tiny paper hearts

fifteen months ago, i took pieces of construction paper, bright red, soft pink, and scattered them across a dining room table. pencil in hand, i traced little hearts and cut each one out, nearly fifty of them in all. and as i said my goodbyes during that last week in liberia, i’d slip a tiny paper heart into each girl’s hand. she would look at me with tears in her eyes, and i’d pull her close and hold her near as we cried. the hearts were merely a symbol, i explained. though my body was leaving, much of my heart was not. janet, leemue, mercy, jumah–each of them kept a heart. so did rose, princess, janjay, kamah; and gormaloh and hannah and siah and caroline. and on and on it goes…

looking back, i was never much concerned with leaving a legacy. i cared more about those construction paper hearts:: not much to look at on the surface, but rich with meaning, a significance only they and i could understand. and that–well, that was enough for us.


today, one of the girls pulls me aside. “auntie,” she whispers, “look! i still have it!” opening her hand slowly, she shows me a red heart, folded up neatly in her palm. it’s tattered a bit ‘round the edges, and time and dirt have dulled its color. but she kept it nonetheless:: a tiny paper heart, a promise that i wouldn’t forget.

“i knew you’d come back for us,” she smiles, slipping her free hand into mine. we sit like that for a while, not speaking, a red heart clenched tightly in her fist.


the thing is:: this world needs more tiny paper hearts. all of us, we need to be people who love, deeply. we need to be people who give our hearts away. because your heart? it’s beautiful, simply…beautiful. and i know; that’s a word that gets tossed around a lot, and sometimes, it loses its meaning. but i can think of no other word that fits here, dear heart. yours is rich and full, and it’s got something that this world needs.

i’ve given a lot of paper hearts out over the years, and you know what i’ve learned along the way? love; it’s not for the faint of heart. love’s not always the stuff of movies, sweet and easy and wrapped up neat with a bow. love’s a risky business. you’re giving a piece of yourself away, and that can be a scary thing. what if that other person is careless with your heart and doesn’t cherish it the way he should? what if she takes that tiny paper heart of yours and rips it to a million shreds?


Photo by Soumit // Flickr // Creative Commons

though maybe, just maybe:: she’ll keep that heart and treasure it. maybe he’ll fold it up neatly in the palm of his hand and keep you safe there. 

maybe, just maybe (and i think i’m right about this one):: loving other people is worth it all.

ode to the table

i’ve always known that i’m deeply relational. i crave connection, opening up our hearts and baring our souls, and typically, that happens for me around the table. there’s something about sharing a meal with others that binds you together. the table somehow becomes holy ground, and it’s all i can do to not gulp deep of that sacred air and take off my sandals and bend myself low. people talk at the table, not just formalities and niceties but real, honest, open conversation about how we’re doing, really, and all the things we’ve been too afraid to speak aloud. these; these are the things of substance, of weight, of glory–these are the things that matter.


Photo by Tim Samoff on Flickr; Creative Commons


these days i’m thinking purposefully about the hard things, the questions that don’t have easy answers, spending a lot of time in the gray areas. i don’t want to debate, don’t have time to argue. i’m not interested in keeping score, in who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s in and who’s out. i just want to sit with brothers and sisters at the table, to look past our differences and revel in our common ground, for all of us to forgive one another our flaws and embrace who we are in this, the in-between, the not-yet. our stories are still being written; let’s simply celebrate this chapter, shall we?


lately, i find myself frequently in the thin places. life, seasons, everything–it’s all changing, and i feel wildly unprepared. when i strip away the layers and stare truth in its face, i guess it all comes down to the fact that i’m afraid. afraid of giving up control. afraid of the unknown. afraid of loss, of coming up empty-handed. and i’ve been trying to keep it all inside but then i can’t keep myself from unraveling; and the tears and the stress and the feelings, they all just spill out everywhere. it feels messy; *i* feel messy. and yet:: i consistently am gifted with people who look past the mess and invite me to sit at their table. and there, at the table, i find i can simply be. i can cry and spill and ask the hard questions, without parameters, without rules and regulations:: just me, being who and where i am in this moment, for really, when it comes down to it, this is the only moment that matters.


i dream of sitting at a table in the wilderness, with the misfits, with the messy, with those of us who have wild hearts and dirty hands. when i close my eyes, i can see it:: all of us, welcomed, seated ‘round a slab of unfinished wood, faces squinting in the sunlight, holding hands and looking into each other’s eyes and getting glimpses of on earth as it is in heaven.


“i want you to love with wild and gorgeous abandon, throwing yourself into each day, telling the truth about who you are and who you are not, writing a love song to the world itself and to the God who made every inch of it.

we don’t come to the table to fight or defend. we don’t come to prove or conquer, to draw lines in the sand or to stir up trouble. we come to the table because our hunger brings us there. we come with a need, with fragility, with an admission of our humanity. the table is the great equalizer, the level playing field many of us have been looking everywhere for. the table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed, and we allow ourselves to be nourished, like children…

the table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel. if the home is a body, the table is the heart, the beating center, the sustainer of life and health.

come to the table.”

(quoted from bread and wine by shauna niequist, emphasis mine)

a letter to my future self {or, the days in which i learned to shine}

there will come a day, dear elena, when you’re going to need to read this, to remind yourself that all of life is seasons, and the hard times eventually give way to something soft and quiet, like the air after a summer thunderstorm. you’ll want to remember these days, what it feels like to turn your face to the sunshine, and the stillness in your soul in the midst of the busyness and chaos that swirls around you. you’ll long to hear the laughter of little ones you love that now fills your days, and you’ll remember that though it’s exhausting, you delighted in seeing them grow and thrive and learn. and there’s a contented satisfaction that settles itself in deep in your bones as you realize that you–yes, you–got to play a part in that.

these days, the air is sweet and heavy with possibility, and though it normally drives you crazy to not know where you’re headed, you’ve come to appreciate the joy of the journey. hope pumps itself through your veins again, steady and sure, and i want you always to remember, sweet girl, always remember that you belong to the resurrection people. life is hard sometimes, and you grieve and mourn and every part of you feels the loss. but you’ve come to understand that you’ll always find what was taken from you later on down the road; in a different form, perhaps, a different way; but found nonetheless.

these days, you’re drinking more tea than you used to, which seems like an odd observation, i know. but i remember the days when you needed to drink only coffee, when you needed something hot and bitter and heavy, something of substance, almost as if something in the way you cradled the mug in your trembling hands weighed you down, but in a good way.

but these days–it’s tea, sweet and watery in a chipped china cup, white and dotted with blue flowers. it’s more delicate, somehow, more frail; it’s light and airy and the way fresh feels in your lungs.

these days you’re learning to use your voice, starting to recognize that there is power and force and potential in the words you speak and the words you write out for the world to read. i remember when this used to scare you, the idea of speaking up, speaking out, being loud, but gone are those days. because these, these are the days of coming out of hiding, the days in which you no longer shrink back. i suppose it really all can be traced back to somewhere around your thirtieth birthday, in which you suddenly, almost as if overnight, started to come into who you are, who you’ve been meant to be all along. it happened without you thinking about it; it was quick and certain, and at once you realized:: you’re a person, a voice, a body, a heart and soul, and you started to own that. you began to fit in the freckled skin you wore for three decades, and at long last, there was an ease, a comfort, in which you moved with it that had never been there before.

dear heart, i want you to remember these days. i want you to engrave them on your heart, on the palms of your hands, in that secret place inside your mind that no one else knows about. there is something sacred about the act of remembrance; it calls truth into being, draws upon faith even in the midst of what is unseen. elena, i know; oh, how i know:: life has not always been kind to you. i know your heart’s been scarred and your tears have been many. i know you’ve felt the ache and the weariness of living in the thin place, in the messy-beautiful in-between. and yes, those days might come around again, but the darkness is not your forever. your very name, sweet girl–the essence of who you are which you carry with you always–your name means light.

you were made to shine in the dark places. 


[Photo by Christian Holmer // Creative Commons // Flickr]

only two days ago, you read the scriptures and scrawled out the words of a prayer in your notebook:: “let me shine, Lord. let me shine. set me on fire that all may see me burn.”

these are the days in which you’re shining, and it’s so, so beautiful. and no matter what happens, no matter what tough times or unfortunate circumstances may come your way along the journey–nothing can take that from you. you’ll always remember in your bones the way it feels to shine.  and i know, and i’ve seen:: you always manage to find your way back to the light somehow.

love you forever,

in which my heart knows to make space

i’m usually one who has no problem wearing her heart on her sleeve.

i feel things deeply, always have and probably always will. things of substance and soul tend to captivate me, and if there’s one thing i’ve learned over the years, it’s that these hearts of ours are fickle little creatures, messy and beautiful and glorious and wild.

i can remember a prayer that i prayed once, on a sunny afternoon on my porch in Liberia. i’d just read Isaiah’s words–the second verse of the fifty-fourth chapter, to be exact. enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your curtains wide, do not hold back… i read and i sat with my eyes closed, face turned to the sun, and i made the plea of a prophet into a prayer from the deepest part of me. “stretch my heart wider, God,” i breathed. “stretch me wide.

you see, back then, my days in Liberia were filled with so much need, so many kids, and i didn’t feel big enough to fit it all inside me. the poverty, the death, the injustice, what i saw, what i felt; all of it, it ripped me apart, over and over again. so i prayed a simple prayer, the only thing i knew to do at the time, and after a while, i started to see that prayer answered. it used to feel like my heart was breaking there, but i came to realize it was really just being enlarged, making room for me to love even more. it wasn’t until i wondered how i could fit all those kids inside that i realized this tiny, wild heart of mine had grown and made space–for each of them.

somewhere along the line, though, my heart lost its elasticity. it wasn’t bouncing back the way it was supposed to, the way it used to. each new death, each new loss and case of abuse and question that couldn’t be answered–it just kept ripping me. and then, four years later, i broke. my heart was torn and mangled, and it was bleeding out everywhere.

going home then, i think, became a hospital of sorts. in comfort and the warmth that comes from feeling safe at long last, my heart found the space it so desperately needed to heal. gaping wounds began to close, with time and care, with the prayers of so many who love me so well. and one day, my heartbeat became steady once more. i hadn’t forgotten, but i was also no longer haunted by the memories. it was a good safe easy place to be. and after a long, long period of hard, easy was a welcomed friend.

but as i always say:: if i’m comfortable living an easy story, it makes it impossible for me to live a brave one. so though it took every ounce of faith and guts and grit i had in me, i said yes to a return to Liberia and bought a ticket on a Friday afternoon. i leave in eight weeks. it feels crazy. it feels scary. but it also feels right.

and since then…well, i’ve begun to feel the tearing again, which i can only suppose is my heart’s way of getting itself ready. i look ahead and wonder what it will be like to return. i think about all that i know is waiting for me on the other side of that ocean. and every single day, another piece of this bruised and beating heart of mine comes undone a little bit more at its seams. but this–the tears and the feelings and the words i can’t seem to find, the fear tinged with hope and the butterflies in my stomach and the lump in my throat–this is what preparation looks like. nearly five years later, God continues to answer my prayer. stretch my heart wider, Lord. just when i think i’ve had all that i can take, just when it feels like there’s no more room–suddenly, just like that, there’s space. free, open space.

Photo by Bren // Creative Commons // Flickr

because in eight shorts weeks, i know:: each of those empty spaces are going to be filled.

count the cost

it seems no matter where i turn these days, i can’t get away from three little words:: “count the cost.”

it all started a couple weeks ago, after i read through the gospel of luke. in 14.25-33. Jesus speaks of building a tower and a king going to war, of carrying one’s cross and the act of sacrifice to follow after him. count the cost. 

since then, i’ve been wrestling with this passage, these hard but holy words, chewing on them deliberately, holding them up to the light. in just a few short months, i’ll be taking a trip, the first since the epic unraveling that led to me leaving the missions field. this trip, it’s a big deal for me, in so many ways. missions, Liberia, orphan care: these things, for me, are what following after Jesus looks like. getting my hands dirty and my heart broken–this is the stuff discipleship is made of. it’s grossly uncomfortable and nowhere near easy. count the cost.

