Every Breath is Grace

7 08 2014


One of the best gifts God can give someone is to take her out of her comfort zone and drop her smack in the middle of moment-by-moment dependence on Him.

It’s exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. Daunting and delightful. And humbling in the best way.

There’s something desperately wonderful about knowing that, unless God keeps, we will not be kept. Unless He gives endurance, we will collapse. Unless He guides and empowers our words, they will not be truly heard.

We absolutely know we are not sufficient. Not equal to the task. Not in control.

And we also know that He is all of these things.

jKpQZGFcgh-Qp6yVVNTOiUtVIlJ-xFDWuvyv4j-5trs,aFoNVlev6TRslM8IXt607W972RnuVHiwoBo1PkjwFV4The American team in Almaty, Kazakhstan

I went to Kazakhstan knowing I would be placed in situations where people who suffer in ways I can’t begin to comprehend would have the opportunity to ask me any question they wanted to ask about God, what I believe, and how I deal with my own suffering.

There was no way I could prepare answers in advance, because I had no idea what the questions would be.

My portion for the duration of the trip was utter, moment-by-moment dependence on God.

And it was amazing.




God didn’t remove the difficulties and challenges. I battled jet lag. I couldn’t speak the language. Everything from food to currency to local customs was foreign. “Taking a taxi” equaled hitchhiking (and we did this often), and roadway lane markings were more like suggestions than actual boundaries. The heat index soared in a country where many homes, businesses, and cars lack air-conditioning, so I wore the same sweat-dried clothes again and again, living for two weeks out of one small suitcase. I needed a translator to carry on even the simplest conversation, and I never ventured out alone to do anything for fear someone on the street would say something to me and expect a response.

Once we got to camp, my job was to lead morning exercises on the beach, speak four times, teach and perform a dance with the moms, engage with them at meals, and help teach a cooking class using a recipe that was written in Russian.

Rest was not a priority.

But all of these things were gifts to me, because they bowed me low, and that’s exactly where I needed to be. I knew that I knew that I needed God.

And God was there.







Our team gathered each morning for debrief and prayer. And in the stillness of those moments, as Russian and English words mingled in a chorus of praises and petitions, God’s presence was tangible. Every single day, He filled our meeting place with the sweetest peace, like a tiny foretaste of that great Someday, when every tribe, tongue, and nation will worship around His throne.

I never felt sufficient, but I never felt nervous either. I felt . . . held.

And maybe this is what “become as a little child” means. We know we’re small and weak, but that just lets Him be big and strong. We stand at the edge of opportunity and fling ourselves into space, laughing with utter abandon. It has nothing to do with knowing what’s about to happen and everything to do with the faithfulness of the One who beckons and waits, arms outstretched to catch us.





As I looked into the eyes of those beautiful moms, I knew without a shadow of doubt that each one of them was made in His image, and all of our stories were written in His book before any of us were born, and here, on this page where a most unlikely cast of characters had assembled, I stood in awe of the glorious promise of God’s goodness and grace. Not one word He has spoken concerning a single one of us will fail. From the American visitor who grew up in suburbia, to the strong Russian woman raised under strict soviet law, to the soft-spoken Uighur wife who rises at 5:30 AM to milk the family cow.


As different as our life stories may be, here in this place, we are the same. We’re women who love our “broken” children — who see them not for what they lack but for who they are — and we all long for the world to see them and love them the way we do.


So I let myself be small. Just small and present and aware of this greater grace. Because it wasn’t about me at all, and it never is, and the more I understand this, the more life becomes one grand adventure. We’ve been given this string of days, each one made up of moments, and each of those moments packed with purpose, whether we’re seen or unseen by the world. It doesn’t matter if we’re ministering to millions or washing dishes or wiping noses or waiting long beside a hospital bed.

Now that I’m home again, I want to keep living small and present and aware, constantly leaning into Him. Because life is short, and I don’t want to waste the gift.

Every day is holy.

Every encounter brings me face to face with the Imago Dei.

And every single breath is grace.



* * *

Dear friends, thank you for your patience.
I do have more stories to tell —
glorious stories of God’s redeeming grace —
and I promise I will tell them here. I will.
Meanwhile, I can’t begin to express how much I admire this
amazing ministry to these young people with special needs
and their strong, beautiful moms.

The dear souls behind A Friend at All Times serve with such tireless joy,
but the needs are many, and the resources are few.
Would you consider a small donation to
help them?

You can give online through Orphanos.
Scroll down and select “Partners in Asia”
then, from the list immediately below,
select “Kazakhstan Young Life.”

