The Gift of Grace

11 11 2017


A little over a week ago I attended one of my favorite annual events, the Young Life Capernaum Art and Talent Show. Every year we auction off original works of art created by teens and young adults with special needs, and we host the most exuberant, unpredictable talent show you’ve ever seen. When I leave my face hurts from smiling.



But I wasn’t always like this. Before I had children one of my greatest fears was that I might have a child with special needs, and I comforted myself with the assurance that God would never give me a disabled child, because He knew I couldn’t handle it. All I could see was the brokenness. I never got close enough to see the beauty.

Until our son Jacob nearly drowned at fifteen, and I found myself in a world of hospitals, therapists, and a whole lot of new normals. Our family entered the world of disabilities, and once our eyes and hearts adjusted to the light, we were amazed to find Jesus right in the middle of it all.

And now, twenty-one years later, this is what I know. Our cultural ideas about what makes someone a “productive member of society” are completely messed up. Because I’m pretty sure our society needs a lot more joy, a lot more compassion, a lot more patience, and a lot more gratitude. We need childlike faith to enter the kingdom of God, and we need pure hearts to see Him.

So I want to introduce you to a couple of my friends. You need people like them in your life.

This is Will.


The first time I met Will, I’d come to his house to visit with his mom, Becky. When she introduced us, Becky said, “Do you mind telling Miss Jeanne what you told me earlier?” A shy smile spread across his face, and he whispered, “The Lord loves you.”

Becky explained that she’d told Will that morning that a friend named Miss Jeanne would be coming by, and a couple of hours later he ran up to her and said, “Mom, I have something very exciting to tell you!”

“What is it?” she asked.

“The Lord loves Miss Jeanne very much!”

It’s a truth I know and believe — that God loves me — but in that moment I felt He had come close and I was standing on holy ground. Like God Himself had breathed a benediction on me. Because He had.


Will helping create Texas flag art for the auction


And this is Grace.


Her name suits her perfectly.

In the talent show, Grace sang and performed sign language for the song, “Hallelujah, Thank You” by Rob Biagi. Here are the lyrics:

I bring me to You – like You ask me to
and I’m quiet

I bring me to You – like You ask me to
and I’m quiet

Believing everything you’ve promised You’ll do
and everything I’ve hoped for is true
and every tear I’ve cried you’ll wipe from my eyes
and I’ll say

Hallelujah – thank You
Hallelujah – thank You

I bring me to You – when I don’t know what else to do
keep me quiet
I bring me to You – when I don’t know what else to do
keep me quiet

I’m still believing everything You’ve promised You’ll do
and everything I’ve hoped for is true
and every tear I’ve cried You’ll wipe from my eyes
and I’ll say

Hallelujah – thank You – I sing
Hallelujah – thank You – Jesus
Hallelujah – thank You – I sing
Hallelujah – thank You

I bring me to You – to say, “I love You too”
and I’m quiet
I bring me to You – to say, “I love You too”
and I’m quiet




When the audience roared their applause, she hid her face in her hands, smiling and crying, and being absolutely precious and lovable. And maybe there’s a place in the world for shows like The Voice, but I would rather be in a love-saturated room listening to real worship pour from a heart of gold any day.

Grace sang her heart out, but she wasn’t finished. Her friend, Anna Lucia, had a poem to read and a song to sing, and she needed the moral support of her good friend.

So Grace wrapped her arm around her friend, and little Anna Lucia made it through her poem and her song (though at one point she shifted the microphone over to Grace, who didn’t know the song, but mumbled whatever she could think of, because that’s what friends do for friends.)




A recent CBS article reported that Iceland has almost completely eliminated Down Syndrome due to prenatal testing. Though the test is only 80-85% accurate, almost 100% of women who receive a positive result for chromosomal abnormality choose to abort their unborn child. The article is pretty balanced in considering whether or not this is actually a good development, but at the end it quotes a woman named Helga who counsels expectant moms considering whether or not to end their pregnancy. She tells women who are wrestling with the decision or feelings of guilt: “This is your life — you have the right to choose how your life will look like.”

She’s also quoted as saying, “We don’t look at abortion as a murder. We look at it as a thing that we ended. We ended a possible life that may have had a huge complication… preventing suffering for the child and for the family. And I think that is more right than seeing it as a murder — that’s so black and white. Life isn’t black and white. Life is grey.”

Helga, I’m sure you mean well. Maybe you’re a lot like I was before I had children. You can only see the brokenness, because you’ve never gotten close enough to see the beauty. But the truth is, life is not grey. Life is colorful and amazing and full of hope. You’re counseling women to throw away their treasures. And the world is forever bereft because of it.


I bid on several of the paintings at the auction, but the only one I ended up winning was definitely a favorite. It was Grace’s painting. Splashes of color broken by intersecting lines, and what a perfect picture of this broken and beautiful life. It will hang on my office wall as a constant reminder of God’s best gifts.

As the talent show emcee remarked after Grace stood with Anna Lucia, “We all need a Grace in our life.”

Yes. Thank you God, for the gift of Grace.


