missionary musings

Farewell, Mandela


It is the same with Mandela as it is with pretty much everything:

There is always more to the story than most of us want to acknowledge.

There is much that can be said about Mandela's past (and while we're at it, much can be said about mine and yours as well). His life wasn't one that always stood for peace, yet that is what he is most known for now. He is an undeniable example of the power we each have to change our own story. A life surrendered and transformed has unrivaled potential in the hands of our Creator.

Brené Brown said it perfectly:

“Owning our story can be hard, but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. If we own the story, then we can write the ending.”

Yesterday we mourned the loss of a great man who rewrote not only his own story, but that of the entire nation of South Africa. Mandela drew a line in the sand that forever changed the trajectory of a continent and inspired hope around the globe.

His life makes it impossible to deny the far-reaching ripple effect of even one solitary life, and his legacy reminds us that no one is ever too far gone for a second chance.

Farewell, Mandela. The world stands grateful...

I stand grateful...

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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 >

beautiful feet

"How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" As a missionary, I heard that verse often. People spoke it to me, wrote it in cards, sent it in framed pictures. It was a promise, to me, of beauty in messy places.

My feet walked the dusty dirt roads of Qwa Qwa, South Africa.

They stepped into dirt-floor homes, made of one room and filled with families of 12. Or more. My feet sat me down, cross-legged, to hold precious HIV-infected little ones, too weak to lift their heads, too numb to smile. My feet carried me to my desk (because, you see, I was {mostly} an office missionary), up the hill to my class (to teach a room filled with young beautiful feet), to the shops in my tiny town (where people knew me as that "Yankee girl").

My feet held me as our property raged with a wildfire, as a twister ripped the roof off my house, as the floods broke through the dam wall and filled the landscape. My feet held me as I held others, going through storms of their own, mostly of the invisible kind. My feet took me to Africa, and my feet took me back to the States.

And here I sit, nestled comfortably on the couch, and I wonder where the beauty has gone...

I wonder if an ex-missionary's feet are only beautiful in past tense, or if there could be some glimmer of redemptive beauty that still remains.

What do beautiful feet look like after failure, after shattered dreams, after hope dried up? What does it mean to bring good news in my everyday ordinary life when there are no babies to rock, classes to teach, people asking about Jesus?

I throw back the last sip of my now-lukewarm coffee, and the dam wall breaks...

Maybe the good news is simply a kind word, a generous smile, a lingering hug. Maybe the good news is an honest conversation about my struggles and the grace that clings to me even when I can't cling to it. Maybe the good news is offering the gift of going second, letting others know they aren't alone. Maybe the good news is found in "I don't know"s rather than fabricated answers, in "You are loved"s because it just needs to be said, in humble "I'm sorry, please forgive me"s from a sincere broken heart, in honestly grateful "Thank you"s that honor the gift and the giver. 

Maybe the good news that He sees, cares, and loves is really found in someone feeling seen, cared for, and loved... by me.

And maybe, just maybe, beautiful feet are whatever vehicle used to deliver that good news. A spoken word. A thumbed-out text. A hand-hold. An understanding tear. A joyful laugh. A handwritten letter. A blog post. A not-letting-go hug.

Perhaps this ex-missionary still brings good news, and perhaps my feet are found by Him to be beautiful still.

And maybe that verse still stands as a promise of beauty in messy places.

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 >

pleading not guilty

I was worried I'd grown numb to it. Maybe I'd become calloused. Hardened. Immune. Because poverty wasn't affecting me like it used to.

When I faced it as a teenager—on mission trips to places like Nicaragua and Botswana—my eyes and my heart were opened to things I never knew existed in the world. I was wrecked to discover such unimaginable and inescapable poverty, and it messed with me at a deep level.

I'd return home and make all kinds of extreme commitments. I vowed to be less materialistic. I took radical stances with my "self-absorbed" Christian friends. I soapboxed about America's obsession with excess. I volunteered more, and served wherever and whenever I could.

But as the aftershocks of my experiences with poverty wore off, so did my radical life changes. Until my next mission trip.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

It was a vicious cycle of the best intentions that did nothing more than fuel my need to continually strive to be better, do more, and—somehow, hopefully—be enough.

I'm not saying I didn't genuinely have compassion and conviction and passion to live a life that makes a difference. I did. But it translated into a guilt-driven reaction to the extremes I saw and experienced.

It was a nauseating roller coaster ride as I tried—and failed—to reconcile the poverty I witnessed with the life I lived everyday and to bridge the disparity between my abundance and their lack.

It was years after I moved to South Africa to serve in the poorest region of the country that I finally realized that those things can't be reconciled or bridged. The contrasts will never make sense.

And I mustn't allow my guilt to force-feed my insatiable striving complex. Nor must I allow it to paralyze me into inactivity or apathy.

I had finally learned to step off the roller coaster and actually engage in doing something that would truly make a difference. Not fueled by guilt, but by hope.

I realized that it isn't about being apologetic for what I have, giving everything away, or looking down on how much people spend at Starbucks. It is about stewarding what I have well, using it to serve, strengthen, and love others.

People often ask me how I could live and work for so long in a community of such dire poverty. "Do you just get used to it?" What they are really asking is the same thing I've asked myself: "Did you grow numb?"

And I see now that I didn't. But somewhere in my 13 years of living in Africa, something did change in me.

I stopped feeling guilty about what I had and the "luck" of being born an American, and I started to feel grateful to be part of the solution.

The problems and challenges are enormous, but we can all do something that makes a difference. In our own unique ways, with our own individual passions and talents, we can bring hope into places and hearts that gave up a long time ago.

Not because we feel guilty, but because we are compelled by the hope we ourselves have been given.

What's been your experience with responding to poverty? How can we move past guilt into being part of the solution?

{photos by Daniel White}

out of africa

{Hello? Is this thing on? Can you even hear me over the sound of crickets?} Hi. It's been a while, I know. And while I could never do it justice, I'm gonna try to fill you in on the past couple months...

My first week or so in Africa seemed like an emotional roller coaster. Experiencing so many conflicting emotions, sometimes all at the same time, made my heart feel like she had whiplash. I was glad to be back, and yet familiar things brought equal measures of nostalgia and heartache. The acuteness of it all faded with each passing day. I feel like the length of my trip -- though long in every respect -- was a gift in that it gave me enough time for things to become "normal" again. In a way they hadn't felt in a long time.

I hit the ground running and was extremely busy with work. Long, full, tiring days were a distraction for my heart, which was both good and bad at times. And then, right when He knew I'd need it, God forced me to process rather than push it off.

I am a contributing author to a book being published in September. (Crazy, right?!) My portion of the manuscript had been turned in a month or so before I left, causing the editing process to fall smack in the middle of my time in Africa. Ummm... Wow. It was no coincidence that God had me revisit my memoir-style piece about following Him to and eventually from Africa while actually in Africa. It was h-a-r-d. So very hard. But so, so good.

I really enjoyed the whole editing process, though it was strenuous and heart-stretching in every possible way. I am excited about the new direction my writing took because I worked on it on my first trip back to Africa. And I am really thankful for the forced outlet of processing. My heart is stronger for it.

I had an amazing time with Love Botswana and Bridge for Hope. I am beyond grateful that I get to work with these incredible organizations, and I'm already looking forward to my next trip back to Southern Africa at the end of August.

I'm pretty sure my body has no idea what timezone I'm in. I arrived back in Nashville on Thursday. Less than 24 hours later, I hopped a plane to Oregon to surprise my Best Heart's Friend Cathi with a weekend visit. Her awesome husband helped me plan the whole thing so I could be there for their son's first birthday. Lincoln is my godson, and I didn't want to miss his big day! We had a blast of a weekend, filled with couch time and laughter and hugs and cake. What a gift it was to be there and to have my heart filled up with friends.

And now... I am really happy to be home in Nashville. I love to travel and feel crazy blessed that I get to, but I also love having a home to come back to. I'm a roots and wings girl after all.

From Africa to the west coast and now back in Central Time... Here's to the joys of jet lag (and NyQuil)!

Oh! I've been let out of Twitter purgatory! After 30 days -- with 7 support tickets filed and 0 contact from Twitter -- my account was reactivated just as randomly and explanationlessly as it had been suspended. So weird. (Thank you to all of you who implored the powers-that-be on my behalf!)

Well, I've got a suitcase to unpack and laundry to wash and a roommate to catch up on The Voice with. I'll talk to you again soon.

I promise.

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 >

epically epoch

Nothing sounds more contradictory than a black-tie missions gala.

But Epoch 2011 pulled it off masterfully.

I was honored to attend their inaugural event in Atlanta, and while I don't know what I was picturing, what they delivered far blew away any expectations I may have had.

The night was spectacular in every way. I'm not just talking about the historic Fox Theater, the classy meal, the engaging presenters, or the elegance of the entire evening. Although every element from start to finish was artful and captivating.

The most amazing part for me was the undercurrent of genuine humility.

I don't say something like that lightly. So hear me out.

The event was hosted by Adventures in Missions, an incredible organization that itself lives on financial support. And yet they made the evening about everyone but themselves.

They found sponsors, invited donors, and distributed grants to support-based organizations, even when they very much need (and would make good use of) those same resources. Seth Barnes, the founder and director of Adventures, said grace before the meal, but other than that, he chose to not be front and center. At all.

This wasn't about him. This wasn't about Adventures.

This was about serving and honoring their co-laborers around the world.

The ballroom was filled with over 400 people on all sides of missions work: from those who live full-time on the field to Kingdom-minded individuals who make a significant impact through their financial support.

The majority of us felt very out of place in our evening gowns and tuxedos, and yet... felt oddly at home with each other. Because underneath the heels and bowties, our hearts beat the same.

I spent an evening surrounded by those who have given of themselves more than anyone could possibly fathom. And yet it wasn't flaunted. The Gala wasn't showy or ostentatious. It was beautiful, yes. Classy, absolutely. But genuine, because of the genuine hearts present.

That "great cloud of witnesses" the author of Hebrews talked about? I was surrounded by the pre-Heaven version.

The faith, sacrifice, perseverance, and blood-sweat-and-tears labor that filled that room was nothing short of astounding. Nations have been changed -- and will continue to be changed -- by that roomful of humble misfits in evening attire.

It was a night like none other.

And I already can't wait for next year.

That is... if I get invited back after my shenanigans in the photo booth. My true self came out in typical fashion, despite my red dress and uncomfortably high heels. My friend Tracee and I are still laughing at these ridiculous pictures!

Click over to LIKE the Grit on Facebook & view the crazy photo booth pics >

In honor of Epoch, Cross & Crown is offering a HUGE discount on design projects between now and 11/15 >

Where have you seen genuine humility recently?

maybe he was right

I keep hearing my former pastor's words, spoken to my 19-year-old self over 13 years ago. "The worst possible thing you could do with your life is become a missionary."

And I am starting to wonder if maybe he was right.

I've always felt confident about my decision to step into ministry when and how I did -- against all the odds, really.

I've seen fruit of lives changed and considered it all the proof I needed that I was doing something far from the "worst possible thing".

But here I sit, late at night when the darkness is darkest and the doubts and unknowns are the loudest.

I sit here with my heart pounding and the tears flowing. And now...

Now my confidence is cracked and crumbling. Now while I know lives were changed by our team and years and service in Africa, I still hear my former pastor's words to my faith-filled teenage missionary heart.

And I've gotta be honest. I no longer have my youthful faith and energy that bounded me away from the fateful words spoken over me. I don't have the fight left in me that it takes to stand up against these kinds of roadblocks.

Even when they are only internal.

I simply don't have any fight left.

And I can't help but think...

That maybe he was right after all.

Maybe he was right. Maybe my decision to be a missionary was the worst thing I could've done because of the domino effect it would cause. Because while people got saved, pastors and churches strengthened, young leaders equipped to teach their peers in public schools about abstinence and AIDS prevention, and so many other mind-blowingly amazing things were done that led to transforming a nation... simultaneously my marriage fell apart, the man of God I loved decided to pursue another woman and walk away from God, me, and the ministry, and everything crumbled to pieces.

So maybe he was right all along. Maybe had I not gone to Africa, someone else more suitable and prepared and strong would have gone. And the end result of years of ministry would be so much more than what it currently is.

Maybe he was right...

I know to live in past-tense hypotheticals is completely futile. I know this. But in dark moments of deafening quiet, my heart immediately goes to that place. And I can't help but cry as my chest caves in under the weight of it all.

Maybe he was right...

Maybe He was right.

I gasp, and my breath catches in my throat.

Why do I trust so easily the words of the meteorologist and yet hesitate at the words of God? Why do I more easily trust the negative, fearful voices in my head than I do God's truth?

He told me to go. I went. Lives were changed through the grit and the glory. Including my own.

And so through the ugly tears, I'm starting to hear a growing whisper.

Maybe He was right.

Maybe He was right.

healing in the storm

Africa has the greatest storms. The rainy season finally comes after months of drought. By the time the first drop falls, the earth is cracked and parched. Lakes and ponds have all but dried up. The tall savannah grass is brown and brittle.

The earth is thirsty. Ready. Waiting.

And then, out of nowhere one day, the storm clouds roll in.

The blackened sky sobs heavy tears. You can feel the thunder deep in your bones as it echoes through the plains. The lightning makes you jump with fear and paralyzes you with awe all in the same loud, bright instant. The wind reminds you that only God could tie the trees down tightly enough.

Africa's storms are altogether wonderful.

And altogether terrible.

Water rushes into homes, through the cracks in mud hut walls and the gaps in old thatch roofs and the seams in tin shack ceilings. Gusts of wind blow right through bedrooms and marble-sized hail destroys gardens. Those with only their feet for transportation run for any cover they can find---the bus stop, the liquor store, the first home they can reach in the village.

The storms are harsh. And unrelenting. And inconvenient.

And yet, they are welcomed.

There is a joy about the rainy season. "We need it," is what you'll hear.

"We need it."

They find it easy to say. Easy to see. Easy to recognize and acknowledge that as challenging as the storm may be, good will come of it. It is, after all, an answer to countless prayers for the sun-scorched ground of Africa.

They know that the thirst can't be quenched without the storm.

Spring can't come without the rain.

New life can't bud deep beneath the surface of the dry, crusty ground until the heavens unleash their fury.

The drought doesn't end until the storms start.

We need it.

I need it.

I need this storm in my life. Not as punishment or discipline or as some cruel cosmic joke that has God chuckling to Himself. I need it because of what's waiting on the other side, that I can't see yet.

I need it because my cracked, dry heart doesn't remember anymore what it feels like to be filled to overflowing.

I need it because everything in my life has turned the bare, barren brown of winter. And I'm despearte for the life-awakening green of spring.

I need it.

Even when I hate it.

Africa reminds me to take joy in the downpour.

For there is healing in this storm...

Originally a guest post at Mary DeMuth's...

missions is God's heartbeat

I've heard people talk about the Biblical basis of missions. But I think it's more accurately stated as the missional basis of the Bible. It's so easy to assume that missions is a New Testament idea. But it's not. It's been God's heart since the very beginning. His passion for the nations is evident throughout the entirety of the Bible.

I know many often struggle to reconcile the God of judgment and wrath in the Old Testament with the one of mercy and grace in the New. But if we look closely enough, we can see His heartbeat as a thread all throughout.

It's so evident in the Bible stories we learned in Sunday School, but amid the flannelgraphs and illustrated kids' Bibles, we may have missed it.

Way back in Genesis, God promised Abraham overwhelming blessings. Not so Abraham could live an abundant, selfish life. But so that "all people on earth will be blessed" through him. All people.

The story of Noah and the ark shows us more than God's wrath on the sinful world and the rescue of every kind of animal. It reveals God's mercy, compassion, and love for the nations of the earth. The promise set forth in the rainbow was God's covenant with all of mankind---not just Noah's family. Not just the people of Israel. Not just the Body of Christ. God's covenant of grace was "a covenant for all generations to come." All generations.

What was the whole point of David and Goliath? Little beats big? God on your side is the majority? We can do all things through God's strength? All of those things and more. Ultimately, it reveals God's heart. David conquered Goliath so "the whole world will know that there is a God." The whole world.

Then there was Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the three young Israelites in the fiery furnace. In the end, King Nebuchadnezzar decreed that the people of "every nation" will know that "no other god can save." Every nation.

Not only did the Lord spare Daniel's life in the lion's den, but "all the peoples, nations, and men of every language" heard about it. The king issued a decree that basically said, "There is no God like Daniel's!" Every language.

Even in the Psalms we can read of God's heart for the lost. "May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face shine upon us that Your ways may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations." David's prayer was "Bless us, Lord, so that all nations may come to know You!" There are so many other passages like that strewn throughout the Psalms. All nations.

As you read the Bible this week, look at everything through the missions lens. You'll see things you never noticed before. And you'll discover the heart of God in a whole new way.

God's ultimate plan is for all nations to know Him.  As Christians, as God-followers, we are called to be a part of His plan.

All of us.

Originally a guest post at my friend Becky's

roots and wings

I love my wings.

I really enjoy traveling. It's a good thing, since I do so much of it. I love the newness, the adventure, the constant change. I enjoy experiencing the new and the different, discovering things I've always wanted to see and things I didn't even know existed.

There is nothing in the world like stepping into the unfamiliar, unknown, unpredictable, and unexpected. It makes my heart come alive.

Most of all, I love people. It is such a gift to be constantly meeting new people and spending cherished moments with friends. Experiencing other people's worlds means embracing new rhythms of life, and I learn so much from all that is different than me.

I value my heart's desire for change.

I also love my roots.

I crave security and stability. At times, the humdrum of routine is the sweetest sound I know. There is comfort in the known and the familiar, joy in the predictable. Going to bed after a day that looked exactly as expected makes for some sweet contentment.

I'm grateful for the sense of belonging that comes with home. It is a beautiful thing to have a space in life that's carved out with my exact shape---the warm hug of that perfect fit is absolutely matchless.

Being in one place long enough to be missed when I'm gone makes my heart exhale. I love being with those rare people who feel like home to me---who know what I'm thinking before I say it, who can read my slightest facial expression, who just plain "get" me, no explanation needed.

I value my heart's desire for same.

I live in the tension between my wings and roots.

At times it's exhausting... at others, exhilarating. When I've had one for too long, I start yearning for the other. All change with no same makes me just as restless as all same with no change.

And I'm feeling restless now.

The past 19 months have been nothing but change. My heart longs for steady. Predictable. Certainty. I want some surety under my feet. My wings are tired.

So I'm trying to create pockets of same in the midst of all the change. Little bits of routine. Tiny fragments of consistency. I need to find some more creative ways to do that...

Cause after all, a girl can have both wings and roots, right?!


Are you more of a wings or roots person? Any thoughts on how I can create some "same" in my very unpredictable life right now?

prone to wander

I love the raw honesty in the comments on these prayer posts. I am so thankful for the transparency and community here at The Grit. Thank you for sharing your hearts in this space. I want to pass along some things that help my prone-to-wander heart stay connected with God in prayer. Not as a formula or because I think these are the best or only ways to do it. But because maybe they will spur on ideas that work for you personally.

: : :

I create prayer prompts for myself. I'm visual, so it helps me when I connect things I want to pray for with specific objects or even places. Then those serve as triggers, prompting me to pray whenever I see them. For instance...

  • My pillow is a reminder, when I lay my head on it at night, to pray for my mind, thoughts, dreams, and sleep.
  • Putting my hands on the steering wheel when I get in the car reminds me to acknowledge that God is in control and not me.
  • Y'all know I like me some Starbucks --- It's comfort in a cup for me. So I've made Starbucks to-go cups a prompt to thank Him for the peace, security, and belonging I have in Him.

Short arrow-like prayers invite the Lord right into the moment with me. I love Nehemiah's example of this: "The king said to me, 'What is it you want?' Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king..." Mid-conversation, before he even responded to the question, Nehemiah shot up a prayer. I try to be intentional to do the same, shooting up quick prayers for help and wisdom, to thank Him, or just to point out something that I love...

I keep pen and paper nearby. Scribbling down the random things and to-do lists I think of makes it easier to keep my mind fixed on talking to God.

Some of my best prayers are prayed in bed at night. I usually struggle to fall asleep, because my brain lacks an OFF switch. Quieting my heart to pray is a good way for me to turn late-night concerns right into conversations with God... even if I do fall asleep mid-prayer.

I use post-it notes. Lots of them. I write down things I want to pray for, and stick them where they'll be visible. I have Fuzzy Brain Syndrome, and will simply forget without reminders like this.

I don't often tell someone I'll pray for them. Because I know full-well how quickly my good intentions get away from me. When I do say I'll pray, I stop right then and do it.

Often when I'm driving alone, I pray out loud in the car. I tend to spiderweb less when I'm praying out loud.

When I really need to hash through something with God, I journal my prayer. Writing out my conversation with Him helps keep me focused, and seems to make it easier for me to listen for His response.

I am so thankful that the Holy Spirit intercedes for me. When I don't know what or how to pray (which is pretty often), I often just whisper: I have no words right now. Holy Spirit, I need You to pray for me because I simply can't...

: : :

"Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above."

-from the hymn Come Thou Fount

What are some things that help you pray?

coming out from under the guilt

For me, prayer has always been wrapped up in condemnation. Not that it was a conscious thought, but it was always there... underlying my foundational beliefs about prayer. And about myself.

While I've never been one to pray for very long, my mom, on the other hand, was known for her hours-long prayer times. And in a way, it became a measure of spirituality in the brand of Christianity I was raised in.

A measure I fell very short of.

I've been made to feel like a "bad Christian" because of my prayer habits (or non-habits).

I've been told that I'm not spiritual enough because I don't pray for long periods of time. (Along with my insufficient Scripture usage and lack of structured "quiet times"...)

Prayer became yet another area that I'm simply "not enough" in. The guilt always gave birth to shame in my failed attempts to try harder.

So it's something I've had to realign my thinking on. And I find myself still needing to. Often. Because I still feel the weight of those lies.

I want depth and realness in my prayer life to stem from desire, not judgment.

I'm tired of trying to pray more/better/longer/eloquentlier because I'm "supposed to". I'm done should-ing on myself, and I'm done with others should-ing on me too.

Because, let's be honest... Guilt, disapproval, and judgment have only caused me to pray less, not more.

Ironic how condemnation works. Even when it's self-inflicted.

I digress.

There is significant freedom in remembering that God created me as I am, on purpose.

He's not surprised by my "oooooh! shiny!" tendencies when I'm talking to Him. He's not baffled by my inability to sit still for extended periods of time. He's not confused when I pray in short one-liners spread throughout the day.

He knows what I'm like. He's the One who knit me together for God's sake! (No blasphemy intended. He really did create me for His sake.)

And He hardwired me exactly as I am. Intentionally.

I think He loves when I relate to Him out of the uniqueness of my own DNA rather than out of some mass-produced version of how Christians "should" pray.

So today I'm choosing to shake off the shackles of should and supposed to. And I'm giving myself the freedom to discover how God wants to relate to me.

And how He created me to relate to Him.

Which is as individual and unparalleled as my fingerprint.

What are some of the unique ways you can relate to God? Do you feel freedom to connect with Him like that?

thoughts from my dusty prayer closet

Praying has never been easy for me. Not something you'd ever expect to hear from a missionary, I know. But it's the truth. Praying is sometimes usually really hard.

So I don't pray nearly as much as I "should". Not as much as I want to, even. Or maybe not as much as I want to want to would be more accurate.

I get distracted really easily.

Midway through mentally writing my Target list, I'll remember that I'd actually been praying.

Oh. Yeah.

So I shift back to prayer and, sure enough, my mind begins wandering again. Even if it starts with thoughts of the person or situation I'm praying for, my brain very quickly spiderwebs into countless random things. Until I remember---again!---that I was in the middle of praying.

Oh. Yeah.

Take 29.

I also can't spend hours in prayer. I just can't.

Many people can. And do. And actually love it. But not me. I'm simply not wired that way.

I'm more inclined to talk to God in bite-size conversations throughout the day than in one long official "prayer time". Maybe it's because I'm more do-er than be-er, more Martha than Mary. Maybe it's because I can't sit in one place very long. Or because I don't feel like I have that much to say. Or because I struggle with structure. Or because of that whole "easily distracted" thing.

Maybe it's a combination of all the above. And then some.

Whatever the reason(s), I don't often pray for any great length of time.

But none of these "challenges" give me license not to pray.

They don't let me off the hook from growing in this area.

I still need to spend more time praying than I currently do. I need to be intentional to stay focused in prayer. I need to ask, seek, and knock. I need to give thanks and make my requests known.

I still need to pour my heart out like water before the Lord. I just no longer need that to look like some Wonderbread version of a quality prayer life.

I simply need it to look like me connecting with Him.

I'm gonna unpack more thoughts on prayer tomorrow. In the meantime, I'd love to hear what prayer (honestly) looks like for you.

how do we tell?

I'm no stranger to challenges, both in ministry and in life. I've roughed the stormy seas of tight finances. I've braved long seasons of everything possible going wrong in every way possible.

I've endured numerous devastating fires on our mission base. I've watched a tornado lift the roof right off of my house. While I was in it. Twice.

I've faced countless health issues, lost loved ones, sat broken-down on the side of the road more times than I can count.

I'm not oblivious to the schemes of the devil.

I know the enemy attacks hard on the front lines.

I also know God uses the situations we face to guide and shape us.

He disciplines us, redirects our paths, and goes to great lengths to get ourattention at times.

And so today I find myself wrestling.

I'm coming up with more questions than answers, though.

A barrage of negative/painful/stretching circumstances could be an attack we should stand against in faith. Or it could be God's way of "closing a door", turning us around, or shifting the direction of our path.

How do we tell the difference?

i was young and foolish

I moved to Africa twelve years ago today. It feels like a lifetime ago in some ways, and in others, it feels like just yesterday.

Some people think I was brave and bold for packing up and moving to Africa when I was 19.

If I was either, I certainly didn't know it.

I felt a whole mix of emotions on that long flight across the Atlantic, but brave and bold weren't in the mix.

Sad, frightened, and unsure were though.

Right next to equal doses of anticipation, hopefulness, and nervous-excitement.

I was young. And slightly foolish.

Foolish enough to think I had something offer. Foolish enough to believe I'd felt God's leading. Foolish enough to imagine He could use me.

Twelve years later, I smirk as I thank God that I still have some foolishness in me.

Part of me thinks it's a little wrong to celebrate my "Afriversary" in America. But it isn't the first time. And it probably won't be the last.

And it doesn't change the fact that twelve years ago today, the entire trajectory of my life changed forever.

Here's to another year lived for Africa, even if not in Africa.

my altogether different africa

The Gypsy Mama and I have been living each other's lives. Well, kinda. I've lived in South Africa for 12 years. Just about as long as she's lived in America.

She's a South African married to an American. I'm an American married to a South African. Or at least I was. But that's a whole other story for a whole other day.

South Africa has become home for me, although it was certainly an adjustment. Things are just different. Like the common practice of not refrigerating condiments. And grown men grocery shopping in their bare feet. And the fact that jam means jelly and jelly means jell-o.

We drive on the wrong left side of the road in cars that are more ladylike than they are in the States. They have bonnets and boots instead of hoods and trunks.

There's no central heating (even though we get snow where I live!) but I've learned to build fires in my fireplace the old fashioned way. I'd make Bear Grylls proud. The windows, which are permanently open in summer, have no screens. And I hate bugs. ::shudder::

I'm still trying to understand the difference between the South African phrases now, just now, and now now. Because they basically all mean I'll get to it when I get to it.

Speaking of... Things happen slower in Africa. Which often causes a flare-up of my Kinko's-quick American impatience, but has taught me some valuable lessons: Faster isn't always better. God cares more about the missionary than the mission. Relationships matter.

Nuggets of wisdom lace every contrast between my here-home and there-home. And I love that. There is a unique joy in discovering more about God and myself in the tapestry of cultural diversity.

I love my altogether different and altogether beautiful Africa.

In all her grit and glory.

[originally a guest post on The Gypsy Mama's site...]

even greater things

I've seen God do some incredible things through me in my lifetime. He used a poem I wrote as a nine-year-old girl to bring my separated parents back together.

On my mission trips as a teenager, He spoke through my faltering words to lead people to salvation.

I've stepped out in faith for eleventh-hour financial provision, and had money miraculously show up at the last minute.

In my early years of living in Africa, I rubbed cataracts out of a woman's eyes.

I saw a man's leg grow out six inches as I prayed over him.

I pulled a lame man to his feet and watched him take his first steps.

I get goosebumps just thinking about the amazing things God has done. And I feel humbled that He's chosen to use me.

But it all feels like ancient history.

It's been a very long time since God's done something supernatural through me.

But I know it's not because He's changed.

I think somewhere along the line, I stopped believing Him for the miraculous.

My faith grew dim.

I got "busy".

And I stopped actively trusting.

But I want my faith back. I want to trust Him for the miraculous again.

I want to trust Him for even greater things.

That feels like a huge risk right now. My battle-weary heart is scared to hope, to believe.

But every mighty move of God in my life has required an act of faith.

And, Lord knows, I need Him to move mightily.

Not just through me, but in me.

So I'm asking Him to strengthen my faith and fill me with the assurance that He is trustworthy.

Whether He ever does another miracle through my hands or not, I want to live with heart-risking trust that He can.