Smoke and Onions

by Emily Raan

Today it was smoke and onions. A few months ago it was reading hard, real, and desperately sad books based on true stories.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate the smell of our neighbors’ burning trash. And the five onions I just got done cutting up are certainly not a bed of roses.

But lately I’ve found those painful, eye-burning, tear-jerking, and often times ugly things to be such a blessing. They make me cry. Or, better yet, they allow me to cry. They bring freedom from the hardness of this life that I carry with me: all that emotion I bottle up in order to try to maintain some sanity in my day.

The dinner must get done. The kids each need my personal and undivided attention. Homeschool must go on. Someone, it seems, is always at our gate. And one of our kids is always falling down and getting their knees scraped up! (Literally seconds after I typed that last sentence my oldest scraped up the back of her leg jumping off one of our benches.) And life just seems to continue to go on like that, doesn’t it!?

And in the middle of all this chaos I am so often overwhelmed by the weight of sin – my sin, the sin of others, the sins of an oppressive and corrupt government, systems that fail those they are supposed to help and protect.

Sin and its effect on us. Its effect on me. Its effect on my family. Its effect on those in my community. Sin is real and it’s ugly.

We cry and pray with our friends as they struggle with incredibly difficult family situations. A young mom with cancer who won’t make it much longer, a child who seems to be wayward, kids taken from their parents because of false accusations, a father who is abusive to his first wife and has taken their children from her. We give medical care to those who come with their many wounds. We cry with and pray for our community when horrendous acts of violence seem to abound. We struggle to know how best help those who have somehow become abandoned because of, well…. sin!

Some days it feels unbearable and my old friend Anxiety once again makes his awful appearance. It is on those days that God, in all His sweet, tender compassion and with His still small voice, reminds me who He is. He says to my hurting heart (and hopefully yours, too)…

I am holy. (Isaiah 6:3, Psalm 22:3, 1 Peter 1:16, Revelation 4:8)

I am slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (Psalm 103:8)

I am a good, good Father. (2 Thessalonians 2:16)

You do not need to be afraid, for I am with you. (Genesis 26:24, Joshua 1:9, Isaiah 41:10)

You see, God is for us and for those that we live and work among. He is for the brokenhearted. After all, we are broken, too.

Eventually, however, the smoke dissipates and the sweet smell of fresh air returns. Those onions get added to the hot oil and the now-savory aroma fills the room instead. And all of a sudden those smoke and onions become the beautiful reminder of who God is and all that He has done for us. A reminder of His abounding love and faithfulness. A reminder that we are not in this alone and that He has gone before us. A reminder that He can make even the ugliest and smelliest of things into something beautiful. A reminder of hope — and hope does not disappoint.


Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:1-5


Emily and her husband currently live in Uganda with their three kids, but they’ve also lived in India and traveled to six other countries on four continents. Once upon a time she was a high school math teacher, but now she’s living the life as a stay-at-home mom and loving it.  After several years of youth ministry, college life that went on far too long, and a year-long internship, they finally made it to this life abroad that they love so much.

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A Life Overseas is a collective blog centered around the realities, ethics, spiritual struggles, and strategies of living overseas. Elizabeth Trotter is the editor-in-chief.

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