Thank you. With all my heart.

(all photos by Catherine Burns)



14 responses

7 08 2014
Sandra Heska King

What an adventure for you and a blessing for them. And these photos are amazing. Grace-filled. Like you.

7 08 2014

Thank you! xo

7 08 2014
Patricia Hunter

Not thirty minutes ago, I started an email to you because I’ve missed you here…in the crazy cyberspaces where our lives in words and pictures sometimes intersect. And then this post of yours pops up in my feed reader. =) You are so beautiful, Jeanne, and I rejoice at all that God is doing through that big brave heart of yours. Much love to you, my friend.

7 08 2014

Dear Patricia! Thank you for missing me and for your kind words. I have been rather absent from the cyberhood lately, but for lovely reasons, so I can’t complain. I really do want to get these stories told, though, before I lose the wonder of them.

It makes me happy to know you were writing me an email. Thanks for that. Much love to you, too. xo

7 08 2014
ro elliott

Thanks for sharing…. Very timely for me…I am taking this with me…So I let myself be small. Just small and present and aware of this greater grace. Because it wasn’t about me at all, and it never is, and the more I understand this, the more life becomes one grand adventure. And I love you felt held… Beautiful…may we continue to journey with Him to those places that are way over our heads!!!

8 08 2014

Yes! When we get in over our heads, that’s when we become weightless! 🙂

8 08 2014

Jeanne, what you are doing for the glory of God is growing in the desire of my own heart. When I see the beautiful faces of these strong, resilient, steadfast mothers, I know that they have risen to the challenge and come face to face with their children to say “I will advocate for you”. In many ways, the qualities that these mothers have acquired, they see in their own children. I know, because I was one of the mothers who pull night shifts when the home care night nurse calls in sick, I countered doctor’s opinions when I needed to, I respected them when I didn’t agree, I flushed central lines, I changed skin dressings, etc. most of all, I loved him as much as my heart would allow, and it never would have been enough to keep him here. My critically ill 2 year old passed away April 24th. I would have done all of his care again, any hour, any day. In this midst of my grief, I know that I will look for ways to glorify God just as I looked to glorify him during my son’s illness. It isn’t easy, and as crazy as it sounds, I grieve that I no longer have those responsibilities, that I am no longer one of you. But I rejoice that my sweet boy is in the arms of his Savior. God Bless you, Jeanne and your ministry.

8 08 2014

Oh, Angela! Your beautiful heart! My own heart breaks for you, but I also thank our kind Lord for giving you such deep insight and wisdom. I have no doubt you will be amazed by the ways He redeems your loss, creating beauty from ashes, increasing the fruit a hundred fold. Even though he lived for such a short time, your precious son’s life was not wasted. Ripples have been set in motion that will keep spreading all the way to eternity. You are already glorifying God in more ways than you know, dear Angela. Blessings and peace to you. And so much love.

8 08 2014

What a gift to be aware of being held! I loved seeing all these beautiful photos and hearing of the grace given to you to love these precious people. I lived among the Kazakh and Uighur for many years in Central Asia.

9 08 2014

Thank you. It was a sweet gift. And I did fall in love with these people. I’m sure you have amazing stories to tell from your time in Central Asia!

9 08 2014
Jody Collins

Jeanne, this was such a touching post to read and your words reached me deep–especially these, “There’s something desperately wonderful about knowing that, unless God keeps, we will not be kept. Unless He gives endurance, we will collapse. Unless He guides and empowers our words, they will not be truly heard.”
I muttered to myself that I may not be able to go around the world to experience this first hand, but the truth is just as strong here at home. Unless God keeps us we will not be kept.
I look forward to the rest of your stories, my brave friend.

9 08 2014

Yes! It is the truth every moment. We just don’t live in the awareness of it. May the Lord daily give us that grace.

22 08 2014
Larisa Cherepova

Well, it happened again, Jeanne! Just about every time I read your posts, I end up in tears, being reminded once again that without Him I am nothing.
I so loved your words “One of the best gifts God can give someone is to take her out of her comfort zone and drop her smack in the middle of moment-by-moment dependence on Him”. I want to see and receive those situations as a gift in my life, too.
Looking forward to hearing more from you!

30 09 2014
Robin Lawrimore Lewis

Somehow I’ve missed your posts! But I’ve found you again. I love this one, and sharing on my Facebook page. Thanks for reminding us all that it’s more than OK to live small and dependent on God. Blessings to you, Jeanne!

Your comments are a gift. Please know I read each one with gratitude.

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