Aroma of Peace

20 06 2016

Today is World Refugee Day — the perfect opportunity to share about a beautiful project I’ve been involved in for a while. This powerful video was created by Joshua Smith of Visual Peace Media for Seek the Peace, a non-profit working with refugees in Dallas, Texas.

Please take five minutes and watch?

To say it’s an honor to be a part of this falls far too short. Being friends with Safia and Hema, hearing their stories, loving on their children, and working side by side to create something beautiful? I’m forever changed.

Thank you, Seek the Peace, for entrusting this priceless gift to me.

And thank you, friends, for watching and for all you’re doing to welcome strangers and love your neighbors, no matter how vulnerable it may make you feel.

We get one life and one shot at love. Let’s get it right.

If you’d like to buy a candle handmade by
Safia, Hema, and me,
visit Seek the Peace’s shop.


The Presence of Greatness: A Story and an Invitation

24 09 2015


The Story

The first time I saw him he was walking on a treadmill. A blond starlet dressed like an old-west prostitute posed seductively in a country music video on the television screen suspended in front of him. But he wasn’t watching the video. He was looking around at whomever or whatever, not furtively, but with blatant curiosity.

When our eyes met, I understood.

Some might call the expression vacant. As the mother of a brain-injured son, I saw it more as open. Unmasked. He had dark eyes, and black hair curled around his ears, and I guessed he was probably somewhere between eighteen and twenty. A slender, silver-haired woman walked beside him. His mother.

The world has labels for people like him. Damaged. Deficient. Unproductive. More than anything I was struck with the stark contrast between his unaffected expression and the video starlet’s heavily painted facade, and I wondered with more than a hint of irony how many people in that gym would laugh at the notion that his contribution to society might be more valuable than hers.

The encounter touched a deep, knowing place inside me, but it was a seeing and moving along. I soon forgot.

Then, several months later, I spotted them again in an area used for free weights and upper body machines. There were plenty of other things going on around me. In addition to the general hustle and bustle of the gym, heart-breaking scenes of natural disaster filled a television screen nearby, and another screen a few feet away aired clips of a defiant dictator spewing threats. But my attention kept returning to mother and son. I didn’t mean to stare, but the more I watched them, the more everything else faded into the background. World events, whirring machines, even my own physical exertion. Soon I was completely enthralled with the interaction of the two.




The mother’s long thick hair was swept back and twisted up, the ends forming a silver firework atop her head, like a diadem. Her exercise clothes revealed a lean, gracefully athletic frame. But it didn’t take long to see in her a beauty that goes much deeper than a sculpted figure. A love story played out before me, and I had front row seats.

I watched as she helped her son lie down on a bench, placed weights in his hands, then lay on the bench next to his with her own hand weights. They turned their heads to look at each other, which gave me a clear view of his face. I could tell she was speaking, and I imagined her voice as soft, calm, soothing. She seemed the embodiment of quiet strength, peaceful authority, and regal grace. I was captivated by her, and her son appeared to be as well. He never took his eyes off of her face as they raised and lowered their weights, side-by-side, him mirroring her movements, his expression a picture of cooperative concentration.

When they finished that exercise, she helped him sit up and carried their weights back to the rack — all her movements fluid elegance, purposeful and unhurried, as though completing this work out were the only event on her agenda, and she savored the sweetness of each moment with her son. When she stepped away from him for any reason, he remained in his place, quiet and still, patience personified. Even a casual observer could see there was a lifetime of knowing between them. He had no reason to doubt her return, so he waited, fully present in his waiting.

And again, I understood.

People who’ve heard or read our story often ask me what Jacob is like today. Does he grieve what he’s lost or have goals for the future? For a long time I wasn’t sure how to answer. I’d tell them that nothing seems to upset him for long, and his default setting is happy, but — other than the mercy of God — I wasn’t sure why. Then one day when I was trying to explain Jacob to yet another person who’d asked, it all suddenly made sense.

Jacob is content because he’s fully present in whatever moment he’s living. He doesn’t mourn or regret the past, and he doesn’t anticipate the future. He lives in the now with pure, childlike faith.


I have no idea if the young man in the gym was born with his so-called deficiency or if it was a gift of God’s severe mercy like Jacob’s, but I saw in him the same restful, trusting contentment. And, perhaps even more stunning, I saw this contentment in his mother as well.

What happened next made me catch my breath. The young man sat on a weight bench, staring out at the central part of the gym. As his mother walked past to adjust a machine behind him, neither turned to look at the other, but she placed a hand on his shoulder in a gesture that was like a benediction — intimate and so full of grace and tenderness, I almost felt I should avert my eyes. But I couldn’t. I was mesmerized. Awed by beauty. And deeply convicted.

I’m ashamed to admit how often I get frustrated with Jacob’s pace or resentful of the impact his limitations place on our choices. Everything about this woman’s body language and behavior communicated not only peaceful acceptance but love, joy, and genuine gratitude. And her son responded. When she spoke, he listened and obeyed. When she placed her hands over his and guided him through the use of a weight machine, he submitted without resistance, his trusting eyes fixed on her face.

The whole scene was so beautiful, so stunning and other-worldly, I lost track of time and everything else, and when I pulled myself back to my own reality, my heart was full to brimming. A multitude of emotions swirled inside me — admiration, gratitude, inspiration, awe — but there was one feeling conspicuous in its utter absence.


Talking heads and defiant dictators still paraded across TV screens, and starlets still sold their souls for digital glory. I glanced around at harried people, squeezing in a slapdash work out before rushing off to the next pressing thing, and I wondered if anyone else in that room knew they were in the presence of true greatness.

What the world calls damaged, deficient, broken, Jesus names beloved, beautiful, redeemed. What the world would throw away as useless, He honors and exalts, making the least into teachers of compassion, possessors of radiant faith, living parables of His truth. What the world considers great, isn’t. Not in the eternal scheme of things.

Become as a child. That’s what Jesus said. Do as I have done to you. Wash one another’s feet.

I shudder to think how often I miss God’s gifts — so busy am I scrambling for significance, laboring to make myself feel good about myself. But God still gives and gives, and when I’m present in the moments of my life, I see.

I watched a mother with a silver crown serve her prince of a son, and I heard a Voice whisper.

“Well done.”

This story is an edited re-post from the archives,
shared today because I want everyone who lives in
the Dallas area to know about an opportunity
this weekend to enjoy the presence of greatness.
See below!

The Invitation


People, this is going to be so much fun! If you’ve never experienced an event like this, you’re missing a big treat. In addition to viewing (and potentially purchasing) original art, and watching a talent show like nothing else imaginable, there will be food and drink, conversation and laughter. And more love than any one heart can contain.

I understand that some people feel awkward or uncomfortable around the disabled. Maybe she can’t speak or walk, or he looks different? Maybe their smiles are too quick, their hugs too exuberant, their joy too boldly emblazoned on their sleeves?

I get it. I really do. We’re socially sophisticated, and we like things tidy and predictable. And we’re busy, like those people in the gym, rushing about our days, trying to stay one step ahead of our all-important deadlines, because how else will we ever be someone in the eyes of all the other someones clawing their way to Someone-dom?

But if life with Jacob has taught me anything, it’s taught me to see greatness in a brand new way. And I’m pretty sure, when we get to heaven, we’re going to be amazed by the ones Jesus seats in the places of honor.

So, if you’re a Dallas type, come party with us Saturday night.

And if you’re lucky, you might even get your picture taken with a star.

The Healing Power of Art

9 07 2015


He heard that there were more than 27 million people living in slavery — whole families working in quarries, women and children trafficked into sexual bondage, children recruited as soldiers and forced to kill. He heard, and as the reality threatened to crush, it wrung a question from his tormented soul.

“What can one musician do?”

Sometimes a question is simply a question. But sometimes it’s a key pressed into your hand by an unseen Presence. Sometimes a question is a summons, meant to take you somewhere.




Like Abraham, he went out not knowing where he was going, but in faith he took a first step. He registered his band as a non-profit organization and partnered with International Justice Mission. He spoke about modern-day slavery during concerts and at justice conferences, raising awareness and funding.

“Do what you love to undo what you hate,” became his motto. He wanted to make music, but he wanted his music to do more than entertain. He wanted it to expose darkness. To stir people to action.

It was a good work. A meaningful work. But it was only the foundation.

One girl’s story changed everything.



She’d been rescued from a brothel and was living in an aftercare facility, but the trauma she’d suffered had shut her down. She couldn’t speak. Not about the horrors she’d endured. Not about anything. Pain silenced her.

Until someone introduced her to a piano. She began to play, and something inside of her broke free. She poured her pain, her anguish, her shame, her fear through her fingers into those keys, and the walls came down. Words followed. And healing.

And just like that, he knew what he had to do. Music enriched his own life. He knew its power. He would go beyond merely doing what he loved to serve a cause. He would invite survivors to experience the power of art, too.





Along with his wife and some like-minded friends, he envisioned a world where wounded hearts heal beautifully. Where counselors and therapists and aftercare workers are equipped with tools to bring music, movement, and visual arts to the people they serve. The vision was much bigger than one man’s ability to accomplish it, but he sensed divine purpose and leaned into the One whose resources are limitless.

His was to ask the right questions. God’s was to supply. Mentors, wisdom, guidance, research, funds, structure, staff, volunteers, passion, opportunity, favor, and grace upon grace. And so First Aid Arts was born. In five short years, here’s what they’ve achieved:

  • Developed and piloted a multi-modal arts-based curriculum for addressing the symptoms of trauma.
  • Trained 290 staff and volunteers at 132 organizations serving trauma survivors in 15 countries.
  • Reached more than 3,300 survivors of trauma with life-giving tools.
  • Advised other non-profits in how to use arts to address trauma, some of them long-standing organizations with global reach.
  • Amassed a waiting list of nearly 100 organizations desiring training.
  • Received invitations from governments to equip first-responders.
  • Formed partnerships with trauma care providers spanning the globe.
  • Received invitations to present at national and international conferences, symposiums and other events on trauma and the arts.