Photo by Harry Doyle // Creative Commons // Flickr

yes, i can confidently say i’ve counted the cost. i know what it takes. it’s giving up hot showers and consistent electricity. it’s sleepless nights tossing and turning under a mosquito net. it’s sweat gushing from my pores and feet that never get clean. it’s frequent headaches and an upset stomach and very little in the way of comforts. it’s sensory overload, which is overwhelming for someone like me. it’s being a source of constant scrutiny, of having my every move watched. it’s standing out when i just want to blend in. 

it’s kids who die too soon and no one who mourns them once they’re gone. it’s unfair systems, instability and oppression, and people who deserve so much more. it’s long, tedious days full of overwhelming needs; it’s constantly wondering if what i’m doing makes any difference at all. it’s guilt and shame as my white privilege stares me in the face.

it’s homesickness and loneliness and sometimes feeling like an ancient Israelite, banished to exile. it’s losing friendships due to time and distance. it’s once-promising relationships that don’t work out because i never stay in one place long enough. it’s the fear of being forever single. it’s coming “home” only to discover how different it feels and how i’m not even sure where “home” is anymore. it’s worrying that i don’t measure up to other women my age who seem to have achieved more than i. it’s saying goodbye to financial security; it’s living on faith and the generosity of others. it’s seeing things i’ll never find the words for, and feeling like no one else will ever understand me as a result.

count the cost.

still, even with all this, i can’t help but wonder. maybe following Jesus looks less like keeping with the status quo and more like “a long obedience in the same direction”. maybe it’s less of a ‘normal’ life and more of an upside-down kingdom. maybe it’s heart-wrenchingly hard. but i’m willing to bet it’s worth it.

because this–missions, life, faith, discipleship, struggle, tension, overcoming; it’s the stuff of Jesus’ heart. yes, it’s costly, and yes, the price is high. but me? i’m counting it all joy–for the sake of knowing and loving the One who paid it all anyway.


i was sitting on a blue couch in my counselor’s office when Truth walked into the room.

i’d just spent the last forty-five minutes pouring out my frustration, my sadness, my fear; how sometimes most of the time it feels like i have no idea what i’m doing with my life; and why does it seem like bad things always happen to good people?

i ended my teary rant with a question, though certainly not one i expected an answer to. “so what do i do now?” with the feelings and the circumstances, with the questions, the doubts. with the deadlines and the decisions to be made. with the pressure, the pain, the ache, the lack. what in the world am i supposed to do with it all?

and my counselor was quiet for a really long time, and i knew he was praying about what he should say. finally, he breathed deep and spoke, carefully, thinking about each word before he said it aloud.
for once in your life, elena, i want to see you fight.”

immediately, my defenses went up, and my insides churned hot, because are you kidding me right now? and did he really just say that? and  how. dare. he. see, if there’s one thing i’ve been doing since childhood, it’s been fighting. fighting to make it. fighting to keep going. fighting to pick up the pieces and hold my head high and put one foot in front of the other. i’m a fighter, all right. hell, i’m a survivor, and it’s something i pride myself on, and i had no problem refuting his answer by telling him so.

but that’s not the fighting he was talking about. no, this is different. because it’s one thing to fight to survive, but it’s something else entirely when you make the decision to fight to thrive. i know you know what i’m talking about. we are many, a group of weary soldiers, battle-scarred and heavy-hearted, trudging through the trenches of life. we war and we walk, and at the end of the day, we lay our heads on our pillows and cry, because there’s just gotta be more to life than this.

i see you, brave-heart. i see you. maybe you live most of your days feeling invisible, as if your sacrifice goes unnoticed. you’re not, and it doesn’t. you are seen. i can’t help but remember our sister Hagar, unwanted, left to die in a desert. she met with the divine that day, in the barren wasteland, and as she walked away from that encounter, her heart rejoiced. “she gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me….’ 

i know you. i am you. you are courageous and strong, but oh, you’re also tired. life has been hard to you, perhaps unfair, even a bit unkind. it’s knocked you down, maybe even kicked you while you’re down; and it has hurt, and maybe your wounds are still bleeding even today. but i also know:: you’re a warrior. you’ve gotten back up, brushed yourself off, and kept on keeping on. this, you; it’s the stuff strength + hearts + guts + determination are made of. you’ve got it, dear one. and i applaud you for it today.

but i also want to tell you:: there is another way. it’s one of streams in that desert, blooms in the wilderness. it’s where we stop fighting and instead where we flourish. it’s where we lay down our swords and our shields, where we remove the armor; it’s where the gloves come off. it’s a place where we do more than just survive; it’s a place where we learn to be loved, where we learn to thrive.

                               [Photo by Madlyinlovewithlife / Creative Commons / Flickr]

won’t you come and stay with me a while? rest. wash the dirt + grit from your soul and put your tired feet up for a bit. breathe deep. the air is sweet; gulp it in. the pastures are green, and the water still, and i promise you, soldier; i promise you:: you are safe here.

sara bareilles sings “i wanna see you be brave”, and though i love the sentiment, i’ve already seen that. in the way you get out of bed every morning even though sick kids and financial woes and marital problems kept you up late the night before. in the way you take the second or third job just to make the ends meet. in the way you kneel down in the mess of life and clench your fist and use the last bit of strength you have to pray to the God who seems to have forsaken you.

no, i don’t want to see you be brave. you need not prove your courage to me. i want more for you. i want to see you thrive.

life among the middle parts

it was a two-minute conversation with an innocent five-year old that got me thinking.
“miss elena, are you a mom?”
“nope; i’m just your teacher.”
“but you don’t have kids? are you even married?
“no, i’m not married either.”
(long pause; i could see the wheels turning as this little one tried to process what i’d just said.)
“well, i think you should just get married. and then you can be a mom.”

yeah, kid; join the club.

because a lot of people think that, really; i get it all the time. “you’re so sweet/loving/smart/beautiful.” “it’s only a matter of time until the right guy comes along.” “you are going to be such a great mother one day.” which is all well and good, and thankyouverymuch, sincerely. except what if maybe that’s not going to be my story? 

because let’s be real here. right now, today, my story looks like this: i’m 30. i’m divorced. i’m childless. i’m nowhere near financially secure. i don’t have a retirement plan; heck, i don’t even have a five-year plan. i spend my life being split between two countries and, as a result, i have no idea where i even fit anymore. i struggle with depression and ptsd, and some days i feel on top of the world, and other days i just shut down because i can’t. even. deal, y’all. i spend a lot of time feeling like i’m simply stumbling through this whole life thing, and i have no clue what i’m doing but maybe i might be able to figure it out eventually. these days seem messy, unraveled; it feels like i’m coming apart at the seams, spilling out and spilling over, and i think how in the world did i get here?; how did this, all this, become my story?

Image[Photo by Aaron Escobar, Creative Commons]

but here’s what i know: this, all this, it matters. every single moment of it. even the parts i sometimes wish i could skip over, the parts i want to hide away from the rest of the world. my story matters. and so does yours. and there is life–and life abundant–that springs forth from amongst the middle parts.

i think we so often have grandiose ideas about what our lives should look like. and we hold on to those plans much too tightly, balling them in our fists while we close ourselves off to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, God might be doing a new thing. we have our plans and our timelines, our dreams and our desires, and we clutch them close, so close, terrified that we might be asked to lay them down. the letting go is scary, to be sure, but the promise of something new and better is more than worth it.

and the middle part, where maybe you’re stumbling around as i am, unsure where this is all headed? it’s really not so bad. there are sweet gifts even in this in-between place; you just have to know where to look for them.

(true confession: this post originally began as a tongue-in-cheek rant against valentine’s day and all the well-meaning people who have attempted to console me over the years with “it’s okay, honey; Jesus is your husband.” like, NOJesus is simply enough. but maybe i’ll save that post for another day…)

your words mean more to me when i get to see you speak them

attention, people of the internet; let’s do REALTALK for a moment or two here, okay? pour yourself a drink, settle in for a little bit, and stay with me here. i may not know much about some things, but i’ve learned a lot about knowing people, and something tells me i’m not the only one who’s been feeling this way lately.
i’m weary, y’all. weary of these false connections forged over computers, of the tapping of fingers on a keyboard, of likes + comments + notifications, of reading between the lines and flickering phone screens.

i want more. i want relationships again. i want heart-and-soul connection, ones that are tangible, ones with skin on; i want what’s deep and real and rich and true. i want to memorize the way your hands cradle a cup of hot coffee or the way your lips curve as you spill out your stories and life-lessons in a torrent of emotion and weighty words. i want to see the fire in your eyes, to encounter the God that lives in you. i want your laughter, your tears; i want to create a safe space for you in which we can talk and share and feel and be changed, somehow. i want to hear your heart in full sentences and honest conversation, in inflection and the way we sometimes stumble over the words. i want to listen and be listened to; i want you to walk away and know you were heard. i want us to understand that time is valuable, but so is relationship; and i want us, like Mary, to choose the better thing that it may not be taken from us. i’m so sick of fraudulent emoticons that try and make themselves a substitute for emotional expression, and i’m tired of computer screens and vague facebook posts, of mass emails and group texts and trying to update those who actually care about your life in 140-characters or less. puh-lease. ain’t nobody got time for that, and life is just too. dang. short.

what happened to being a person and not a user name?
what happened to seeking as much as we’re saying, to listening as much as we’re answering?
what happened?

somewhere along the way, i think we got a little lost, or the lines got a bit crossed, and we forgot that there are real, live, actual people on the other side of that screen; people with voices and feelings and stories and struggles, people who want to know and be known and be loved for it anyway.
Image                                            [Photo by Rachael Shapiro, Creative Commons]

the irony of me typing up this blog post on my macbook while i sit solo in a coffee shop filled with people is not lost on me, and i’m the first to admit that technology and online-living in this modern age can be an incredible communication tool. as someone who has many long-distance friendships, sites like facebook and twitter allow me to stay connected, in a way, even to those who are so far from me. and i’m sure many of you can relate.

but even so, there are still times when we need to take a few steps back and get outside in the sunshine, to breathe deep and breathe heavy, to fill our space and time and senses with those who are right-here and right-now, who need us and ache to connect just as we do. we’re all in this thing together, after all, each of us stumbling our way through this crazy-beautiful, messy-glorious thing we call life.

so do yourself a favor and shut down for a little while–shut down and shut off. unplug and reach out. say what you want to say, but say it face-to-face. seek ways to create community, intentionally, through honesty and emotion and one heart to another. catch up over coffee and not a computer screen. be a person, a person who loves people, and watch as you set the world on fire.

because every year is just another chapter in a far greater story that’s still being told

another year–gone. another year of memories and feelings, experiences, lessons learned. another year full of ups + downs, highs + lows, and i look back and i remember and i breathe thanks for each + every moment of it.

twenty-thirteen was one hell of a ride. five days into the new year, i returned to liberia, to life lived in hard places and this messy-beautiful thing called ‘missions’ and ‘ministry’. i taught and i preached and i laughed and i loved. i ached and i held and i cried and i fell apart. i lived. looking back, i think that’s one of sweetest gifts liberia has given me:: the ability to live, fully, in the moment, to suck the marrow and bloom where planted and seek the gifts–because He is good, and everything that comes from His hand is good as well.

this year i embraced change. i walked away from what had become my new normal: round-trip tickets across the ocean, a life lived out of suitcases and plastic bins. i hugged “my” children, sons and daughters not of my womb but most assuredly of my heart, and i told them goodbye. i walked away from needy ones and hungry hearts, with tears in my eyes and arms that felt so very empty. i chose to fight for my well-being, to look grief and trauma square in the eye; i chose to not let it win. i talked about what i’d seen, what i’d felt, what i’d lived through, and it hurt–good Lord, how it hurt. but the hurt eventually gave way to hope: hope that there could be beauty from ashes, healing for the tender places. hope for a new + better story.

this year i saw reconciliation in ways i never thought possible. and i remember praying for that one year ago, and i swallow the lump in my throat as i reflect on the Faithful One. there was closure and i’m sorry’s, and i finally felt the weight on my chest lifted, and oh, it felt so good to breathe again. i realized that sometimes, healing comes in the most unexpected of ways and often looks nothing like we think it will. but it’s better, somehow, because it feels more deep and more true, like it was always meant to be this way all along. and now i can think of what once wounded me and wish it well, and there is such an incredible freedom that comes with it.

this year i learned about grace, about loving the unlovely, about the hard work of making peace and extending mercy. i learned about swallowing my pride and keeping my mouth shut, about being slow to speak and quick to listen. i learned to no longer fear that which looks foreign, that which i cannot yet understand. i learned to embrace mystery, to be content without plans and guidelines and step-by-step directions. i learned that messy can still be holy —because there’s a Jesus who kneels with us in the dirt and grit.

i don’t know what 2014 holds for me yet, and really, i think i’m okay with that. so often, i rush into what’s next, into the new and better thing that’s waiting on the other side of the door. but for now, i just want to pause. i want to sit in what was and what is and celebrate. i want a moment to pay respects, to give a proper goodbye. i want to linger, to remember, to simply hold this year in all its weighty glory before i go turning that next page.

Image                                               [Photo by Martin Marcinski, Creative Commons]

when love looks nothing like you thought it did

in the nine months i’ve been out of liberia, i’ve spoken countless times of the deep ache that comes with saying goodbye. there are moments when i miss liberia and her children so strongly it takes my breath away, where the loss and all the emotions that come with it feel as real and true as the hot blood running through my veins.

i miss liberia. a lot. i miss my kids. a lot. my arms feel empty and my soul split in two, missing its other half that lies an ocean away. 

sometimes my ache consumes me, and sometimes, i forget.
my kids are hurting, too. they’re aching, too. they’re crying, too.

i recently got a few letters from some of the girls in liberia, and what they wrote nearly broke me. “i love you so, so much deep in my heart.” “i will never stop loving you until God takes my life from me.” “when i sit by myself i think about you and cry.” “please come back to me.”

i read their words and feel the tears sting my eyes. i long to gather them into my arms and press my lips to their foreheads and let love like a hurricane somehow heal their heart wounds. i long. oh, how i long.

and though they be but little, their love is fierce, and i smile proudly at the thought. because i can remember a time when feeling was a risk, and emotions were held at bay, and now there is freedom in love, through love. because of love.

because this:: this is what love looks like. it’s tender words that cut sharp as a blade. it’s longing and aching and waiting and missing. it’s grit and guts and mess and heart, and it hurts sometimes, but it hurts because it’s real. it’s brave and it’s furious, and it’s glory because it gives us a glimpse into a kingdom coming to earth. love anything deep and true enough, and it will hurt you. 

but it’s never a wound that can’t be repaired. by Love.
though it injures, it also heals us. it wounds, and then it binds us up. it’s full of mystery and a beauty that is sacred, and it reminds me that the ache and hurt are holy, somehow, even if i cannot understand it.

the answer to love is always more love. always, always more love.

                                                [Photo by Hamed. Al-Raisi, Creative Commons]

someone once said, “find what you love and let it kill you”, and i agree. let it hurt. let it rip that beating heart of yours wide open. let it spill out and spill over and make you get your hands a little dirty.

and then–allow it to heal you the way in which only Love can do.