring lasting change. And they do it all without fostering dependence. They go in to each region with an end-goal and an exit strategy. They aren’t there to be a crutch or even to provide hand-outs. They are there to build capacity and sustainability in both people and communities.

And this all happens through child sponsorship.

I discovered that my monthly support does more than directly impact the beautiful children I sponsor. Yes, it provides Chaltu, Nathinael, and Aklilu with food, medical care, and education. But as if that isn't enough, it also helps to fund the ongoing development of the communities in which they live.

Food for the Hungry works with parents, pastors, and local leaders to address the needs of the community as a whole, not just the individual sponsored children. They build schools, teach effective farming techniques, construct water and sanitation systems, train teachers, provide supplies, and develop child mentorship programs.

And as a result, children all over the world are having their lives transformed. Just like my three precious Ethiopian kids.

One of Food for the Hungry's slogans is “We go to the hard places”. And they definitely do. They took me to visit some remote villages that face seemingly insurmountable challenges. But Food for the Hungry is there, making a difference and working with the most vulnerable of children who live in inescapable poverty.

Ultimately, the greatest gift they offer is hope. Their very presence and the development work they do communicates worth, value, and significance to those who have felt long forgotten. It opens their eyes and their hearts to the love of God, and gives them hope for the future.

I feel honored and humbled to be able to play even a tiny part in the incredible work Food for the Hungry is doing around the world. Partnering with them inspires me to purposefully seek out ways I can join them in bringing hope to the hard places.

Originally published on

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 >

{Guest Post} When Your World Comes Crashing Down

Jeff Goins and I connected a few years ago via Twitter. We both have a heart for missions and started brainstorming ways to partner our organizations together. He quickly became a friend, and it's been a joy watching his journey unfold the past few years. He is a solid guy—wicked smart, gifted writer, and passionate about not only telling great stories, but living them as well. His new book Wrecked is poignant and inspiring. You definitely need to read it! I've asked Jeff to share one of his experiences of learning to embrace the messy grit of life.

It was senior year in college, and I thought I knew a thing or two about life. I thought I had it all figured out, that I knew the direction of my destiny. Everything, I thought, was going according to plan.

I was wrong.

My plan was this: study Spanish, learn the language, graduate college, and move abroad. My best friend had moved to Guatemala, so I thought I'd follow him. What could be better?

But then one Saturday afternoon, I attended a church service where a gentleman was sharing about the 10/40 window and the needs of people all over the world — not just in Latina America.

He messed me and my little plan up.

The more the man talked, the more uneasy I felt. And the more I realized this was my bright idea and maybe not God's. Finally at the end of the day, I approached him, asking the question that was burning in my heart.

"I speak Spanish. Shouldn't I go to some place where I already know the language and culture?"

He smiled and shook his head, full of grace. I prodded and asked and wanted to know why, why he was ruining all my wonderful plans.

Then he said something I won't soon forget: "The gifts never precede the call."

But that wasn't enough for me. I wanted specifics: charts and graphs and whatnot. He told me it was good that I knew Spanish, but that I couldn't go to God with my abilities, asking him to merely bless them.

Instead, I needed to follow him, to go where I felt called, and trust that what I needed to serve would follow. He explained that one approach (mine, I gathered) was prideful, asking God to baptize my preexisting plans; and the other was the way of faith, of trusting without seeing.

Days after that meeting, I started watching videos about China and got excited. A year later, I spent a month in Taiwan.

I'm still figuring it out, but this is the tough part of pursuing our life's work. Things don't always go according to plan; sometimes, we don't get what we want. And maybe that's what a calling is all about.

... ... ...

Jeff Goins is a writer who lives in Nashville. You can find him on his blog at and follow him on Twitter at @jeffgoins. His book, Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life, just came out. Find out more at

How have you seen God show up in your own life when things didn't go according to plan?