What can one musician do? What anyone can do.

We are all created in the image of a Creator. We were all made to make beauty and to invite others to do the same. It doesn’t matter if we consider ourselves artists or not — it’s not a competition, and the goal isn’t to impress people. The most profound power of art is in the process. That’s why a big part of First Aid Arts training is devoted to equipping and encouraging trauma care providers to engage in the arts for self-care as well as for use with those they serve.

We’re all broken in one way or another. Art is a powerful tool for healing.

Whoever you are, you are an exquisite work of God’s art, created to create. With your words or your work, in your kitchen or at your computer. With a camera or a paintbrush, a guitar or a dashboard drum, what will you do today to make the world more beautiful?

Do what you love to undo what you hate. But don’t stop there. Envision a world where wounded hearts heal beautifully — give others the gifts that bring you life, and then sit back and watch as, one by one, desert places explode with new life.


Ask the right questions, and then don’t be afraid to use the key He gives you. The promised land awaits.

* * *

This post is linked with The High Calling’s Theme, “Art Matters.”
Click here for more articles on this theme.

In which goodness and beauty collide in fields of gold

15 12 2014

Ah, friends. I don’t have to tell you the world is full of real pain and brokenness, and sometimes it’s flat out overwhelming. But meanwhile there are beautiful souls quietly, faithfully doing what they love to undo what they hate. They aren’t seeking fame or trying to draw attention to themselves; instead they’re pouring their energies into shining a light of hope into dark and aching places. And we do well to encourage them in every way we can. Which is why I’m writing this post.



DSC_0275photos from recent First Aid Arts training

First Aid Arts (formerly Arts Aftercare) exists to bring the healing power of artistic expression to survivors of human trafficking and other forms of extreme trauma. As more and more non-profit organizations serving wounded communities learn about the tools available and the reports of remarkable breakthroughs, requests for training in their toolkit continue to pour in from around the world. With all their hearts they long to respond to every single request, but they’re still a small organization and can only reach as far as their financial resources will take them.

And yet, our God is a God who provides in surprising ways.

Now the founders, Curtis and Grace Romjue, have an opportunity to use their musical gifts to spread the word about First Aid Arts while partnering with Rock Against Trafficking in their efforts.

Here’s what Grace wrote about it to their friends:

Curtis and I recorded a video of our cover of Fields of Gold (Eva Cassidy’s version). We are hoping to be included on a compilation produced by Rock Against Trafficking (an awesome organization!) that will be used to raise funds for anti-trafficking work. Most of the other artists on the album are Grammy-winners, so this would be a great opportunity for exposure for our work with First Aid Arts, using creative expression to help trafficking survivors heal.

If you watch the video and enjoy it, will you do us a favor? The Rock Against Trafficking competition is being hosted at Search for us (The Humble Bold), it will ask you to “Sign Up” to rate us (takes two minutes), then rate our video and also give us a “likability” rating on our profile video.

Feeling more than a little nervous to share this with everyone. Thanks for your support!

So, here’s where you and I come in. We have an opportunity to do something beautiful together this Christmas season, and all it will cost us is a few minutes of our time. Here’s how it works:

First, watch the video.

Isn’t that gorgeous?

Next, go to, click the “register” button in the top right corner, and go through the short registration process.

Then, after you activate your registration, you can click here to go directly to their personal artist page. (Their band name is The Humble Bold.)

Once you’re on their page, watch their short profile video and rate its “likeability.” (The adorable two year old ups the ante quite a bit here.)

Then rate the song. You can also leave a comment if you like. And that’s it! You’re done!

The contest runs until April 15, 2015. Each person can only rate an artist once, so please share this opportunity with all your friends, relatives, and online communities! And please, please, please pray for God’s continued blessing on the work of First Aid Arts. They deeply appreciate your prayers. Oh, and if you still need a few last-minute Christmas gifts this year, they just launched their shop!

So much goodness and beauty. So much to celebrate. Thank you for helping make the world a little brighter.



The Warmth of Redemption’s Embrace

15 04 2014

IMG_3712When we made the decision to move to Dallas and buy a house across the street from the one where I grew up — the house where my dad was slowly losing my mom to dementia memory by memory, and where our son and his wife and their baby were also living, helping Dad navigate this heart-breaking journey — I wanted a visual representation of the season we were about to enter. Four generations living in close community, the old fading away even as the new blossomed, all inextricably connected by blood and God’s eternal purposes.

I wanted to anchor this moment in imagery, so I commissioned a painting from my friend, Emily Wierenga. A single branch extending through four seasons, with white winged birds blowing through it all like the breath of God.

Emily more than met the challenge. Using color, texture, and abstract form, she painted meaning, and it’s no surprise to me that she writes the same way. When Abingdon Press asked her to write a book about a quilt, the story’s structure itself became a patchwork — the past and the present intentionally interspersed, each piece a collage of characters and themes beautifully interwoven.


