It’s okay to be happy this Advent

I listened to the audio version of The Preacher’s Wife by Kate Bowler. While the book focuses on America and the “Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities,” I was struck by the pendulum swings of what worked in one era, sounded tone deaf in another.

In acknowledgement of our own pendulum swings, I find that currently most online spaces for cross-cultural workers emphasize the hard parts of being a cross-cultural worker. Which, I know, is in response to those hard parts not being given any space. This swing was a needed course correction. But as with many a course correction, the hyper focus on the hard parts of life on the field may not leave enough space for another story to coexist.

As I thought about my post this month, the book of Psalms came to mind. I love the richness of life represented by the different types of psalms and the variety of lengths.

So, in the spirit of Psalm 117, the shortest psalm, I remind us of this truth: life on the field can be confusing, disappointing, and hard. 

It is also true that on the field is interesting, exciting, and easy.

Part of happiness is comes from building pauses to that give space to notice. Here are a few options for cross-cultural workers to pause in Advent this year.

You do not have to hide your happiness. It is okay to be happy on the field.

Saints Amongst Us


Tomorrow is All Saints Day. I love All Saints Day for the way it anchors me in the past and points to the future. Hebrews 11 and 12 is one of the best known remembrances for the great cloud of witnesses that has gone before us. 

While I know that not all who serve on the field come from a rich faith heritage, when people start to share their story there is often at least someone in their family’s past who wasn’t a stranger to Truth.

Who are some of the saints in your family? Whose faithful shoulders are you standing on?

In my family it is my Grandma Young. Even as I type this memories of her come racing back though she has been gone from this world for more than 30 years. A strong memory that captures my grandma’s two great loves of Jesus and her family involves a weekend that our parents left my sisters and me at our grandparents.  

Grandma faithfully played the piano at her church.  We were too young to sit in church alone while she played, requiring our grandpa to attend with us. Grandma wore hearing aids to help her hear, but for some reason on that day the three of us belted out the hymns so loudly she probably didn’t need them! Grandpa was a sport to stand there, towering over the three of us when he probably wanted to shrink away from the smiling stares.

I wasn’t aware of Grandpa’s strong discomfort of everyone looking at us at the time. What I remember is watching my grandma play with gusto and joy as she beamed at the three of us joining her in singing to God. I have no doubt that I was in China as a result of her prayers and faithful life.

As the generational mantle is now being passed on in our family and I see the potential in my nieces, I wonder the ways in which they will join the cloud of witnesses. But on this day, instead of looking to the future, join with the author of Hebrews and as we fix our eyes on Jesus, be reminded of the ways he has worked in your life and family.

Who are the saints in your family?

Changing the Rules of the Game

The organization I used to be with had a “Career Program,” and anyone could apply after one year on the field.

Even though I’d been on the field for several years, it wasn’t until I was 30 that I attended a Career Conference as a one-time guest to check it out. The main question asked in the application (at least in my mind) was, “Are you open to making a ten-year commitment?”

Single 30-year-old Amy played chicken with Future 40-year-old AmyLet’s see, I’m single and 30 and if I do this for ten more years I’ll be single and 40. Blink, blink, blink! I couldn’t run fast enough from that conference, and I NEVER looked back. I was comfortable taking it year-by-year, and if it ended up I was 40 and single, I was cool with that. I just wasn’t cool committing to being single.

The aforementioned organization has a fairly large batch of new people joining each year with a good-sized portion being young single people. We also have a good-sized number stick around, find love, and get married. So, during the pre-field orientation there is a buzz of the potential from the newbies. Will this be my story? Will God honor my faithfulness by bringing me a mate? 

And then I (or any other number of singles stand up) and are active in their training and preparation. I joking tell them I’m there as a cautionary tale. Of course, you might fall in love and get married. Or, you might not. Either way, you can have a rich and invested life.

Talking about “singleness” is a bit like talking about the ocean. It’s vast. Parts are tingling with life and parts are dark and cold. There are schools of fish and loners. There are happy fish and those who want OUT OF THIS WATER right now. Over the next weeks and months and years we will swim around in the waters and hopefully you’ll see yourself reflected.

But when it comes to singleness, I can say this for sure: Jesus is into being a game changer.

Hours of my childhood was spent playing Old Maid, eating cheese puffs, and drinking milk with my two sisters and Grandma Young. The goal of the game is to gather pairs of delightful cards like Arnie Angler, Freddie Falloff, or Careless Carrie and not be stuck with the Old Maid card.

For some reason my sisters and I fell in love with the old maid card and changed the rules of the game to whoever had the old maid was the winner. Oh we worked so hard to hide her in our hands and protect her. She was the prize. She ended up being bent and worn from all the love.

old maid

My mom recalls cringing every time Grandma would say, “No, no! You don’t want to be an old maid!” Oh but we did! We did!

Grandma was one of the most faithful pray-ers in our family, and I have no doubt my many years in China are a direct answer to her faithful prayers. Looking back, I see five of us in that room eating cheese puffs, drinking milk, and playing. Jesus is there, smiling and nodding, knowing that one of us would indeed grow up and become an old maid, a spinster missionary, the most prized card in the deck.  That’s right my child, value will be placed firmly on her. And you. And all who define value by me and not some outside imposed rules.

I don’t know your story.  But I know that you have been fought over and bought with a price, and you are the most valued card in the hand Jesus is playing.


A version of this first appeared on Velvet Ashes.

Old maid photo credit: Amy emailed the etsy store owner and received written permission and a thank you for asking.

Empty Nesting When You Have No Nest

Help me out. We need a new term, and we missionary folks love discovering or creating words.

You knew exactly what I meant when I used the phrase “empty nest.” The chicks have launched and are on their own. “Empty nesters” are their parents.

Before I had nieces, I used to roll my eyes at aunts and uncles who went on and on about their nieces and nephews. Quietly I judged them as being pathetic and wanna-be parents. (I’m shooting straight with you, I’m not proud of the recesses of my heart and mind.)

And then my oldest niece was born. It took less than one day to turn me into the largest hypocrite on the planet. If Paul was the greatest sinner? I was the greatest eater-of-my-words. AND I DID NOT CARE. (Have I told you her latest antic? Would you like to see a photo? Can you even . . . can you?! She’s amazing.)

The time zones between us didn’t matter. The long plane rides when I could leave the field didn’t matter. Here’s what I learned—when love enters the picture, you don’t care what others think.

TCKs are the same. When you love them, really love them, they enter a category all their own in your heart.

This post and question isn’t just for singles. It’s for any adult. What I’m trying to put words to is about loving a kiddo who is not your child and who will one day grow up and move on to the next chapter in their lives.

The term “empty nester” rightly refers to the parents.

What word or phrase could we use for those of us who have a young person who’s been a part of our daily life and now they will not be? We will love them fiercely, cheer them on loudly, pray for them faithfully, and miss them dearly.

Whatever it is, that’s what I am. And I know I’m not alone.

When family members are draining

Because it’s summer time in the Northern Hemisphere, I’ve gotten to see or interact with a number of missionaries who are “back home” visiting family, friends, and supporters.

What got me reflecting on today’s topic is that three of them have family members who are difficult. Very difficult. While I could offer an arm chair diagnosis of personality disorders and mental health issues, that’s not really the point.

Whether a label exits or not, being around parents and having precious time in person off the field “stolen” because of behavior that is seriously manipulative or disrespectful to any personal boundaries is hard.

This is not a post with three simple steps, though I do have a few tips.

First of all, I’m sorry. If you have difficult family members, so much is out of your control. Good friends and other family will see how you try to honor them, love them, and not have your buttons pushed by them. Years ago I picked up a book because of the title.

Working With You is Killing Me: Freeing Yourself from Emotional Traps at Work by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster Kathi Elster.

Isn’t that the best title?! Working With You is Killing Me.


But as a follower of Christ, what can I do . . . to NOT have it kill me?!

If you’ve got a difficult family member, this might be a good book to get and read. The fact that it’s actually a “business” book is helpful because it provides you with more ability to reflect on your own situation with a bit of detached distance.

In essence, the authors present a four step process when you are “hooked” by a comment or interaction:

1—Unhook physically

2—Unhook mentally

3—Unhook verbally

4—Unhook with a business tool

The first two steps, unhooking physically and mentally, help you release negative emotions and calm down your system. They create the space for you to hear the Holy Spirit. Of course God is always with us, but sometimes we are so hooked, we can’t sense God’s presence. Thus, the need to unhook. The second two steps, unhooking verbally and with a business tool, involve taking actions to change your experience.

You might wonder what a business tool is. Since the context is work, it might be sending a follow-up email. So, with a family member, it could be an email or a text to all of your siblings and copying your mom. In the email you share what you talked about with your mom, so your mom knows that she can’t use the conversation to pit you against a sibling with her version.

The book goes into so much more detail and unpacks these four steps in such a way that you think, “It’s won’t be perfect, but it sure can be better for me than it currently is.”

As many of my friends will board planes and fly back to places that feel more familiar and comfortable than being with certain family members, I’m thinking of others, like you, who are in similar situations. It’s hard to have these conversations in public spaces like this. But know that you are not alone. And that God sees and is proud of you for all the times you restrained yourself.

Using the language of the book, it’s as we unhook from family or situations and hook ourselves more and more to Jesus that true freedom and growth arises.

It’s not easy. But it is possible.

Putting one foot in front of the other

Years ago in a training session in Beijing, my colleague Joann encouraged us with what has become for me an iconic phrase from 2 Samuel 18: “Come what may, I will run.”

I’ll tell you more about the Biblical context in a moment, but first I don’t recall the details of what was going on in Asia. No doubt there was something unusual about the season . . . because, let’s face it, life on the field is often more unusual than usual. So when Joann quoted Ahimaaz saying, “Come what may, I will run,” the phrase and the heart of completing a task resonated with me.

In 2 Samuel, Ahimaaz, son of Zadok the priest, was stationed near the battlefield, waiting to run news of the battle back to the king. The battle was between David’s rebel son Absalom and the Israelites. When news came of the victory Ahimaaz said to Joab, the field commander, “Let me run and carry news to the king” (2 Samuel 18:19 ESV).

But Joab replied, “You are not to carry news today. You may carry news another day, but today you shall carry no news, because the king’s son is dead.” (v. 20)

Ahimaaz’s request—and assumed job—was denied and Joab asked a Cushite to run instead. Have you ever been confused when what you thought was “your job” was given to someone else? 

While many would understandably give up in frustration, disappointment, and hurt, that’s not what Ahimaaz did. 

“Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said again to Joab, “Come what may, let me also run after the Cushite.” 

And Joab said, “Why will you run, my son, seeing that you will have no reward for the news?” 

 “Come what may,” he said, “I will run.” 

So he said to him, “Run.” Then Ahimaaz ran by the way of the plain, and outran the Cushite.” (verses 22-23).

His response, “Come what may, I will run,” has been running through my head and heart in this season. What does it look like to run when . . . 

—When you may not be in a location you want to be?

— When you may not have been able to leave the field for a break or to attend a conference because once you leave you might not get back in? 

—When schooling is different . . . and hard . . . and beautiful? 

—When visas are slow or nonexistent?

—When you are studying a language that is not spoken by anyone for miles and miles and maybe an ocean away?

—When your kids are unsettled by all of the unknown and loss?

I don’t have specific answers. But when I think of Ahimaaz, what did it look like to run? 

It looked like putting one foot in front of the other. He did not seem as focused on what happened after he ran, or that he didn’t have all of the information. Looking at the text, when Ahimaaz arrived, he told the king of the victory, but couldn’t answer David’s question about his son Absolom. Just think, Ahimaaz ran that hard without all of the information! He ran it knowing that he would inform a king and a father of a battle between them without a key piece of information. 

He stood there panting, waiting for the Cushite to arrive with the news that Absalom was dead. And as his breathing returned to normal and his heart rate slowed, he bore witness to the king saying, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (vs 33)

Being called or compelled to run as Ahimaaz was doesn’t guarantee that the Red Seas of life will part and everything is going to work out. Maybe you will run and bear witness to death . . . of a dream, an opportunity, an open door. But when you run, you can still experience FLOW. In Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram, FLOW is described as:

Free — able to let go of the false self reactions


Open to your head, heart, and gut

With God and reality as it is

This is what I like about the idea of FLOW when it intersects with “Come what may, I will run”: that you don’t have to like reality. You can live in the messy middle of the unknowns and loss that this season may hold. Who wants to be “working remotely” in a basement in Houston instead of walking the streets of Mozambique? Absolutely no one! Or trying to do the work of three people because you are the only one in country? Again, no one!

But FLOW means that you can run without all of the information, without knowing the destination, without running where you want to be running . . . and still run. You can experience freedom, love, an open head, heart, and gut, and be with God and reality. It might not look like you want, it might not be where you want, but you can still put one foot in front of the other and say, “Come what may, I will run.”

P.S. Running requires resting. Here is a free workshop on the 7 Types of Rest Every Cross-Cultural Worker Needs. It’s free through the end of July 2023. Get the workshop here.

This article first appeared here.

In which we simply acknowledge this tension

Friends, this is a short post.

It’s a cairn on our journey together. A small pile of rocks to mark our path.

It’s hit me afresh recently how many people that I love are no longer a part of my current in-person life. I am grateful for the many years I’ve had on foreign soil. At first I just thought that what I would missed would be the people, events, and places “back home.”

I remember when my teammate wasn’t able to be at one of her dearest friend’s wedding. When the VHS tape arrived in the mail, we watched together with Shelley stopping to explain who people were with joy and tears.

Ah, sweet innocent one, that is just the beginning of what you will miss.

Like me, you probably have people all over the world. You can’t be at all of the graduations, weddings, births, reunions, funerals, or just pop in for a meal.

This month I got to spend about 36 hours with a former teammate. It was so rich. It was not enough. Today I’m seeing images of another teammate who grew up and got married. It is so hard to believe I wasn’t there. I’m tearing up just writing these words, speaking this truth. How could I not be there?

So, this post is a stone of remembrance that God is faithful. It is a small pile of stones representing the people we love who we can’t be with in person.

I am grateful for the many whom I love. I am sad that I we are no longer doing life together.

Sometimes that is all we need to say.

With love, a fellow traveler.

Let’s talk about sin (It won’t be that bad, I promise!)

In November we asked for your help on a “Sin Survey.” The survey came about because an organization that provides prefield training noticed a concerning commonly held belief.

In short, “Sin won’t be a problem for me/us on the field because God has called me/us.”

In the anonymous survey Global Trellis gathered your collective wisdom and put it into two resources: one for people new to the field and one for people who have been on the field for a while.

As a brief refresher, the survey involved 4 questions:

1—How long have you been on the field? Or how long were you on the field?

2—In what ways has being on the field had no impact on the ways you sin? (In other  words, you are you wherever you are in the world?)

3—In what ways has being on the field “positively” impacted your sinning? (In other  words, how has being on the field helped you to sin less?)

4—In what ways has being on the field “negatively” impacted your sinning? (In other  words, how has being on the field contributed to you sinning more?)

Reading the responses was both encouraging and heart breaking. One of the clear results is that we are regular people in harder situations. While sexual sins were mentioned, want to know what was mentioned far more often? Pride.

The encouraging part of the survey was the reminder of how very much God loves us. How very much God loves you. Sin is real and the results can be far reaching, but God’s love is even farther reaching. As God reaches into the parts that seem too dark to share, too entrenched to hope for a change, or too common to need to take that seriously, he has life for you!

We’ve recently celebrated Easter. I love the refrain, “Christ has risen” and the response, “He has risen indeed!” The same refrain can be said of us because of the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit alive in us. “That which was stuck in sin has been brought to life!” . . . “It has been brought to life indeed!”

Can I get an amen?!

So, to those of you who took the survey, thank you! You might wondered what happened and if anything was done with your input.

We’ve created two workshops—for the newbies and old hands—for you to use in training, personal development, and member care.

For the newbies:

  • Summary of the survey answers,
  • A list of practical suggestions for your first year, 
  • 3 “simple” takeaways from the survey for first term, 
  • 3 questions to ask yourself during your first term (and download home art)

For the old hands:

  • Summary and themes from the survey,
  • How to handle the “respectable sins” many of us wrestle with,
  • 3 “simple” takeaways from the survey,
  • 3 questions to ask yourself when it comes to sin (and downloadable home art! Not what you think of with sin . . . but Jesus came to bring life! We’re so excited about the art!)

Resources for you:

Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges (book)

Sin and Resiliency for the First Term (workshop)

Sin and Resiliency for the Long Haul (workshop)

Bundle of both workshops

Last week I was talking with a friend about these workshops and she said, “I’ll be interested to see how much actual interest people express in these resources because sin doesn’t sell. We know we’re sinners and Christ died for us, but we don’t really want to talk about it.”

I’m hoping that she’s wrong. That we do want to talk about sin because it’s when we don’t talk about it, downplay it, or have the grand plan of “hoping it’s not a problem” that sin’s roots can grow deep.

Spend time reflecting on the questions in the survey. Remember past sins that were a struggle and no longer have the grip they once did. Invest in your own soul with one of these resources.

Friend, hear this good news today: Jesus loves you. Jesus is at work in you. Your sin is serious. Jesus will help you with current sin and better yet, help you avoid future sin.

A surprise book review (but really, you need this book)

I reluctantly did her Bible studies with teammates in Beijing. They loved her, and being a team player, I held my judgmental comments to myself. Mostly.

It was the days of someone hauling DVDs and physical copies of the Bible studies in their suitcase.

The woman on the DVD was from a southern part of the U.S. Her big hair, made-up face, and strong accent all were a bit much for me. But what was clear beyond everything was her deep love for Jesus and her desire for us to love him too.

Though I internally rolled my eyes at most of the trappings, I could never quite roll my eyes at the content.

Lest you think I’m super mature in Christ, I’d rather not share this part because it shows my petty heart. A few years ago I went on a kick of exploring the public tax records of ministries in the U.S. I wanted to know what salaries leaders were being paid. Her salary, and those of some of her employees, were higher than I thought they “should be.” I even texted a friend I thought as much.

I now wish I hadn’t because there was so much I didn’t know.

All this to say, if you would have told me that I would recommend her book and tell you that you need it, I wouldn’t have believed you.

So, here I am, sheepishly looking down, not at all a “life long Beth Moore admirer,” telling you if you only read a handful of books this year, her memoir All My Knotted-Up Life must be on the list.

I listened to it through the Hoopla app, and if you can listen to Beth read this book, all the better.

You’ll find a woman who shares her life in such a way that you get the point without feeling voyeuristic.

Here are three reasons I’m recommending this book:

1. Beth is an engaging story teller who can keep the story moving. In this not-very-long book, she starts in childhood and brings you up to the current day. As the reader/listener I wasn’t left with large chunks of her story that left me confused how she went from Point A to Point B because she included enough context. Nor did I ever think, “move it along! We’ve got it!” And if you love a good turn of phrase? You’re in for a treat.

2. Beth does not shy away from, nor glorify, the hard parts of her story— but she doesn’t leave you in the muck. She has the knack of shooting straight while showing how she tried to stay near to Jesus. Those of us in ministry need these models.

3. The wide range of topics that you might relate to will surprise you. They include:

—A chaotic childhood.

—Sexual abuse at the hand of her father.

—A child dealing with a parent (her mom) with mental illness.

—Surprise! to both members of a marriage when one spouse is diagnosed with a mental illness after you married. (In the Beth’s case, Keith was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and the subject is beautifully handled in the retelling.)

—A foster child you thought you would have forever being removed after many years in your family.

—The joys and challenges of a growing ministry.

—The role of gender in ministry when you want to be faithful to Jesus. In particular a denomination that believes a woman needs a “male covering.” What that means and how does it plays out?

—Parents aging and dying. Parts of your story, in this life, left unresolved.

—A freak illness that lead to the incapacitation of one spouse for several years. (Keith got some weird infection, Beth and her daughters needed to grieve that he was “gone” . . . and then slowly, slowly he miraculously came back. This was probably when I was googling and judging her salary. Lord, forgive me.)

—Finding your spiritual home no longer home. Feeling adrift spiritually while still loving Jesus deeply.

This is a different type of memoir than the biographies many of us have read about pillars of the faith. It was refreshing without elevating one person into super humanity. Beth has lived enough life to have something to say, she keeps you hanging on her story telling, and she reminds us that it is possible to stay close to Jesus when life is messy, hard, and beautiful.

If you’ve always been a “Beth Moore Fan,” you’re going to love this book.

If you’ve googled her ministry tax forms and judged her salary, you’re going to love this book.

If you’re looking for a fellow traveler who is the best story teller, you’re going to love this book.

Get All My Knotted-Up Life by Beth Moore.

3 Obscure Sorrows You’ll Recognize

I recently read The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig. It contains such gems as:

“Harke: n. a painful memory that you look back upon with unexpected fondness, even though you remember having dreaded it at the time; a tough experience that has since been overridden by the pride of having endured it, the camaraderie of those you shared it with, or the satisfaction of having a good story to tell.” (from hark back, a command spoken to hunting dogs to retrace their course so they can pick up a lost scent.”

As I read I was reminded that we are capable of such depth as humans. I was also reminded that we all experience and carry so much loss.

It got me wondering about the obscure sorrows that are unique to us. Here are three for you to read and see if you recognize yourself in them.


n. the distressing feeling when you turn to share the most perfect word for a situation and remember that those around you don’t speak that language. Sure you can say the word and they may smile at you out of kindness, but they won’t really get it.

(From miss and vocbulary and ia because I like the sound of it)


n. the sad realization that life goes on without you; it can be experienced from both side of being on and off the field; on the field and your friends start getting married, buying a house, having babies, driving minivans and your life has less and less connecting points; off the field your local friends and teammates and neighborhoods and country of love continue on.

(From creeping for slowly and fill for the hole you think cannot possibly ever be filled, but you are wrong)


n. the strong desire for people you love to know what something tastes like and it is simply impossible to recreate it because the oil is different, a spice doesn’t exist, or you have to make something you normally buy at the store. This can be experienced with local friends when you try to share a part of your “home” cooking and with friends and family when you try to share part of your “other home” cooking.

(From gastro meaning stomach and longings)

It was only after I started working on this post that I realized you’ll read this during Lent, a season of sorrows. Sorrow over our sin, not of misvocabia, creeping-fill, and gastrolongings. It is right and good to be broken over our sin and it is right and good to pause and name some of our obscure sorrows as cross-cultural workers. If you’re wanting to lament in an interactive and creative way, Global Trellis’ workshop this month will guide you in 3 creative ways to lament.

Do you recognize yourself in misvocabia, creeping-fill, and gastrolongings? What would you add to our dictionary of missionary obscure sorrows?

When Reviving Doesn’t Look Like Reviving

Want to know the irony of this post?

I was sick on Sunday. Well, it started Saturday evening with purging the contents of my stomach. To be repeated at 3 a.m., 4 a.m., 5 a.m., and 8 a.m. At which point I got up and laid on the couch for the remainder of the day (except for the times I had to scare the squirrel off the bird feeder and throw up again. #Priorities.)

Monday I felt weak, but returning to the land of the living. Thoughts turned to work and of the week’s theme and of the post I wanted to write about reviving. About how God is in the business of reviving. Reviving bodies, stories, even history.

Just look at Hannah made fun of for infertility and how God met her in her sadness.

Just look at Moses who blew it when he killed the Egyptian and how God met him in the wilderness.

Just look at Mary and Martha who were so confused when Jesus didn’t show up and he not only could handle their anger and confusion, he could bring their brother back to life.

Just look at the woman who had bled for years and the ways God knew it wasn’t just her body that needed reviving, it was her spirit too.

Yes, our God is a God who revives. He brings back to life. He restores. He gives new life and energy.

Though I like to be instantly well from an illness, I was experiencing reviving.

I tend to see metaphors everywhere. There is always a lesson behind the ordinary. The common is laced with deeper meaning. Which is a lovely way to live until I wonder what God is doing in the living metaphor that is my life.

Tuesday I was the opposite of revived. I was weak, and foggy in the brain, and wondering what God wanted to show me about reviving . . . because I was either missing the lesson OR a bit off track on how He looks at reviving.

I sipped 7-up, the drink of the ill, no interest in food or energy to move.

{Maybe this is just for children of the 70s in America, but does anyone else associate 7-up or Sprite and illness? This is how I know I’m really sick: I sip 7-up.}

As I sipped, I wondered how much I have confused the way God looks at reviving with how America—my home culture—looks at prosperity. Revival looks like a graph with the line going up to the right. It might be a slow and steady incline, or it might go sharply up, but revival is always up. It’s the underdog winning. It’s the music crescendoing at the touching part of the movie. It’s the electricity being turned on at just the right moment.

Or is it?

What does revival look like when the visa doesn’t come through or the diagnosis is not good or the heat will not end, ever?

Or your children are not adjusting well. Or they are and you are not.

What does revival look like when the financial support is dwindling or the assignment that was perfect on paper is more like a nightmare in real life?

Or the husband you thought would be here . . . isn’t.

What then?

Maybe being revived can sometimes be straight and simple, like going on a walk and clearing our heads and souls, filling them up with Jesus. But maybe it can also be messy and complex, winding this way and that. Revived for the moment, on a level that doesn’t deny the reality we face but is not defined by it, and doesn’t remove the deep sadness or exhaustion.

I’m still waiting to feel better. To not wince at the smell of food. To not wander around trying to think a thought. But even in this state, Jesus has revival for me, and, you.

When have you experienced revival that might not have looked like revival?

This post originally appeared on Velvet Ashes. Thankfully this past Saturday I did not throw up :).

Let’s talk about birthdays

When I saw that my monthly article was assigned to this particular date, I perked up. We all have dates that set off little alarms in us, and this is one of mine.

I almost wrote to Elizabeth Trotter and asked to swap with another writer. But then I thought, “What better time to talk about birthdays than on my actual birthday!”

Maybe your family didn’t celebrate or make a big deal out of birthdays. Or perhaps they were a VERY. BIG. DEAL. and the world basically stopped for a day. I know some people who celebrate a birthday week or a birthday month; from the family culture I was raised in, that seems a bit much. Which makes my point that we are first and foremost formed by the families who raised us.

Maybe you had a picture in your mind as a young person what 25 would look like. Where’d you’d be at 30. What your life would look like at 40. How your relationship with your children or grandchildren would look when you were 60. And your life looks nothing like what you imagined or much richer than anything you could picture.

I remember conversations with my sisters when we were teens and the thought of the three of us being 40 seemed so utterly ridiculous. It seemed so OLD. So very far away. So close to death. And now? Now it seems young :). Perspective, my friends, perspective.

When I moved to China I learned that decade birthdays (30, 40, 60) are significant and if you hit 80? That was to be CELEBRATED. I also learned about “your year.” If you’ve eaten at a Chinese restaurant with a placemat that has 12 animals and dates under them tied to the year you were born, that’s what I’m talking about. So, every 12 years is “your year.” I’m curious what are key birthdays in the land that you live?

A few birthdays stand out from the field. My first year my teammate invited three of our students to go out for pizza at a quaint cafe that was such a weird hybrid it stood alone and defied classifying. (Was it western? No. Was it Chinese? No. Was it like anywhere that you might recognize? Not really. :)) We five then biked to a sort-of-illegal movie theater and watched a western movie. I knew then that though though I was surrounded by people who hadn’t known me long, they would still find ways to mark my birthday.

When I turned 30 I had a weird sensation of “I am an adult. Like a real-real-real adult. Is this my life path?”

Then there was the year another teammate and I were in the middle of building renovation and we were the only people not to be relocated. (Why?! Why?) My birthday fell in the midst of four months without hot water but with the added bonus of nonstop construction noise from eight in the morning until eight at night.

Having a birthday between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, it’s typical I receive well wishes, but people are partied out. I understand. Honestly, many years I’m partied out too. But for my 40th birthday I insisted on a party and decided I wanted it to be a murder mystery. I had joyfully attended many a bridal and baby shower and anniversary party and decided that for one time I was going to inconvenience everyone and ask that on my birthday we gather and have fun. And friends, it was magical. They rose to the occasion and though I had to work that day and was stuck in rush hour Beijing traffic on my way home, it was all I had hoped. We laughed, we ate, we solved a mystery, and we rejoiced in the life that God has given me.

So when I say, “Let’s talk about birthdays!” what comes to mind for you? What birthdays on the field stand out to you? I will be away from my computer today, so tomorrow I look forward to reading all of your stories. You are wonderfully and fearfully made and God loves you.

Thanks for being here,

P.S. Sometimes when a year is all jumbled together inside of your head, heart, and soul, whatever is on the top of the pile is all that we can see. Sorting—aka reflecting and preparing—can help you to see gems or heartaches that you might miss because they are buried at the bottom. Get your Reflect on 2022 & Prepare for 2023 packet today and start reaping the benefits of reflecting! Available at Global Trellis.

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash