Blog Posts

When Everything Falls Apart…

The ever present weight of memory. The hope of what is to come. There is no distinction. It is all woven together. The frightening and beautiful noises of it all resounds across the miles and miles of our years. In this tension of both/and, we live and move and have our being, all in the presence of a God, who also sobs and sings.
~ A Hole in the World, Amanda Held Opelt ~

It has been almost two months since my grandmother’s death. Two months of wading through a dense fog. I am not the same person I was a year ago…two months ago. “You look tired.” “Have you lost weight?” “How are you…really?” The carefully curated facade is cracking. People are starting to notice. Things are falling apart…I am falling apart.

As I approached the door to her house the other day, I saw a note addressed to “Ms. Peggy.” I said to myself, “Do they know she is gone? Did they see the men in suits take her body away? Wheel her hospital bed out the front door?” I opened the note, hands trembling, scared for some reason the words that lie inside. It simply read, “To the family of Ms. Peggy, Know that everyone here was very fond of her.” My eyes began to blur over with tears. I struggled to find the keys and unlock the door. When it finally flew open, I slammed it shut.

There I was standing in her dining room– a room where we ate meals and laughed together. Where, after I incessantly rang the doorbell just to annoy her, she would answer in her bathrobe and curlers usually chiding me because I came before she had a chance to get ready. A flood of memories flashed through my mind. The staple of those sweet memories gone forever. All her things just as she left them, but her gone. I doubled over as love and sorrow mingled together. A cry of deep anguish erupting from the depths of my soul. Once it started I did not know if it was going to stop. I can count the number of times on one hand I have cried like that.

I wailed that day in my grandmother’s foyer and had I let myself, I could have wailed until I was hoarse and my bones were dry. Nothing left in me. When I dried my tears, stood up, and walked away. Nothing was different; she was still gone. I was still standing in her empty house, broken by my sorrow. But there was something strangely healing about honoring the deep pain within me. About releasing it into the air. Something about allowing myself to lament the brokenness of this world and the losses that have destroyed my heart.

I wish I could say that moment in my grandmother’s foyer was the only instance in this year I have cried…but that would be a lie. When I list out the losses I’ve endured in such a short span of time they still do not seem real. I have found myself staring into an abyss I am not sure some days I can crawl out of. It feels hard to say that out loud, to even put into writing. It’s hard to admit the weakness I see in myself. My pride tells me I should be able to emerge from this hellish year stoic and unresigned. I was not raised to fall apart. We power through; we pick ourselves up off the floor and move on. 

But this year the weight has felt too heavy of a burden to bear…so I lay here on the floor, praying for healing. I am still unsure when it will come. In this, I have been reminded of just how weak I actually am. I have realized how desperately I need my Savior. In a year where people have walked out of my life taking the shattered pieces of my heart with them and I have been confronted with the reality that all love ends in death, I am so grateful for the friends who have stayed by my side.

The ones who have sat with me in the vast darkness as I cried gently reminding me of the light even when I could not see it. Who so deeply believe that better things are coming even if I cannot even see them on the horizon yet. Who have been my strength on the days when I could barely get out of bed. They have held soft space for my tears and rage, allowing silence and presence, rather than hollow words, to be our companion. True friendship, true love stays no matter how much you can give in the moment. I could cry so many tears of gratitude for the ones who have never left my side. Next to God they have been my anchors in this vast sea of heartbreak. They have slowly begun to pull me out of the abyss, reminding me that goodness still exists even in darkness.

What I have learned in this year is that grief is communal. As life is meant to be lived together, so grief is meant to be done–together. In our highly individualistic society we think we must walk the grief journey alone. In American culture, we often believe the lie that true emotion belongs alone behind closed doors. That is, if we even allow those emotions to escape from us at all. We don’t really know how to deal with pain or discomfort. We avoid and numb and then we brag about our stoicism. But refusing to acknowledge the reality of the pain we all experience is actually not very healthy or Biblical. It’s damaging.

I do not know exactly when the idea that we cannot express deep emotion, especially in the church, came to be. But I know that Scripture is full of rich and deep rituals that are emotive. That are real and raw. If the Jewish faith, and the Bible as a whole for that matter, teaches us one thing, it’s this: that while this world is full of great love and glory of the Lord that is meant to be praised, it is also full of immense pain and sorrow that should be lamented. Scripture does not try to deny that these polar opposites exist simultaneously. There is no air that life is not hard or full of suffering. 

The book of Job is so evident of this. Words of pain like: “He has blocked my way so I cannot pass; he has shrouded my paths in darkness… he uproots my hope like a tree.” lie right beside words of hope: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.” (Job 19: 8-10;25-26). Job and the people of Scripture knew praise and anguish could occupy the very same breath…so when did we lose this.  

The more times I look death in the face, the angrier I get at this shallow view of our culture. Because a faith that isn’t honest about how it feels, that cannot sit with someone in pain, or that tries to numb it with trite remarks and hollow words like, “God won’t give you more than you can handle” isn’t really a much of a faith to stand on. A cultural view that continues to tell people that they need to hold it together because showing deep emotion in the face of loss or tragedy would be weak, or even worse feminine, is not something I am really interested in believing in anymore.

Our legacy in Christ is one of triumph that came through great suffering and pain. We bear the marks of our God, which means we bear both the glory and the suffering. In order for those around Jesus to know the fullness of the resurrected life, they still had to sit in three days of darkness and grief. Don’t get me wrong, I never want to become a person that the tragedies of this life cause me to become so cynical that I lose the ability to dream and bask in the wonder of the Lord. At the end of it all we still serve a God who called a man out of the grave. That is our destiny, and what could possibly be more hopeful than that.

But there is something about experiencing pain and suffering that makes love and joy all the more real. They are felt more deeply knowing you had to fight the darkness to discover them again. Because love that is honest about what it has to lose is always deeper. Something inside of us changes when we discover we can look death square in the face and still emerge from that empty, hollow space with the capacity to feel love and joy. To honestly feel at all…

Because if love can still exist after you bury yourself in the ground with the ones who have left you. If life can still mean something after it’s reduced to ashes. Then surely, there must be a God whose image we bear. Surely, there is an eternity beyond the ashes we all return to. If flowers and leaves beautifully unfolding again can still bring joy after death becomes a close companion. And if the sun dappling its light through the trees can still stop you in your tracks after you’ve descended into the abyss of grief…then surely, we must be more than a cataclysmic accident of happenstance, more than just this flesh and bone. And surely, surely God must breathe resurrection into us. 

So we wail. We rage. We fall apart. We tear our clothes and sit on a bed of ashes. We dig a grave and bury ourselves under weighted mounds of grief. We give ourselves over to the pain and honor the sorrow felt deep within us. We let a part of ourselves die all while knowing that in Christ all death leads to resurrection. And on the other side of that resurrection lies sweeter love and deeper joy. 

Kuc Obed Kedi sweet friends. If at any point now or in the future, you need permission to grieve– to fall apart, you have it my friend. Oh, you have it. And when you rise from that abyss, may you find that sweeter love and deeper joy that is only hard-won through pain.

To the ones who have helped carry the weight that has burdened my soul, you have been the light keepers in this darkness. For that, I am forever grateful to call you my family and friends, and to share this hard, sweet, beautiful life with you.

Into the Light of the Mourning

When I was little my grandmother used to pick me up from school and take me to this little garden in our town. We would walk and talk and look at all the flowers and trees. But my favorite spot was always the little goldfish pond. I would lay on my stomach leaned over the wall and feed the fish watching them for what felt like hours. This space was slow and peaceful to me. We were never in a hurry to be anywhere. For those moments at that garden we were just together, and that was enough for the both of us.

If you know me, then you know I still move at a slow pace through life everywhere I go. I heard the words, “Hayley, come on! Pick up the pace please!” all the time growing up. And if you knew my grandmother, then you know I got that slow steady pace from her. Now that she is gone, I am only beginning to realize the many ways I am so similar to her. The more I am trying to grab a hold of her fading ghost in every space I can.

The world seems different waking up these days knowing she is no longer in it. Most days it feels as if she took so much of the light with her. I do not understand why the Lord does the things He does. My grandmother’s death was a slow and agonizing one for us all. A thousand little deaths over the last year before she finally drew her labored last breath. 

I honestly thought I had so much more time. My maw-maw was the one grandparent I thought would live to see my sister graduate high school. See me get married.  Would hold her great-grand children. Somehow though 83 years is a long time on this earth, I feel her life was cut short. Like she had so much more to live. I honestly thought dealing with her death would be so much easier than it has been. I was prepared this time…I saw this coming as I watched her slowly decline. Towards the end I prayed the Lord would take her out of mercy. But somehow I’ve been ripped open all the same.

I remember that first loss and encounter with grief I had after losing my paternal grandmother. It felt so real and raw, as if I had been broken open in ways that quite surprised me at 19. I didn’t know a pit of grief could open up within someone like that. When I fell in, I didn’t know how I was going to crawl out of that space. The dark walls towering over me. A decade later I’ve seen so much more. I’ve witnessed more tragedy; experienced more loss. I’ve had my heart broken losing what I thought was love but was really a lie. Buried all my grandparents but one. Dropped my father off at a hospital door scared to death I just saw him breathe for the last time. I’ve witnessed and seen things overseas I wish I could unsee, but can never seem to forget. I’ve watched life leave a body twice now which is two more times than I ever have wanted to in this life. In the last year alone, there has been so much loss and deep pain. I have cried what feels like enough tears to fill the depths of the sea.

I recently read a post that said, “If your 20s are for dreaming, then your 30s are for grieving…”. The closer I get to 30, the more I realize how true that statement is. The longer we live the more we love, which is beautiful, but that means the more we also lose. I am sure I have only experienced a small fraction of the grief this life will bring.

What I’ve come to learn in all the ways my heart has been ripped open and sewn together again is that there is a soft tenderness to grief. It’s wild, untame, uncomfortable, and it’s raw. But if we allow ourselves to walk through it, we emerge stronger yet softer with the capacity to experience love and joy more fully. We become bound to others in ways we never thought possible, because loss is perhaps the only true thing we as humans will all without a doubt experience.

We know as Christian’s we do not grieve without hope. But I’ve found that while words like “they’re in a better place” or “we will see them again one day” are very true, they can often sound like platitudes in that soft tender space. I think we are so scared of our own mortality that sometimes there is a need for such blind optimism in our culture. We do not like to sit and feel pain. Death makes us uncomfortable. Grief makes us want to bake a casserole, leave it on the counter, and bolt out the door in fear that somehow death is contagious.

But there is great beauty in the ones who are called to run to the sick and dying. I think of the hospice nurses and around the clock caretakers who so delicately loved my grandmother’s fragile and failing shell even until she drew her last breath. Who didn’t leave her side until there was only peace left. Who held her hand and prayed with her in the dark and scary dead of night. The ones who held space for the pain of grief and didn’t try to run away. Who looked at her ailing body riddled with her own mortality and said, “Yes you, you deserve love. You still have so much dignity. You are beautiful to me, and I will never look away. We will face death together, and I will hold onto you until you let us go.” They have taught me so much about the person I want to be in the face of grief and death.

One thing I know for certain is that God honors grief. The Bible is full of deep rituals of grief and lament. Even Jesus himself took time to mourn the passing of his dear friend Lazarus before he proceeded to raise him from the grave. There is hope in our grief. We know the promise that God is making all things new in the land of the living is as sure as the sunrise. And while I am so thankful for that, I believe we are still allowed to grieve and feel pain even as Christians. Jesus, even knowing that His purpose in coming to earth was to defeat death once and for all, still knew how to hold space for deep grief. He ran to the dying. He sat in the heaviness. He said I will never look away.

Sometimes I wonder how often he thought about his own death. When he raised Jarius’ daughter was he reminded of the cross? When he called Lazarus out of the grave did he wonder how his friends and family would grieve his broken and battered body? In this year of loss upon loss, I am so grateful I belong to a Savior who deeply knows grief. To a God that holds space for all my pain, anger, tears, and questions. To a God who gives us light and hope to hold onto even in the midst of overwhelming pain and suffering. These truths are what have met me in the great darkness of this year.

My world is forever changed. There is now a hole where my grandmother used to be; right next to all the other losses of love I’ve endured. The longer I move about this earth, the more my heart will begin to look like Swiss cheese. There is nothing glamorous about death or Swiss cheese. Grief is dark and heavy. This I have come to learn all too well.

But there is great beauty in knowing that this woman whose cells I carry deep within my bones, who because of her breath I have breath, will continue to live on through me and the other women she gave sweet life to. And when I emerge from this dark hole I have fallen into, I will be forever changed. My heart more tender and soft, yet stronger for enduring yet another one of life’s dark nights. And the sun will still rise and give light to a beautiful morning, for this is a sure promise of my Savior and my God. Because you see that’s the beautiful thing about holes…even in their darkest moments they still let light shine through.

Kuc Obed Kedi sweet friends. Stay by your friends’ sides in the silent, heavy moments of grief. Sometimes your presence is all they truly need…

Rains in the Wilderness

Normally, rain may not seem exciting or meaningful, but when you’ve lived somewhere where life revolves around the seasons, the imagery becomes so much more profound. In northern Uganda, by the end of the dry season the land was parched and the people were too. The earth seemed to be yearning for some sort of respite. Everyone growing weary and tired from the neverending heat. Dust kicked up everywhere. There is a strange, sad beauty in the dryness, but also its ability to wear on the soul is unrelenting.

Finally around April, the town would begin to buzz with the sweet relief that the rains would be here soon. People began to look for hope as dark clouds appeared in the sky teasing its arrival for weeks…and then finally when those first rains came, life stood still and all of creation collectively let out a sigh of relief. Every plant and person opening themselves to the sky, drinking in the much needed source of life. The earth seemed to be healed in an instant. All evidence of the dry season gone with the blink of an eye.

This year so far has felt much like a dry wilderness. The longer I find myself wandering in this vast empty space, the more desperate I become for some relief and respite. My heart and soul are weary and tired. I am in desperate need of some healing rain.

So far this year has been filled with so many losses, small and great. I have seen the Lord’s goodness so evidently in this season. But watching my grandmother’s health collapse right before my eyes, along with other losses that are still too painful to even give a name to, have hollowed out my soul. I am sure I am not the only one that has looked up at the stars recently and quietly whispered, “Lord, when will the pain end, and your healing begin.”

Like Jeremiah crying out, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? So why has the healing of my dear people not come about?” (Jer 8:22). I have wondered where the balm of Gilead with all its power to soothe and heal is in this darkness.

My heart has so many questions. I do not know why all these things had to happen now as I prepare to leave the states for my first term overseas. I told the Lord long ago I would be obedient to Him and follow wherever He led, even if it meant leaving the ones I love behind. So why all this and why now? These days I just do not understand why He had to break my heart in so many ways as I prepare to go, wasn’t my surrender and obedience enough for Him. 

I do not know why He heals some, but not all. Why He allows diseases that rip away the beautiful memories that make this hard life worth living or why He lets our bodies decay until they are painful reminders of what we once were. I do not know why He allows people to come into our lives when their only purpose is to break us and our hearts. There is so much in this wilderness I do not understand.

But what I do know is this season has begun to teach me how to hold the joy and the pain simultaneously, one in each hand. A both/and, not an either/or. I think I can safely say that most of us do not want to feel pain, the reality, however, is: it is a byproduct of the fallen world we call home. But our capacity to know and feel pain allows us to come to know our God and Savior more fully, to experience love and joy on a deeper level. It softens our hearts to those suffering around us in ways we never thought possible. Our soul’s capacity to feel is one of the most divine gifts our Creator breathed into us. And while this year so far may have been one of the most painful I have ever experienced, I never want to live a life where feeling doesn’t exist.

The deep wells of pain and grief will one day give way to the mountaintops of joy and wonder. 

The one who made the stars is also the one who breathed His very breath into our lungs. Just as He knows every star that dots the sky, He knows every hair on our head, every tear that wells up and falls from our eyes. The starmaker is deeply concerned about our hearts.

God gave us an incredible gift in Scripture, which gives voice to our pain, but also in His son who stepped out of the light of heaven and became flesh so He could know the struggles of humanity more fully. There is great beauty in the fact that we serve a Savior who deeply knows the human experience. Our legacy is one of great joy in the triumph over death, but this came at great cost and pain.

In a year of so many losses the Lord quietly whispers…I know and I am here through the midst of it all. I know that this wilderness will not last forever. That life with the Lord will be full of many mountains and valleys. God will be there when my beautiful grandmother draws her last breath. He will be there to piece my heart back together from all the brokenness and deep hurt caused by someone I cared about deeply. He will come [like] rain, like the spring showers that water the land (Hosea 6:3). He will heal in this life because that is a fundamental part of the God He is. 

May we hold on to the hope, sweet friends, that one day in heaven there will be the tree of life and “its leaves will bring healing to the nations.” (Revelation 22:2) Full, complete healing is coming. Until then may we learn to dance with God through all the joy, pain, and great mysteries of this life. Because as Kate Bowler says so perfectly…

Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard. 

Kuc Obed Kedi Sweet Friends. May you see so much deep beauty and wonder in this life.

After penning these words a few weeks ago, my family recently received news that my grandfather passed away. In the wake of our loss, these words feel all the more true. One day death will be swallowed up in victory (1 Cor 15:54). But until that day, may we allow ourselves to feel the full weight of grief, knowing our God will meet us there. Our hearts will greatly miss my pop-pop. May we find joy in the 88 beautiful years he spent on this earth.

And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”
– Job 1:21 –

This Vast In-Between

“Always carrying in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”
– 2 Corinthians 4:10

We just emerged from the Lenten season. 40 days of sorrow and grief, that culminate in a tragic death. All seems lost, but then God has something to say doesn’t He? I can’t help but think that life often feels like the days in-between the cross and the resurrection. We look behind us knowing the victory and the power that came through the cross, while we press ahead towards heaven which is still just out of reach. 

And lately, I have been feeling a lot of “in betweens”

In between Africa – this June will be three years since I walked out of Acholiland. When I stepped on that plane, I had no idea when I would return. But, I honestly didn’t think it would be this long. I can tell you now, years removed, that my desire to return grows within me each day. I see her on the horizon, but she is still so far off which has been hard in these last fews months. With each passing day I have more gratitude for the places the Lord has allowed me to stand, and excited for what He has given me the privilege to step into. I have prayed for my heart to be able to rest in this space, and I admit most days I have been really, really bad at it. But the Lord has been so patient and kind giving me little glimpses of the beauty to come, showing me that He is just as present in the here and now. And for that I am so grateful. 

In between, in the waiting- there is so much waiting in this season. Waiting for my partnership development to build, waiting for what’s to come, waiting and wondering when my heart will be put back together after so much pain and loss this last year and a half, waiting for someone I love to slowly (and likely painfully) leave us all. So. Much. Waiting. My heart has easily grown tired in all this waiting. But God has been ever present. He has counted all my tears (and believe me there have been many), not one of them has fallen unnoticed. Every one is recorded in His book (Psalm 56:8). The Lord has reminded me that there is rest in the waiting too. Even when I do not understand, even when I do not have the answers. Even when things do not go my way. The beauty of our God is: He never leaves our side, no matter how fickle our hearts are. And that is something to hold on to. 

I have found that in the in-between there is pain and grief, there is death and shame. Immense loss and brokenness. I often wonder how the disciples felt in the in-between, scared and hiding…this was not how it was supposed to be. How often do we utter the words of the disciples on the road to Emmaus…we thought He was the one. Or how they felt once they witnessed the resurrection, touched the nail-pierced hands of Jesus, and watched Him ascend into heaven…now locked in an upper room, waiting and praying for the Holy Spirit to fall, and nothing is coming. Just waiting… How easy it would be to think was he the one? Did we really see what we saw?

This is where we live in the here and now, in this vast in-between. Carrying the death of Christ in these fragile earthen vessels. Bodies that break, brains that sometimes fail and can’t remember, hearts that grieve and fall apart. This fallen world is where we call home. And while Jesus’s presence is ever around us, his absence is always felt. 

But more importantly, in this in-between, there is also wonder and beauty and miracles and life. There is healing and fullness, community and love. And most importantly there is sustaining hope. Jesus came to give us a glimpse of the Kingdom that was coming. He knew what this in-between was like, and God knew what we would need to get us through.. His life and resurrection should give us the courage and the hope to hold on for what is coming. 

This life really is a dichotomy. A vast multitude of in-betweens, of waiting for what is to come. Hearts intended for heaven, yet not quite there yet. But, we keep pressing forward to the resurrection, knowing where we’ve been, reaching out and grabbing a hold of what is coming. For we know that through it all our Jesus is ALIVE, and that, that is enough to hold onto in this vast in-between. Knowing the truth that one day, we will stand before the very face of God. May we hold on to that through this beautiful, messy life sweet friends!

Kuc Obed Kedi. (Peace be with you.) Lubanga wani gin ma loyo pe! (Nothing defeats our God!)

I Refuse to Look Away

For I desire mercy not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
~ Hosea 6:6

With the recent news of first Afghanistan, and now Ukraine, my heart is heavy. Lives changed in a matter of moments. Losses quickly calculated: what do we take; what must we leave behind? Hundreds of thousands spilling over the borders, with many more likely to follow. Men from 17-80 waiting in line to take up arms and protect their country. The Ukrainian president himself, donned in military gear ready to die beside his fellow Ukrainians.

In these days, I am reminded of how fallen this world is, of how much I hate war, and hate people who wield their unyielding power for only evil. And I am growing more and more restless here as I sit and watch all of this unfold knowing what I am about to step into, but not quite there yet.

I know that often I talk about suffering and grief in this little space of the internet. You may read my posts and think these are so depressing. But I refuse to buy into the cultural lie, which sadly American Christianity has often perpetuated, that life, once we have found Christ, is simply rainbows and butterflies. That suffering is no longer a part of our DNA. That it does not exist in this fallen world we still call home.

There are currently 84 million forcibly displaced people in the world (UNCHR). Billions of people are currently affected by conflict, fragility, and violence. Then there are the people who, though having witnessed peace for some time, still carry the trauma of conflict and violence deep within them.

I think of so many of the ones I love in Northern Uganda. Though the war seemed far removed and distant, its heaviness still seemed to cover everything within reach. I saw it in the eyes of my friends when something returned them to that place in time. In visible and hidden scars, in people that no longer were, in places around town.

There used to be an IDP camp over there…
I slept in that Shell gas station’s parking lot every night for years…
This radio station is where we first made contact with Kony….

I returned home with so many questions wondering if the work I had done really mattered. Deep down I knew it was God glorifying, but I could not seem to shake this darkness that still shrouded parts of my time there. Did justice really matter if someone’s heart still wasn’t healed? How could others find true healing on this side of heaven? I was weighed down with these heavy questions.

I simply don’t believe that healing must wait for heaven. That somehow we must remain broken until we see the face of God. While true healing will only exist there, I do without a doubt think God wants to comfort and heal our hearts in the here and now. Mercy and compassion ministry is as fundamental to the Gospel as salvation itself. How can we come to know the richness and fullness of God without it. After all, when Jesus sent out his disciples, he sent them to not only preach the kingdom, but to also heal the sick (Luke 9:2). Countless Scriptures talk about the healing power of our God, Jehovah Rapha.

“But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds, declares the LORD…” Jeremiah 30:17

God is the ultimate healer. He refuses to look away from this world’s pain and suffering. Jesus ran to the hurting and dying. Splagchnizomai, the Greek word used 12 times in the Gospels to describe this compassion literally means “moved to ones inward parts”. So moved with compassion, feeling it so deep within his soul he was moved to action. He could not look away, and like him, neither should we.

But in order to have mercy and compassion; in order to be moved within our souls, it means we will have to endure hard and uncomfortable things. It means we will have to sit in that heaviness, even when we want to run away. It means we will have to step outside of ourselves and acknowledge the collective grief that binds us together. My heart breaks as the world groans and cries out. I cannot stand idly by, because in the face of unspeakable suffering…I refuse to look away. Maranatha! 

Kuc Obed Kedi! May all those suffering come to know the Lord’s immense peace and healing.

Songs of Ascent; Cries of Lament

In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.
– Psalm 18:6

Christmas is here again and I find myself wondering how another year went so quickly. Time seems to simultaneously move slowly and all too swiftly. This year, unlike other years, I have found myself watching A LOT of Hallmark. Longing for simplicity, predictability, and goodness, it is comforting at the end when everything is tied up in a nice little bow with each character’s hopes and longings being fulfilled. It is something I have desperately needed as this year comes to a close. But, in reality, life is much more complex than a Hallmark movie, and 2021 has definitely been a complexly beautiful one. 

This year has been full of wonder, provision, grace, sweet surprises, and so many answers to prayers. I saw my prayer to return to Africa be answered after more than two years, which some days still does not feel real. I have been abundantly blessed in the relationships around me. Family and friends who have held me up and surrounded me in love and prayer. I have laughed until my stomach hurt, traveled to tropical places, spent so much sweet time with my sister, and experienced so much awe and wonder of the Lord…this year has been full and overflowing. 

While I have been so fortunate, I have also spent many months asking God why things have gone the way they have? Why this? Why now? The bookends of this year carry so much grief and weight. It began with me dropping my father off at the ER and sobbing in my car, praying that would not be the last time I ever saw him. I am so thankful to say he is still here, but the wake of the reality of my parent’s fragility in this life has been tough to wade through this year as I have had to navigate this knowing I will soon again be an ocean away. It ends in a similar, but different grief, anticipating and wondering how long it could potentially be before another one I love slowly slips away from us. 

I have come to realize so much can exist in one space. So much sometimes I wonder how there is even room inside for me to feel it all.  David, Isaiah, Job, and countless others in Scripture knew this well. They knew what it meant to experience abundance and provision in the Lord and also true heartbreak and suffering. Donning sackcloths and ashes unafraid to sit in their grief, their cries reached our God. These men knew why and good could exist together. And most importantly they knew that God was big enough to handle their questions, their anger, their deepest sorrow.

My soul is downcast within me; 
therefore I will remember you 
from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—
from Mount Mizar. 
Deep calls to deep 
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.
– Psalm 42: 6-7

Since beginning my training in Trauma Healing this year, I have learned how to become close friends with the art of lamenting well. Learning that pouring out my pain to God does not discount His goodness. In fact, it is a great sign of courage, daring to hope that the Lord in fact will answer the prayers and cries of His people.

Life really is a delicate balance of both the pain and the good. The scales can tip so easily and often do so in an instance. But despite the tipping of the scales, our God remains immutable through it all. I have come to rest in this truth so much in this chaotic year, realizing just how much I desperately need the Lord’s goodness, and in this Christmas season I have tried to hold onto every ounce of this goodness I can find. 

I am sure I am not the only one that has experienced so much in this time. Our world is groaning and yearning for the return of Christ. And while creation has been this way since humanity’s fall, it can easily feel like we are the only one’s struggling in the way we are. But Scripture is filled with men and women who experienced unspeakable suffering. Even Jesus knew what it was like to experience soul-crushing grief. The beauty in the pain is…we do not walk this path alone. 

Maybe this season you feel joy and hope at our long awaited Savior, maybe your heart is aching and grieving at the gaping hole that was left by someone who is no longer there to fill that space. Maybe you are frustrated by the expectations this year did not meet or overjoyed at how abundant God’s provision was this year. Or maybe, like me, you feel all these things at once, wondering how so much could be felt in a single instance. 

But, I am here to tell you, sweet friend, no matter the emotions or weight we feel, God is big enough to handle it all. The joy and the grief, the peace and the longing, the songs of our highest praises of ascent….and yes even the deepest cries of our heart’s laments. 

So I pray that the Lord meets you wherever you are this season. May we feel His presence, may we rest in His promises, may we be blinded by His pure light. May we know deep within our souls that God is here tabernacling among us, and may this steadfast truth give us immense hope and joy this Christmas season. Knowing that whatever we face in the coming year…Our God is big enough to handle it all, we just have to give it over to Him!

“…hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my savior and my God” – Psalm 42:11

Kuc Obed Kedi Sweet Friends! May peace be abundant this Christmas Season.

Still Calling…

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
– James 1:17 –

It’s hard to believe it has been a little over two years since I returned home. Uganda some days seems so far removed, like a whole different life. And others days, so close I can still hear the sounds of bodas and chickens. Smell the cooking fires burning. See the millions of stars dotting the sky.

Some days I fear that the sweetness of so many of the beautiful memories I carry with me will start to slip away, and I never want to forget. Forget the sound of laughter of my friends, the faces of the ones I love, the person I became or the Glory of the Lord I so vividly witnessed.

Looking back on the last two years, my path has been anything but straight. Over a year ago I surrendered to stay in the states and accepted a Fellowship at JAARS. At the time, it seemed like such a huge sacrifice. I remember crying to my mom before accepting the position knowing that it meant I would be staying at least 1.5 years more here and I have felt that weight each day as I have fought to stay present here as my heart has only wanted to go.

I am grateful for this year and all the beauty, wisdom, and sweet community it has brought. The Lord has changed so much of my heart in these last 11 months, yet at the same time so much of me has remained unchanged.

Recently I had the privilege to spend a week in Clarkston, GA. If you don’t know about Clarkston, let me say this, it is as close to “going to the nations” as you can get without getting on a plane. A town where many Refugees are resettled, there are over 120 people groups living in a town that only covers 1 square mile.

Nepalis, living next to Congolese. Women walking down the street carrying grocery bags on their heads. The sound of Urdu and Arabic filling the streets. I worshipped with Pakistanis and South Sudanese. I heard the sweet sounds of Congolese praising our God in Swahili coming through the walls. I was so beautifully reminded this week of the power and freedom the Gospel carries for all who know and believe its words, but also heartbroken at the lostness and suffering in this world.

Please do not misunderstand me, Clarkston was a beautiful picture of what heaven will be like, but the people who live there are Refugees who have fled and left behind their countries for many different reasons, far removed from the ones they love and the cultures they know and call home. They have witnessed tragedy and experienced loss. They need Christ just as much as we all do.

In this week among the nations as I was honestly dreading returning home, I realized just how much my heart has remained unchanged. The Lord gives good gifts. The community I have made at JAARS, the extra sweet time with my family, and the wonder I’ve witnessed here have all been incredible gifts. But I cannot deny that since stepping on that plane to return home my heart has never left. The longing to return to East Africa is still deep in my bones. You see, there is something about Africa that gets in your bones, your blood, your soul. Ask anyone who has witnessed her life and beauty and they will likely tell you the same.

But the Lord is so faithful. Two years ago when I drove out of the city that had become my home, I wondered when and if I would ever return. I have asked God “How long, oh Lord” since that day. A year ago when I accepted my fellowship and chose to stay here in the states I struggled on whether I should let that desire deep in my heart go. If it was even of the Lord anymore. But now I see Africa once again on the horizon. It feels so close I can almost reach out and touch it. And when my feet finally touch that red dust again in whatever country that may be I know that none of these years in between, none of the waiting will have been in vain. I am infinitely hopeful at where the Lord is leading and the ways I know He will continue to show His goodness and wonder both here and now and when I finally return.

I have come to witness and love so much in the short 27 years I have been on this planet. But the biggest lesson I have learned in the last few years of so many ups and downs is this: God is good in the bright light of wonder and in the midst of the dark night of the soul. He is good in inexpressible joy and in provision, in pain and in suffering. He is good through it all and I desperately want others to know that on a deep level. Which is why I cannot stay; I must go.

Kuc Obed Kedi. Africa I will see you soon (maybe in a year or three).

Chocolate Pies and Hand-Knit Socks

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
– 1 Corinthians 15:58-

As the new year rings in, I can’t help but reflect on where I sat three years ago. How different life was then. How different I was then. It seems like a lifetime ago. I remember how scared I was to get on that plane and leave behind everything that I had ever known. How I cried 5 times before even getting in the car the day I left for Uganda. Then proceeded to cry again pulling out of my driveway. I distinctly remember the fear that rested within me making me feel sick to my stomach as I just kept telling myself you just have to get on that plane…

Then two and a half days (and one plane engine failure later) I set foot on the continent I had dreamed about traveling to since I was a teenager. As I drove away from the airport that night marveling at the goodness of the Lord, all the fear just melted away. Little did I know as I rode in that car all that I would come to know, learn, and love. I thought I knew so much, but I had no idea…

I had no idea how the Lord would meet me and change my heart.

I had no idea how much I would grow as He stripped away my pride and blindness and replaced it with love and humanity.

I had no idea how much Acholiland would weave itself into the fabric of my soul.

I had no idea that I would come to learn that His goodness is not in the things He gives (in a place, a job, a person) but just in who He is. 

I had no idea…

And I had no idea that over a year and half after coming home the desire to return would still be burning this fervently. One of the biggest lessons Uganda taught me was how to “just be”- be with the Lord, be with the ones I love, be present. And one thing this year has taught me is how much I still struggle daily with that. I’ve struggled with being content and present, being constantly rooted in the Lord, being here in the states.

My biggest prayer in these last six months has been for the Lord to root me where my feet are and I’ve been really bad at it. I’ve struggled with being intentional with the ones I love, being in the Word, in prayer, in wonder of the Lord. I’ve spent a lot of this year running and retreating from the fears and emotions I didn’t want to deal with. I’ve drug my feet surrendering to the Lord and obediently following Him wherever He leads even if it isn’t where I want to go.

But He has shown me such great patience and kindness, giving me glimpses and pieces of my hopes and longings while I’m here where I do not fully want to be. He’s humbled me so much this year. Reminding me everyday that none of this life is actually about me or what I want to do. It’s about glorifying Him and I’ve come to learn I am called to do that wherever I am.

I was drawn back recently to 1 Corinthians 15 and was overcome by the beauty of the words written on the page. These life-giving words (literally) tell us that when we are with Christ we are constantly changing. As we die to self, our hearts will never look the same. We no longer just bear the image of man, but hold onto the hope that one day we will bear the image of the heavenly man (1 Corinthians 15:48). Resurrected from: Corruption to incorruption. Dishonor to honor. Weakness to power. Natural body to spiritual body (1 Corinthians 1:42-44). This is the hope we proclaim. This is our purpose on earth: to draw others to the Lord so they may know His glory and rest in this hope. Our hope is not in the everyday things of this life and our labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15: 58). None of this life when lived for the Lord is in vain.

I can sit here dragging my feet and praying to be somewhere else (which I have done more than I would like to admit in the last year) and miss all the glory, wonder, and sweetness of where He’s calling me right now. 

Miss the moments to show those around me more of His light and glory. 

Miss the memories with family and friends that could one day be half a world away again.

Miss all the ways He’s showing up in the here and now, revealing Himself to us.

I’ll repeat it again because I need to hear it over and over…None of this life when lived for the Lord is in vain…even if the fear of never returning overseas is my reality, even if I return to folding shirts, even if I never make another dime, or have a family to call my own. Even if…

Life keeps teaching me one thing…The Lord is so so good. It is foundationally who He is. And the evidence of that is all around.

So what is the evidence of the Lord’s goodness in this season…

It’s chocolate pies, coffee dates, and hand-knit socks for loved ones. It’s Scripture studies and prayer and fellowship. It’s those moments of glory when the light shines just right through the room. Or running down the road, watching perfect vibrantly colored leaves fall all around me. It’s resting in the Lord even when I can’t see past tomorrow, even when the answer of if I will see the continent I love again is still unclear.

But when I finally set foot back on that continent, when and wherever that may be, it will be all the more sweeter. And I’m sure I’ll experience the Glory and goodness of the Lord in ways that I never thought were possible. But until that day comes, I will continue to fight to be present here as the Lord continues to change and surrender my heart, all while holding onto hope as He says just a little longer here…For He is in it all and He is still good and I desperately want others to come to know Him as deeply as I have had the privilege to!

Kuc Obed Kedi sweet friends. This life sure is a beautiful one.

Folding Shirts and Rocking Chairs

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a murmur, and the waves of the sea were hushed. They rejoiced when the waves grew quiet. Then He guided them to the harbor they longed for.
– PSLAM 107:28-30 –

It’s been a year since I sat at 2am with my life packed into three suitcases waiting for a cab to pick me up and take me to Entebbe for the last time. I had no idea, as I sat and looked up at the beautiful stars I’d come to find so much comfort in, when I would return to the ones I love.  I still don’t know the answer to that question a year later. I stepped off that plane with a new and different heart and so many emotions. I still remember all that I felt as I laid on the floor of my childhood bedroom crying the night I returned home.

I honestly had no idea what I was walking into. I had no idea it would be so glorious, and yet the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I had no idea I wouldn’t find a job in my field; that I would end up working at Banana Republic for nine months. That none of the plans and hopes I had for my life would be of the Lord…none of them!  But most importantly,  I had no idea that the Lord would meet me and show me His glory and wonder in places I never thought I would find it. That He would strip me of so much of the pride and the things of this world I had come to place my hope in and leave in its place the beginnings of true surrender and contentment in wherever He calls. I had no idea how beautiful it all would be.

Recently I ventured into the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles. As a lover of history I find these accounts of Israel’s kings fascinating. Chapter after chapter, they account the legacies they left behind. Some who “did what was faithful and right in the Lord’s sight”; others who “did what was evil in the Lord’s sight.”. For most of them, an entire life and legacy summed up in a short sentence. Just a few words is all they are remembered by.

But what I find even more remarkable about Chronicles (and the entire Bible for that matter)  isn’t the devotion or rebellion of Israel’s kings,  but the faithful love of the Lord who time after time had compassion on His people. Who kept sending messenger after messenger calling His people back to Him no matter how much they mocked Him or rebelled against Him (2 Chronicles 36:15-16). In the last few years of my life, I have come to know this faithful love, I’ve witnessed it in the beauty and faith of the ones I love. In the refining fire returning home has been some days as I tried to make my own way and deny my weaknesses and need for God. In the kindness of Him that He would choose me to stand in the places I have stood and the places I will stand in this next year and beyond. The Lord has been ever present despite my runnings from Him, despite my rantings to Him, despite my disobedience at times to Him. And I’m so grateful He’s allowed me to come to know Him in this way.

A dear friend (whom I love and admire, seriously I wish y’all could sit down and have a cup o’ tea with Mama S)  was about to return home recently after more than a decade when she asked what it was truly like coming back into your own culture, saying all she could think of was a space capsule burning up on reentry. The funny thing is, that’s exactly what it’s felt some days. But just when you think you will implode and be consumed with fire, the glory of God shows up. The parachute opens and you gently land in the water. And in that moment, all there is peace and joy and gratitude for the Lord, for where you’ve stood, for who you’ve met, and for where you’re going. In the midst of all the chaos I’ve felt most days, I cannot deny that every time I sit in the presence of the Lord there is only peace.

So what has this year been:

It’s been finding joy and contentment in the everyday mundane things of life.

Learning to let go of the ones I love, both still roaming this earth and laid in the ground to rest.

Letting go of control and independence, and admitting how much I desperately need the glory and grace of the Lord each day.

Learning to hold my hopes and will loosely, all while being stripped of all that I thought I wanted (and more ashamed than I would like to admit, thought I was owed.)

In finding God’s glory and peace are everywhere. Whether fighting for justice…or folding men’s shirts.

I have nothing but gratitude and fullness as I sit and look back on the last three and a half years of my life. The fabric of my story is so so beautiful already. It includes working with a brilliant one-of-a-kind historian whom I dearly loved. Roughing it in the woods for a week with the youth at my church (half of which three years later are now taller than me), the most fulfilling year and a half of my life in Acholiland. And 9 months spent folding men’s shirts and learning that grace, kindness, and contentment in Christ can be found wherever I work. What’s being woven into my story next…working in a linguistics museum at JAARS (despite my kicking and screaming about not wanting to be in the museum the first day I volunteered there 9 months ago). I see the glory and face of the Lord in it all.

I find the timing of the Lord both so divine and funny. Almost a year to the day of me walking out of the home I loved, I folded my last men’s shirt, beginning a new journey. New people and places I will give my heart to. New and different ways to serve the Lord and to be a part of His glory. A new patch in the quilt of my story.

I often like to ask people what their “rocking chair test” is? What do you want to be able to say if you live to be old and gray as you sit rocking back and forth?  What will the quilt of your life draped over your lap hold? If someone was to chronicle your life, like the kings of Israel, what would they write? 

As I sit rocking away, I want to be able to say I lived for the Lord. I want to still be captivated by His glory and presence then as much as I am today. Whether surrounded by children and grandchildren or alone, whether my feet touched that rest dust again or spent the rest of my days in a suburban town. Even if I never made another dime, if I spent the rest of my life folding men’s shirts, even if I never see the faces of the ones I love on this side of heaven again. May my every breath be as I rock away, “Your will Lord, not mine”. May those five words sum up my entire life. Because what I have found this year is: there is so much beauty and peace in surrender. And so much gratitude to the Lord for all that I have witnessed and all the ones I have come to love.

Kuc obed kedi! Apowyo Matek to the land I love and all the ones in this life who hold my heart. Here’s to the 5 relentless and brave men I spent a year and a half working for. My sweet and gentle neighbour. My dear colleagues, who became friends inviting me into their lives, their families, and sharing their hearts with me. The women I have the privilege to know: so full of grace and compassion, yet so full of strength. The ones who are the true embodiment of integrity and kindness.  Who held me on my floor when I was sick. Who let me cry on a gray couch while drinking hot chocolate. Who were my mom when I needed one most. Who braved a dugout canoe with 2 crazy twenty-somethings. Who encouraged me and held me accountable to both Jesus and protein. Who loved me through even my worst moments. For my friends who dream and innovate and give space for sustainable development. Who fight for justice for women and the oppressed. For all the ones I have come to know and dearly love. Apwoyo Matek! You’re in my heart today and forever! 

 

The Resurrection and the Life

I am the resurrection and the life.”
JOHN 11:25-

Grief- something that expands beyond the confines of languages and cultures. A feeling that every soul on this earth feels at some point in their existence. We all may deal with it differently depending on our culture and who we are. But…Every. One. Grieves. And almost all of us are grieving someone or something right now.

The unexpected loss of my grandaddy this past week has opened my heart more to those grieving and mourning all over the world right now and how hard it is and will be.

How do you grieve from a socially acceptable six feet or in an empty room with a casket and only a handful of the ones you love? How do you decide who can come and who must stay home? What is grief like when a graveside is adorned with flowers and signs that read: Please keep 6 feet apart. We ask that you refrain from hugging and shaking hands. How do you grieve in a pocket of the US where grief is best eased by a spread of food (preferably fried chicken) and all the ones you love (close and distant) together hugging and holding hands?

How do my friends grieve in a relational culture where human contact and togetherness are so much more a part of the fabric of their being than here? How do you grieve the loss of jobs, weddings, graduations, etc when you feel guilty because others have lost so much more than you?

How do we grieve so much at one time in this weird season we are experiencing? How do I grieve the loss of someone I love when nothing in this time seems real or normal? The answer to all of these questions is: I don’t know. But there are so many things I am thankful for in this hard, yet very real time.

Thankful that my grandaddy didn’t die alone. That the two who mattered most to him were there when he drew his last breaths. That he was surrounded in love as he entered into rest. Which is a huge blessing in times like these.  That while we must wait to celebrate his life fully with all who loved him at some unknown date, a handful of the ones who mattered most to him were there as he was lowered into the earth. Thankful for the ones who have surrounded me in love holding me up this time. I am thankful to be the granddaughter of a man whose faith and love flowed out of him as naturally as his breath did.

In the midst of Holy Week, I have been comforted and reminded in the depths of this pain and grief I feel that his death was not the end. It was the beginning. That all we are experiencing may batter and beat us, but will never defeat us. My favorite story in the New Testament is found in John 11. I love this story for so many reasons: Martha’s changed heart, Jesus’s humanity as He weeps over the loss of His friend, the hope this story brings for us all.

Everywhere Jesus went He was showing us more of Himself and more of God. I can only imagine what was going through His mind, as He comforted Martha with the news that her brother would rise again. You just wait Martha, you think you have seen what I am capable of now. My glory is about to get even bigger. He tells her “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will never die-ever. Do you believe this?”  (John 11:25). Then later he says to her, right before He does what no man has ever done before nor could ever do unless He was fully man and fully God, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40)

Then He shows her and everybody watching exactly what He meant. Proving that He is the Son of the Living God, He raises a man back to life with HIS MERE WORDS…HIS WORDS. Proving that it is possible. Proving that He too will defeat death soon. Proving that, if we believe in Him, our life does not end when we are put in the ground.

You see while we are aching at this loss of my grandaddy, who meant so much to so many. There is true beauty in that while his body maybe in the ground, he is not. His faith has been turned to sight and oh how I’m a little jealous.

In these weeks, I have been reminded of a beautiful Acholi custom. The Last Burial Rites. Following a burial, when the family is done mourning and grieving everyone gathers together again, but this time in celebration of their love of the individual and the true gift their life was. There is no longer sadness but joy, singing, dancing, praises, and lots of food. We are all grieving something right now. The loss of our grandaddys and grandmamas, mothers and fathers, children and friends. The loss of jobs, weddings, graduations, life as we know it. But one day when this passes, we will celebrate. Celebrate the lives of our loved ones, the ones who stood on the front lines, all of the life events we’ve put off. Celebrate the faithfulness of the Lord, the strength we’ve found together during these trying times, and that we did not give in. One day full celebration will come.

But while we wait to celebrate fully, we can begin celebrating this Holy week. Celebrate our Savior and the fact that veil has been torn in two. Celebrate a God who is bigger than the grief and whatever else we are feeling in these hard times. A God who raises men from the ground with the sound of His voice. Who gently says, “I am the resurrection and the life” and who is inviting us to see and be a part of His glory every single day.

So who really was James Maryland Hall. He was a man who held fast to love, love of the Lord and love of family. A man who knew who held Him and wasn’t afraid to die. Who captured your heart from the moment you met him with his sweet kindness. That kind sweet spirit knew no stranger and gathered love everywhere he went. A man who slightly whistled when he talked and the cadence of his voice was kind of melodic like the true southern man he was. A man whose fashion sense was sharper than mine and even went to the grave dressed to the nines. A man who our hearts will deeply miss.

In these hard hard times for us all, I’ll leave you with these words from a song my granddaddy loved. They are something we can all cling to in these times:

I have journeyed through the long dark night
Out on the open sea, by faith alone
Sight unknown; and yet His eyes were watching me
The anchor holds
Though the ship is battered
The anchor holds
Though the sails are torn
I have fallen on my knees as I face the raging seas
The anchor holds in spite of the storm

We are ships battered in the night right now; but the anchor,
whose steadfast love is better than life itself (Psalm 63:3), is as strong as ever. And He is gently, quietly whispering in these hard times, “I am the resurrection and the life…”

Kuc Obed Kedi. We need it now more than ever.