I read the first half of A Promise in Pieces on an airplane flying to Detroit to speak at a women’s retreat, and I finished it on the flight home. As I closed the final page, I couldn’t help thinking of an illustration I’d used at the retreat:

If you drop a pebble in water, ripples are set in motion. But let’s say it’s not a pebble. Let’s say it’s a priceless jewel. Something you dearly love. Something irreplaceable. You’ve spent your life trying to protect it, and now, due to circumstances beyond your control, it’s gone. You stare in disbelief at the spot where it went down, a multitude of “if only’s” swirling in your head. You wish you could press rewind or wake up and realize it’s all just a horrible nightmare, but you can’t, and it isn’t.

At this point, you have a choice. You can keep staring at the spot where your treasure sank, or you can watch the ripples to see what God is doing.

Because He is always doing something beautiful. And your story? The one that feels like it just went desperately wrong? It’s not just yours. Your story intersects my story and a thousand other stories. The ripples set in motion in our lives touch other lives, and more ripples are set in motion. We’re not autonomous. We are members of one another, and all of our individual stories are part of God’s greater story. The story in which God redeems all that is broken.

A Promise in Pieces is a story about brokenness and redemption. It’s a patchwork of stories within a story within a story, all of it revolving around a quilt that has a life of its own, each of its squares a promise to someone whose story has been woven into the life fabric of one woman, a World War II army nurse named Clara.

It’s a book about what it means to be human — the search for significance and acceptance and love, and the fears and misunderstandings that often drive us to run from the very things we so desperately desire. It’s about loss and healing, frailty and forgiveness — the way life intersects life, and meaning finds us right where we are, especially when we’re searching for it somewhere else.

It’s light set against darkness, hope against despair, and the remarkable truth that God takes these contrasts and stitches them together into beauty, all of this told in the words of an artist — words that paint mental pictures: “seagulls dipping down and rising like washerwomen, pinning up the waves” and “the breeze lifted their hair and the edges of their spirits” and “I stepped off the train and fell into the arms of home.”

Emily has deftly pieced together loneliness and love, war and peace, life and death, and running through it all is one shining thread. God’s grace.

To read A Promise in Pieces is to be wrapped in the warmth of redemption’s embrace.

Maybe your life should intersect Clara’s, too?


* * *

You can purchase A Promise in Pieces here, or at any major book outlet, or visit Emily’s webpage to learn more.






The Stories: In which He comes as the Author of our Days (Part II)

22 07 2013


{Continued from the previous post . . .}

As I wrote in Part I, “Grace included one other thing in the padded envelope. A CD. And it opens another subplot that involves other characters, and evokes other joys, and reveals more layers this divine Author wrote into His intricately scripted, interwoven tale — a whole new chapter for another day.”

Well, friends, today is that day, and this is that new chapter. But first, a bit of back story.

Before I left for Kazakhstan, I wrote a series of posts introducing some of the special friends who would be attending camp. One of those posts featured Baxa. In case you missed it, here’s the brief bio he wrote about himself (emphasis mine):

Name:  Baxhtiar  Jigalov
Birthday:  March 10, 1988
I love: my mom, my dad, my sister.
I know: a lot.
I do: daily exercises.
I collect:  material about the Native American peoples.
I eat: everything.
I know how to: ride on a horse.
I read: the Dalai Lama.
I watch: educational programs.
I dream: of going to America.

Baxa is a big fan of America in general and Native Americans in particular. And when he says he knows “a lot,” it’s no empty boast. Using mostly online resources, he has taught himself to speak English. And he loves to practice it.

So, when Baxa found out his camp buddy would be Jason from America, you can imagine how excited he was.

IMG_0764I snapped the above photo with my phone right after they met for the first time. As you can see, Baxa is already talking up a storm. And check out his hair — an intentional tribute to his Native American heroes.

IMG_0963My friend Catherine captured this shot, most likely during one of their many “Jason, we make conversation” moments. Note the FBI cap and Native American motif on Baxa’s t-shirt. He means serious business.

Okay, back story over. Here we go.

It was the day camp ended, and our team had just returned by bus to Almaty. We decided to walk a couple of miles to a shopping center, and on the way, Jason told me about his time with Baxa. Over the course of their four days together, Baxa had repeatedly expressed a desire to come to America and become a permanent resident, and he’d asked Jason to help him. For a number of reasons, this is not something Jason can do, but he does want to maintain a friendship with Baxa and to encourage him, especially in his understanding of the gospel. He wondered aloud how to strike a healthy balance — to let Baxa know that he really does love him, but not to make promises or raise hopes he can’t fulfill.

As I listened, I felt Jason’s frustration and genuine concern. There are only so many ways to be a true and present friend from across the ocean. As we pondered his options, I suddenly had an idea.

“My daughter and her husband are professional musicians,” I said. ” I wish I had a copy of their band’s most recent CD for Baxa. The cover art depicts Native Americans, and on the actual CD there’s a stylized drawing of a hummingbird by a talented Native American artist.”

“Oh, wow! That would be perfect,” Jason said. “Too bad we can’t buy it here. I’ll definitely mail one to him. Can I get it online?”

“I’ll send you one,” I said. “But I wish there were some way you could give it to him in person!”

