The mighty marvel of miraculous grace

I’ve been a real doozy lately.

Actually I take that back. I’ve been a real doozy except for a couple of Jesus-y hours on Friday when all of my kids were at school and my schedule was open and the sun was out and it was payday. I was a 21st century Mother Teresa for those two hours, as I often am when I have Vitamin D, cash in my pocket and zero responsibilities. I smile incessantly, even to the very animated driver blowing past me with a finger out his window as I enjoy the slow lane - what passionate bumper stickers you have, fine sir! I giggle at the ferocious dog hoping to devour my ankles as we cross paths along the sidewalk - what a cute little darling! I pick up litter I find in the parking lot - the butt of a Marlboro Red - how retro!

{I don't even think that Jesus picked up litter. I'm just saying.}

So that was Friday. Morning. Before 10am. And then there were all the other times.

Like the time this week that I turned coward with a dear friend and said, “I quit” instead of, “I am struggling.” And the time I rudely declined an invitation of generous hospitality because my Ali-centered agenda would be compromised. Or the time I bitterly returned an unexpected deposit that was mistakenly made into our checking account from a former employer. The time I prioritized vanity, spending longer in front of the mirror than my usual wash-and-go look because of the company I anticipated. All the times I numbed surfacing emotions with food rather than feeling what is hard to feel for the sake of healing. The times I made decisions hoping to garner Ali-attention behind a costume of false-humility.

Then add seventeen more pages to this list and that equals my week. So I guess you could say I’ve been a real treat - quite the poster child for sainthood. Except the opposite of that.

For a whole two hours a week when my life leaves me the heck alone, I'm a delightful peach, and then there are the other 166 hours - when the pressures of life build and instead of smiling, I’m the ferocious dog trying to bite ankles. (Minus when I’m sleeping. I’m a very good Christian when I’m sleeping. So long as my husband’s not snoring and the kids stay in their own beds and I don’t have to get up to pee, ah, never mind.)

I haven’t yet figured out how to align the stressors of my life with those two perfect hours each week, though I’ve tried - oh how I’ve tried. Mostly by making the stressors disappear, but my magic wand must be defective and people sort of frown at you when you forget to pick up your kids from school. So I’m learning that the way to best work through this thing called life is to bring a bit of that Jesus-y stuff into the stress.

At least I can say I tried.

Everyday I wake up, often spending an hour quiet and alone, anchoring my soul with God through prayer and writing. This time gifts me a posture of gratitude as I begin the morning routine, rousing kiddos from sleep and supporting them as they prepare for their day. My before-sunrise ritual breeds a fruitful morning of patience and peace and gentleness. There are a lot of "sweeties" and "honeys" and "it's okay, love, I'll clean it up for you."

EXCEPT NOT LIKE THAT AT ALL.

Oh I get up early alright, and I miraculously find the discipline to spend in silence with my Jesus, journaling and prayer. I so desperately need that sacred space by which to launch myself each morning. But what in the wild world is wrong with me that I launch from hakuna matata and somehow land in CAN EVERYONE PLEASE JUST SHUT UP?  

Not even minutes after I have climbed the mountain of connection with the divine, I am thrusted into the role of chaos conductor in which we forcefully cram one hour into thirty very bossy minutes that feels like fifteen seconds. There is sighing and yelling and huffing and puffing. Eyes roll. Doors slam. Feet stomp. I say "are you kidding me" at least 78 times. It's all very not patient nor peaceful, and it leaves me begging “Why must gentleness even be a virtue to obtain?” Really God, gentleness? Surely that was a typo.

By the end of the first hour of the morning, I'm a complete asswipe. Whatever serenity now met me before the sun came up is instantly erased when my soft whisper, "Good morning, it's time to get up" is met with, "MOM TURN OFF THE LIGHTS AND GO AWAY I HATE EVERYONE." 

And yet by some miracle of God, my kids still walk out the front door 30 minutes later no longer yelling. They speak kindly to me and form the words "I love you" as they head to the bus stop. THEY TELL ME THEY LOVE ME OH MY GOD HOW?

And it's not just the kids. Each morning after I've already sprinted through a marathon of disgrace, the husband pulls me into his big shoulders and squeezes me small (which is not easy to do thanks to donuts), and he softly speaks I love you as he kisses my forehead. 

What in the what is happening?

I don’t even know how to walk one inch without stepping in my own stink and yet somehow I don’t smell like pig crap (wait, I don't, do I?) I’m a royal basket case and these people, they love me anyway. Or maybe I've bred a family of liars, but the consistency of the "I love yous" has me convinced that there really is a miracle at work in my house each and every doggone day. I don't deserve these humans but here they are, so full of love for this mess of a mom and wreck of a wife. Something supernatural must be unfolding for them to really love this doozy of a woman.

No matter how hard I try, I can't get that Jesus-y stuff to stay on just right. But that's just it. The mighty marvel of grace is that Jesus shows up anyway. What an extraordinary phenomenon - the glorious goodness of amazing grace picks up the lousy litter and swine manure of my broken life and shows up big, bright and bold in spite of me. Now that's Jesus-y! And that is grace, y'all!

First day of school 2018, at the bus stop. Grace upon grace upon grace upon grace.

First day of school 2018, at the bus stop. Grace upon grace upon grace upon grace.

RAMBLER - your new favorite {play} mat

I'd love for you to check out my cousin's INNOVATION. Technically it's my cousin's wife's innovation but I don't like technicalities so we are calling her my cousin. Actually her name is Lacey. Anyway, Rambler is a play mat that stays flat. It is a brilliantly basic concept, and because of Lacey's keen eye for aesthetics, Rambler is brilliantly beautiful as well.

Real people (not actors) enjoying Rambler. Their names are Lacey and Baby.

Real people (not actors) enjoying Rambler. Their names are Lacey and Baby.

The mat opens to provide a soft, round surface area that does not bunch and scrunch when one sits, lays or steps on it. Rambler was a spark of creative genius born from discouragement and frustration with every mom's car-trunk go-to: the what's-even-the-point flimsy blanket. Why spread a blanket across the floor if it insists on eating up your tiny delicious baby?

The baby-eating blanket monster eating my cousin’s baby.

The baby-eating blanket monster eating my cousin’s baby.

Let me tell you why I love this mat:

It works. We have four kids and have traipsed our Rambler all across the state of Ohio - baseball games, camping trips, backyard bonfires, swimming pools. No matter what, it is where my kids gravitate because the mat is always perfectly flat and exactly where they left it. 

My whole world on a Rambler mat.

My whole world on a Rambler mat.

It is durable, soft, and easy to clean. We are not precious about our Rambler. It has been in the dirt, mud, sand, concrete. It has been stepped on, spilt on, messed on, and peed on (apparently Billy Madison was right - it's cool to pee your pants.) No matter how badly we muck it up, it always returns to like-new because it is machine washable and easy to wipe clean.

Rambler and toddler wipe clean.

Rambler and toddler wipe clean.

The fabric is some sort of fancy threading that feels like the fur of a newborn bunny (You guys, chill out, it's not baby bunny fur. I looked it up. It's a brushed polyester blend. So there.)

Brushed polyester blend, otherwise known as really freakin’ soft.

Brushed polyester blend, otherwise known as really freakin’ soft.

It's convenient. Rambler magically opens to over 4 feet wide and easily closes to a small, lightweight diameter of 18" that fits into a generously roomy carry bag. Closing the Rambler is strangely enjoyable and will make you feel like David Copperfield. 

Lacey, somewhere over the rainbow, with Rambler in its carry bag.

Lacey, somewhere over the rainbow, with Rambler in its carry bag.

Here's why I want you to consider this product: It is wonderfully functional for kids AND adults of all ages. It's perfect for the tiny newborn who is too tender to make contact with the dirt; it is ideal for young kids who exhaust their parents by thinking that picnics are fun; and it's a stylish and luxurious mat for adults who like wine and cheese or in my case, Diet Coke and Fritos.

Also, Rambler needs to be your go-to baby/toddler gift (admittedly, the price point is high BUT so worth it - go in on this gift with a couple friends - IT WILL NOT DISAPPOINT.) As a mother of four, I do not exaggerate when I type this: at least half of everything I received for my newborns was unnecessary. The swings, bouncy seats, musical playmats (why God), mobiles, genies, gadgets and gizmos - at least half of the gear I never needed. And probably a quarter of what I received, I never used - not even once. Scouts honor, Rambler WILL NOT be that gift. Rambler is such a great buy for new and seasoned mommas (and dad's too - my cousin Jordan can rock a Rambler - he’s a natural.)

Also a real person (not an actor): my cousin Jordan with Baby, rocking the Rambler.

Also a real person (not an actor): my cousin Jordan with Baby, rocking the Rambler.

Here's the deal. Lacey has launched a kickstarter campaign to take this product to the next level. You can buy the mat right now online for $109* (I promise, you get what you pay for with Rambler - high quality and a gazillion uses) AND/OR you can support her kickstarter campaign with one of three pledge levels, each that includes one of three various Rambler sets (the $69 pledge level is an absolute steal).

*Oh, what’s that? You want a discount code. Coming right up. Use Ali15 at checkout for 15% off your RAMBLER!!! Thanks for the love, Lacey.

Everyday I’m Ramblin’.

Everyday I’m Ramblin’.

I am sharing this with you because 1) I love Lacey. She's kinda awesome and by kinda awesome I mean my cousin married way up and our family is better for it. Sorry Jordan. 2) I genuinely love this product. I don't leave home without it. I am such a fan and you will be too. Pinky promise. 3) I really want the new Rugged mat in CLAY - so please, let's do this y'all. Let's make this happen so that I can have my Rugged Clay mat and we can have a baby-eating blanket monster burn party while we sit on our baby-bunny-soft Ramblers and eat Fritos.

I couldn’t resist another picture of tiny Forest, I mean, the Rambler.

I couldn’t resist another picture of tiny Forest, I mean, the Rambler.

(This is not a sponsored post. I mean it when I say that I love this product and its creator. It's with joy that I share my Rambler experience with you - check it out and pass it on.)

Don’t forget the discount code Ali15 for 15% off your RAMBLER.

Rambler Kickstarter Campaign HERE.

Follow Rambler on Insta!

Mama's got a brand new bag.

IMG_0227.jpeg

About a month ago my parents gave us a hand-me-down chair with matching ottoman (over half of our house is my parents' house 15 years ago.) The chair-ottoman combo has been sitting in our makeshift storage facility (the garage) for weeks, waiting for me to move things around upstairs so we could make the new-to-us furniture work in our bedroom. Naturally the cats think the combo belongs to them, as if I would give a cat an ottoman, of all things. "Look at us, all sprawled out on this chair AND ottoman - we sure do know how to use an ottoman, can't you see." They say this with their short-leg syndrome arrogance every time I come through the garage, and I always give them an eye roll that makes it very clear that they do not know what they are even talking about. That is not proper ottoman usage, dumb cats. I'm sure my eye roll communicates this perfectly well because one of them, whichever one is having his turn side sleeping on said ottoman, gives me the side eye and then rolls over for his seventh inning stretch, misjudging his size and falling right off and onto the cement. "Exactly" I laugh, as he clearly just made my point. Idiots.

So this morning after getting the kids to school, I walked upstairs and into our bedroom and voila! there sat the chair and matching ottoman. It was angled in the corner - like a very good and proper chair should be - inviting me to put my own darn self in time out for once, nuzzled between our most south-facing window (Vitamin D, be my boyfriend) and my very naughty plant named Rizzo. She's a majesty palm and a total snob. Very demanding, that one. "Water me. Now. Not so much! Prune my ends. Geez, you don't have to be so aggressive with the shears. Who taught you to use scissors? Leave my bangs alone. Who me - stuck in the 80s? Oh, the nerve." She's a total chore (did I mention she wets the carpet?) But she gifts us fresh air and such a beautiful shade of green, so I let her stay. And now she has company - competition even - that hand-me-down chair is just so right in that corner. You better make some room, Rizzo, Mama's got a brand new bag.

As I was saying, Matt brought in the chair - and ottoman (my legs aren't that short, thankyouverymuch), and I'm just so tickled - not just that the hubs is hunky and beefy and schleps furniture around our house without so much as a ding on the wall, but that he moved the chair without me asking him to move it. Better yet, he moved it without me NAGGING him to move it. That’s the real win here. You see, I speak three languages fairly exclusively: English, Sarcasm and Nag. So the fact that the chair moved into our bedroom, into the coveted corner that I prepared for it, and not once did I have to use my native tongue - it's truly miraculous. It's like we are mind readers -  the hubs and I.

I'd say that's a testament to our incredible marriage - that we have become the couple that reads each others' minds - but strangely all other evidence points to that not being exactly true. Just the other day I was livid - completely irate - because of something he said. Technically, it was something I heard him say, but let's not get carried away with semantics. Anyway, I was all cold and pissy and grumpy - a real treat - and I was just waiting for him to take notice and beg ferociously for mercy by gifting me with a venti Starbucks and one of those I-have-the-best-wife facebook posts (even though he doesn’t use facebook - what can I say, I’m a visionary.) But get this - he didn't even know I was upset. He was just going about his business like it's freakin' Disneyland around here. Meanwhile I'm melting into a puddle of smoking green goo and attempting to level my rage by consuming all the contents in our pantry. Fast forward to later that day when I couldn't take it any longer and it just came spilling out, "I'm still upset about earlier." To which he sort of chuckled as if I was about to tell the punchline to a joke, "About earlier? What happened earlier?" So this is how it's going to be, huh? Alright then. So I spelled it all out - his crime against my sanity. Then he looked at me quite cluelessly - or was that concern - as if I was being irrational - me! of all people - as if his gentle expression could really diffuse the predicament he got us into, and in that calm rational voice he always uses at the worst times, he said, "But you misheard me. I didn't say that." Excuse me, what? You didn't say that? What do you mean you didn't say that? But that's what I heard you said. You mean to tell me that I just spent the last hour inside a bag of potato chips planning my revenge all because of something you didn't actually say? Well. Well. Well. That was a big fat waste of sodium and calories.

I wish I could say that this particular instance was the only time we've had such a miscommunication. I wish I could say that such momentary hearing loss has never before sent me down a rabbit hole of google searches that start with "how to" and end with "hurt husband without him finding out." I wish I could just read his damn mind and skip over the acting a fool part of this thrilling life chapter called marriage. Why is it that the only time I know what he is thinking is when it comes to what entree to mark for him on a wedding RSVP or whether or not he's going to want to watch a period war film or Juno (spoiler: it’s never Juno). Sure, we can read each others' minds all day long when it comes to clearing out the garage and what future meals we'll eat and date night movie selection, but when it comes to actual words coming from his mouth as I'm standing three feet from his face, nope, I got nothing. 

I guess you could say I can be a wee bit hyper and a tad bit jumpy when it comes to the communication portion of this spousal arrangement. I really want to be the wife who is kind and understanding and gracious. I think those types exist - in real life, even! And I can be those things, certainly not all at once - I'm not a show off, it just takes me some time to get there - usually a couple days, a week at most. I just need space to sit and sift and sort, to move through the crazy and find the less crazy. I need a grown up timeout - put this baby in a corner - preferably a comfy spot with fresh air and great sun. Come to think of it, I know just the chair.

For the forgotten, on Mother's Day.

A lousy excuse for an auditorium full of the least, lost and leftover. As the hundred-plus women crossed the threshold usually bound shut by a steel gate, I immediately grew heavier. You would too if an otherwise empty room suddenly filled with stories of loose-fisted boyfriends, botched abortions, rape covered up as prostitution because 'bitch, you said you needed smack,' and babies who never made it home from school because children services met them at dismissal. The women filed in for lunch, carrying with them broken cigarettes shoved down dollar store brassieres, second-hand purses filled with empty wallets and near-empty liquor bottles, plastic bags for closets, and shame the size of Texas.

I mustered up all the Jesus joy I could and met them with open arms.

In return, they met me with the pungent odor of stale urine, little eye contact and hesitant smiles.

Every year my mom, sister and I serve at a local ministry's Mother's Day Brunch, serving, pampering and loving over 100 women, most of whom know the streets better than they know the inside of any four-walls.

And every year God takes all my white-collar rich-girl privileged-theology BS and shows me what he really meant when he said, I have come to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, to set the oppressed free. (Luke 4:18)

As I carried fruit punch, hot coffee, and full plates to my table of women, I watched the love of God overwhelm in spite of my looming judgment.

"I want one with a bigger strawberry," she confronted me as she pushed her plate back into my hand. "Everyone else got big strawberries and my strawberry is small."

{Is this really happening? I thought you were homeless.}

"Well, I can try and get you a plate with a different strawberry but I'm going to have to wait in that long line of servers who are also waiting to get plates for their tables."

She stared at me, her way of saying, I don't care - that's your problem.

The one seated to her left came to my rescue, "Take your damn plate and stop giving this woman a hard time."

I set the plate back down and moved on, internally shaking my head and wondering how close I had come to my first street fight. All because of a piece of fruit.

I nearly fell over when five minutes later, after all the plates had been served, one of the chefs was stopping by the tables handing out heaps of leftover strawberries. With my chin to the floor, I watched as my strawberry diva was served a mound of the delectable red fruit.

No freaking way did God just do that!

I met the fierce wave of humility as God reminded me just how much he adores these women - his intimate provision for them putting my pride and entitlement in its place. All I could do was laugh.

I found a seat next to another woman, likely my age, wearing three sweaters, a scarf and a head wrap. It was 70 degrees outside but I guess it only makes sense that the easiest way to carry all you have is to carry it on your back.

I tried to make conversation, "How many kids do you have?"

"Three. Two boys and a girl. But they all grown now."

"Grandchildren?"

"I got nine. The oldest is 21. My daughter gave me him when she was eleven. We ain't never got along - me and my daughter. She so bad. They tried to get me for her and that baby but I wouldn't let them take him, he my grandbaby and it wasn't my fault that damn girl couldn't keep her legs shut."

She was chatty now, "The daddy never in the picture. Prison. Serial killer. I fought my daughter for bringing us all into that mess."

I stopped trying to process. I wasn't sure if I needed to cry or vomit. I sat frozen. I swallowed the bitter disbelief that this was her actual life that she was sharing with me.

"I'm so sorry," I muttered.

I sat unacknowledged. She began making a bed for herself on the bench we shared as she mumbled something about needing to rest her arm. She had spent lunch spiking her fruit punch with a clear liquid she pulled from her purse; it seemed that its effects were taking their toll.

That afternoon I returned to the comforts and safety of my home, the love and confidence of my family, unable to imagine where or by what means the women I had just hugged goodbye would find shelter for the night.

And God, in His wisdom, drew me to His Word. The verses that first gave us life and purpose as women.

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 

Scripture continues, giving equal power and purpose to this perfect and fresh creation. And it was good. (Genesis 1:27-31)

I read and weep. The original plan - his perfect intention - for us to be equal, divinely imprinted with the likeness of our majestic creator. We were never created for oppression, to be stifled and belittled, domineered and shoved aside.

What happened, God? What happened to your creation? We were created with strength, equality, and loving purpose. However did we get here?

I wept and screamed and breathed and grieved and prayed, that we don't know a better world for our daughters because the darkness that set in with the serpent's tease destroyed the glorious beauty of that first Eve.

What I wouldn't give to go back among those women, squeezing fierce their cheeks in my hands, demanding their eyes meet mine, with the words of a Father who wouldn't stand for the story of a broken creation.

I can't make this right, and I can't find the sense in it, but I can promise you, with all my might, I can promise you that there is a plan for you, oh beautiful one, there is a mighty plan, and it starts with Jesus. 

Just find him, find him in this hell on earth, and hold on, don't let go for one second, just clamp down on his hand, precious one. I don't know the first thing about this life you've lived or those steps you've walked, but I know that there is more than enough love and grace and mercy to hold you up, my darling sister. 

Oh how I begged with God. I want abundantly more for my sisters - abundantly more restoration, redemption, healing, wholeness. Lord, please. Please hear our cries.

I close my eyes, and I begin to let go of my dreams, allowing my heart to fill vivid with the faces of those who have forgotten how to dream, and I pray a prayer that only One can answer.

 

My Easter Prayer

Friends - We are a week from Easter and my heart is stirred. Truth be told, the stirring began weeks ago - something about the intentionality of Lent that always leads my heart to softening.

But today was the first day that I allowed the pace of my days to slow long enough to hear God's voice in what otherwise felt like a bubbling up from within.

I confess, I was surprised at what God had in store for me not because of God but because of me. Too often, when I sense God is speaking to me, I assume He wants to say something to me about me when in reality He wants to uncover something more to me about HIM.

As was the case today. As I allowed myself to be still, I began to better find HIM and HIS heart.

And in His mighty glory and grace, I was reminded that He is preciously and mercilessly longing to be restored with those who are far from Him. (Ezekiel 33:11, 2 Peter 3:9) God is heartbroken for those who do not know Him. And in His grace, He began to break my heart for those as well.

God's timing is ever so sweet - bringing me to this place at the start of this week. It's as if God is saying - Ali! Most of the world knows about Easter Sunday but they still don't know me! 

It's a fascinating reality. That every store in America (and beyond) are full of joyous reminders of the new life we find in Jesus and yet we are surrounded by so very many who don't really know Jesus. I can't help but ask, Will we celebrate in vain? I can't help but pray wholeheartedly for those who do not know our precious Savior and King.

And so, as we move through this holy week, I encourage you to pray for those who are lost, those who are broken, those who are least.

Maybe God is leading you to invite someone to join you at church on Sunday morning. Maybe God is leading you to serve your church knowing we find many more guests in her seats. Maybe God is leading you to simply fall to your knees, empty and open, allowing Him to fill you up in such a way that you better know His everlasting love.

May God lead you this week, to Him and to His heart. And may you find yourself living in faith as you step out for the sake of more joining His Kingdom for eternity.

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’" Then they remembered his words.

Luke 24: 1-8

The prayer I soon regretted.

Just as soon as I prayed it, I wanted to take it back. Jesus, humble me.

Here’s what happens when you pray that prayer:

  • You will have to run your shoeless daughter across your lawn so that she catches the bus she almost missed (your fault). You will still be in your pajamas, the ones with a huge tear in the butt, while every single one of your neighbors is now running late to work because they are having to wait for the bus that is waiting for your shoeless daughter and you in your ripped butt pjs.
  • You will run into a blind person at the store because you were not looking where you were going. He will be using his cane to guide him closely along the side of the aisle however you, though not blind, are too half-brained to pay attention.
  • You will overbook and overlook your schedule so that you miss meetings that you reschdeduled because you previously missed them.
  • Your clothes will tighten.
  • Your budget will tighten.
  • You will drop things and they will shatter.
  • You’ll excitedly discover idiotproof recipes such as 7 can soup (you don’t even have to drain the cans!) and you’ll manage to use the wrong 7 cans and your husband will politely eat the soup in silence while kindly and awkwardly smiling at you when you look to see if he’s eating it.
  • You will take your son on a bike ride and you will lose him and you will have to call the park ranger and tell him that you lost him and you will find your son playing on the playground never even phased by the fact that the entire park was looking for him.

Look, humility is a gift. It is such a wonderful gift. True pure humility – the real deal, it gives room for so much Jesus and there really is nothing better than Jesus except so much Jesus.

But praying for humility is like praying for hard. Praying for humility will produce moments of sheer suckiness. It will involve tears. It will involve swallowing pride that you didn’t even know existed – big fat ugly hard-to-swallow pride.

As I maneuver through some challenging spaces in my life, I have been heavy hearted by this prayer – the prayer for humility. I know deep down that it’s exactly where I need be focused in my dialogue with God. But I wasn’t prepared for humility’s teacher - humiliation. In my twisted self-focus, I was imagining that a prayer for humility would lead to a day when I’d wake up soft-spirited, gentler and less sassy. In my lack of humility, I expected I’d come out of this prayer and everyone would be all, “That Ali, she’s so humble.” Instead I’m literally face-to-face with my ego staring back at me, and lemme tell ya, she’s a jerk who can’t even cook 7 can soup.

In love, God’s allowed me to stumble about these last couple of weeks. Though it hasn’t been fun, it has been good. And here’s why: Joy.

Whereas normally I would encounter an embarrassing moment and feel shame, I have passed through these moments quite hysterically.

Legit - I can’t stop laughing at myself.

It’s as if God has allowed me to experience a greater sense of who I really am (not God) while simultaneously experiencing His delight in me.

I am literally falling flat on my face and while the horror of knowing the whole world just watched me make an ass of myself is only a few short inches from my nose, I manage to roll over and bust a gut because there I am, facedown before a God who loves me.

Joy.

Crazy, wonderful, stupid-great joy.

Jesus has swooped in and filled otherwise shame inducing situations with the covering of his abundant love and grace – and I am reveling in that. I am walking around running into blind people with my too-tight underwear showing at the bus stop, and can’t you see? It’s a total riot.

Look, this is only the beginning. This prayer is heavy because I’ve taken stock of my greatness and realized I think I’m a bit too great. I don’t know how to rid myself of that other than to ask God to humble me.

For now, it looks a bit I Love Lucy tragic. I am grateful to be in the slapstick comedy portion of the journey though I might not be laughing at myself much longer. I suspect this journey is going to take me into the depths of my heart, exposing the areas that have been rotting for too long.

Until then, enjoy a few laughs at my expense and if you have a good soup recipe, make it yourself and give it to my husband. Heaven knows I'd only screw it up.

The next chapter.

There's really only one place where I feel completely comfortable sharing my true self with others and that's in writing. I'm guessing most people don't get that. Except other writers, of course.

Nine months ago I embarked on a project that consumed my life, invading every empty nook and vacant cranny of the chaos otherwise known as my life. Throughout the project, if you had asked me what I was working on, I might have told you, "Oh, you know, I'm busy with some stuff and stuff."

Only in writing might I have told you the truth.

I've been writing a book.

Nine months ago a friend invited me to contribute to a project, and while I knew from the beginning that said project was writing a book, what I didn't know was what writing that book would do to me.

Writing is my love. Words are my deepest lust. The invitation to write alongside a friend was and is a gift to my entire being. Yet it's also proved to challenge my relationship with my beloved words. It's one thing to flirt with ideas and vocabulary, dancing shyly around the room through playful laughter.

But when those words infiltrate your everyday rhythms, like any marriage, it gets hard.

Many nights I went to bed giving my once faithful hobby the cold shoulder, how dare it fail me - deadlines and edits forcing the ugly to surface.

There's no kiss-and-make-up with writer's block.

But guess what? Like the joy of meeting one's newborn child overrides the pains of birth, the delight of meeting one's published book overshadows the difficulties endured in the writing process.

It's worth it.

It's a gift.

It's grace.

It is with absolute gratitude that I announce the completion of my first published work. Only God could weave together this project that has become incredibly dear to my heart.

Not only was it an honor to write alongside a beautiful friend, but I have been overwhelmed by the grace of God that stretched and sustained me throughout the journey.

And now, with the challenges behind me and completion at my door, I am renewed in my commitment to writing. This recent project has left me wanting more.

I don't know what that means exactly. For now, I suppose my intention is to more consistently engage my blog. I'm turning my wheels and filling my notebooks with a heart more deeply connected with my true self.

Though don't ask me to expand on that. Until, of course, I'm ready to write it.

Click here to order your copy of SOULHEARTED: Daily Truths for the Longing Soul.

Book Photo

He protects.

Written before I left Papua New Guinea, I chose not to publish this until I left the country. My Mom recently told me that my Dad hasn’t said much since I’ve been gone. I know his silence means he is worried. I didn’t want to fuel his angst.  It’s not safe here. I’m told I can’t walk alone, it’s best to have a national with me, and never ever set down my purse. “Place it across your body and keep it tucked under your arm.”

Daily we venture across town in Sharon’s 4Runner, and each time I’m told, “If I see anything funny, I’m gunnin’ it. Let’s hope there aren’t any people in the way.” If you live here long enough, you’ll have your own story about the “rascals” who staged a street blockade, placing logs across narrow sections of road with the intent to stop traffic, overtake vehicles and steal from passengers. Machetes are always involved.

I knew this coming here. For months I’ve been on the other side of the middle-of-the-night text messages: “They are throwing rocks at my roof again.” Just a week before my arrival, Sharon text me, “Two men jumped the fence onto our property. Martha heard them and turned on her alarm. They ran but we know they are watching us closely. Pray for our protection.”

The properties on this small missionary compound are all fenced in with double-bolted doors, barred windows, and fierce guard dogs. A crop of banana trees belonging to a neighbor have provided quick access for the “rascals” to climb and jump the fence. By God’s grace, the neighbors agreed to cut back their precious trees. This missionary team is now looking into the installation of a taller fence topped with barbed wire.

I ask Sharon if there’s any chance someone might try and harm the dogs who serve as the greatest protection (Papua New Guineans don’t have pets, and they are especially afraid of dogs.) She tells me, “There have been incidences of poison.” Constant barking makes for sleepless nights, but I’d rather be tired than hear silence.

Sharon tells me that 18 months ago when she arrived in PNG, it wasn’t as bad. But recent rival tribes that behave like gangs, flexing their cultural muscles with machetes and makeshift guns, have increased what danger there already was for a single white woman living here.

Most assure me that the rascals don’t want me, they just want my stuff. I am a white skin, a target always on my back that says, “I’m rich.” But Martha, the missionary who has been here for over 30 years, isn’t as reassuring. She tells of the decline in safety that she has continued to experience. Nightly she and Sharon walk their dogs together. It’s their way of saying to the neighbors - don’t mess with us. The women train their dogs to attack men, praising them for growling and barking at passerbys.

I tell Martha that it feels like imprisonment. This gorgeous South Pacific island town and yet the wisest way to enjoy it is locked inside an SUV with a full tank of gas. Martha affirms what I observe. Martha spends her weekends 20 minutes north of town off the coast of a nearby resort with the best safety reputation. She’s an avid snorkeler, and though she lights up when you ask her about fish, I know snorkeling allows her moments of independence and freedom not afforded to her in the city.

I must say, the people I met during my 10 days in PNG - the nationals - they were all so incredibly kind - every single one of them. From the moment I landed in the country’s capital, wonderful people reached out to help me. The airport security woman who assisted me when I was alone and somewhat lost upon my arrival in PNG, met me at my recent departure and said, “I am going to miss you, Ali. We are best friends now. I am making you a gift. I am sorry it is not done yet. I promise to finish it and get it to you.” SHE IS AN AIRPORT SECURITY GUARD I MET ONE TIME. Yet she embodies the heart of the majority of these precious Papua New Guinea souls.

Like all cultures, there are a few bad apples in PNG. The depravity in this culture, the corrupt justice system, the lack of civilization - it all breeds desperation. Mixed with a few bad seeds, excess alcohol and men who carry machetes as part of their livelihood, and it’s no wonder a dog breeder can get away with selling german shepherds for $1200 (USD) in a country where most people live on less than a dollar a day.

The irony of this place is that the villages pose the greatest health threats with their jungle diseases and parasites and yet they offer the greatest personal safety. Village life breeds a sense of community unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. But densely populate an urban area with those same people, from their diverse villages and rivaling cultures, and that’s when problems occur.

As I reflect on this place and these missionaries, I am reminded of two things: 1) They are here because of the desperation. The people of PNG need Jesus - it is so incredibly obvious. Their ancient belief systems engage witchcraft and sorcery, a ripple of demons throughout this culture that is palpable. 2) But God. These beautiful missionaries have followed God right into the middle of this darkness. They live squarely in the middle of God’s protective angel army. Though the battle is fierce, God remains God. His Presence is woven throughout PNG - its precious people gradually reflecting what is already evident in the majestic splendor of the countryside.

Papua New Guinea is not alone. All around the globe, dark places pose great threats to human life. And all around the globe people are giving up their safety, their comforts and their freedoms of speech and religion to live among the darkness so that one day every precious soul may know the love of Jesus. Pray for them. Pray for the native people in these countries. Pray for the missionaries who have left behind statistics of safety to live in danger. Pray for them. Support them. Visit them (Yes, visit them - I have never felt more protected by God as I did this last week.) Love them - love and pray for them all.

**For those of you worried about our dear sister, Sharon, let me also say this - The longer she is there, the safer she is. The more nationals that she befriends, the greater the hedge of protection around her. Her neighbor is a 30-year-old missionary who was born in PNG. Though she is a single white woman, no one dares harm her because she is so well respected by so many nationals. And the agency that Sharon serves is a good agency. They are a beautiful mix of expats and nationals and they have a wonderful reputation in the area. They are taking good care of our gal. Sharon is strong, faithful, and resting in the center of God’s Will for her life. Keep up the prayers - they are sustaining her.**

Jesus told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” Luke 10:2-3

Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:25

He makes us family.

From the moment the smooth dirt rises to meet the souls of my shoes, my heart beats different. I know I’m the same person here, but the peace of home washes over me for the first time since I left my gravel driveway in the sticks. Mawan village, we are family now. Mama is the first to greet me. She carries the shoulder strap of a handmade bilum, a woven bag made from plant reeds, and she stretches the straps over my head, placing the bag around my neck. Another woman approaches me with the same gesture, my neck now adorned with two gifts from my now family. The women position the bilums so that each one can be equally displayed across my body, their respective colors and patterns uniquely beautiful. The bilums fall upon me in such a way that each one lies across the curves of my chest and we all laugh at the comedy of my bilum bra.

For the next hour, Mama parades us around her village. I can’t tell if she is more proud to show us her village or to show her village us, but either way, she is beaming. At each stop we hug the women tightly while dodging spit from the Betel nut they constantly chew. Lips and smiles stained red from buai, the combination of ingredients they add to the bitter nut that creates blood-red juice they don’t dare swallow. Only the youth maintain relatively white teeth.

The longer we stay in Mawan, the larger the mob of children that engulfs us. They giggle when we smile, many shyly reach out to touch our skin. Many of the babies look on with panic, burying their heads in their mommas, wailing in fear at our sight. Without electricity, mail service, or Internet, there is no means by which many of these young children have ever seen a white person. We are the first. The brave ones run to us and weave their small brown fingers into our own. Others excite at the idea, joining in the hand holding. We soon run out of fingers.

We come to the center of the village - a school, an aid post and a trading store. As we approach the dirt-floor school, each of its four rooms reminiscent of a park shelter, I immediately feel sorry for the teacher as I realize the havoc we wreak on an otherwise orderly classroom. The children sit shoulder to shoulder along the ground, their stares, giggles and squeals now a cacophony of noise. We sneak away before I learn how the teachers discipline the disorderly.

We return to the bamboo hut that Mama calls home. The haus cook (house cook - kitchen) stands independently. Women and children have gathered in and around, their noses telling them what I was too overwhelmed to realize: lunch is ready. Mama escorts us to a small folding table with two plastic chairs. We are the first to be served. After our plates are loaded high with rice, sweet potato, chicken, and green leaves - all soaked in coconut milk - the others begin to fill their plates. They sit along the ground and makeshift benches; we are the only ones offered chairs. Mama won’t eat until we finish. She tells us that she cannot. Though we don’t understand the cultural honor she has bestowed upon us, we accept.

The newest addition to Mama’s section of the village is a lik lik haus (little house - the bathroom). Inside the small bamboo shelter, a deep hole centers the dark room. For us, they have fastened a toilet seat to four table legs and positioned it over the hole. Mama tells us that the lik lik haus has been fastened shut until this moment - they have been saving it for us. I am the one to christen it, an honor I awkwardly accept.

After lunch I am told that the young women will take the dishes down to the water to be washed. I insist on helping, and they finally oblige. Mama fills up a ratty, tattered sack with the soiled dishes and places the strap around my forehead, the weight of the bag hanging down my back. Even the youngest carry immense loads using this method - many mommas carrying their young in bilums hanging from their foreheads.

