there is a kind of poetry in pain


I read a blog post the other day encouraging writers to write. Like, don’t ignore it because you’re busy with other hobbies or projects or life because if you’re really a writer, it’ll hurt you, body and soul, not to write. It’s unhealthy not to write.

But what if you can’t, literally can’t?

There are twin wings of fire stretching across my back, searing into my shoulders. 

The thought comes to me one day, one of the bad days. I like how that sounds, twin wings of fire. I imagine them stretching behind me, devouring my days in a smoky haze of hurt.

I take a shower and let the soothing warmth cascade down my burning shoulders and start composing a poem in my head about twin wings of fire. There are many different kinds of pain, I am learning. When it’s bad, I like to describe the pain mentally with the most vivid words I can conjure. They’re good poems, these ones inscribed in my mind.

I wonder if I’ll ever write them.

I discover that every part of me that hurts is also a part of God mentioned in the Bible.

My hands scream after holding a pencil—but He has a mighty right hand, and I am held in His palm.

My arms throb—but He has everlasting arms (teach me to lean on them).

My shoulders ache after only an hour of work—but His shoulders, they bear the weight of kingdoms.

These comparisons comfort me, they get me out of bed each day and quell the cries of terror at night.

When I scroll through blogs, I feel a cold ball settle in my stomach. With every word I read, I feel a dart of pain shoot through my heart. I should be happy, should be encouraged by my friends’ words, should rejoice over their art. But I don’t. Instead, I feel sick. Sick with jealousy. I want to write, I want to create, I want glowing comments on my blog. And then I feel sick at myself. I’m a horrible friend. I’m a horrible person.

I guess that’s one good thing that’s coming from this: I’m realizing how weak I am, physically and spiritually.

i watched the city burn

these dreams like ashes float away

Your voice I never heard

only silence 


where were You when our hearts were bleeding?

where were You, it all crashed down?

never thought that You’d deceive me

where are You now?


I have asked this question many times.

why why

But I have found that it only leaves me drained, full of more despair.

why why why

It leaves me focused on the darkness. But oh God, I need to see the light.

So I have been trying to say thank you instead.

thank you that I can get out of bed by myself, dress myself, feed myself

thank you that I can hear music

thank you that I can see the faces of people I love and ink on a page and sunlight through trees

thank you that I can taste chocolate

thank you that I can smell the air after a rain storm

thank you that I can touch my soft sheets and my little sister’s cheek

thank you that I can think, that I have a good mind, that I can learn and analyze and ponder

thank you for friends that pray for me and laugh with me and help me keep on dreaming

thank you for a family where we say “I love you” to each other and make up after fights, for a home that’s a safe place

thank you for You, for Your crazy promises that You’ll never leave me and You have a plan


Nothing is wasted, sings Jason Gray.

And my dad says to me: God will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten.

I guess, if I really needed to write right now, I would be able to. But I’m not. So God will get me through another way.

One day, I was sitting on my bed, crying, and the fragments of poems I’ve drafted in my head whispered through my mind, and I thought of all the poetry I’ve been memorizing recently because that at least is something I can do, and it hit me suddenly, a Truth so much stronger and truer than the reality of my current affliction—

there is a kind of poetry in pain

I jumped off the bed and scribbled it on a piece of paper, and it lay there on my desk for days, a silent shout of defiance.

Somehow this pain is opening my eyes to deeper truths of poetry and art and beauty and how they are all woven into our lives, and someday it will help me create poetry that is better and deeper and truer than it ever could have been if I had been fine.

I read, once, that all great artists have some kind of tragedy in their lives, and I used to be anxious because I’ve really had a great life, so I probably would never be a great artist … but now, I’m suffering. It’s not a tragedy as horrific as many others have endured, of course, but it’s suffering all the same.

And I believe that God will use this taking away of my art to eventually enable me to create even better art.

Your heart is full of broken dreams
Just a fading memory
And everything’s gone but the pain carries on
Lost in the rain again
When will it ever end?
The arms of relief seem so out of reach
But I, I am here
I am with you
I will carry you through it all
I won’t leave you, I will catch you
When you feel like letting go
Cause you’re not, you’re not alone
And I will be your hope, when you feel like it’s over
And I will pick you up, when your whole world shatters
And when you’re finally in my arms, 
Look up and see: Love has a face.

I want to create art. It’s what I’m called to do, made to do. I can hear my soul crying out to add some beauty to this world.

But I can’t draw or write or play an instrument, I can’t create art, I can’t

A quote rises from the mists of my memory, from Henry Hames’ The Portrait of a Lady:

“Don’t you remember my telling you to make your life a work of art?”

It’s one of those moments when I know God is speaking directly to me.

I may not be able to create art of paper or pen (or screen), no, but couldn’t I make it of my life?

Could me praising God in the pain be my painting, with  brushstrokes of thankfulness and a fierce, shining, defiant joy?

Could me treating my siblings kindly, with respect and care despite my own problems or agenda, be my song, with notes of love and grace?

Could my every breath, my every mundane task, my every falling and being forgiven be my poem, etched in my actions for all to read?

Could my life be art?

What a masterpiece a life could be, so far beyond one small novel or sketch. Maybe by taking away my original dream, God is showing me one far greater.

Of course He is. That’s the kind of God He is. I put limits on Him, told Him He couldn’t use me to make something beautiful if I couldn’t write.

But whoever heard of God not being able to do something?

 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.

~ 2 corinthians 12:9-10

So I’ve been on break this week, and it’s been so wonderful to write two whole blog posts. Now that I’ll be diving back into school, I might disappear again, but I will be back eventually. Oh, and *hands chocolate to the wonderful unsplash for the photos*

Thank you as always for your comments and likes—I love hearing from you all, and I honestly feel blown away that you guys are still around after my sporadicity (word?) and silence. Don’t forget how fabulous each of you are. *hands you all some chocolate too because y not chocolate is da best*

We Cannot Reach Him

We cannot reach Him.

We have tried. Oh, we have tried.

We built Babel, in a vain effort to touch that which we worship, to transcend this mortality, this immorality.

We crafted idols, straining desperately to bring our gods near. (But though they were physically present, they could not bridge the gap between divine and dust.)

We sent men to the moon—how great are we now, this race that can conquer the stars! And yet whenever we stare into space the smallness of us, the loneliness of us, the frail futility of us is all that is reflected in the vast alien expanse.

We stand on the moon and find that we have not reached Him. Instead the yawning divide between us and Him screams out in the blackness, in the infinitely distant galaxies. Stare into the telescope and face the void humanity ever rebels against, the void humanity ever falls short of crossing.

We work and learn and build and theorize and fill our lives with words and ideas and goals and tasks just to hush the haunting ache inside that whispers from the day we were born: We cannot reach Him. 

And still His siren song sings. Come to Me. 

How? We cannot.

We cannot come to Him.

And so, instead, He comes to us.

He reaches us because we could never reach Him.

He destroys our Babel so that we would find Him here, down here on this fetid earth. He overthrows our idols so we would not be content with lifeless, life-sucking lies. So that we would want Him, the life-giving truth. He sprawls out the cosmos so unattainably wide so we would have to confront our smallness.

So we would stand on the moon, facing the frigid night, and then turn to gaze back on Earth.

Earth, where he showed us Emmanuel.

God with us. 

From the stars to the stable, from glory to gore, from infinite to infant. For a people that once spit on the gift of His presence and still rebel, still try to reach Him on their own.

Earth, where he showed us Jesus.


On the cross in the shame and the pain, He forms a bridge. A path appears above the gaping canyon, a way lights up through the void, a hand reaches into your life.

We cannot reach Him.

So He reached us and now when He says come, we can, because He came.

the people walking in darkness have seen a great light // isaiah 9:2


i want to know your story

so we were traveling a few weeks back and one thing I love about touring cities and just being in new places (or old ones, for that matter) is people-watching.

and no, I’m not a Whovian but I have friends who are (which I guess is almost the same thing?). 


I look down from the bus, see one gray-sleeved arm hanging out of the car window next to us

draped casually, holding a cigarette

one seat over, two pale hands clasped, thumbs moving nervously, restlessly

shiny black leather coat, teal scarf, blonde hair in a messy bun, glasses, green-blue eyes, narrow chin, clear skin

looking out her window, face turned slightly away

he has a gray sweater, short “hair-colored” hair, staring out straight ahead

calm but not peaceful

the car is a black BMW, very nice, shiny silver controls on a black dashboard, pulling a trailer behind it

dirty old trailer behind shiny new car

what is going on behind your calm face, casual arm?

why do your fingers fidget and fret for peace?

in the square, I see a girl in a blue coat, smooth, sleek, felt-like, above her black tights

her face, hidden deep within the hood, is very pale

she stands, hands shoved in that lovely coat’s pockets, looking off to the side

I think, “Aloof. Affected.”

then, she smiles

eyes light up, bright blue, like her coat, the smile sliding across her whole face like a sunbeam across a polished wood floor

I look for who or what her eyes have lit upon, and I think I see her, a friend

laughing as she crosses the square

brown hair, round face, joyful

does she know how she makes the other girl’s face, once cold, even frightened, light up like that?

does she know she has the power to part the clouds over a human soul?

who are you

where do you come from

what is your name

what do you seek

why do you cry

what makes you laugh

what fears flood you at night

why do you get out of bed each day

who are you

i want to know your story

after all,

we are all stories in the end

love letters

I like to think of all the blessings, little and big, that are woven through my days as letters of love from God to m.e Each one is rolled up, tied with a ribbon, and laid somewhere that I’ll stumble upon in the midst of my daily routine. Sometimes I miss them. In fact, I’m sure I miss most of them. But here are some that I have found.

  • the red squirrels here in Germany, with those adorable ears
  • Nutella crepes
  • Nutella
  • holding hands with little sisters
  • elibraries
  • music that sends shivers down my back and makes me say “Yes. Yes!”
  • finding just the right word
  • the various shades of red, orange, and gold on trees, mingled together into a kaleidoscopic harmony
  • gazing deeper into the woods, tree upon tree


  • YouTube videos that help with science experiments
  • playing games at night as a family
  • a break from school
  • old Christmas decorations in a new house
  • colored pencils gleaming in the light
  • listening to Christian music while working out
  • family jokes
  • falling asleep to the kiss of cool from my window
  • my calculator
  • memorizing and quoting poetry—an activity I love that doesn’t hurt my arms
  • carpets of leaves
  • sweeping a messy floor & the gratification of actually seeing something cleaner after you’ve worked on it
  • cold cheeks
  • fingerless gloves
  • moss
  • emails from friends just when you needed them
  • knowing you’ve encouraged someone
  • looking through old photo albums as a family
  • the chirping of the cuckoo clock each hour
  • beautiful posters of characters in one of my favorite books
  • mail days


  • Skype calls
  • notes from my mom
  • hugs from my dad
  • stockings hanging by the fireplace
  • family movie nights
  • my dad’s pancakes
  • admiring the graphic design on college brochures
  • Van Gogh’s paintings
  • the sight of my bookshelf, rows of shiny, colorful books, books upon books …
  • VidAngel
  • the Flamkuchen restaurant
  • the bakery down the street
  • the supermoon
  • cards hanging on my wall
  • finding the perfect pair of boots (they actually fit my small feet, gasp)
  • “teaching” my sissies ballet
  • alone in the house for an hour
  • Christmas music playing while working on school
  • warm showers
  • stretching tight muscles
  • my favorite snack of craisins and cashews
  • Bible verses on scraps of paper
  • a stash of new books to dive into
  • a home where stuffed animals are valued and technical appliances have names
  • playing games by flashlights and eating dinner by candlelight when the power went out


  • my dad reading The Chosen to us every night
  • the happiness of my favorite football team winning lasting the whole day (well, week, actually)
  • nerdy classmates
  • Studio C
  • working out a Latin passage till it’s perfect
  • my Sherlockian coat
  • foggy early morning runs
  • birch trees tall against the autumn sky
  • walking in the rain at night
  • forgiveness, again and again and again

Thank You for Your love.

what are some love letters you’ve found? Happy Thanksgiving, everyone (even if you aren’t in America)!


So I’m turning eighteen tomorrow—

*shrieks* MWAHAHA watch out world I can vote now (such a great first election, eh?) 

—and I figured these thoughts I wrote down a few months ago fit that occasion. 








They say I am so mature, so old now. They shake their heads over the car keys and college applications. They give me more and more tasks, more and more privileges and responsibilities.

I feel it, myself—I walk into strange schools to take tests that determine my future (at least, that’s what it feels like). I make plans about college and careers and life. I drive myself around now. I even chauffeur others. I have a job and coworkers and a paycheck. Every day, there’s one more step to take that makes me bolder, more confident, older, more independent.

And I like it, mostly. I like stretching my wings. I like facing something scary and overcoming it and thinking, “Wow, look what I can do!” Or, rather—“Wow, look what God brought me through!” I like looking ahead and dreaming and have the world at my fingertips. It’s like in The Perks of Being a Wallflower—and in that moment, I swear we were infinite.

But sometimes, I feel like a fake. Like my life is duct tape around a crumbling stone, and how long can even duct tape support this sand? I swing the keys and save my salary and sell myself to colleges, and all the while, even while I revel in the new brightness of it all, I’m terrified, grasping at the remains of my childhood. It’s like stardust, so beautiful, so alluring, but so elusive, just slipping through my fingertips.

I’m not ready for this. 

Because inside, I am a little girl still. A little girl who wants her mommy and daddy to hold her during the scary movies and the sick days and the long nights. A little girl who wants to catch fireflies and swing on the swingset and dance in the dewy grace. A little girl who doesn’t care what others think about her, who is, in a way, braver than this big girl who’s so often shackled by people’s perceptions.

I have always felt pulled in two directions, like a walking paradox. Maybe that’s why I like paradoxes, because they remind me of myself. They give me hope that maybe being an oxymoron is okay.

I want to open up and go deep, but I’m terrified of vulnerability.

I want to be at peace with everyone, but I also want to stand up for my beliefs.

I want to cling to the light, but I’m so aware of the reality and even necessity of the darkness.

I want to laugh and dance, but I also want to be serious, focused.

I want to be smart and I want to be simple, and I want to be somber and I want to be joyful, free and controlled, kind and honest, famous and unencumbered, savior and saved.

I want to be old, and I want to be young. I am old, always felt older than my years like I could see and understand things few others could, and yet I’m also very young. Very foolish, very shy, very naive and helpless and simple.

These years, they are this delicate, fragile balance between the old and young. Between so many of those dichotomies—but that’s the thing. Is it too impossible, too unrealistic and idealistic, to believe that maybe I could just be both? Somehow reconcile both together or embrace both or, I don’t know, just be? Just be me, contradictions and all.  I’m not sure if I like the idea, because I like order and answers and reasons, and just being one person with so many conflicting parts doesn’t really fit that.

Maybe it’s like what Madeleine L’Engle says:


Sing for the glory

of the living and the loving

the flaming of creation

sing with us

dance with us

be with us


And maybe it’s about trust.

Just trusting the One Who made me this way, Who is Himself far more complex and a paradox, too—mercy and justice, majestic and meek, Lion and Lamb. Just living in the present, not worrying about the future when I’ll have to be even more “mature” or yearning for the past when everything was easier.

Maybe that’s what infinite is, after all. It’s the combination of growing up and staying young at heart—“we have worlds ahead of us,” that thought celebrates both. Ahead of us—growing up. And yet, the essence of growing up is that you haven’t grown up yet. You’re still young.

So I am going to relish working and driving and test-taking—okay, not relish it, but enjoy the sense that comes with it of doing important, “big person” stuff. And I am also going to splash in puddles and ride on a carousel and be willing to show how clueless I really am about the world.

I don’t know why I’m afraid of this whole thing, really, because God is still here, with me. I forget that—I look ahead and don’t see Him there, in the future. But He’s there, too, just like He was in the past. Just like He is right now. And actually, He’s in me. He made me. He understands me, better than I ever will myself. And He accepts me. He revels in the paradox and calls me to surrender it to Him so He can do His beautiful-mess-order-from-chaos miracle.

Surrendering sounds all complicated or vague, but I think it’s just a moment-by-moment—there it is again, living in the present again—saying, “What do you want me to do, God?” and “Thank You for this, God,” and “Thank You for who You are, God,” and “Forgive me, God” kind of thing. When I do that, when I think about Him, I don’t worry about myself. And then I can truly just be. I can be me best when I’m focused on Him the most.

I think I could embrace a paradox like that.

Coming Home


I wasn’t prepared for this feeling of awkwardness, for the insecurity not knowing a language would bring. Last time we were here, I was young, too young to be self-conscious or care what people thought of me. Now I care. Now I want to have it all together, to say just the right thing. But of course I can’t. Of course I’ll make mistakes, ask for a table when I mean a bag. No one even expects me to be perfect—except me.

We enter the room filled with all the other newcomers, and I feel even more out of place. Now it’s not just German, it’s Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch. There’s even a Norwegian family. I feel bad, because they can all speak my language, at least a little, and I don’t know anything of theirs. I hate feeling pampered, like I owe something to everyone. Here they all are, bilingual, and I’m here stumbling along with my dankes and entschuldigungs. It’s my pride, I know, and it smears over everything in its putrid black haze.

But as we begin to tour the city, as we all experience things together, laugh about the city’s legends together, I begin to relax. To realize that they don’t have it all together—the Italians especially, they struggle with my language, and that heartens me. We are all new together, and few of us (except the Dutch, who seem to be fluent in everything) speak any German. I feel bonds strengthening between us, small ones because we still cannot really communicate—but then, what is language when you meet each other’s eyes and smile and laugh at what the tour guide says?

Yes, we can do this.

And I begin to realize too the beauty of the differences. The sound of the different languages sing in my ear, these varied tunes blending together into a rich harmony. Look around, look around, I tell myself, as I walk with Italians and Spaniards and French through the cobblestone streets of a German town, at how lucky you are to be alive right now. Who else gets to stand at this intersection of cultures, this gathering of people from all over, united in purpose, laughing as one under the sun?

As we leave the restaurant, the bells begin to ring. 7:00. They toll on and on, some deep fairy tune, constant like the strength of the cathedral’s old stones.

In Kansas, there was a bell tower right near our house, less than a block away. We called it the bell clock. I remember when it broke and stood silent for months on end. I mourned it. It was like the loss of a beloved friend. When they finally fixed it, I couldn’t stop smiling.

And here, now, here it is again. The bells are singing to me. The song of the bell back home mingles with the bells here, and I can almost see it, a trail of gold glory, of divine love, crossing the ocean, from home to home, and that is it:

This is home.

Home is where the heart is, they say. For me, home is where He is, and He is here. He is proving that to me in every garden I pass, in every breath of clear wind, in every delicious chocolate.

The bells ring, and I hear Him sing: I am here. I am with you.

Come home.

Into the Mist


We decide to go on an adventure. We’ve all just had dinner, crunched the last bits of ice cream cones, begin to put the little ones down for bed. The night is still new, if dark, and the beach is mere miles away. The wind tugs at us to come, dance with it.

We older ones pile into the car, three teens—my brothers and I—and our twenty-year-old cousin. When we arrive at the beach, the last family is packing up. At first I want to bring my camera, haven’t gotten shots of the beach at all this vacation, but I soon realize it’s too dark, mist obscuring moon and stars.

I grab the keys and run it back to the car. When I get back to the edge of the beach, the dunes parting around me like my own Red Sea, the others are far, far down. All I can see of them are tiny black shapes moving into the mist. I run down the boardwalk, past the dunes, and halt when my feet hit the soft sand. The others are farther away still, and I suck in a deep, cool breath that tastes like tears of freedom.

The world around me suddenly feels alien, and each step forward is like coming home.

Fog hangs over everything. It sweeps all the vast shore into its embrace. I see it draped all around me, cloaking the sky, the sand, the sea, and yet the space unfolding in front of me feels open and wide. Up on the dunes, far away on each side, sit the houses, delicate doll toys against this great gray darkness. Their lights pierce the cover, blurred and bright and distant. They seem to be in a different world than me, mere trappings on the wall of this breathless reality.

Infinitely soft beneath my feet, the sand surrounds me, colorless and countless. I can feel it changing as I walk, becoming wetter, firmer, telling me the tale of the tides. The tides—the ocean—I cannot see it. I stare out ahead of me, and I know it is there, but all I can see in this thick mist is gray smears and fuzzy droplets of muted silver. The figures of my family dance in the darkness ahead.

It all comes crashing down on me, the incredible vastness of the world, as the sky falls upon us, around us, encircles the hugeness of the shore and the sea in its even huger arms. The houses on the dunes are nothing before this grandeur. We marvel at bright flowers and sunny islands and blue skies but this—this gray expanse that swallows up everything, this gossamer veil thick enough to shutter stars but thin enough to dance like rain in faint rays of light—this is beauty. It is wild and mysterious and you lose yourself in it, and in the losing you find yourself. This is belonging.

This is love.

I feel tears at the back of my throat, because here in the darkness, in the vastness, I feel so small and I feel so loved.

Because these past few days have been so hard, and I have fallen so much, and then this gift, this divine drama that sings on the breeze, I love you.

“You are so good,” I whisper. “You are Name above all Names and King above all Kings.” I can’t even find the words, so I let snatches of verses fall into the wind and be carried away, whatever He brings to my mind.

Sometimes I struggle with the idea of worship. What even is it? How do I do it? But now it is easy, and I know what it is.

I am nearing the others now, the grays taking on different shades, and as my feet press into the wet sand and leave a trail of glory behind me, I whisper over and over, “Thank You.”

Thank You thank You thank You.

Thank You. 

Then I’m at the edge of the sea. It springs up on you, all of a sudden lapping at your feet, and the pounding of the waves fades into the muffling cloak of mist. It is the same color of the sky above, as all the whispering air around, and you realize that you could just walk out into it and lose yourself.

But you’re not afraid. You are in His hand, and you cannot be lost. Even the sea in all its strength cannot obliterate you.

Still, the waves rolling up at me out of nowhere, the line of faint foam appearing without warning is slightly unnerving, so I stick to the edge. Dark clumps hover in the shallow water around my feet—seaweed. I notice small flashes of light scattered among it, like water-bound fireflies. Our cousin turns on her phone’s flashlight, and we discover that they are jellyfish. We pick them up, small, clear, harmless things. We watch as their transparent bodies suddenly sizzle with electric blue light. Here we humans are, thinking ourselves so clever for figuring out electricity when God has been working magic with it for millennia.

As we walk back, water still coats lower areas, like a silver smear on the gray ground. It is not like a bright moon path, just a vague image glinting dully ahead, fading away when you reach it like a desert mirage. Your feet hit water, the sand rippled with the pattern of waves, and then you emerge from it onto dry ground, and the whole world is wild and eerie and unfathomable.

I think of one of my favorite authors and his characters who dance with the mist, and I wonder if he ever had a night like this. I can see it now, more clearly than I ever have, how those characters must feel. I can see how they could become one with the mist. I can feel it, how it draws you in and makes you part of it, and how you do not lose yourself but become part of something bigger and wilder and more beautiful.

As we start toward the car, I don’t want it to end. We reach the firm, cool sand, and I hang back from the others and pray for one more perfect moment. Then I do a perfect cartwheel. And a perfect roundoff. My feet sink into the sand with a pleasant thump, and the sand clings lightly to my hands. I dust them off, feel my soul dancing—thank You—and join the others.

We try to get the sand off our feet, climb into the car, and head back home. This venture into the mist was an adventure, a gift. But isn’t it always that? Isn’t it always an adventure when you know the God who hurls waves onto shore and covers the stars with clouds? Isn’t always a gift when you get to breathe and feel wind on your face and speak directly with the God Beyond All Time?

Thank You.

I Am the Girl With the To-Do List


I am the girl with the to-do list. I am the girl with the big day planner who relishes checking things off. I am the keep-the-room-spotless, get-stuff-done girl. When I get into a zone, I can’t break away until I’ve finished what I started out to do. I’m diligent and organized and responsible. My room is clean and organized and pretty.

It all sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? But—

I am also the girl who snaps at people when they interrupt her. I am the girl who cares more about getting stuff done than being kind to those around her. I am the can’t-stop-and-chat-for-a-bit girl. I am the get-impatient-with-people-when-they-dare-to-talk-to-me girl. I’m uninterruptible and intense and isolated.

Does that sound too harsh? It’s true, I’m not like that all the time, and I feel like I have good relationships with my friends and family (the people who bear the brunt of all this), but it doesn’t negate the fact that something’s wrong here.

When I was in South Africa, I spent a lot of time just hanging out with the missionary family we were staying with. That was really the primary point of the trip: to spend time with missionaries and watch what it’s like to be one in day-to-day life. You hear all about people working in orphanages and building churches and preaching in the streets, but they can’t spend all their time doing that. What do missionaries really do?

I know each missionary’s life and experiences are a little different—actually, they vary a lot. But as I watched the missionaries I was staying with, I learned something about missions work that I’m sure applies to everyone involved in it: It’s all about people.

It’s all about people.

I don’t necessarily mean working in soup kitchens, rescuing orphans from the street, or digging wells for them, although those are all good things that we should do. I mean just building relationships with people. I mean listening to people. Really listening. Thinking about nothing else but what they’re saying and investing your whole being into them and their lives. I mean just sitting down and snacking together, spending time together, making little memories together.

And I don’t necessarily mean deep conversations about the meaning of life, great sermons that win people over to Christ, or intense discussions about a person’s religion, although those are also good things. I mean just chatting about life. I mean sharing fears and dreams and silly stories about something funny that happened to you the other day and doesn’t seem important at all but actually is.

Yes, the missionaries took us to baby home and a safe house. Yes, I got to worship at the church they started. Yes, we all helped out at a VBS. But what impacted me most was just watching them in everyday life. Pretty much anyone can visit an orphanage for a day. That doesn’t make you a missionary.

Missionaries, I learned, are people who are devoted to other people, who spend their lives building relationships in order to share the gospel with those friends. Okay, I kind of knew that before I went. But to see it lived out is another thing. There’s one time I remember in particular, a day when we weren’t “doing anything,” a normal day. Then some friends they’d made in the community dropped by.

The missionaries dropped everything they were doing—from the dad to the littlest kid—to talk to them. Everyone brought in a chair to the living room, the mom spent the morning baking some treats, and we all sat around and just chatted. I can’t even remember what we talked about—mostly just getting to know each other, sharing what was going on in our lives, vacations, school, activities.

It’s not really what I imagined being a missionary would look like. It’s smaller, less glamorous, less noticeable, less put-in-the-report-back-to-the-church-able. But you know what? It reminds me a whole lot of Jesus, lunching with the tax collectors, picnicking with the disciples. People. That’s what He was concerned about. Not the numbers or the glory or the great big projects He accomplished.

But the thing is, it’s also pretty hard. See, I wanted to get a taste of what missions work is like, but I also wanted to apply it to my life. Right now. I’m not on the mission field, but I can be a missionary right where I am, right?

Of course. But if being a missionary is caring wholeheartedly about others in order to win them to Christ, I’m in a little bit of trouble. I’m not even going to go into the whole “win them to Christ” part, because I’ve always known that I need to work on witnessing. It’s the whole “caring wholeheartedly about others” part that hit me hard on this trip.

As I prepared to head back home and thought about what I’d learned, the hard truths slammed against me like ocean waves, knocking me down and keeping me under until I acknowledged what I needed to do:

People are more important.

They are more important than my to-do list, than my schedule, than all the supposedly vital things I must accomplish today.

Spending time with them, listening to them, building relationships with them are more important than getting stuff done, checking things off the list, and staying in my zone.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s good to be diligent. It’s good to work hard and apply myself to the task at hand. It’s good to be able to stay focused and accomplish things. It’s good to be neat and organized.

But not at the cost of people. Not when those things cause me to mistreat the ones I love. Not when they lead me into sin (’cause, yeah, snapping at my family and being impatient and walking around in a moody grump because I couldn’t finish what I was working on—those are all sins).

So: I want to be a missionary right where I am. I want to imitate the beautiful lives of the missionaries I stayed with. I want to make people more important than my to-do list—which is really making people more important than me. This all sounds very good. But how exactly am I going to do it?

I came up with some practical ways to actually try to live this out. Here they are:

  • When my little sisters come to me and ask me for help, give them my full attention instead of staring at my book or computer while talking with them. Speak to them kindly and patiently and get up immediately to do whatever they’re asking (within reason) instead of speaking impatiently and making them wait or getting someone else to do it.
  • Actually, any time someone talks to me while I’m working on something, do the same thing: Look away from what I’m working on, even move so my fingers aren’t on the keys or whatever, give them my full attention, and speak kindly. If I need to, stop what I’m doing and talk to them. If appropriate, ask them if we can talk later and make good on that.
  • Make an effort to smile at my family members throughout the day and ask them how they’re doing—and really listen, and comment on what they tell me—instead of walking around in an Abby-centered bubble where all I think about are my own problems and what I have to get done.
  • At meals, ask others how they’re doing, comment on what they say, and don’t mention (or talk about it very little) what I have to do or what problems I’m facing. Yes, other people are there to share my burdens, but too often I use meal times to vent and complain. I’ve found that focusing on others and what went right with my day usually makes those problems fade without ever mentioning them.

Most of it’s just little stuff, like looking away from what I’m doing or consciously making the effort to ask people questions. It almost sounds stupid that I have to tell myself to do all this.

I want to make people feel important and loved. I don’t want them to be afraid to talk to me or ask me for something because they know I’ll blow up at them for interrupting me. I want to be a breath of fresh air in people’s days and not a gloomy cloud or sour wind. I want to do little things to brighten up people’s days, like the missionary mom baked special treats for people who came over. I want to make time for people. When people talk to me, I want them to feel like I’m really there, like our conversation is the most important thing that happens all day.

Which it is.

I am the girl with the to-do list. But hopefully, by God’s grace, I can also be the girl who abandons the list to brighten up someone else’s day.

{Fireside Fridays} The Book That Terrified Me



I want to jump into this, into my thoughts and reactions and emotions and conclusions. I want to explore what it all means—what this book means—and how my life is affected by that meaning. I want to wrestle out truth from this confusion. But, like any good story, I think I need to start at the beginning.

I read a book called My Name is Asher Lev. It’s by Chaim Potok, the one who wrote The Chosen, which I so lauded a few months ago. It is about—what is it about? Well, obviously, a boy named Asher Lev. Asher has an insatiable desire to draw, to put the world around him into lines and shapes and color and paint. This is a problem, because Asher is a Hasidic Jew, and Hasidic Jews believe art is from the Other Side—the devil. But what is really about?

It is about tension, about being torn, about two worlds you strain in vain to reconcile. Tension between father and son, husband and wife, leader and messenger. Tension between tradition and truth—the truth that Asher has a gift and must satisfy its demands. Tension between his desire to be a good Jew and obey his parents and his desire to paint—no, his need to paint.

It is about art and what makes one an artist. It is about completing things, finishing what others have started. It is about inheritance and heritage, these great, glorious burdens we must shoulder—or must we? It is about identity. It is about separation and diverging paths. It is about choices.

I don’t know if I should write spoilers. I want to, I feel that it will make this richer, but I don’t want to ruin anything for you. I don’t want to drive you away from this. So I will say this:

In the climax, Asher faces a choice: be true to himself and paint the truest painting he can, or paint a good but less true painting. The problem? Truth hurts. Truth is painful. Sometimes truth destroys. And the truth he feels he must paint will wound those closest to him so deeply that the scars may never heal. But he does not have to do this. He can paint something else, something that will still bring him money and even fame, but something less raw, less real, less true. It will mean that his relationship with his family will strengthen, that they will finally be at peace with him and the profession he has chosen.

Which will he choose?

Others have remarked at Potok’s genius, how he can pull the reader along and create such a effect on them, such a climax, when there is essentially no plot. The book is a chronicle of the beginning of a boy’s life—it is the journey from child prodigy to full-fledged artist. But very little really  happens. Much of the book is taken up with Asher’s inward turmoil and thoughts and perceptions. Yet still, readers are captured by it. No one can read it and avoid becoming invested in it, intellectually and emotionally.

Still others comment on the writing style, the sparse, unemotional, terse sentences, the episodic narrative, how these give us further insight into Asher’s mind and personality and highlight the struggles he is facing. There are dozens of literary approaches to take to this book, technical ways of analyzing it. But when I finished the book, all I could think about was what it meant.

I say you can tell how good a book was by what your reaction to finishing it is. What do you do when you close the cover?

For My Name is Asher Lev, my heart was thumping wildly during the last pages, the climax, because I had to believe, was desperate to believe, that it would end happily. That there would be resolution, reconciliation, healing. That it couldn’t

“Oh man.” I had closed the book. “Wow oh man.”

I jumped up; I had been lying on my bed. I jumped up, paced up and down the massive corridor of a hallway outside my room. Oh man.

Then I had to collect myself; it was time to be with people. But my heart didn’t stop racing, and all I could think was, Oh man.

It happened maybe an hour later, in the shower, all by myself: I cried. I bawled. I was afraid, I was disturbed—I had said once I loved books that shook me up. I hadn’t known what I was talking about. I hate them. I hate this book. 

I am afraid of it. 

But with that fear came anger. I was so angry. The book was wrong, wrong, wrong. It had to be. But that was where the fear came in:

For I was not completely sure that it was wrong. I was not sure at all. What if it was right? There was something niggling in the back of my mind, in my heart—it’s right, and this is real life (time you finally faced it), and you will have to make that choice, too.  

That is the key, the breaking point. I read a goodreads review by a man who said he had trouble relating to Asher or understand his drive to paint—because this man had not experienced something like it. I understand that. I think that many readers, while they might be deeply moved by this book and appreciate it and analyze it (probably more thoroughly and more accurately than I), will not quite be able to understand Asher’s passion. And thus I think they will not be so affected—or affected in the same way—as I was.

You see, I can understand Asher. I too am an artist, just with a different medium. Oh, the differences are quite large, I know—the differences between paint and poetry, portrait and prose. But this is the same: the passion. The insatiable need to create. George Orwell called it a demon that drives one to write, and I rather agree (not an actual demon, just the idea of some powerful force you cannot fight forever forcing you to write something). Asher has the demon, too.

And this is why, the beginning of why, this book made me cry and rage and tremble. Because whatever happened to Asher—whatever choices he faced—I will face too. I too am devoted to my religion, and I too am driven to create. If he had to choose between them, won’t I have to?

I am terrified of that choice.

I know sometimes either-or statements are valid. God says,”You are against me or for me. You cannot serve two masters.” Those are sound. But most often? No way. 

My Name is Asher Lev presents a dilemma: create true art and hurt those you love or create something less true but keep harmony with those you love. You can see why it made me so afraid. I deeply value truth and one of the things I seek the most is to create something true. But I also value harmony. I value people, and I deeply desire to make people happy, to bring them together, to heal them. And if it’s people I love—I will do anything for them. You’re saying I have to choose between those two things?

More than that, must I choose between art and my religion? I don’t like using the term “religion”—it sounds so … impersonal, so ritualistic and external, as opposed to this personal relationship and purpose for every single moment that I have in Christ. But I think you know what I mean. In My Name is Asher Lev, he stays a Jew, a devout Jew, but he does defy much of its tradition and alienates himself from most, almost all, of his people. It makes me feel like, can I stay a true Christian and be an artist? You’re saying I have to choose between those two things?

I rebel against that choice.

I do not believe you have to choose. I believe there is another way.

I hate that choice. I hate it.

I know why: I want to believe that anything is possible. You say it can’t happen, and I immediately think, Yes, it can. Nothing is impossible. Okay, I do have my limits, but really, I believe far more things are possible than what people think. This means that one of my greatest dislikes is a false dilemma. Either you do this or that happens. There are only two options. Only two. Choose. Choose. And my reaction is: There are more than two choices. There is another option—are many other options. Don’t you dare lie to me with this false set of choices.

A few days after I finished My Name is Asher Lev, I happened to pick up a book called Art and the Bible by Francis Shaeffer. I’d actually started it a week or so ago, and being the compulsive clutter-clean-upper that I am, I decided I’d better finish it so I could clear off another book from my in-progress stack.

Shaeffer shouts it in small words hung in the middle of the page:

“The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.”

In the forward, Michael Card writes, “We were free, he insisted, our imaginations were free. We were free to create, as long as we never forgot that we are slaves to Jesus.”

What is this book about? Basically this: There is another way. You do not have to choose.

Shaeffer journeys through Scripture, pointing out how art was used in it, how God commanded it to be used, and how God wanted beautiful things made just for the sake of being beautiful. He then lays out important things to keep in mind as a Christian artist. Running through it all is the assurance:

You do not have to choose.

Jesus already chose you. And when He did, He freed you. He freed your hands and your mind from the chains of sin so you can create truth. So you can create truth. He freed your soul to know Ultimate Beauty, the God who created beauty, who embodies beauty. He made a child and heir of the God who is the Creator of all. He made you the truest artist you can be on this earth. 

When you are a Christian,there is no choice between art and faith because faith encompasses art. In fact, true art is only possible when you have true faith. 

But of course it isn’t that simple.

You do still have to make choices. For instance, what if you want to tell your story of how God has saved you from darkness, a story that you can tell beautifully and that could bless so many people, drawing them closer to God? But what if that story might hurt or embarrass those close to you who are involved in it? Do you hide some of the details to protect them? Does that make the story less true? Is it possible to protect them at all? If not, should you still tell it?

So, choices. But there is this: that God will work out everything for the good of those who love him. The feeling that they are stifled in their art because of fear of hurting others, the lack of peace in a family because they created something true but painful—follow God’s will, and He will do the healing. This promise, too: God’s will is always what is best for us. So you cannot tell that story out of respect for your loved ones? That is not stifling your artistry or limiting you, though it may feel like it. God commands you to respect your parents, so if you abstain from a certain piece of artwork because you are honoring that, He will bless you. He has better things in store—better art for you to create, truer art, more satisfying art.

Asher had neither of these promises.

It’s still not simple. It’s still not easy. It’s a lifetime of trying and failing and trying again, trying to do right, trying to figure out and follow God’s will. Shaeffer knows this, and he wrote something about it that I found immensely encouraging:

And as a Christian adopts and adapts various contemporary techniques, he must wrestle with the whole question, looking to the Holy Spirit for help to know when to invent, when to adopt, when to adapt and when not to use a specific style at all. This is something each artist wrestles with for a lifetime, not something he settles once and for all. 

As Christian artists, we must wrestle. We must struggle and sweat. Our whole lives. A demon indeed. But we have hope. For Christianity finds no separation between truth and beauty, and God will never call us to do opposing things, like honoring family while also creating beautiful truth. If those things seem to oppose, we have His promise that He will not give us more than we can handle. He will provide a way out. He never makes us choose between two evils. That is one dilemma that is always false.

Shaeffer talks about the “wholeness of man” in Christ. That tension Asher always experienced—we do not have to. He didn’t have to. When Jesus is lord, all the tensions fade as everything settles into its rightful, redeemed, perfect, complete place.

I pick up My Name is Asher Lev, turn it over.

I want you to know I am not bashing this book. In fact, I urge every artist—and non-artist—to read it. Not only is it masterfully well-written and a fascinating insight into the life of a Hasidic Jew and artist, but it makes you think. It shakes you up. And that is good.

Yes, it’s good. I hated how this book shook me up, but I have come to realize that it may not be fun, but it is good. I know I needed to be shaken up. I needed to think about this. I needed to be afraid, to have doubts. How can you find answers if you don’t question?

I still feel a little shaken. But I am not so terrified by that anymore.

One of the best things about this book was how I could connect with Asher. That was what made it so upsetting, but it was also deeply comforting. I’m not alone. Others look at the world and are compelled (in the truest sense of the word) to translate it into art. Thank you for that, Chaim Potok. Thank you for your honesty and your insights and your willingness to handle hard topics and ask hard questions and stand against the crowd. Thank you.

And thank You, God, for being All-Good, All-Beautiful, and All-True.

Hello and Goodbye and All The Moments in Between


I said goodbye again today.

Notice the “again”? You would think it would be easy by now. It’s my seventh move.

The cynical part of me says it’s my life. These goodbyes, they are my life.

I haven’t cried yet. Just a few tears in my eyes last night, but not crying, not that “good cry” all the books talk about. Funny how I can cry at such little, everyday things and then when it’s actually appropriate—expected, even—to cry, I bottle up all the tears inside and screw on the cap tight. I say I’m afraid of crying in front of people, which I guess is true, but it’s not so much that as it is simply being afraid to cry.

Because when you cry, you admit the pain. You embrace it. You open yourself up to it. And I don’t want to feel the pain. It’s too much.

Even now as the goodbyes are tearing me apart, I have to look ahead at the hellos. I hate the hellos, as much as I hate the goodbyes, but in a different way. They are so awkward, so embarrassing. I feel like a worm beneath their alien eyes. Walking into a room of strangers, remembering all your past experiences of struggling to make friends and fit in and feel included, knowing here you are, at it again—it’s torture. The hellos and goodbyes—why do I do it?

Just, why do we do this to ourselves? Who would choose this life?

A still, small voice whispers:

Because of the in-betweens.

Yes, the struggle of the hello can last long, and yes, the pain of the goodbye haunts your every step, but neither can drown out the beauty of the in-between moments.

The memory-making, the discovering of each other, the late-night laughter, the lighting up of your eyes when you see them, the inside jokes, the firsts and the traditions, all of it. The delight of a new friendship and the glow of feeling that you belong. It all happens between the hello and the goodbye.

You’ll notice that the hello and the goodbye don’t really last that long, not when compared with all that happens in the middle.

For every bucket of tears, a boatload of laughter.

For every faded long distance relationship, one that lasts and grows stronger.

For every awkward beginning, a thousand ways to a happy ending.

Of course, right now I’m not feeling any of this. Right now I’m hurting because people I love are being torn away and tearing is painful. Right now I’m facing the future with dread because people I don’t know are about to step into my life, and that, for me, is hard and scary. And I’m so storming tired. I’m tired of trying to make friends, of working up the courage to say hello, of gritting my teeth through the loneliness. I’m tired of letting loved ones go, of walking away from my belonging place, of bleeding from new soul scars. I’m tired of it all, and it’s hard to remember the good times. The times when I felt alive, when I felt that it all was worth it.

Because it is. I have to believe that. The beauty of the friendships I’ve made and communities I’ve been a part of are worth the awkwardness of arriving and the heartache of leaving.

Why do we live like this? Because we are not just part of one family or one community—we are part of many, each one ministering to us in a special way . Because every time we leave old friends we make new ones, and the old and the new join together in our hearts to form an ever-growing song of love and joy and encouragement. Because we know the cost of friendship and therefore know how truly precious it is.

Because it makes us brave. Brave, to start all over again—and again and again—and open yourself up to love knowing you’ll have to tear yourself from it in just a few short years.

They could make me bitter, all these goodbyes. They could make me isolate myself from everyone. They could make me cling to my friends and be terrified to leave. But I refuse to live that way.

I want to rejoice in each moment because I know how fast they go. I want to remember and keep in touch with those I have left without relying on them for my identity. I want to face the future unafraid and welcome new people into my life. I want to work at building relationships with joy even if I know we’ll be separated soon. I want to brim over with love and walk in fullness of joy. I want to be brave.

So I’ll whisper goodbye and mumble hello and stumble my way through this messy business of loving other people, and I know that I’ll find light shining through all the cracks and melding them together into something breathtakingly beautiful.