He agreed, but there was nothing to be done. I told him I’d be sure to get a copy to him once we were back in the states.

But God had other plans.

The next morning I opened my padded envelope, and looked inside to retrieve my note for June 29. And I saw it. Taped to the card for June 30. A JUBILEE CD.

I was stunned. Excited. Amazed. All of the above. I sat there on the edge of the bed, just staring. And then I broke the rules.

I opened the June 30 card a day early. And this is what it said:

IMG_1529“Choose someone special”? I laughed out loud. The choice had been made for me. Now we just needed to figure out how to get the CD to Baxa.

That afternoon I was scheduled to speak at Almagul Church in Almaty, at a gathering of local believers. When our team arrived, two of the moms from camp had also showed up. They missed us too much to stay away, they said. One of them was Baxa’s mom.


We told her the story behind the CD, and the amazement on her face mirrored our own. Though we didn’t get to experience Baxa’s reaction first-hand, he emailed Jason that he loves it, and that he’s still practicing his English. I imagine him listening carefully to the lyrics, hearing and understanding subtle truths and beauties, being drawn to the Inspiration behind it all. Always, in so many unseen ways, the Author is working, moving, orchestrating, choreographing. And sometimes? He gives glimpses.

Typing this post, the sense of awe I felt at the time has returned just as strong. Could there possibly be any adventure more exciting than this life of faith? Oh, for eyes that remain focused on Him and ears attentive to His voice! Whether it’s serving in foreign lands, washing another dish, or passing along a CD, nothing is insignificant to Him.

It’s all part of the story. The one story, in which He increases and we decrease — in which we are given “the incredible gift of LIFE” to lay it down again and again, only to see Him bless, break, and distribute in ways we never would have asked or imagined. And we discover the extravagant joy of receiving every moment with wide-awake gratitude and pouring it back out as priceless ointment on His feet.

It’s the story in which suffering becomes blessing, and our children become our teachers, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Happy Birthday, Grace. Thank you for being the gift.

* * *

It’s not too late to donate to this beautiful
and worthy work in Kazakhstan.

Gifts received before September will help
cover summer projects.
Donations can be made by check or credit card.
Please send checks to:

P.O. Box 1057
Cordova, TN 38088
901.458.9500 ext 223

Include a separate note indicating the gift is for
“A Friend at All Times, Kazakhstan Young Life”
This category is not available for online giving at Orphanos,
but you can give by credit card at the phone number provided above.

Any amount is greatly appreciated.
Your gifts are tax deductible.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section.

Thank you!
(With all my heart.)

The Justice Conference (an emzee’s eye view)

25 02 2013


If you read my last post, you already know I attended the Justice Conference in Philadelphia this past weekend. Here’s my official conference bag that contained schedules, maps, bios of speakers, and other important items, including my personal badge which alerted the gate keepers to my level of access. Check it out:

IMG_0179Yes. That says All-Access VIP. Sounds very ooh-la-la, doesn’t it? Of course it had nothing whatsoever to do with me. As part of Arts Aftercare and Jubilee’s entourage, I received the same badge and access they gave Curtis and Grace and the rest of their band. All the same, I felt pretty cool wearing it. And I did have a very important job to do. In addition to all the ordinary care-giving responsibilities of an Emzee (that’s my grandma name), I was the official escort of the Bee for Justice.


I guess I should explain that the whole Bee for Justice thing wasn’t premeditated. I gave Harper the bee costume as a late Valentine’s present, and the rest happened spontaneously. When you walk around a huge exhibition hall with an adorable little bee, conversations stop, and people point and smile, and the thought pops into your head, why not call her “Bee for Justice,” snap her photo with various justice-doing folk, and post on instagram and twitter? (At least that thought pops into the head of a self-amusing grandmother.) So that’s what we did.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you The Bee for Justice with . . .


Food for the Hungry. I stopped by this booth originally to meet Lindsey Nobles (at the suggestion of my good friend, Mary DeMuth). I did meet Lindsey, and it turns out she’s awesome just like Mary said.  We enjoyed several nice chats throughout the weekend, but she wasn’t at the booth when I snapped this shot. One of her lucky colleagues gladly accepted the honor.


Anna Del Vecchio, a young woman I met online years ago through Anna Carson’s photo-blogging community, and met in person for the first time in Philly. Such a fun, unexpected treat! She and the bee hit it off right away.


Mike Hogan, Director of Church Mobilization, Northwest, for International Justice Mission (IJM). Mike was so excited about this photo, he whipped out his cell phone to alert IJM’s social media person, “I just had my picture taken with the Justice Bee!” No doubt said SMP shared Mike’s enthusiasm. I mean, sure, you can always tweet an endless stream of inspiring quotes from phenomenal speakers, but a photo op like this doesn’t happen every day. (I should probably divulge that Mike and the bee do have a history. Curtis and Grace are IJM Justice Advocates in his jurisdiction, personal friends of his, and also played at his wedding.)


Sidney of YWAM San Jose, Costa Rica. She and her husband are missionaries working with YWAM’s Freedom Street Ministries, reaching out to victims of human trafficking and others involved in prostitution. Her husband is a music therapist. After this photo op with the Bee for Justice, I told her about Arts Aftercare, and she was excited about the possibility of their bringing the Healing Arts Toolkit to Costa Rica. She later came by the Arts Aftercare booth to talk with Curtis and Grace. This kind of networking is one of the best things about the Justice Conference.


Kristin, wife of Jubilee lead guitarist, Jonny, music therapy intern at Arts Aftercare, and tireless booth host throughout the conference. She’s also way too much fun. What a precious little family, this band!


Wendy Sale, a lovely friend who hosted a church home group we attended years ago, when our kids were teens and hers were tiny. Their family moved to Michigan (maybe ten years ago?), and though we’ve been in touch off and on since, I hadn’t seen her again until this happy reunion. (It was so great hanging with you, Wendy! Thanks for all your help with Bee control!)


Curtis and Grace Romjue of Jubilee (aka, mommy and daddy) and an official conference photographer. This was right before Jubilee’s first performance in the cavernous main hall.


Jubilee on stage. They were so good!


Jumbo-tron shot mid-fade. (Grace is playing keyboard on Curtis’s face. hee hee. Good place to mention that the camera work and sound mixing for this conference were super impressive.) Before their second song, Curtis spoke briefly and, among other things, shared their band’s motto: “Do what you love to undo what you hate.” After the conference I checked the #justice2013 feed on twitter and found these:

2013-02-25 05.40.05 pm 2013-02-25 05.41.04 pm 2013-02-25 05.41.45 pm

How fun is that? Made my heart swell with joy! Other happy Emzee moments:


Curtis and Grace in a side hallway warming up their voices. (I don’t think they realized their gorgeous harmonies echoed out into the exhibition hall. Our gain.)



Band members chatting with attendees at the Arts Aftercare booth.

Oh, and Friday night?



A screening of Arts Aftercare’s documentary, Do What You Love to End What You Hate, kicked off the Film Festival. Then Curtis spoke briefly about their work, right before Gungor took the stage. (Yes, that Gungor.) Grace, the kids, and I left early, though. The Bee for Justice and her baby sister needed to go night-night. (You may or may not have noticed that babies are generally unimpressed by how many hits your song has on YouTube. But a hotel swimming pool on the seventh floor? Now that’s cool.)

As official conference Emzee, I heard only a few snippets of the amazing conference speakers’ sessions, but I did get to connect with some wonderful people, spend precious time with beloveds, color with an adorable bee . . .


and snuggle a cuddly little bear . . .


and I’m already making plans to join Jubilee and Arts Aftercare in L.A. for Justice Conference 2014. Maybe I’ll even set up a Bee for Justice photo booth? Anything for the cause.

Hope to see you there!

Giving thanks in community for (#695 – 714)

safe travels
doers of the Word
meeting God’s people everywhere
Harper Sparrow
Malia Eden
enduring friendship
warm welcome home from George
Mom not recognizing me, and yet . . .
grace to embrace the hard, hard gift of Alzheimer’s
a new heart, an eternal hope

what is good

18 02 2013

Basic RGB

Lately it seems I’ve been running up against the same truth over and over again. Basically, it’s this:

God really is working out plans formed long ago with perfect faithfulness, but if we want to see and enter into what He’s doing, we’re going to have to flip a lot of our worldly values on their heads.

The world says climb the ladder to success.
God says the greatest in the kingdom is the servant of all.

The world celebrates intellect, beauty, and talent.
God looks for a heart after Him.

The world applauds power and wealth.
God says become as a little child.

The world wears a mask of painted-on perfection.
God says knowing you’re broken is the first step on the path to redemption and wholeness.

The world idolizes celebrity, but God never lurks at backstage doors, hoping the haughty will toss a bit of their coveted attention His way. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

In God’s upside-down kingdom, the weak confound the mighty, the meek inherit the earth, and the pure in heart see God.
And the best gifts? They’re the ones that bow us the lowest, because God draws near to the humble.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

He has told you, O man. Yes, you (ahem, me) — pulled in a thousand directions by your dreams and ambitions, your envy and competitiveness, your insatiable appetite for self-actualization. You’re looking for life and meaning in all the wrong places. He has told you what is good.

Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God.

Sounds so simple. But, oh, how desperately I fail. And that’s one reason I’m looking forward to this weekend.

Thursday evening I’m heading to Philadelphia for The Justice Conference. Thousands of people will gather in the spirit of Micah 6:8, to listen to front-line pioneers and battle-scarred warriors in the fight against human trafficking, and I actually have an official role. I suppose I could pretend I’m going because I’m a mover and shaker in this worthy cause, but that would be false representation.

My job is to take care of these two:

DSC_0991 DSC_0034

Not to brag or anything (because that would totally defeat the tone of this post), but I’m the official “conference nanny” for JUBILEE and Arts Aftercare, which, in layman’s terms, means I get to play with my grandchildren and enjoy the company of their justice-doing, kindness-loving, humbly-walking-with-God parents.