The path to the water is rugged yet defined. Three women and children already at the water look up and laugh at my arrival. They begin the chatter of Tok Pisin with Mama, I assume she explains why the large white skin is among them. Before we reach the water, Mama pulls leaves from a nearby plant, shredding them into thin grass strips. She wads them together and hands me the nature-made scrub brush.

She pats a rock indicating where I can sit. I squat and the rock’s rugged edges cause immediate discomfort. I remove the stone that Mama placed on the stack of dishes now in the water and immediately the plates begin to float downstream. Mama and I scurry to catch the floating valuables as I now realize the crucial role of the heavy stone.

I scrub. Next to me a momma washes clothes while a young naked boy splashes between the rocks, occasionally remembering my presence with a shy smile and thick giggle. The women chatter. I don’t know what they say but I know they spend their days here, joined together to wash dishes, clothes and selves.

On our way back from the water, a young boy, maybe six years old, scurries up a tall thin tree carrying a knife between his teeth. He begins severing the stems of Betel nut from the treetop. To my untrained eye, the tree is identical to a coconut tree. Two more boys stop to greet us, both with machetes in hand and slingshots looped around their foreheads. I realize that no age is too young to contribute to the survival and sustenance of the village.

As the hot fierce sun marks our imminent departure my emotions begin their fight. A day in the bush nearly over and I want more. My soul scattered throughout this jungle village, how will I ever leave?

But it is time. The young family escorting us back to town must catch the last return bus. The jungle mountain roads prove too treacherous for two white meris (white women), this precious family joyfully offers to be our escorts in and out of town. It is an hour journey each way, and they do it twice over. I don’t know how to show my gratitude but I am assured it is their privilege.

As we begin our goodbyes, I squeeze the women, wrapping my soft arms around their small frames and I feel their strength. My heart humbles at our differences. Like the varied colored threads of the bilum I now carry over my shoulder, we are uniquely different yet woven forever together. I wrestle with God that oceans divide us, the travel between us nearly impossible.

As we drive away my mind replays the beauty I traveled today. The village a life I would never have imagined for myself, and now I can’t imagine my life without it. I want its power to move me closer to the earth and farther from the world. I want my village family and biological family to share in the joy I now know from being one, a glimpse into our eternal home.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. 1 John 3:1

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. Ephesians 2:19-20

He radiates: You are worth it.

What no one tells you about Bible translation is that the closer these faithful soldiers get to completing a translation, the more unbearably awful it gets. And not because the editing and publishing process is so grueling (it is). Rather the closer these heroes get to completion the more intense the disaster-inducing stones thrown at them by the enemy army. I even hesitate to share the details of the stories I’ve heard because they are so devastatingly sad, the most recent involving a translator who lost his three year old to drowning. The stories of destruction at the enemy’s hands have destroyed me.

The translation team is fierce. The majority of the team consists of nationals (native people who share a particular language group) who commit to voluntarily working on the project. Many of these groups begin without a written language (only 12% of PNG lives in urban areas - the rest live remotely and rurally in villages). The village languages are without clear boundaries which means that the first missionaries begin by immersing themselves in a village, making note of every word they hear, and then walking through the village to find the invisible line where the language changes to another.

Most of these projects take decades. Pioneer Bible Translators has been in Papua New Guinea since 1977. They have only completed three New Testament translations in that time. There are 7 others in the works, two of which are in the very early stages. For these missionaries, this is a life work. There is no instant gratification to offer momentum. Almost exclusively, they are sustained by extreme prayer.

The translators make tremendous sacrifices for the sake of completing a translation. The nationals commit voluntarily. Because they live in remote parts of the country, they leave their families behind in the village, and one month at a time, they stay in national housing provided by Pioneer Bible Translators. Think frat house minus beer pong. Every other month, the translators spend five days a week, 7 hours a day, confined to a conference room while going through the entire New Testament. Word by word, verse by verse, they review it. At the end of the month, they return to their villages with a few basic goods given to them by PBT (PBT also covers their living expenses during their stay in national housing). This is not a for-profit commitment. It is purely sacrifice. The current translation nearest to completion was ready for print last December. One week before publication they discovered hundreds of inconsistencies in the text. Just when they thought the 34 year project had reached completion, they were back to month-long stays away from their families in national housing. It will most likely be another 18 months of sacrifice before they can dedicate this book.

As I have spent much of my time learning from this team, one thing keeps coming to mind. All this work - all these man hours - all these viscous attacks from satan - all of it is worth it knowing that precious souls will hear about the love of Jesus for the first time in their history. The people living in tiny villages all throughout Papua New Guinea are worth it. Every single one of them is worth it.

God says so. And these missionaries and these translators share God’s value for these people.

The people are worth it.

Pioneer Bible Translators and the other translation organizations in the area have only scratched the surface. There are over 800 languages in PNG. 12% of the world’s languages are on this small island (PNG is the size of California. Whereas California’s population is almost 40 million people, PNG’s is 7.) That’s 7 million people, most living remotely, speaking over 800 distinct languages. The numbers are overwhelming.

But these people - these missionaries and these nationals - they don’t talk about that. The numbers don’t discourage them, not a one of them exudes even a hint of fear. Rather every single one of them does not hesitate to offer the same response to my question, “Why?”

“Because I love these people - deeply. If it wasn’t for how much I love these people, I’d be long gone. But I love these people.”

The people are worth it.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear no, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31

God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8