Building a Home for God

I remember my Word of the Year for 2011. Home. It was the year we were preparing to move our young family thousands of miles from every home they had ever known. I knew I would need a way to define what home meant in order to stay the course of the lifelong calling of God upon our lives.

While our current calling is stateside with a ministry which resettles refugees, we remain a thousand or more miles from the other homes we have known. We are a year and a half into the process of our move, and I continue to ask what it really means to build a home for God which supports our family and welcomes others.

As the holidays approach, I think of the refugees we serve who desire to make true, life-giving, and sustainable homes in the U.S. They seek to do this even while they remain displaced and far, far away from many loved ones. And I think of you, similarly, seeking to build a home, ultimately for the living God, in places which are thousands of miles and oceans and cultures away from the homes you once knew so well.

As I ask myself this question, I ask you as well:

“How do we build a home for God wherever we are in this great, wide world?”

The answer is at once simple and yet complex. Building a home for God depends deeply upon finding a resting place of security and love which is ours in God. Yet this work must also be intricate and intentional as we live amidst diverse environments and cultures.

I was recently reading through the book of Exodus, and I found parallels between the Israelites’ construction of the tabernacle during their wilderness years and our construction of similar dwelling places for God in the places and spaces of our own sojourning. As we consider these similarities, we remember to keep holding the tension between this intricate construction of a tabernacle and the assurance of the veil torn in two which yields constant access to the presence of God.

So I offer to you some key elements of what it looks like to build a home for God wherever you are:

  1. We must build or obtain a physical home: For the Israelites, the first element was the construction of the outer curtains and their frames. Before there were inner elements, there were the outer ones. In our journey, we must find a physical place to live wherever we are. When we found our flat in Hungary after much searching, I remember taking a deep breath and thanking God for all of the elements which came together to find the right place for us to live. For many missionaries, this piece is crucial to thrive in the work of our calling. Furthermore, it is important enough to be a selective process. As we pray and give this element to God, we find that he will provide just what we need.
  2. The construction of a home involves skilled artistry: For the Israelites, they needed skilled workers who could find and sew together the right materials in the correct size and color. In addition, other artisans were needed to weave in specific designs. For us, this means that we remember that the unique gifts we have weren’t left in our home countries. We may be good at decorating or language learning or meeting new people, or some other thing. But we must remember that the specific abilities which make us special are needed for important aspects of the homes we will construct. As we manifest the ‘poema’ or poem of God’s workmanship through our lives (Ephesians 2:10), our home begins to take the specific shape of God in us.
  3. We must be prepared to sacrifice, but there is also space to grieve: In the building of the tabernacle, the next step is the construction of the altar upon which sacrifices will be made. Metaphorically, our building of homes for God involves costly, even perpetual, sacrifice on the altar of our lives. In worship to God, we give our love for our families far away, our existing friendships, our comfort, our status, and more to live where we are. However, there is also a spacious courtyard which surrounds this altar, allowing us space to commune with God in our grief and time to surrender these losses to Him.
  4. The oil of readiness must continually burn: The Israelites were called to prepare fine oil for the lamp stands of the tabernacle. Furthermore, Aaron and his sons were to make sure the lamp stands in the holiest place were continuously lit before the Ark of the Covenant. Similarly, our lamps must always be lit. In times of plenty or want, we are to be ever giving the light of the Gospel both to ourselves, as our own soul nourishment, and to all who experience the presence of God through us. Just as the central dwelling place of God in the tabernacle was the ultimate destination of God’s home, so with us we most centrally bear the light of God as we possess a living, vibrant home where we behold Him, in His faithful character and matchless love. We can have no home for Him without His presence sustaining our lives.
  5. We are clothed in priestly garments: The building of the tabernacle included detailed instructions for the garments of the high priest, Aaron. Yahweh declares His people to be a ‘kingdom of priests, a holy nation’ in Exodus 19:6. Peter reiterates this in I Peter 2:9 for all who trust Jesus, saying, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Our garments are perfection and can never be taken from us. They were bought with the exquisite, unfathomable price of the life of God’s own Son. As we continually acknowledge this truth, we can minister as living intercessors for the lives of others with both confidence and humility. Whether in intercessory prayer to our Great High Priest, Jesus, or through being in relationship with others as His hands and feet, our homes radiate gorgeous light from the holy of holies of God.

Wherever you are, I pray you feel hope and encouragement to stay the course of building a home for God. You may feel far behind where had you hoped to be in some areas of construction. But rest assured that as you allow your light to shine, you represent to the world our beautiful Immanuel, ‘God with us.’


Image credit via pixabay

Is It Possible to Parent Well?

Somewhere between the 1,100-mile move and the wheels falling off (not literally, but figuratively) of our family’s parenting vehicle, I asked the question:

‘Is it possible for me, as a career missionary, to parent well?’

It seems I crucify myself between two thieves: Fear and Self-Doubt. And there are probably a million other places I can go which defeat me as a parent.

But, fellow cross-cultural parent, I am not writing this for any of us to stay in places of shame or defeat. I believe God has a fresh word for all of us amid the uncharted waters of loving our kids in new spaces, both figurative and literal.

When we were first considering a dramatic ministry change, I called a friend to pray over me and my family. She saw a picture of me trying to protect my kids from what this new call and accompanying relocation could do to them. As I released them, they were in scary places I had no control over, and they were shaken. Yet, my friend’s word of encouragement was that without this ‘shaking up’ they would never establish themselves in their own unique relationships with God.

Whether you are in transition, or simply in the throes of what missionary journeys can do to us as very human parents who still struggle, may I offer this same word to you for your children?

It is easy to chastise ourselves for what the calls to ministry in new places and often countries and always cultures can do to our kids. And while we consider their desires and preferences, sometimes a transition happens despite our children’s deep desire to remain in a specific place.

A little over a year ago, this was my story.

This is not a post about knowing all the answers. I am far from a place of confidence along the parenting journey. We have walked through some excruciating experiences in the past year.

However, I’m choosing to be vulnerable and share some universal parenting truths that are currently keeping me and guarding me as a parent. Perhaps there is some daily bread for you too, in this offering.

  1. There Is Divine Strength to Parent: Missionary or not, it is a hard thing, at times desperately hard, to be a parent. From the moment our children come to us so needy for our love and care, we feel out of our depth to meet those needs. What starts as the newborn phase of physical exhaustion moves rapidly to the deepening emotional and spiritual needs of growing people. This past year has felt like the most exhausting in my fifteen years of parenting, yet the promises of God remain, ready for me to grasp and embrace. These three Biblical promises alone, remind me of the truth of sufficient strength for my every need:

“But those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31, NIV)

“He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40:11, NIV)

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (II Corinthians 12:9-10, NIV)

2. Comparison Leads Us to Futile Places: We can learn much from parents further along the road, as well as from our peers. But, when our ‘learning’ becomes construction of standards by which we compare, there is only the wilderness of dry rivers and dust-eating attempts to find nourishment. This is true primarily because there is a whole story that goes with each family. There are places we cannot see — especially those places that are far from social media — that tell a different story than the external. This is not to dampen the joy of those who are experiencing places of genuine flourishing as parents, but there is not a parent on this earth who has never struggled. We are all co-journeyers on this long road home, none of us having it all together.

3. As You Press into the Heart of God, He Will Teach You How to Parent Well: Truly, the best thing we can ever do is to learn the manifest heart of our Abba Father. As we learn His heart, this is the place from which we learn to parent. His love is infinite, always seeking us, pursuing us. We see how he has loved his covenant people though they strayed time and again. This gives us the grace to continue to love our kids when they do not love us back and ultimately when our hearts break in big and little ways. We remember that yes,

“The Lord disciplines those he loves,
    as a father the son he delights in.” (Proverbs 3:12, NIV)

But, He also is a God whose kindness is intended to lead us to repentance. (Romans 2:4, NIV)

God never stops being our Abba, for we are in Christ Jesus. Therefore, He gives us the strength to know His heart FOR US in our brokenness, mistakes, and sin. Then, we too, can give that same heart to our children.

4. He Who Has Called Us Is Faithful: As I have felt the guilt of following God and therefore causing my children to enter hard places, I have had to remember God’s faithfulness. Just as he called me to be a parent, so he calls me to do this as I am His child, surrendering my life to Him. My oldest son just began high school. It is his ninth school. I would not have chosen this for his story. Yet, God. He is the ultimate Author, and He chose our journey as missionaries to shape our children’s lives too. I think of all of the ways my son has needed to trust God in new things. I trust our journey as his parents has been for his good. And I can trust that for my other two children. No matter their current struggles or strengths, it is God who owns them and the entirety of their stories. The final chapter of completion is His to write. I could desire nothing more than that their journey would lead them to His arms and that we would dance together in that great and Final Day at the Wedding Feast of God.

There is much more that could be said as parenting is incredibly profound. What I offer here is meant to encourage the brokenhearted, the struggling, the doubting, the fearing among us. If my own journey is any indication, that will undoubtedly be you in one or many parenting seasons.

And the truth is that, though we are deeply imperfect, we can parent our children from the strength, hope, and heart of God. This is the promise of Christ in us.

When We Hurt Those We Love Most


I lay prostrate on the hardwood floor of our Budapest flat. I was pounding my fist and screaming unintelligible things as I lost my struggle with hyper-mania (a symptom of bipolar disorder). My children had been taken to a friend’s house. But not before they heard me shouting at their father. My husband found himself slipping deeper and deeper into a vortex of uncertainty.

I was hurting those I love most and was unable to gain enough control to stop the hurting.

A couple of days after this I entered the hospital. My husband and kids experienced more days of instability and separation. There were a few moments,`when my husband came to see me, not knowing I had been moved to the ICU. As the doctor brought him into his office, he was petrified something had happened to me.

Then, one week after I left the hospital, we returned to the States.

Every one of the people I care most for in this world was profoundly impacted by me. They experienced hurts, wounds, things that broke my heart, and I was helpless to protect them. I couldn’t even protect myself.

I know I am not alone. We all hurt those we love, so often through circumstances and trials beyond our control. It all makes us feel afraid of how the damage will ultimately affect them. It makes us grieve the innocence the hurt has taken. It makes us unsure in these relationships. It makes us feel lost.

As we reflect on these tragic times in our lives, how can we learn from them? How do we live well on the other side? I want to share with you a few things God taught me through the hardest season in my life and how it hurt those I love:

  1. Release the guilt and shame: To move forward, beyond the hurt, we must let go. When those we love are wounded by us, whether inside or outside of our control, we feel helpless to move forward. The Enemy loves the guilt and shame which go along with this. He would love for us to steep in this until we sink down, far away from those we love. However, this is not the Great Healer’s desire. He wants to make us new from the deepest place. He asks us to give to Him those ruminating thoughts of all we could have, should have done to prevent what happened. He wants us whole so He can restore what was lost and give something even greater.
  2. God is the Author: As we begin to release we learn this great truth. It is God who authors every story, not us. His script is poignant and sure. He doesn’t waste a line with bad prose. The dark pages have corresponding light ones. It is all sealed with the unmistakable stuff of redemption. And it is only he who bears this hope deep within who will have the eyes to see such a story. So He calls us to find hope in the pain and press hard into our trust in Him. Indeed, we can surrender to Him those most dearest. He has already wrapped His arms solidly about every part of them, shaping their story with His loving hands.
  3. Lean into Community: As I walked those days leading to the hospital, in the hospital and the months of recovery after, I desperately needed others. In these times we all do. It is our pride and fear which makes us unable to receive help. But we all need friends and family who will love on our kids, make meals for our families, distract them from the obvious and so much more. We have to say ‘yes’ to them. And the truth is, even though we fear judgment, people just want our families and us to know we are loved. So we have to trust here too. When we remain unable to be what our loved ones need, others can help fill in the gap until we are strong enough. Yes, it is incredibly humbling, but it is also right and true. This is something we must carry with us on this long road home.
  4. There is always a New Day: No matter how hard the circumstance, or how deep the hurt, there is always the sun rising the next morning. It shines upon us and on those we love. There is the promise renewed, faithfulness which hovers and great compassion to sustain. Psalm 103 says the Lord remembers our frame, He knows we are dust. In His tenderness, He pledges to be all we cannot be. His grace leads us Home to His heart where all is being renewed. He carries intimately, tenderly all who He loves, and even more so as the need is greater. He is hope and hope does not disappoint. Moving forward this must be the melody which greets us.

I don’t know where this post finds you, but I do know you have hurt those you love. It happens every day in big and small ways. And in this, we need to find our way back. We need to press into truth and grace, all that Jesus is. And we need to face the hurt, others and ours. Sometimes it is all so obvious and other times it is subtle. Regardless, there is no task, no service, no ministry important enough to deny the pain. And if we deal with it, we will find the healing and redemption of God greater than we could have imagined.

What Does God Want From Me?


I swayed back and forth perched on the swing. Looking out from the hilly courtyard of my flat, I could see the tall cement apartment complexes. They represented tens of thousands of people who needed to hear about Jesus.

Just beyond what I could see, was a city of two million. The vast majority did not know the love of the one true God. And then there was our specific mission—to reach high school students. There were 200 high schools and tens of thousands or more young people who had been the heart of our vision to come.

Yet, I asked God, ‘why am I here?’ It seemed as though I couldn’t touch any of them. The mission was so big and I was so small.

So with mounting emotion, I asked again, ‘why am I here?’ As I waited in the silence, I heard his answer. ‘I brought you here for you. I didn’t bring you here to be the most successful missionary, but so I could refine you and make you mine.’

It was a hard answer to accept and still is. We had spoken to so many churches and with so many people about the vision for this country and its people. How could He have brought me thousands of miles from home for…me?

But it was true and it still is true. And I have come to realize I am in good company.

Think of Abraham. God’s promise was to make him a great nation. Yet, he had no child and so Abraham’s heart, his trust in God, was tested again and again. Until after his promised child came. Then God asked for more of Abraham. He asked him to sacrifice his one and only son, the child of the promise. Why? Because more than a mighty nation, God wanted Abraham’s devotion to Him. (see Genesis 22:1-18)

What about Elijah? The prophet spoke for God faithfully. Then he gave everything on a mountain to defeat evil in Israel once and for all. The victory he had over the prophets of Baal was one of the most stunning feats recorded in the Bible. Yet, what happened next? He fled in fear and wished to die. And what did God do? He met him personally, tenderly in the cleft of a rock and with a whisper. Why? Because more than a monumental victory, God wanted Elijah to know Him. (see I Kings 18:22-19:18)

Then, there’s Peter. He was called to walk beside the Messiah. He showed great promise only to miss it and mess up again. And in Jesus’ greatest hour of need, he denied him—the one he had sworn to die for. But here too, what did God want of Peter? When he was restored to ‘feed [Jesus’] sheep’, he was asked one question again and again ‘Do you love me?’ God didn’t want Peter’s zeal but his affection. (see John 21:15-19)

In the courtyard moment, it seemed strange and just too simple to think God wanted me most of all. Wasn’t it just an excuse for not doing more, working harder, giving more fully to the mission? How could my one solitary heart be so important to him?

My heart is this important (and so is yours) because God’s work happens through surrendered lives. It happens through people who know the One for whom they are living. It happens through the active power of God at work within and through his chosen ones. And it happens, so often, after or during failures and shortcomings. It happens in ways in which everything we are is tested.

‘Who can endure the coming of the Lord?… for he is a refiner’s fire’. The greatest things God wants to bring to His world, even the completion of His work and the return of Jesus, come only through purified hearts. It is both freeing and painful. And it is what He is ultimately about in us. It is what He most wants from us.

A new year is coming. It’s a time to re-assess where we are at in our journey. Does God have our hearts? Do we believe he wants us more than anything we do for Him? Do we believe He is big enough to complete his work simply through refining us?

In the end, we cannot give what we do not have. If God is not our treasure and we are not fully open to His molding of us, we cannot give this away to others. And yet, if he is, there is no limit to the beauty, the miracles, the new life—both within and without—that we will see.

Do You Know Your Host Nation?

I sat along the edge of the Danube river. It was a cool, gray day. I was scratching out thoughts with pen and paper when I stopped and really saw them. The Shoes on the Danube Bank. Metal, weathered reminders of World War II when the people, mostly Jewish, who after being ordered to take off their shoes, were shot into the river.

I felt their bravery, their silent strength. I wondered at their last thoughts. My heart shattered as I gazed upon the tiny shoes–little lives so tragically lost. And I was humbled to touch this deep wound in this city, this country. From fascism to communism, the people were battered and beaten. It was a great, weeping thing I knew that day.

Every nation has a soul. It is the heart of its story and it is calling out to be known. We must make the journey to understand the imprint of this soul upon the holy ground of this nation.

When we become attuned to the soul of our host nation, we gain an entire framework for ministry. Our eyes are focused, our ears really hear and our hearts become like God’s.

So how do we come to know this heart of a nation’s story?  The truth is we can never truly, completely know it, because it is as complex as the convergence of a million souls. Yet we can make this humble journey to know our new home more. To this end, I am going to list some practical steps:

Prioritize: With so many things vying for our attention, it is easy to forget the deep, contemplative things. But in order to learn the soul of our host nation, we must make it a priority. Time needs to be carved out to connect with the story and history of the people to whom we are called.

Plan: Next, we need to plan how we will become learners of the story and soul of this nation. There are memorials, monuments, museums, interviews, documentaries, holidays and history books. It is important to find something which connects with our soul too; something which speaks to our hearts.

Press in: Once we have made it a priority and planned how to learn about the soul of this nation, we press into this story we are learning. We sit with the things we are seeing, hearing, reading. We ask for new eyes to see meaning in the oppression, wars, desperation, heartache. We expect to be changed as we receive into our hearts the soul of the people.

Practice: Now, it is left to cultivate a cross-cultural ministry which is profoundly impacted by what we have come to know. We ought to feel like we have new eyes, ears and a heart prepared to walk ahead in understanding. So we do. We live like in the very depths, this new and different home is connected to ours. We become students of it in an on-going, life-changing way.

We can get so focused on our goals in ministry that we forget we have walked into a story and are meeting its soul. The nuances of our new life are not only adjustments to things like language, shopping and visas. There is, too, this deeper thing.

When Jesus came into the world, he entered time, space, history and culture. He had to do the work of understanding his culture on a soul level. In his ministry, he restored the dignity of the poorest of poor. He saw beyond the political structures and proud leaders to souls over whom he wept. He heard the yearning cries of a nation longing to be re-born. And he knew. He knew the story of humanity and the Jewish people found in the Scriptures. He stayed connected to this as a core element of his ministry.

How could we do anything less?

As I looked upon the shoes that day, I knew I was being handed a gift. Who was I to behold such a tragic, yet heroic memory? Who was I to walk those city streets over bridges repaired after bombings, look upon citadels, and bear witness to the greats?

This whole new life was so much more than me and what I would give. Its healing so beyond my capacity. Its story unable to be rendered in a day, week, month, year or a hundred years. It would take the work of my heart, my soul, and nothing less to learn it, embrace it and live it.

May you make this journey. If you have already begun, may you long to know more, dig deeper, find new parts of the story. It will refresh you in your ministry and connect you to the heart of God.

Do you have a place, memory or story which has connected you to the soul of your host nation?

The Mother of Modern Missions?


It was a Sunday morning. Sunshine filtered through the rose trellis by Lake Balaton. I stilled my heart and reflected upon the message I had just heard.

Three pioneers of the faith were highlighted. One of them was William Carey, considered ‘the father of modern missions’. When talking about his home life, it was said that his first wife went crazy then died.

Under the crimson buds of summer opening to the full light of day, it was this lost story, Dorothy Carey’s story, that pricked my heart. I grieved and shed a few tears. I asked God to show me more lost stories of women. I pleaded for their stories to be recovered.

And when I read more about William Carey’s behavior towards Dorothy, particularly how he left her pregnant with two small children in his first attempt to go to India, I wanted to tell him a thing or two.

I could not have known that a mere seven months later, I would be in the mental ward of a Hungarian hospital, my own story on the verge of extinction.

‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own self?’

Traditionally ‘the whole world’ has been interpreted as all one could want of the secular world. Things like fame, fortune, success, an entourage of servants, etc.

But what if ‘the whole world’ were the world of missions? In this way it can be said that William Carey gained the whole world, especially regarding his legacy and esteem. But did he lose his soul in the process, even for a season?

He lost the story of his wife. The wife of his youth. The one he had vowed to love, and according to the book of Ephesians, the one for whom he was called to lay down his life.

Then, the whole world lost her story. She was seen as unfit or selfish or crazy.*

But what if he waited, and she was won by his love and sacrifice?

William Carey was the product of his culture. At the time, it was assumed that a good wife would follow him. It was also assumed he would ask her to do so. Her status in society was considerably inferior to his. This left Dorothy with an impossible choice as she struggled to embrace the pioneer mission.

It is important to remember these factors.

But we are not living in his time. We live here and now. And women are considered equal to men. Marriage is a partnership. Yet our stories, especially those of wives, especially in the church and missions, can easily be lost.

When I reflect on these things, I know them intimately.

At the time of my hospital stay, we were living in a country for which we had endured a six year process just so we could be there. Our work with students was thriving. We had labored towards fluency in a very hard language. Our children were virtually bilingual. We were excited about the future.

And then, the unthinkable. I had what psychologists call a manic episode caused by lack of sleep and a later diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Essentially, I went crazy for a time.

I was in the hospital two weeks including three days in the ICU. As I recovered, many were saying we needed to return home to Pennsylvania for my healing and long-term care. It seemed like a death to all we had fought to keep, in other words, ‘the whole world’. Children pulled out of school. Loss of relationships that were just beginning and held so much promise. Leaving this life we had built through blood, sweat and tears.

But then, my husband came to the hospital one evening and said he thought we did need to return to the States. He had been listening to the song Lay Me Down and said that’s what he felt God was calling him to do.

In the year and a half that has followed, God has picked up both of our stories and is writing things beyond imagining. We miss our overseas ‘home’ and always will. But we are in the palm of God’s hand, safe in his clasp.

My husband has walked a road where he could easily have succumbed to bitterness for what my mental illness has cost him. But instead, he has let his own story be nearly lost in order to find this new, or redeemed, story with me. I have no doubt he will be honored for all eternity for his love and faithfulness to me.

We need to remember the lost stories. In particular, husbands, I speak clearly to you — yet with compassion. You must be the protectors, the guardians, of your wives’ stories. It is the greater part of all you will do, in close relationship to your love for God. And, in the end, what is gained will far outweigh the sacrifice.

For many a story will be found and lifted up as the crowning jewel of your life unto the glory of God.


*I do not know the true state of Dorothy Carey’s heart, but I do know she hasn’t been remembered kindly.

On Staying, Leaving, And Which Is Harder


Only Perfect Love

I lie in a hospital bed. Tubes run in and through me. Though I remember that I am in the hospital, I do not know why I am in the ICU of Szent Imre Korhaz. 

It is morning. 

The light glides over my bed, streaming through tall glass windows as it bounces off the high rise cement apartment buildings across the street. 

I know two things: I am alive. I am loved.

Saturday marked a year since I went into the hospital in Hungary. Two grueling weeks in both my and my husband’s life which ultimately changed the course of our life. Before they happened, I would have thought staying overseas was harder and leaving was the easy way out.

But not now. Now I know there is another way to see both.

The truth is sometimes it is harder to stay. Sometimes it is harder to leave. But the hardest of all is to know perfect love so fully that we can walk either path without fear.

Life is seldom what we expect it to be. There are breathtaking surprises which change our lives forever. There are unspeakable tragedies that alter our courses profoundly. The only thing we can know for certain about life is that we do not know what tomorrow will bring.

Thankfully, our hope is not in this life.

I have learned this through my journey overseas and the crisis which led us to return home long before we planned. I have learned this through my mother’s cancer and death. I have learned it in the tragedies which daily flood the news, some more personal than others.

Yet, I thought too, I had learned about letting go of control of this life through the moves and transitions of our missionary journey. I thought I had let go of fear to begin a new life. It would be limitless faith, unreserved commitment and telltale determination which would see us through.

But the heart is subtly deceptive despite our best intentions to know it. Trial and suffering in the form of the unexpected have a way of revealing things. They show us what is really happening in hidden soul places.

For me, the crisis I experienced overseas was both horrifying and freeing. First the horror. Then the freedom. Likely, it would not be this dramatic with you or most people. Yet, what I most want to say is that this freedom is a gift coming in the form of perfect love. So is what comes before it, no matter how horrific.

When the apostle John speaks of perfect love in I John 4:18, it is preceded by a declaration:

‘We have seen and testify that the Father has sent His son to be the Savior of the world.’

He goes on to say that it is our confession of His Son that gives us a dwelling with God and he with us. It is a dwelling bound in love, His perfect love.

And that love is not tied to our staying in or leaving the country of our calling. It is completely wrapped up in the Father sending His Son to save the world.

Ironically, sometimes we move cross-culturally and expand our understanding of the world, only to have our view of God become smaller. His work becomes bound to our mission and host nation instead of the person of Christ. 

But it is in the times of our greatest need, when only perfect love will satisfy. It is then  that we see clearly what our deepest heart loves are. 

These moments are poignant. They come through disappointment, failure, crisis and tragedy. They mark both our staying and our leaving. They lead us through the refining fire, molding a faith more precious than gold. They bring forth the things that will remain when we stand before God and hear the longing of our hearts, ‘Well done.’

They cannot be defined by geography, only perfect love.

The Song of The World

world music

Imago Dei

God’s image

Every nation

Every tongue

Every tribe


And in each of us, a song. 

And that song is like the first song. The one C.S. Lewis and I imagine brought the world into existence. The Spirit hovers over the waters, and there was darkness over the surface of the deep.  And ever so slowly, deeply, richly from eternal Perfection comes the song. Living things come to be and join their voices to the music. A response as natural as they to fill the expanse of creation with the song of glory.

But it’s all gone wrecked. So very, very wrecked. We read the stories. We know the stories from the four corners of this aching world. We live the stories of a shattered song.

And yet, this is why we are here. To remember our Imago Dei. To recover the song. To reclaim its every note with our ears relentlessly attuned to redemption.

And we must not forget. We cannot shut out the clear strains of God. No matter how fierce the darkened, discordant noise. 

In the U.S., tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. Far and wide families and friends will gather. There will be too much eating and way too much football and, I hope, the giving of thanks.

All over the world, many ex-pats will celebrate in small communities of surrogate families even while oceans away from home. They will establish new traditions and share the old with those from their host culture.

And too, too many will live this day homeless, hungry, in fear for their lives, in bondage, or simply, far from relationship with God.

Yet, this day of Thanksgiving is meant to revive the song. It is to help us unite in our Imago Dei as our lives write the music of Glory.

For in the true song unto Jesus and His redemption, we find the honest notes of our lives, in their heartfelt, aching and broken, reflect the honest notes of the world. And when they rise with gaze upon the unchanging love and goodness of God, they become the song of Thanksgiving.

And this is what God wants to hear tomorrow and always. He wants our grief and sorrow over the world, our world, even as we remember the song; his promised restoration. He wants the simplest places hallowed by thanks.

Thank you for breath.

Thank you for feet to walk.

Thank you for legs to run.

Thank you for smiles (and tears) on little faces.

Thank you for hope and promise.

Thank you for work yet to be done.

Thank you for today…

He also wants us to remember, live in light of, our brothers and sisters. To know that where Imago Dei and His Spirit are, there is a song.

And dear ones are lifting up that song as they work the earth sun up to sun down each day. They’re lifting it up, hands too small, stirring pots too big, face broken open in praise. They’re lifting it up, dungeons marked for horror all around. They’re lifting it up and the gates of Hell will not prevail . He wants us to be branded for this song; this victory too.

He wants our Thanksgiving full of song. 

He wants our lives full of song.

He wants this world full of song, His song, once again. 

Share a song of thanks in the comments below or share it wherever you go!


*photo credit olly via fotolia

(I have written a little e-book ‘In Every Story A Song’ which articulates more of these thoughts on ‘the song of the world’. It is free if you subscribe to my blog.)

Because Grief Has A Name

I write this from an International De-Brief organized by our ministry, Cru. As I was preparing for the conference, I felt wary, even afraid. I didn’t want to dive back into the raw emotion of leaving Hungary last spring. I didn’t want to face the loss and grief.

Grief can be like a scary villain, dark and obscure. It looms large bent on swallowing us whole. It threatens to mark us, scarred and misshapen, not fit for normal life.

I have met such a beast more than I care to remember. Yet, I will.  Because I have learned great truths related to grief, yet it seems they must be re-learned as I experience it all afresh. And here is where a name for each grief allows me to meet it as something altogether new with fresh mercy and grace.

These are some names I have given my grief:

Losing Home/Losing Childhood: I grew up on a dairy farm. But, when I was 12, we had to leave. Life for us, would never be the same. This grief has spread its fingers intricately throughout my life. It is there whenever the shocking realities of a broken world come cruelly into my reality. The name I give this grief helps shape my understanding of all grief as I walk the long road Home.

When Dreams Die: For many years I experienced great success in school, sports, work and relationships. This led to sky-high dreams for every area of my life and the unstoppable will to run after them. They all shattered when one of them failed and my heart was broken. It seemed my successes were like a house of cards blown over and revealed for what they were. There was disillusionment with God, searing pain through a lack of closure in the relationship, and feelings of failure. Naming this grief allows me to see deeper things than choices others and I have made. It also shows me where I have gotten my value. But most, I learn there is always a measure of grief when I wrap my arms more tightly around something other than God.

No Longer Known: And this is when my mother died of cancer. There was not the sharp pain of sudden loss as the journey of cancer allowed time for a measure of closure. But, the loss of a good, loving mother is one that is all-encompassing. She seems to have been everywhere with a hug or word of encouragement over the phone or via a card. In many ways, she knew my siblings and I better than anyone. Hers was another loss of home and has spread itself throughout the 13+ years without her, finding me all over the world. By naming this grief, I recognize how deeply missing my mother goes. I look for her everywhere and am disappointed that another will not know me as she did. And I have learned that only God can heal me as He reveals how He knows me.

(Here is another piece on grief I wrote related to the loss of my mother.)

Tearing Heart Loss: This is the fresh grief I am in now from the loss of our life overseas. It feels like my heart has been torn. It is like the combination of all of the other losses I have named here. There’s been the loss of home, dreams and being known. It feels tragic, wrong, raw and this is after months of genuine healing. I am pulling from all of the reserves of grieving I have done in my life to walk this grief.  By naming this grief, I recognize the oceanic depths of pain, loss, joy and love found in my heart. I see that I have given my heart and not held it back. And because of this, I see that this road will be long, maybe till Heaven, but I must stay on this path.

But, why? Why must any of us stay on paths of grief?

Naming grief is our heart acknowledging its significance and place in our lives. In this way, grief is a friend, like Sadness from the movie Inside Out. It teaches us the shape of our own unique story and guides us to tastes of the ‘fullness of joy’ found in God’s presence. Acknowledging and entering grief also guards our hearts from the calcifying effects of the denial of pain, hurt or loss. Instead of resentment, bitterness or hatred, we get healing, strength and hope. We also become those who grieve well with others. This is a true gift.

In this community at ‘A Life Overseas’, we are all in different places, literally and figuratively. But grief finds us all. Where I grieve a sudden leaving, another grieves family left behind. Others grieve a rift in a relationship even while still living in the same place.

Wherever you are, friend, name that grief. Let God shape you through it and show you what His healing can do. Don’t cheat your heart by avoiding grief and allowing a wall to form around it. Don’t let it stay the dark villain that keeps you afraid. Name it. Face it. Begin the journey of seeing God in every part of it. And know, we are in this journey together.

What is one step you can take towards knowing and naming your grief? Write that step in the comments below and/or tell a friend about it. Then, take that step.

How to Keep Running When You Have Fallen

How to Keep Running

The clouds wisp along the sky like cotton candy in rosebud pink, salmon and peach colors. It is early morning. I pound the concrete with sure steps and even breaths.

I have started running again.

I have only run but a time or two in the nearly nine years since I was pregnant, and sick, with my first child. My sister asked me to run a 5K in July and it is the perfect motivation to get me going.

Yet along with the beauty of sunrises and crisp morning air, has come the pain and scars of three falls.

The first time I fall is on a sidewalk in Colorado. I need four stitches in my chin. I know, OUCH. The second time is along a path in Pennsylvania. It is only a skinned knee. The third time is on another sidewalk in Orlando, where I have just moved, and I manage to skin my leg and shoulder badly.

I know what some of you are thinking: ‘Please, for your safety, stop running.’

I hear you. But I can’t.

You see, it has been quite a year. It is a year which has brought us back to the States from overseas. It all happens in an unexpected, shocking, what-will-happen-next kind of way. And in the aftermath, running is a place of worship where I rise from ashes to boldly declare, ‘I am alive and I am well.’

The third time I fall, I am running with a new friend. She asks me what she can do, and I say, ‘can we please, please just keep running.’ I tell my husband the same thing after the first fall, but the crimson overflowing my cupped hand tells me I cannot.

I am resolute in my desire to not let these falls define me. I finish the run with rivulets of blood running down my leg. After this fall, I give myself a week to heal. There is some fear and the ‘what if’s’ as I think about running again.

So, how do I do it? How do I keep running after I have fallen and fallen badly, multiple times?

1) I learn to trust. Am I klutzy? Sure. More prone to falling? Probably. But these falls are also accidents. I hit the wrong spot and its uneven concrete. My body is also adjusting to the stride of running. This makes it easier for me trip. And when I step out to run, I can’t guarantee it won’t happen again. But, I trust that I can do this and go out to meet another dawn.

2) I learn from the details of my falls. My worst falls have been on sidewalks. As I re-examine where I fell, I see the uneven squares which I was not careful to notice before. So I develop the discipline of examining the cracks of the sidewalk and stepping over where it is not smooth. At first it is a bit cumbersome, but now it is second nature.

3) I learn to let go. I cannot change those missteps. I cannot make the wounds heal instantly. There are scars in each place that I cannot make to disappear. I have been angry and sad and wondered why God let me fall when I have already had such a year. But, in the end, I have let go of each stumble and hurt so that I can move forward.

It is good and right to keep running. But it is also foolish to do so forgetting I have fallen flat on my face and smacked my chin hard on very unforgiving concrete. I know, OUCH!

While living overseas or experiencing transitions, there are certain to be many falls. Often they are small. But sometimes they are big. And there is acute pain, wounding and scarring. It comes with newness. Our bodies, all of us really, are adjusting. There are plenty of cracks and bumps which make it easy to stumble, or flat-out fall.

And these falls, the crisis, the things we never want to live again, are integral to our ability to keep running (or walking) forward. Living with our eyes open to what really happened, or is happening in ourselves, others and the environment, is incredibly freeing.

Every tendency might be to keep going and never acknowledge the fall. This can be very good as far as sheer guts, will and determination, but it only leads to more falling. Or the tendency might be to live in fear of falling again. So we do not continue on the path, seeking to protect ourselves from further pain. Yet, this will lead to potentially worse falls or sinking in a pit right where we are.

But, if we recognize the falls for what they are and yet continue on the road before us, we will do it as someone who is wiser and stronger. We will live with our eyes and hearts open, unashamed and in the full light of day as we see our anxieties and fears healed. The things we thought would defeat us will become small, and we will keep running beholding skies feathered in glory.

How about you friend? Have you fallen while running? How have you kept going?

When the Rocks Lighten: How to Count Suffering


It’s been a heavy, transition-packed few weeks around here. As I have been packing and unpacking, there has been a lot of hard news.

It’s the kind that stops you right where you are and makes you remember it is a gift to be here. A gift to serve. A gift to be alive. A gift to be a family. A gift to know Jesus.

And yet, somehow, I forget.

There’s an amazing family I know. They have given themselves whole-heartedly as missionaries on multiple continents. They have raised a beautiful family at the same time. It seems like they have done it all right. Yet, their only son is dying from brain cancer.

And yet, somehow, God remains good.

There’s a woman I know. She is just a little older than me. She has loved God and been in ministry for many years. She has prayed faithfully for our family. Over the past few she has suffered from colon cancer and it has progressed to her bones.

And yet, somehow, this sickness does not define.

Then, there’s this tragic story which my friend, with ties to this family, posted on Facebook. A young mother serving the Lord overseas, killed, leaving behind a husband and three young kids.

And yet, somehow, death has lost its sting.

As I write this, there is a life-giving organ transplant happening in my immediate family. Someone I love very much sacrificing a part of themselves for someone else I love very much.

My heart is slowed and the ‘ba-bump, ba-bump’ is somehow more precise.

And then there are my sweet kids. They have been watching the ‘Torchlighters’ video series which features heroes of the faith. They have seen William Booth confront violence with the truth and not his fists. They have seen early martyr Perpetua die in the arena. They have seen Augustine stand against pagan religion. They have seen Amy Carmichael fight to protect Indian girls.

They have asked many questions. In turn, I have asked them too. Why did Perpetua and her friends die? Why did Amy Carmichael rescue those girls? Why did William Booth let himself be punched and not fight back?

It comes back to how we count suffering. I listened to this sermon by Tim Keller (also available on podcast). He ends talking about our possible responses to suffering. He says we can blame God, blame ourselves, blame others or embrace Jesus.

In each story I mentioned, the people are choosing (or chose) to embrace Jesus in their suffering. Therefore, they have abundant courage. Because, no matter what happens, they get their heart’s desire. They get God.

This is our great legacy and hope. James says ‘count it all joy’ when we face trials. Paul says, ‘for I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.’ The apostles ‘rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer…for the name.’

Let me pause here. I don’t mean to be callous related to your past or current experiences. Or my own. But, I do know, for the journey ahead, we all need a greater grace than we have known, a digging deeper into who we really are.

You see, there is a beautiful place of vision. It is one where all becomes a beholding of the face of Christ. But there is also a barren wasteland. I know it well. Here, every imperfect thing is counted like a rock in a giant pack of burden we carry.

I have spent many days weighing myself down, counting suffering all wrong.

But I want something more. I want to be within sight of Jesus where every suffering, from small to great, is changed.

His glory transforms all it touches and our sufferings become the gold that clothes as we draw close to Him. We become resilient to live boldly, radically and fully. We endure as the first missionaries and followers did. We endure as the precious ones who are, right now, enduring.

We endure and count it all unto Life, unto Joy, unto God.

What rocks are you carrying on your back? Do you believe Jesus wants to lighten your heavy load?