Curtis and Grace’s band, JUBILEE, will perform during the conference, and Arts Aftercare will host an exhibitor’s booth, sharing their vision for the healing power of the arts and how attendees can partner with them to “do what they love to undo what they hate.”

As Curtis recently wrote on JUBILEE’s blog:

“We are thrilled to be performing at The Justice Conference again this year, this time in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Convention Center FEB 22 & 23. In addition to sharing the stage with heroes like Gary Haugen (IJM) and John Perkins, we’ll be joining Gungor for a VIP premiere event where Arts Aftercare and our documentary “Do What You Love to End What You Hate” will be featured.”

I am thrilled, too. Thrilled to come alongside this beautiful army in a small way. Thrilled to learn kingdom ways from speakers, artists, and other passionate souls who are living Micah 6:8, standing up for the widow and the orphan, rescuing the prisoner and the oppressed, pouring their gifts and resources into serving the least.

These folks are heroes in the upside-down kingdom, but the last thing they want is for people to put them on a pedestal. They want comrades-in-arms, not compliments. Fellow soldiers, not fans.

He has told you, O man, what is good. Am I listening?

Are you?

* * *

Giving thanks in community for (#678 – 694)

a God who shows up
the women of Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita, Kansas
brokenness redeemed
Naomi’s “Hey, you!”
traveling mercies
moment-by-moment grace with Mom
conversations with Dad
Sarah and Eliot at 36 weeks
the delightful chaos of skyping with Harper, Grace, and Malia
color, texture, pattern: visual happiness
daffodils and sage in a blue vase
The Village Church
confession of sin
the body of Christ
glimpses into the realer Real
a big God who uses small people

Little by Little

1 10 2012

“Little by little, one travels far.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

I’m not sure why that quote came to mind as I contemplated today’s post, but I think perhaps it was because we all need hope. We all need inspiration to take the next step. Faith to believe that love makes a difference — that every kind word, every cool cup of water, every gentle touch on the shoulder or whispered prayer matters.

When we let God open our eyes and our hearts, the world’s suffering can be a crushing weight, and any attempt we might make to alleviate it appears feeble and ineffectual. The temptation is to shut our eyes again. Shut our hearts and turn away. Spend our energies on lesser things, filling our lives with noise and busyness and destined-to-perish “productivity” — anything to dull the pain compassion demands.

But God never asked us to carry the weight of the world’s suffering. Jesus did that on the cross. God asks rather that we become one small member of His body, enter His battles, take our marching orders from Him, and be transformed into what He created us to be. Choice by choice. Obedience by obedience. Little by little.

And the amazing truth? When we lay down our selfish ambitions and agendas, Jesus gives us better gifts than we ever imagined. They may not look glamorous to the world, and they may not earn us lots of money or fame, but they usher the peace and presence of God into dark places and into our own souls, and we discover who we are and why we were created. The more we enter fully into His purposes, the more we glorify Him, and the more we learn what it means to enjoy Him forever.

No one can do it all. No one was meant to. But we can do our little bit. We can take this daily bread, give thanks, and then break it and share it, each according to his own faith and abilities.

We can do what we love to undo what we hate.

Please watch this brief but deeply moving documentary filmed by Eric Becker last spring in the Philippines. It’s well worth seven and a half minutes of your time. May the beautiful souls you’ll meet in this film compel you to worship and to intercede, thanking God for the intersection of deep need and glorious grace.

Do What You Love to End What You Hate from Arts Aftercare on Vimeo.

The glorious truth is that God will raise up those members of His body intended to join in this beautiful work, and He will raise up others for other forms and avenues of ministry. Again, no one can do it all, and no one was meant to. But if you watched this video and the Lord whispered this is for you, here are some ways you can help:

  • Use your influence. Share the video with others on facebook or twitter or your blog to help spread the word about this important and beautiful ministry.
  • Pray for Arts Aftercare as they work to bring beauty and healing through the arts to survivors of human trafficking and other forms of extreme trauma. They faithfully and tirelessly give their “little,” but they need our help to “travel far.”
  • If you’re an artist of any kind, please consider contacting them for more information about ways you, too, can do what you love to undo what you hate.
  • Donate to the ministry. $120 pays for one complete Healing Arts Toolkit, but any donation of any amount is greatly appreciated and goes directly toward the work. Arts Aftercare is a registered non-profit, and all donations are tax deductible.

Whatever God leads you to do, thank you for your obedience to Him. If we each do our little bit, then together, little by little, we will travel farther than any of us ever dreamed possible.

* * *

Giving thanks in community for (#602 – 623)

sacramental souls
home group
new mercies every morning
fresh basil snipped from the garden
soup weather
gentle rain on the sun-room roof
moment-by-moment grace for the ache
every prayer answered God’s way
God’s nearness
Malia turning head down and
the joy of anticipating new life, due so soon!
comrades in arms
Luke’s generous attitude and willing heart
the joy of watching adult children walk in truth
George’s earnest pursuit of godliness
my father’s example of selfless, patient love
babysitting Naomi
skyping with Grace and Harper
morning worship with Jacob
every good and perfect gift — even the hard ones

%d bloggers like this: