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.

three-minute thursday: take 19

Go. I spent four hours in a studio today shooting a new promo video for Thrive. And I've gotta tell you -- I am juiced right now!

I went into this thing feeling kinda nervous about it. Intimidated by it really. I've done this sorta thing before, but never by myself. And for someone who tends to shy away from the proverbial spotlight, being in a literal spotlight all by my lonesome can be pretty nerve-wracking.

But then I got there. And we started brainstorming. And story-boarding. And talking vision.

And everything changed.

Granted, I was still nervous. And some things took more takes than I'd like because I'd speak too fast, or trip over my own words, or wiggle my arms or legs too much. And there were times I had to say "Just wait a sec" while I took a minute to think through what I wanted to say. But the producer always knew when I was ready. He said he could see me get my game face on and inevitably the very next take would be the one.

I can honestly say I had a blast today.

Because I seriously love talking about Thrive Africa.


i want to get this right

I have wrestled through each of these posts as I've begun telling my story. I've spent hours writing and rewriting. I've had a friend look them over and make changes. I've slept on them and come back to make more edits the next morning. It's been hard to write them because it's forced me to sit in the hurts all over again. It's been difficult because of the responsibility I feel to the ministry I love, and my desire to represent her well. And it's been impossibly hard because of the weight I feel in how I speak about Niel.

I feel an undeniable tension between wanting to remain honoring of my husband and sharing authentically about what happened and how it's affected me.

I'm laboring over every word I write because I need to get this right. I want to get this right.

And yet I know that without me dressing it up at all, the truth is ugly. It's shocking. It's devastating. Even in the simple telling of facts in the most tactful and respectful way possible, it can seem like I'm being malicious.

But that certainly isn't my intention.

I hope my true heart shines through my words even as I share about the worst season of my life. I pray that in my transparency, you can see more than just my pain. I hope you can also see the love I still have for my husband and my unshakable desire to honor him even in this.

It's been a scary thing for me to feel so vulnerable and exposed by putting my raw heart out there for the masses to see and give their two cents on. But while it frightens me, I crave authenticity. It's been the single greatest intentionality of my blog---to foster authentic community. To share transparently and in doing so, make others feel safe, free, and comfortable to be transparent in return.

So I am committed to continue writing honestly and authentically about my story, while remaining mindful of how my words affect and reflect my ministry and my husband.

And I will continue to choose to honor him.

Because ultimately I desire to honor Him.

crawling back onto the altar

"To live a life of prayer, of sacrifice, of surrender to God."

Twelve years ago I penned those words as my life mission statement. I wanted to be intentional about making my life count for something greater than me. I wanted to be deliberate about leveraging my life for His glory. And everything I could see myself doing boiled down to that simple statement.

I said simple, not easy. 'Cause it's been anything but easy.

Those words have been ringing in my ears this past week. Prayer, sacrifice, surrender to God. Do I still mean it?

I want to say I'm willing, even when I don't know what He's asking me to do. I want to follow Him even when I don't know which way He wants me to go. I want to serve Him even when it means giving up my own notions of how I can best do that. I want to honor and glorify Him with every breath, every word, every step.

The only problem with being a living sacrifice is my tendency to crawl off the altar. When I can't see what's next, when the flames of uncertainty seem too much for me to bear, sometimes I climb off. I choose to follow fear instead of faith. I long for the certainties of Egypt over the uncertainties of freedom.

But I'm done. Today I'm climbing back on the altar.

The Lord Himself goes before me and will be with me. Among all the unknowns and uncertainty, He is already there. He knows. He is certain. So if I remain in Him, I can have confidence and peace even when facing more uncertainties than ever before in my life.

As I've ruminated on it and wrestled through it, I know this much is true: I still want each moment of my life to be one of prayer, of sacrifice, of surrender to God.

Use me however You want, God. However You want.

kingdoms of men

It shows up four times in a span of only forty verses, so I'm guessing God wants to make sure I don't miss the significance of this statement:

"The Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone He wishes..."

-Daniel 4:17, 25, 32; 5:21

Leadership is always a gift. Always a stewardship. Always temporary. And I'm always accountable.

confessions of an adulteress

I’ve been so unfaithful. He has loved me faithfully, yet I’ve turned my back on Him time and time again.

I’ve chased love when Perfect Love stands before me, holding me in His gaze. I’ve chased joy when it overflows nowhere but His presence. I’ve chased peace when my completeness comes only from Him.

All He’s ever wanted is my heart, and I’ve kept it tightly in my own hands as if I could care for it better.

He is jealous for me, and all I’ve been jealous for is everything I think I’m missing out on.

Even as I’ve pushed Him away, His everlasting arms have never stopped holding me.

He’s been nothing but faithful, despite my faithless heart and wandering ways.

Even amid the adultery of my heart, I hear His tender voice calling. Seek My face. I lift my eyes. I want to see Him, and be seen by Him. Unashamed of my nakedness and brokenness, I want to see and be seen. Know and be known. Understand and be understood. Love and be loved.





His compassion overwhelms me. His ever-faithful love consumes me. His mercy breaks up the unplowed ground of my heart’s back forty.

I am His.

Always have been; always will be.

He is mine.

And by His grace, my heart will stay more faithful to Him today than it did yesterday.

ht: Hosea

thirteen: steps to counseling

I walked into the office with a red cup of non-alcoholic liquid courage in my hands and two people next to me for moral support (or maybe to make sure I didn't turn and run). As I sat in the waiting area, I swear the pterodactyl-sized butterflies in my stomach had babies. I'd been anxious about this appointment since I boarded the way-too-small plane in DC, bound for Columbus. If I'm honest, I'd been anxious about this appointment since the moment I decided to come to America for this very reason. He stepped into the waiting room to introduce himself and "collect" me. As we exited together, I turned my head for a last glance at my smiling friend. I heard again her words from not thirty minutes before: "I am so proud of you." I smiled back and I'm sure it looked tentative and apprehensive. I don't have a very good poker face.

It was thirteen steps from that door to the couch in his office where I found a seat and spent the next hour. For me, for whom trust is paramount and yet not easily given, it was a daunting thing to bare my soul to a complete stranger. And yet, at the same time, I felt completely comfortable. I walked out feeling like a weight had been lifted: the weight of simply starting this thing. And I felt proud of myself.

Hi. My name is Alece. I'm a missionary. And I go to counseling.

seven: out of ten

Thrive interns 08 We had ten amazing interns this year. I know I say every group is amazing, and I swear I'm not lying. The statement is never intended to be a comparison between internship classes; they are all handpicked by God to be here at the time He wants them here, and I love all of them to bits.

Okay, moving on...

Over the years, we've somehow managed to maintain a 30% "return rate" of interns coming back as staff. This year, that stat's been blown out of the water. Seven of the ten are going to be back with us next year as part of our staff team. We are humbled that so many want to return and use their gifts to help us lead Africa to thrive.

The three interns who are stepping into different things---those with non-Thrive next steps---are each heading off to do great things. We are excited with them and for them, and while we'll certainly miss them, they'll always remain part of the Thrive family.

We love our interns and we're so proud of each one of them.

Stop for a second and think: Who are you proud of? Why?

one: left

You know that revolving door I'm always talking about? It's going around again this morning as we say goodbye to our interns (who've been with us since January). One is staying behind for a few extra weeks but the rest are boarding a plane this evening and flying home.

After our week of debriefing together, I'm confident that this year in Africa changed each of them. And after watching them engage in ministry for a year, I'm also confident that they changed Africa. They've each left their mark, their footprint. And Africa will never be the same.

Neither will I.


price tag

Last night we wrapped up debriefing with a time of worship and prayer. I really have no words that can capture my heart, except for these: The sweetness of that moment as we shared hearts, prayed over the interns, and worshiped together for probably the last time this side of heaven... You simply can't put a price tag on that.

love/hate relationship

I have a love/hate relationship with asking boomerang questions. You know the kind: questions that invoke open criticism of yourself. We just finished up the debriefing session that is always the hardest for me. We gave the interns time to share any suggestions they have for improving the program.  We told them we wouldn't defend ourselves or even explain why things were done the way they were (unless we felt it was absolutely imperative ). So the interns had full permission to just say what they disliked about their year.

I love it and I hate it all at the same time.

I love it because I always want to get better at what we do. I want next year's interns to have an even greater experience than this year's. I want to learn from our mistakes and make things more effective as we go forward. I also just love giving someone the "ok", and making them feel comfortable enough, to share this level of honest feedback.

I hate it because it's hard to hear that sort of honesty about how I've failed. It's difficult to not defend or explain myself, but to simply listen for the issue that underlies what's actually being said. I hate it because I find it so hard not to take this kind of criticism personally.

In the long-run, I know that this morning's challenging conversation will lead to an improved internship program. This is the sort of thing that makes me a better leader. Even if I hate it while I love it.

What do you have a love/hate relationship with?

like an iceberg

What's the most significant thing God did in you this year? That's what we asked the interns tonight. We didn't want to hear about what He did through them or how He used them to impact others. We wanted to hear what He did inside them. And we heard some incredible answers:

I found who I am in Christ. I moved from Christianity to an intimate relationship with God. I realized I am worth something to Him. I came to terms with stuff from my past and realized God's redemptive power.

Wonderful things. And yet, Niel told the interns he wasn't satisfied with their responses.

He challenged them to go deeper. We had the sense that though they were honest, they'd remained very surfacey. They didn't share with openness and transparency, and if they couldn't do that in this community of people, how could they expect to do so with people back home...

We talked some more, and then we opened the floor. We invited anyone who wanted to, to answer the question again. Tears flowed down my cheeks as many of them shared their fears, insecurities, doubts, and weaknesses. In complete and utter honesty they told us the specifics of how God had changed them---how He's continuing to change them. It was such a holy moment.

So I want to leave you with the same question. You're welcome to leave your answer in the comments. (I love when God chooses to use this platform for us to learn from each other and encourage one another's walk.)  If you'd rather not share your response here, I totally understand and respect that. Making time to still answer the question for yourself would definitely be worthwhile.

What's the most significant thing God did in you this year?

totally worth it

Driving for 16 hours---as the one actually behind the wheel, which I'm only clarifying because any of my passengers could justifiably say the same phrase---Anyway... Let me start over. Driving for 16 hours was totally worth it. Especially each time we laughed long and loud over goofy shenanigans in our car. And when we came up over that hill and there before us was the most exquisite vineyard-laced valley. And when we emerged from the long tunnel to see our first glimpse of Cape Town. And when we drove by Table Mountain, blanketed by a huge cloud.

Yeah, driving for 16 hours was totally worth it. Especially when the interns opened their hearts to us---and each other---in our first debriefing session this morning. And when they were still discussing Nehemiah 6:3 later in the day. And when we walked along the pier that juts into the white-capped ocean this afternoon.

Driving for 16 hours was totally worth it. Especially when Niel and I went out to dinner with some older missionary friends this evening and he had to explain his God-awful haircut. That was worth the price of admission right there!


Tomorrow morning I'll wake long before the sun does. I'll shower, dress, and put on my face with my eyes mostly shut. And then I'll load up my Yankee-mobile with a bunch of still-sleeping interns. I'll most likely drive the first few hours with only my iPod for company. Then hunger will awaken the interns, and chatter and laughter will abound. We'll stop for meals and we'll stop for bathrooms; I'll drink more than is appropriate for a road trip but is plenty appropriate for keeping oneself awake.

We'll drive through the valley of desolation; we'll pass the ostrich farm where I've yet to ride a feathered beast. We'll wind through hills and vineyards; we'll watch as the landscape gets progressively greener.

And then we'll see it: Cape Town. I can't wait; it's my favorite place in all of South Africa.

Tomorrow is day one of internship debriefing. It'll be a fun and intense week, and a whole lot like Kodak. (Huh!? I explained the connection between debriefing and film processing over at the Field Blog.)

I'm not a morning person, by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm looking forward to what's on the other side of my 4 AM wake-up call. Helping the interns prepare for what's next and digest all they've taken in this year is a joy.

And we get to say jackass all we want!

Cape Town, here we come!

four-minute friday: pablo

Go. Last week at Hope House (the orphanage we work at each Friday) the interns told the story of Paul's conversion. Matt narrated and Shannon played a very dramatic Paul. (You've gotta overcompensate when you're the wrong gender for the part...)

After explaining how God got Paul's attention and asked him to "work for Him", Matt asked the kids how they thought Paul responded.

One girl raised her hand. "He said, 'Yes'."

"That's right," Matt replied. "And what do you think God said next?"

There was a long pause. A little boy stood up to answer. "He said, 'Thank you.'"



burden of leadership

I've been pondering the burden of leadership. Let me explain...a heavy heart A lot of people have come through the revolving door of our ministry in the past decade: interns, mission team members, staff. Many others are tied into us through their support. All in all, we have a huge spiderwebbed network of people that are connected to Thrive Africa. And that makes them connected to Niel and I.

While I don't personally stay in touch with every single person in the Thrive spiderweb, I correspond with as many as I can (and as many as want to write back!) and we pray often for our entire extended family.

The past few weeks have unraveled some heartbreaking things that are going on in our family members' lives. It culminated this morning with the news---before 8 AM, mind you---that two people had just lost loved ones.

And it's left my heart feeling heavy.

So I'm wrestling with this whole burden of leadership thing. I know I'm not responsible for people, only to them. I know I can't carry the burdens that others carry in their lives. I know that allowing myself to get "emotionally involved" with even a fraction of the thousands of people that are connected with Thrive is more than I could ever handle. I know that I can't be everyone's fixer, that I can't always have the answer, that I can't always be there for people. I know all of that.

But that still doesn't make it any easier to hear that people I know and love are facing

  • the deaths of two family members within 9 months
  • sexual abuse at the hands of someone they should've been able to trust
  • unceasing physical pain
  • emotional scars and hurts that have festered for years
  • inexplicable health problems
  • a long road ahead due to horribly wrong life decisions

What are your thoughts on the burden of leadership? Where's the line between compassion and an unhealthy taking-it-on-yourself-ness? How much caring is too much, and how much is not enough?

fauxhawk for funds

I've been home for about four hours. (Does anyone even still check my blog!?) So far I've...

  • cleaned out and restocked my fridge (after a quick stop at the grocery store)
  • made cappuccinos (we miss Italy!)
  • weeded through my work emails (all I did was delete trash)
  • transferred PayPal donations (praise God for His provision)
  • scribbled a few "I'm home!" emails (if you didn't get one... I'm home!)
  • gasped when I saw 767 posts in my Google Reader (uhhh, that's gonna take a while), and ...
  • checked out what the interns have been up to on Facebook.

There's lots swirling in my head about our trip, but I'm saving my thoughts till I have more time to write a real blog post. (Or three. Or seven.)

In the meanwhile, if you've got three minutes to spare, check this out. Niel placed a challenge before our interns just days before we left for our vacation:

If they can raise $2,000 for the ministry, they can cut his hair however they want---and he'll keep it that way for their entire debriefing trip!

Wanna get in on the action? You can see the interns' progress, make a donation, and share a suggestion for Niel's haircut right here. And of course you'll see pictures of my husbter's new do on haircut day!

I'm off to unpack!

PS -- I've missed you guys!


“Congratulations on your retirement 10 years!” That’s what it said on the card the staff gave us last night, filled with scribbled kindness and a wad of cash. The card sat atop a new DVD player to replace the one in our house that's been broken for months.

We planned this staff getaway to thank our team for ten wonderful years of ministry, and we ended up being blown away by their gesture of appreciation for us! It was unexpected and unsought, and it really meant a lot to us.

Now we have some money to spend in Sicily, and can finish watching our boxed set of Friends in our new DVD player when we get home! Thanks, guys!