Monday, December 17, 2012

love makes beautiful

by Alanna

      Eight days ago the man I love asked me to marry him, and I said yes (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) I'm in awe of God's goodness, amazed at His plans and His perfect timing, rejoicing in what He's given, and thankful doesn't even begin to describe my worship and adoration of Him these days.

      I'd like to write about something God has shown me through my fiancee these past months. That is, love makes beautiful. I read it first in a marriage book- that a husband has much power to make his wife beautiful by the way that He loves her and cares for her. Kind of like tending a garden. I didn't understand it much at the time, but I think now I see the truth of this in two ways.

    First, love makes beautiful because it begets joy through the knowledge that we are accepted and beloved. I'll be honest here and say that I've rarely in my life felt beautiful. I've struggled with lies about my worth and my identity and a host of other things. From the very beginning of our relationship, this man accepted me. In the beginning I found it hard to believe, and wondered if he would leave when he knew me better. But slowly I let my guard down, and I let him see even the ugly sin inside of me. I began to let go of fear and believe that this man really loved me for who God had created me to be. And I realized then, for the first time in my life, that I felt beautiful. It's a joyous thing, the knowledge that you are cherished.

      Love also makes beautiful because it involves our sanctification. God demonstrates His love for us by His redemption of us. He doesn't leave us the way we are. He is rooting out sin in us, and the more we become like Him the more we reflect His beauty. True love doesn't tell you that you are perfect. It asks you to change things that need changing; it encourages you to keep struggling against sin and running again and again to Jesus.

       So these things I'm slowly learning. Love begets joy, and joy makes someone beautiful. Love involves sanctification and redemption, and this makes us beautiful as we become conformed to the image of His Son. God has been showing me a faint but beautiful reflection of these truths through my fiancee. So I am praising God and asking Him to keep my eyes fixed on Him and His goodness. Because I find in this love the faint echoes of the deep and furious love of God for us. My identity and my worth are found in Christ. God's redemption and forgiveness of us demonstrates a love I can't even comprehend. His faithfulness toward us is unending because it is sealed with the blood of His only Son.

For the Lord takes pleasure
in His people
He will beautify the afflicted ones
with salvation.
Psalm 149:4

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

happy to be alive

by Alanna

    Today at the park a little girl swinging on some bars told me rather quietly, "I love being 6." I stopped and looked at her and smiled big. Of course, if you are 6 it is easy to love life. You can fit in small tunnels easily, you can clamber over bars 
and run fast and not get tired. 
If you are 6 then the whole world is full of new things to be discovered. 

One of my little sisters turned 13 today, and she was literally counting down the hours until she became a teenager. I'm sure she would say today, "I love being 13." She is off getting her ears pierced now. 

    And then I wondered, do I love being 22? And I was reminded of something important- it is the loving of life, the embracing and rejoicing in the place and time God has you- that makes all the difference. I always think that I want to be a kid again. Oh, if I could just turn back the clock and be my 6-year-old self. But I wonder if the reason I crave childhood is because I've lost something from it. I've lost thankfulness and sheer delight in the time God has me in. 

We went walking the other night, through Windsor Gardens all lit up beautiful for Christmas. And my boyfriend's mom spoke in Russian and he translated for me- "she says it's like walking through fairyland". And the three of us laughed.
Maybe she was right. 

It might not take away the ache in my heart. And I might still cry driving home at night, 
missing my son. 
But what if we took all these moments and made them beautiful by thanking the Creator and 
rejoicing that we get to live in them? 
I'd like to feel awe that God gives us such good gifts- this life, this time, this place. 
I'd like to delight in it, to dance and sing and rejoice like a child. 
I'd like to love being 22. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

bits and bobs

By Mary

Typically I don't blog unless I'm inspired, like when something's been on my mind just waiting to be captured in words or there's earth-shattering news to be shared. This is probably why I don't really blog frequently.

Lately I've been reading more, talking more, writing less. I haven't journaled at all in at least two months. Life has been really enjoyable; not over-full, sprinkled with simple beauty, simple pleasures and rich relationships.

I tend to like the quiet life.

The biggest news I have right now is of plans to go home to Colorado for Christmas and Gianna's first birthday! All the other headlines in our household are usually all the little things that probably aren't that exciting before you have a kid. Who knew infant Tylenol would end up being a major blessing in life and a tiny little pearly tooth peeking through baby gums could make your day so much brighter?

There's been talk of being re-stationed again somewhere next summer or maybe winter. I don't like the in-between stage of knowing change is coming but not knowing when and what kind. And I do know change is possible basically at any moment with the military lifestyle we have...I'm just not the most comfortable with having options being thrown around and falling through or changing and time-frames always being in question. 

I've gone between two extremes of living life always conscious of the possibility of moving and then trying to ignore it completely until its slapped in my face at some point. I don't think either one is good for relationships. The first causes me to hold back and stay safe, sort of view relationships as disposable--they'll be gone the minute we are. And the second is just unrealistic and leads to a somewhat violent let-down when change does happen.

The truth is, it's not really possible to have limitless deep, impacting friendships, regardless of how close you live to one another.

Jim Elliot said "Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God."

For years I only thought of that as applying only to not holding on to the past or grasping to eagerly for the future. But I think of it often now...people are always worth pouring into, no matter what you get in return, no matter what tomorrow may bring. It's so much more exciting to me now than it is sad. It thrills me to feel the blessing of my family in Christ investing in me, both near and far. It's wonderful to feel used in the lives of people I grew up with, new dear friends, and people I barely know. And it's amazing to know that God is behind it all, working towards His own purposes and orchestrating the most beautiful things.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


by Alanna

    I read somewhere, and I can't remember where now, of the difference between condemnation and conviction. It made me think a lot, because sometimes when God shows me sin in my life, I turn to condemnation and then I become stuck in a rut. Condemnation causes me to embrace fear and doubt and hatred; it makes me disgusted with myself, and when I'm condemning I never run to Christ but only away from Him. Thankfully, "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death." This is a beautiful promise, and it reminds me that we have been set free from sin.

    Anyway, God has been at work in my heart, convicting me about some of the ways I continue to love the world. I thought change would be easy, but then I stubbornly cling to these things of the world and I'm shocked by the ugly inside of my heart. So I'm learning, I hope. Learning that it is God who both convicts us of things and works change in our hearts. I'm so thankful to God that He is faithful to conform us to the image of His Son. As children of God, I believe that we have to obey our Father even when we don't agree or understand. I think that in obedience, in surrender and trust, we will honor Him. And then I hope that He blesses us with joy and freedom. It's an astoundingly beautiful and undeserved privilege we have- to follow and submit to the King of the universe. His patience toward us is greater than I can comprehend.  

"For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace...and if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you....if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live." 
Romans 8

Friday, October 26, 2012

like a child

By Mary

My baby is so confident, unpretentious. She doesn't worry what everybody thinks about her. She doesn't worry about doing everything the right way, always. She just tries. And tries again. She's persistent.

She doesn't question my love for her the moment I'm impatient with her. She doesn't avoid me or deny me her affection because I lost my temper.

She smiles at the world and loves everybody. She's a little bit of sunshine to anybody who gives her a smile or a minute of their time.

She doesn't worry if I have everything under control or try to make her own plan B in case I don't come through for her. She trusts me, depends on me. For everything. When she's unsure of something, she turn first to me to see what I think and determine her actions from that.

The more I try to teach my baby...the more I learn from her.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

who God made me to be

I'm reading through the Bible with my husband this year, following a little plan that goes all the way through with Psalms and the New Testament in there twice. It's interesting to read from four different books at once and it's opened my eyes several times to things I've never noticed in any other read through the Bible.
I never realized how often every other part of the Bible echoes God's earliest deeds for His people. It's in the Psalms and the Prophets and the New Testament...and it shows me how important it is to remember, to remember God's redemptive work, His faithfulness. He's still the same as He was then and He still works miracles and plans great things I can't understand or see coming.
I like reading something in the Old Testament and read Jesus quoting it a few days later. I like the perspective I get on Psalms when I'm reading about David's life at the same time.
Reading about David this time around makes me wonder more and more what it means to be a man after God's own heart. Did he have a heart so very in tune with God's? Was he really closer to desiring God's desires and living God's way? Was he pursuing the heart of God like a man chases his lover's heart, anxious to know it, win it, please it?
I don't really know. But it seems like David made even more mistakes than Saul--and Saul had a kingdom torn from him while David was promised one forever.
I don't see the heart the way God does and I'm not capable of judging sin and righteousness like He is...but when I read the stories of these two men, I see confidence of one in who God made him to be. And the other seems always trying so hard to be someone that, deep in his heart, he believes he is not, shouldn't be, can't be. In the past I've viewed Saul as proud, too proud to do things God's way, too grasping to let go when God says he's through. But now he seems so insecure to me.
Saul never seemed able to accept that his worthiness to be a king was based in the fact that God made him one. He spent so much time people pleasing and caving in when he needed to be strong and trying so hard to be what he already was because of God.
I see this play out in my life in struggles to feel worthy or beautiful or significant. I look to people for their approval, only to find that even getting that doesn't really matter in the end if my heart doesn't simply rest in the fact that I belong to God. Beautiful or not, a failure, a success, knowledgeable, ignorant--these things can't be the definition of myself. It's not even about fighting the negative thoughts that can crowd into my head because ultimately there's just one truth that matters: I am redeemed by God to know Him and worship Him and love Him and serve Him.
Holding on to that truth is when I have the strength to face the bad things about me and not just the good and have eyes to see what really matters.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

entrusting my heart to Him

by Alanna

    For many years now, as long as I can remember actually, I have wanted two big things to comprise my future. These are things that are deep rooted inside of me, and things that I believe that God put inside of me for a reason. The first is to be living in a third world country and caring for orphans. I want to love them with all of me, to tell them about Jesus who gave His very life to redeem them. I have always wanted to be a missionary, and that desire has only been confirmed and strengthened in me over the years. The second thing I've always wanted was to be a wife and a mom. I wanted to be able to love someone, to spend the rest of my days serving God with somebody else, loving children of our own. Some people have told me that this isn't possible, to have both of these dreams. And sometimes I've wondered, because being a wife means submitting to someone else's dreams and the leading of God in their life. But then, God is strong and wise and loving and He can reconcile these things. So now I am praying about marriage with someone in particular, a man who loves Jesus and has deep on his heart to be a pastor in the third world. It's scary in a way, so crazy how fast life changes and its scary to trust God with this huge part of me. But it is also so crazy exciting because God has so evidently been the Orchestrator of this. He has always been faithful, so utterly worthy of my trust and praise and of the keeping of my heart. And one thing that I am sure of- that the God who puts dreams inside of our hearts, who gives us good desires- He gives them for a reason. I am so thankful to Him for His love and goodness and the blessings that He gives, to us so undeserving.

Monday, September 10, 2012


...I think living selflessly is draining. 
And then I realize maybe I'm just acting selflessly 
with a selfish heart.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

He is worthy

by Alanna

three years ago, i met a little boy
in a tiled hallway in a children's home.
he was all bundled up in blankets,
and the girl holding him just showed me his face
they called him the little old man,
and i understood why
his face was tiny, frail;
he looked too old for himself
something in me lurched, and at the time
perhaps i didn't understand the significance
but it was something i had never felt before.
because this was my first son

over the next four months
i spent precious moments with him
bathing him, wrapping him up warm
his tiny body was so fragile,
i was scared sometimes of breaking him
i sat in the rocking chair with him
and fed him milk from tiny bottles
he was so small for his three months, so sick
some people said that he wouldn't make it
i loved and prayed
and God answered
God grew him strong,
gave him the will to fight and then thrive

i said goodbye,
and for ten long months i loved across the ocean
i loved and prayed
and God answered
and when i returned i found not my tiny frail baby
but a strong little boy
the next six months with him were a gift
it makes me realize, even now
that so often we take time for granted
children are always a blessing, always a gift
but they are not always forever

leaving him again tore me in two
and for the next year and a half
i lived with my heart walking around
outside my body- 9,586 miles away
this time i did more than pray for him
i also walked out in hope and obedience
and begin the fight to bring him home
every time i felt like giving up
because all seemed hopeless,
God reminded me that our hope is in Him
and He asked me to keep hoping
to keep fighting
to trust Him

the biggest thing He ever asked me to do
was to surrender my son
i cried because i was afraid that if i surrendered him
God would take him from me
because God doesn't promise that we get to keep gifts
He only promises that He is trustworthy
and He will take good care of what we entrust to Him
surrendering my son made me free
because it was not my burden to bear
i still loved and prayed with all my heart
prayed that God would grow him strong
prayed that God would bring him home
and God answered
in a different way than i had expected

one day this summer God
gave my son a new family
for me this meant a loss that broke me
many dreams i had prayed were lost
many things i had hoped were shattered
some hurt is too big to type into words
but for my son, his new family meant different things
for him it meant an earthly father-
something he had never experienced before
for him it meant the love of Christ manifested to him
a new name, and an old name restored
the chance to love and be loved, to belong
and most of all
the thing i had most earnestly prayed for him
all along
a place where he would hear about Jesus
parents who know how much God loves their son
because He sacrificed His only Son to redeem us all

in the midst of all my sorrow
and all my unanswered questions,
i am completely assured, confident, and at peace
this is what God wanted all along
and now i see, what i always asked God
to help me believe
that He is worthy
worthy of our children, of our hearts
of our everything
He is worthy of our trust
because although His plans are often times painful
they are also beautiful and good
He is worthy, in the midst of my grief
to be praised, tonight, for His goodness
to my little one

making the most of every opportunity


 Don't take things for granted.

I've had so many reminders of that so far this year. This life, full of gifts, none of it's earned or deserved. And you don't know when any of it will be gone.

I want to treasure, not hoard...people, moments, beauty.

Being with Alanna around kids always reminds me to enjoy them and live up every little moment because that's what she does. And that's what I want to do with Gianna. I don't want to just keep her healthy and out of trouble. I don't want to just make it through the tough moments.

It's so easy to let the time go by, unnoticed, unused. And that's when I notice life beginning to feel a little purposeless and empty.

I don't want to just have a husband, have a kid, have parents and friends and beauty and opportunity all around. I want to be thoughtful, loving, teachable, compassionate, encouraging,

God has richly given...I want to make the most of every opportunity.

Friday, August 3, 2012

eternity in their hearts

By Mary

The last goodbye as you move away from the friends and family you've loved so long, wondering when there will be another hello.
A life ended so suddenly, so soon.
The one you knew who's time was coming, the wish it wouldn't ever come.
And living life day after day with the person so close in your heart, oceans away.

There's heartache in an ending, no matter what form it takes.
"He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end."
I'm thankful for a God who makes everything beautiful, in all the ways I can't find out.
Thankful also that eternity isn't just in our hearts; it's in our future.
No more endings.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The month in pictures

July has been busy so far...and pictures seem like the best idea for sharing it all. so here's a little bit of our pictures.

We had company!
My brother and sister-in-law came up from North Carolina and the cousins got to play together...

and played with the puppy...

We did our normal little things, like laundry...

And celebrated the 4th in style


Monday, July 9, 2012

when i'm weary

by Alanna

    A few weeks ago, I passed the 15th month mark of leaving South Africa. I also wrote a blog around that time, about staying up all night underneath the stars and watching the sun rise. I wrote that God makes all things new, and that His power and the fact that He is mindful of us, combine to make His love immense and His character trustworthy. I'm sorry that I never posted that blog, but some things are too near to my heart and that sun rise also brought back oceans of memories, dreams of pure hope. 

  Today I'm writing about something else, because it's all that's on my heart right now. I'm weary. I know that God is our strength, and maybe it should grieve me that with all the power of the Creator, I am still so weary I could just lay down on this ground and not get up again. It takes every bit of me to get out of bed in the morning, to continue fighting and surrendering these days. Things are painfully hard, and every time bad news comes and I feel like maybe its time to quit, it seems that God gives me some opposed encouragement to keep going. Sometimes I'm just tired of hoping and struggling to believe, even in the right things. As my dear twin reminded me, we have to hope and believe that God is good and will remain good no matter what the outcome of these circumstances in our lives. But still, we live and move in this world and God asks us to believe crazy things and sometimes to act upon them. Sometimes He entrusts other lives to us, and loving them is like having our heart walk around outside our body, oceans away. I feel worn thin, emotionally exhausted. I don't want this weariness to turn into bitterness in me. If it's all I can do, I would rather lay broken at the feet of Jesus than be far from Him. I've found some rest in these words.

"But I know it is not the sense of His presence,
it is the fact of His presence
that is our strength and stay.
And yet it is comforting when a mother 
makes some little sign or speaks some little world
to a child who does not see her. 
And when our Father deals so tenderly with us, 
then we are very humbly grateful 
and we store such memories in our heart. 
And when there is not any feeling we rest on 
His bare word, 
'Lo, I am with you always, all the days, 
and all day long,' 
and are content."

"Thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker: 
"Ask Me about the things to come concerning My sons, 
and you shall commit to Me the works of My hands. 
It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it. 
I stretched out the heavens with My hands, 
and ordained all their host....
My purpose will be established, 
and I will accomplish all My good pleasure." 

"Has He said, and will He not do it? 
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?"

"He gives strength to the weary."

Monday, July 2, 2012

tuesdays with mom: featuring anna

(today we're swapping blogs with my dear friend anna marie. you can read my post at, after reading hers here)

there aren't enough moments in the day to think about lucas.
i try to accomplish things,
small things like brushing my teeth,
bigger things like projects at work,
all the while my heart beats his name.

i try to make promises i know aren't real to myself.
you'll be okay.
time will heal old scars.
but i know this isn't true.
my heart knows no time.
and though lucas died three years ago,
he died yesterday
and today
and tomorrow, when i wake up and my mind registers
the brand new light of day,
he'll die again.

he doesn't slip away with time,
doesn't fade out like an old star,
but he sits there in my memory,
brand new,
every morning.

i know that countless orphans die each day.
i know that each one of them deserves a family,
and deserves love.
my heart breaks because i'm here, not there.

i'm a star burning out
i think
i fade as each young life sets too soon.

but the memory of lucas is always there to remind me
that no,
we shine together,
somewhere in that vast amount of sky
and if he doesn't burn out for me,
than i don't burn out for him.

come visit lucas and i over at glitter, small world.

Anna Guntlisbergen

Thursday, June 28, 2012

crazy, beautiful life

Sometimes life's a little crazy, isn't it? Sometimes I feel like I'm in a dream. Or a tv show. Somethings just seem like they should belong only to actors and directors and scripts, not my life.

I was talking to Alanna about some of the things going on with our friends here. She told me she'd been praying for us to have community here in Maryland, that she guessed the problems and pain and sticky situations come along with that. So true.

It's been messy. But I'm learning boldness and firm love. And how to appreciate the raw reality of life and relationship and the struggle against flesh and sin and the kingdom of God.

And it's started to break up the apathy I've been feeling in my relationship with God. I guess there's nothing like a little bewilderment, helplessness and a bit of desperation to send you seeking closeness with an all powerful God Who is Love.

I'm so thankful that He doesn't hold grudges for the times I let our friendship slide and fail to give Him His due. So thankful He always takes me back.

Monday, June 18, 2012

this is the day

by Alanna

  This weekend I was blessed to spend in the mountains, with some of my family and friends. We camped near twin lakes, canoed, and hiked a 14er. God was so merciful to us, abundantly above and beyond what I could have imagined. There is a lot of stories from the weekend, a lot of memories made and a lot of things to thank God for. It would be impossible to list them all, but I want to share one thought that God has put on my heart. A few of us were sitting down by the lake, some of us skipping rocks and balancing them to make things. Taking in the view- the tremendous mountains carpeted in green, the waves on the lake, the clouds reflecting the sunset. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. Each day is brand new. Every day for the past thousands of years, God has made it new. To my knowledge, He doesn't recycle. That particular evening was unlike any other. The wind blew this way and that, the clouds made a myriad of different shapes and the sky was this certain shade of blue. The waves rolled on top of each other, the trees grew, the air chilled. I don't want to forget that every day is a gift, because God created today. Today, God created 96 degree weather, the sun beating down and the sky light blue, but still some small clouds that I can see out the porch door. Today, God sent this huge yellow Monarch butterfly to flutter near the window. God created today. And if God creates each day, I believe that each day matters. Nothing is meant to be just 'gotten through', but rather each day is meant to be offered up in praise to the One who created it. He made us to live today, gave us breath in our lungs. I want to live each day in grateful awe that God creates such beauty anew, and I want to spend the moments of these days worshiping the Creator.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Beyond Better Homes and Gardens

By Mary

I used to rarely watch TV. We'd have movie nights sometimes and other than that, it was mostly sports being watched on our television. And I didn't watch those.

Then I got married to a guy who likes TV. A lot. So now I watch more. And mostly, it's sports. Go figure. But I also discovered two little TV stations that are perfect gems in my eyes--Home and Garden Television and the Do It Yourself network. So while I've gotten my education in football, basketball and baseball, my man gets the joy of learning all about other people's design styles, home renovations and decorating tips.

I've always had a thing for interior decorating. I'm amazed by how God has allowed and enabled humans to have the ability to create from His creation and I love to see the way people bring beauty and harmony and comfort and tranquility into a home through a little thought and time and ingenuity. I love to see the creativity and the uniqueness. There are limitless options for creating beauty.

But I have to be careful. I start getting inspired and dreaming and all the creative juices start flowing and I make plans that can't be carried out all at once, if ever. And sometimes I get discontent with my limits. Sometimes I get distracted.

I believe God gives us that piece of our hearts that enjoys creating things lovely to the eye and soul and bringing order from chaos. But it's not all there is to it. My vision for life is supposed to be bigger than a picture from Better Homes and Gardens. And I should never allow any good gift to block my view or slow down my pursuit of the One Who gives so freely.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

Monday, June 11, 2012

victory over sin

by Alanna

  One night I paced up and down my driveway. I can't explain how the lights did it, but when I walked up the driveway, my shadow was solitary, and when I walked back down it split into two. That night I ached to be my solitary shadow, to be one, to be whole-heartedly renouncing sin and running to Jesus. I feel like Paul in the seventh chapter of Romans- 'wretched man that I am! who will set me free from the body of this death?' The last months have been difficult for me, as God has made my depravity so clear to me. I believe what my pastor said last Sunday is true- if it wasn't for the power of God, I'd be that dog returning to its own vomit (2 Peter 2:22). It breaks my heart, that I tolerate sin in my own life. These things that Jesus bled and died to pay for. It breaks my heart that we choose anything over Jesus. It breaks my heart that I don't run as far and as fast as I can from temptation.

  Do we truly believe that God is worthy of our everything? That He owns us, and deserves our full undivided heart? Francis Chan writes that God doesn't want our leftovers, that He'd rather have nothing. I think a lot of it hinges on what we think God is worth. God doesn't need us, He is all-sufficient and all-powerful. But then this God of the universe, crucifies His only Son to redeem us. All this undeserved mercy and grace, poured out through the blood of Jesus. And we dare to choose our own petty lives over Him, to embrace the very sin that He came to free us from. Oh we are wretched indeed! I've come to realize these past months, that every sin is serious. That Jesus didn't have to die just for things like murder and adultery, but for things like hatred and lust and unforgiveness and pride.

 That night pacing my driveway, for some reason my two shadows eventually split into three. Or maybe the third was there all along, I just hadn't noticed it. God doesn't leave us alone here to battle sin, He left us the Spirit. When we truly want Him more than our sin, when we truly count Him worthy, He will help us overcome. It is only through Him that we find power to overcome sin, to run far from the world, to crucify daily our flesh, strength to run after Him. And at His throne, we will find mercy and grace to help in time of need.

i'm like Peter crying
crowing burning my ears
still You come near
You take my hand
and place in my palm an eternal chance
i give You myself
it's all that i have
broken and frail
i'm clay in Your hands
and i'm spinning unconcealed
dizzy on this wheel
for You my Love

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Some things never change

By Mary

This month my best friend got married. This month I got to be in Colorado for the first time in almost two years. This month my friends got to meet my baby and she got to sleep in the room that used to be mine. This month I stayed up later than I had in weeks and weeks.

And it amazed me how simple it was to slip back into old ways when so much has changed. The weirdest thing about being back was how it felt like I'd never left, even with my daughter being passed around and my husband on the other end of the phone. Even with my sweet friend basking in the love of a man I've barely met and promising her heart to him forever.

I guess I had prepared myself for it all to feel different somehow. With how comfortable I feel now in Maryland I didn't know if I would feel as comfortable there. But I didn't feel anything like a stranger, a visitor. I didn't have to think hard about where I was driving and I didn't have to catch up with anybody...just simply share the time we had together for how long we were blessed to have it again.

No matter how on board I am for a change, I get a little emotional over them. And when they mean upsetting the way of things I've grown to love, I have a smidgen of regret each time.

So I don't even have the right words to thank God for the fact that even if we change where we live, where we work, change in age, change a last name, change dreams and any number of other things...some things never change.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

deep in me

by Alanna

  Lately when I meet people, I've noticed more than usual that they connect me with Africa. This is how they match my name and face with whatever they've heard- "oh! you're the girl who went to South Africa right?" Or something along those lines. It makes me thankful, because Africa is still so close to my heart. It makes me believe that I left not that long ago (even though this week it will have been 14 months). It makes me feel that I've spent a significant amount of time in the third world, even though all totaled it equals almost exactly one year. Right now, God's called me to pursue things that require me to be in America for a bit, and this means entrusting the future to his hands. People always, inevitably, ask me when I'm going back. I give them some lame answer about being in a job contract through the end of July, but the truth is that I'm asking God the same question. When Lord? I'm realizing this week that the calling He's placed on me is growing bigger. Deep in me, is this ache and hunger to live in the dirt. To love children born into physical poverty. To pour myself out for them and to point them to Jesus. Deep in me I ache to go, to be sent. Waiting on the Lord is hard. But a sacrifice is nothing if it doesn't cost us something. I want to embrace contentment and to rejoice where He has me, but I never want to settle into complacency living in comfort for so long.

  Tonight when sorting through old notebooks and papers, I came across something that I'd written shortly before I went to South Africa the last time. Thought I would publish a small bit of it here, as it is also some of what I feel tonight.

  In a week and a half, I'll be boarding an airplane to go back to the place I love, in South Africa....  Most of all, I am scared of loving too much. It is the kind of love that fills my insides so physically that it hurts. Almost exactly 13 months ago, I met a little boy who God seemed to have brought especially for me to love. There was no use fighting my affections for him, my desperate prayers for him, and my mother instincts. God grew my heart and my capacity to love, and yet He asked me to say goodbye. Soon I will be a part of little one's life again- seeing all the miraculous changes that God has wrought in him. And I am so scared. Scared because he is not my son and I have nothing but a "fool's hope" that he could be someday. Scared because I don't know how to be a caretaker and not a mommy to someone I love so much. And I am terrified of saying goodbye again. It is possible to love too much? Today I'm asking God is maybe He has the wrong person. I don't feel strong enough to keep my heart so split in two. 
    Somehow, it's a comfort to me that God never changes. He is full of compassion and lovingkindness. He may dash my heart to pieces, but it will be for His glory and His plans. Surely if God could love us to the extreme that He would sacrifice His only Son, then it is impossible to love too much. I want to learn to love through my fears- to love not for my sake, or even for little one's, but for Him who loved me enough to die for me. 

   Tonight, I pray that God grows my capacity to love. I want to love well, here where I am. And I pray that no matter how it hurts, that God grows the calling and the heart for orphans that He's put inside of me. Let us love, for His sake, so that He may receive all the glory. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mothers Day [a little behind the times]

I've stored up all these words for you, words you'll never get to hear or read or know. It reminds me to be thankful that I don't have to store them up for the little one who sits on the floor with her toys next to me. I can speak them every day. It reminds me not to let those opportunities pass me by.

God taught me so much through you, sweet ones. The value of every moment. The gift in a smile. The joy in just your dark curly hair against my cheek. I've missed you on these days meant for mothers since I met you--is it really almost three years ago?

This year it doesn't hurt so bad, this missing you. This year I thanked God for the families He's blessed with you and prayed again you'd grow up to know Him, to serve Him. This year I miss you and my own mommy, reminders that nothing in this world is forever, that I need to treasure each stage of life. And this year while I have my baby girl in my arms and my husband to spoil me, I try to remember still to surrender them because really aren't you all just precious gifts to me from a good God, for His timing and purposes?

This Mothers Day I'm thankful for the friend I have in my mother, for all the ways she's poured love and truth and life into me. I pray for you to have that, I pray to be a mother like that to my children and I pray for forever all together in the presence of our Father when I won't have to miss you anymore. I love you.

Monday, May 14, 2012

By Alanna

            Some days, South Africa seems so close. When I trace my fingers over the world map on the wall, and it’s just an ocean and a continent away. Just two plane flights from here. It seems close when I say goodbye to one more person going there, and realize that in just 24 hours they will be entering the TLC gate. It’s in moments like these that I think, ‘why not?’ Why not just buy a ticket, hop on the plane, and get off where my heart could meet up with my body again?

            There’s a myriad of reasons of course, and my head always reminds me. This is where God wants me to be. I’m doing the things He’s called me to do, at least for right now and right here. I’m grateful for time spent with my family, a job I love, and late night fellowship with friends here. I’ve also realized more and more lately that for the thing He’s put deepest on my heart, this is the best place to be. I’m praying, hoping, preparing. And to do that I have to be here in the U.S.A., at least for now.

            So my head reminds my heart, but my heart is tired of hoping and waiting. I need reminders that God is worthy- worthy of my hope and trust being placed solely in Him. He is worthy to carry these burdens, to accept this in surrender. Still these thoughts plague me though. What if the ram isn’t provided? All this climbing the mountain and stretching out the sacrifice, all the time hoping and praying that God returns it to me. And what if He doesn’t?  

            Tonight I blew dandelion seeds with a blonde two-year old in her front yard. I told her that we needed to make wishes, and I used all my breaths to wish a little boy home. Wishes, prayers, hope. It’s all I have lately. That and the solid rock of God’s trustworthiness. I believe that He alone is able to bear this sorrow, this grief that some days looks never ending. This hope that splits me in two because it’s so big and so absolutely terrifying. He takes good care of what we entrust to Him- our lives, our futures, our todays and tomorrows, our grief, our hope, our hearts, and our children. After we blew dandelions, we lay in the dark and I sang her to sleep with truth. A song I used to sing always to the little ones in South Africa, in the familiar warmth of the Lions room, where my dreams remain. In these verses I find reminders of His trustworthiness.

I hear the Savior say
 ‘thy strength indeed is small
child of weakness, watch and pray
 find in Me thine all in all’
Jesus paid it all
all to Him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow

Friday, May 11, 2012

a testimony to The Miracle Worker

by Alanna

    I've posted a few times about a little boy, and how all along his life has been one long succession of miracles. Well, chalk another one up to the King! Something I (and a lot of others) have been praying for, earnestly begging to be changed, for one year and 7 months now. All that begging, seeking, knocking, doubting, crying, fighting, and finally laying down in surrender. And God knew all along that He had good plans for this little one. That nothing and no one could change that. It is all, utterly, only Him. 
Thank You Father.

For He will deliver the needy when he cries for help, the afflicted also, and him who has no helper. He will have compassion on the poor and needy, and the lives of the needy He will save.

Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone works wonders. And blessed be His glorious name forever; and may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and amen.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

It’s been one of those days: the kind after a long night of cleaning up your dog’s vomit every 2 hours when you have no idea why she’s getting sick. 

The kind of morning when you try to lay back down for just a little while longer after your husband goes to work ridiculously early yet again (only to stay late once more) and you can’t sleep because you hear the dog making that same horrid gagging sound and you wait for the inevitable so you can climb out of bed and try to clean the stains that you already know won’t go away even with that special miracle working cleaner you’ve tried on the other stains that already added their own little flair to the carpet that was new when you moved in less than a year ago.

It’s the kind of day when the baby starts crying while you’re [not] getting the floor cleaned up and just as you finish feeding her, she decides to leak through her pajamas onto your lap and you have another stain to try and get out. 

And it’s the kind of day that just after you’ve gotten the stinky leaky baby all cleaned up in the bath tub, soft and snuggly and smelling like baby lotion with the top of her head in a mess of crazy curls, she spits up all over her clean clothes.

Ever had one of those days?

It doesn’t help when it follows so closely on the heels of a trip to urgent care over the weekend to see what could possibly be wrong with your sweet, happy little daughter to make her fuss most of the day and spend an hour in the evening screaming inconsolably like someone was beating her. This from the one who almost never cries unless her little tummy is empty or she’s oh so sleepy.

We didn’t solve that mystery. But at least it stopped.  And I didn’t take the dog to the vet as I considered doing…but so far so good. I think maybe I should take both instances as simply answered prayer and not worry anymore.

This hasn't been the best day I've ever had. But really in my heart of hearts, this little sinner’s heart that God continues to deal with so patiently, I know it doesn’t take “one of those days”-or weekends, or weeks, or months-to stir up the ugly side of me. My kindness, gentleness, patience and forbearance… they haven’t been around all that much in general lately. That’s what hits me, and humbles me: it’s not my kindness, my patience. It’s the short temper, the annoyance and frustration and harshness that come naturally to me. All that good stuff I like to think is just nice-girl me is really Him. All Him. And oh how desperately I need Him.

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

It's been a long week filled with long days for my husband at work and when the clock above the stove tells me he’s been gone over twelve hours and he still isn’t home, I have to stop and be thankful for the job God has provided. The stability, the money, the blessing for me of being able to stay at home with our baby girl, I can start taking these things for granted. But I know it’s not something I’m owed.

So when he comes home from a long day at work, so ready to just do nothing and I meet him at home so eager to have him around and just do something, we just have to laugh and figure out the compromise somewhere. And I’m thankful again that doing nothing isn’t so bad as long as you’re with the right people.

Today there’s the taste of summer in the air, the smell of wild roses blooming in full bushes and the humidity lying thick on my skin. And while I’m not looking forward to another year of meeting my doggie’s bodily and energy needs with no yard and baby in tow, I am fully intending to enjoy the pool with baby-G who seems to love the water already if bath time is any indication.

We made plans recently to start meeting with two couples from church once a week (one older and one in our season of life) as sort of a mentorship thing. Nick’s work schedule has so far manages to get in the way but I really enjoyed the reading we did for it—the gospel of Mark, paying special attention to the things Jesus prioritized and the different ways people reacted to Him. My list of priorities expanded a little to include thing He placed value on through His words as well. Things like…

Following the Spirit’s direction
Good works—healing, serving, helping
Faith and truth
Physical nourishment, rest
Sabbath worship
Purity of heart
Sharing life with a select, intimate group
Taking care of believers
Self-sacrifice to avoid sin
Looking for the 2nd coming

I guess whenever I get to wondering what I should be doing with my time, my life, there’s a nice long list of things from which to choose…

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

By Mary

When I was little, all I wanted to be when I grew up was a wife and a mommy (ok my first choice was to always live with my own mommy. So it was my second pick)

Here I am, twenty years old, married, with my baby playing on the floor next to me. Goals met, desires fulfilled, oh so blessed. I’ve got what I always wanted sooner than I ever dreamed. And occasionally I stop and ask myself, what now? Contentment is good, right? And mostly I am. God has more or less dropped all my dreams right in my lap. But shouldn’t I pursue something, look ahead to something. Should I let life just be?

There are moments still when my heart aches over memories past, wishing they could be again. Not to go back but to go forward, not to relive them but experience similar ones. Someday…maybe someday. Maybe someday we’ll be back in Colorado and I’ll have some more late nights with the dearest people in the world.

Maybe someday we’ll have more kids. A house we won’t leave behind every couple of years. Maybe we can work in another country together beyond the typical mission trip.
But are these the things I should work towards?

And then I remember something about contentment…when it comes with Godliness, it is great gain. And isn’t that the point really? Being like Him, glorifying Him? It supersedes every other goal and goes beyond all other achievements—marriage, career, college, motherhood, fatherhood, service—because it’s in all those things. That call is in every moment of every one of my days. When the sun is bright and Nick and I play on the floor with Gianna and her smiles flood without coaxing. When I’m lonely for life where I grew up or miss the sweet faces and voices I loved in South Africa. When I’m alone or with a crowd, busy or bored--from the moment I was first His until always and forever.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

By Mary

Sometimes this blog sits in the back of my mind, hauntingly reminding me that blogs are generally meant to be updated occasionally and that I'm nowhere near to living up to the once a week posting Alanna and I said we'd each do almost two years ago [Two years--where does the time go? It flies right by, even through those moments that seem to drag on and on while you live them]

So I sit down to write, open a new post in one tab...and then open a few more, killing time, waiting for words to come. I read a different blog, hoping for inspiration only to decide that people should probably just read other blogs anyways.

My baby is in her bed [finally in her own room], my dog is breathing deep at the foot of the bed, dreaming puppy dreams. My husband is spending the week in Hawaii, on business, and Friday can't come soon enough for me.

And me, I sit staring at the screen with only this much written and nothing more waiting in the wings. So I guess for tonight at least this is it [at least I can say I posted, right? =)]

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

silly trees

by Alanna
Today was similar to many
I went to work
and took the twins for a walk
I love to point out the trees to them
because I remind them every time, that God made that tree
first He created just a tiny seed
and then He grew it into that big huge tree
and in the same way, I tell them
He will grow them to be big and strong
(I remind myself too)
"He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ"

The trees are beginning to blossom
and there were some beautiful ones
we noticed while walking today
and then, rounding a corner
two ridiculous trees
side by side
with their old dead leaves from last year
still clinging to them
they'd been stubborn I guess
just didn't want to let go
they didn't look beautiful, even empty like some of the others
they just looked silly
i laughed at those trees
and i wondered at myself
when i pulled at a dead leaf, it didn't come off easily
the trees were still holding on
to a whole bunch of old dead leaves
when all around them was new life growing
didn't they know?
that to live, they'd have to die?

how quickly i forget
how tightly i cling
only the Father can bring new life
we can't hold on to life, or gifts, or blessings
they wither and dry up
like yesterday's manna
every day has to be a surrender
every fall has to be death
every gift has to be given back to the Giver
in gratefulness
in worship

'Do not call to mind the former things,
or ponder things of the past.
Behold, I will do something new,
now it will spring forth;
will you not be aware of it?
I will even make a roadway in the wilderness
rivers in the desert.'

Friday, March 9, 2012


By Alanna AND Mary
cookie dough
marble staircase and cobblestone streets
smell of spring
70 degrees of sunshine and blue skies
wind off the Chesapeake Bay
safe driving after not quite getting lost
baby smiles and coos
Allie guilty
prayers on the couch
pictures old and new
our songs
God's timing

God gives us so much to be thankful for, though this week it is easier to see than others. God gave us this week to live life together, face to face, side by side, to laugh and eat and pray together, to learn and explore and be.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

life around here lately

By Mary
We're home in Maryland, with spring slowly creeping in, with the songs of birds, tiny wildflowers crawling across the greening grass, and the sheer red mist of new buds on the twigs of every tree.
My family's been and gone, a sweet week of reunion, relaxation and seeing the sights. My parents got to be with all their kids and their two granddaughters for the first time ever.
Our little baby Gia is two months old already, the early stress more of a memory and being up in the middle of the night just a routine. She gets sweeter every day.
My husband started a blog of his own to update between all his work travels and the time we all spend as a family just enjoying each day. --check it out sometime.
We're reading through the bible together this year. A small ladies' bible study is meeting at our apartment on Wednesday mornings. And maybe one of theses nights we'll manage to make it back to our small group.
AND tomorrow in too-good-to-believe fashion, Alanna and I will finally be hanging out again, talking face to face, enjoying the blessing of simply being together. God is so generous. And life is good.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

our 'rights'

by Alanna

A few weeks ago, I had somewhat of an emotional breakdown. I started to seriously fear the future, panicked, shut down, and then became angry at God for what I was afraid He might do. It boiled down to the simple fact that I didn't trust Him. I didn't trust that He had the best plan for little one. I doubted that He had the best plan for me. For a few days I distracted myself, let my anger simmer, and tried not to think too much. Then I turned on an Otto Koning sermon, in which he talked about surrendering our rights. As he began to talk about his children, and how he had to learn to surrender them, I broke down. I realized that this is what God wanted me to do.

Since that sermon, God has been at work in my heart. I went to visit my dear friend Anna Marie, and we were able to talk about so much and work through so many things that were laying heaviest on my heart. God has been showing me so much, and confirming that truth for me over and over again.

I could blog about a lot of things, but the biggest one to me is that we need to surrender our rights to God. Everyday, multiple times a day, I have to surrender my child to Him. It is so easy to take back our burdens. I have to remind myself that we don't have a 'right' to anything. All is grace, all are gifts given by a good Father. It is time that I began to acknowledge that I have no right to be a mother. It was always a gift. When I surrender this to God, it is freeing to me. It is acknowledging that I have no control over the situation- it is entirely in God's capable, trustworthy hands. I still ask God to fight for little one, but I ask in confidence that He takes good care of what belongs to Him. Grieving, wondering, praying, seeking- it is so much easier when it all involves surrender. Still it is hard for me, everytime. God has been so faithful to me and so near. He gives us the strength to let go of our rights, to lay down low and trust Him. He is so much bigger than we are, so much wiser, so much more compassionate and full of lovingkindness. I ask Him to grant me the grace to surrender, step aside, and watch Him work miracles.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


For every time my little baby Gianna keeps us up late in the night, crying for some reason I can't discover, I think of a baby who never made a sound because she'd given up hope of getting a response to it.

For every time she starts crying her hungry little cry just an hour after she ate, I stop for a minute to be thankful that she can eat her fill whenever her little tummy tells her it's hungry.

For every time I hear baby grunts and coos coming from her bassinet and see two small hands flailing and two feet kicking when I'd hoped she might nap for a while, I pick her up and play with her anyway because this baby has a family and I have the time and there's no reason for her to sit alone.

And every time I don't stop to treasure each moment, each smile and sleepless night, my heart remembers that this isn't forever, that nothing is guaranteed. Time flies by so quickly and you never know what the next moment will bring.

So I try to make myself remember that this is true for all of life. When I do the dishes yet again and when the dog tries to drag me through our walk, every minute with my husband and all those moments far from my family, that gorgeous sunset and all the days of gray above my head when the sun doesn't even seem to exist anymore.

I read in Job this week of all that he was blessed with and all that he lost. And I feel with him when the verses show his grief, how he tore his robe and shaved his head and fell to the ground...but on the ground, in the dirt, he worshipped. And maybe as I learn to treasure all of life, I'll learn to give God the worship due Him when it's not the natural response of my heart to praise. Because He remains steadfast and unchanging no matter what life brings, shouldn't my respsonse to Him be the same--no matter what?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

These days I'm hanging out in a hotel room with my six week old baby and my puppy (though it's been pointed out to me that, at over a year old, she's not really a puppy anymore)

Our little family of four drove the three and half hours down to Norfolk VA where my husband has to attend a two week course for his job.

I thought I'd have tons of time to do anything I'd like but little baby Gianna--

suddenly decided she wants to eat every couple of hours which tends to limit the time I have for other things. So I've been keeping busy even without the books and other things I had planned to prevent boredom.

Life has been beautifully hard these last weeks. Being a mom has been more challenging than I exected. The few differences between having my own daughter and caring for my babies at TLC have been enough to drive me crazy at times. She's the best thing.

It's been a month of adjustments, homesickness, bad news, loss...and in it all God has faithfully spoken the truth of these verses into my heart--

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too."

Despite my own faithlessness, my doubts and the aching in my heart, in the end God never changes. In everything He remains the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

death and life

by Alanna

I've been meaning to post a blog for such a long time. I know my dear twin, Mary, has better excuses than I do- as she's now blessed to be caring for her little baby! I don't like to post a blog today but maybe it will help me to process some things.

In the past week and a half, four people dear to my heart have died. My highschool friend, in a car accident. My selfless aunt, from cancer. My neighbor friend's mom, from cancer also. And then a precious baby, from a rare blood disease. It has been a hard week full of grieving.These stories don't end with grief though. (that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus). I read in a book recently that the central theme of Christianity should not be the cross, but the empty grave. And I realized anew this week, just how beautiful the resurrection is. Because of the resurrection, we have a sure and founded hope that through death, comes life. (Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit).

I can't pretend that things are so simple though. Up until yesterday, I'd felt that I could grieve and be held by Jesus and I didn't question His ways. When the baby died in South Africa, I caved in. Maybe this is the weak link of my faith- always my times of greatest questioning and doubt have come after the death of a child. At Friday night prayer meeting, we talked about the kindness of the Lord (the earth is full of Thy lovingkindness, O Lord). And I confidently asserted that God's mercies are a kindness. Every day we overlook His mercy, because we forget what we deserve. It was easy for me to forget that yesterday, and wonder how on earth I could view such a short, hard life as a kindness from the Lord. And how do you speak about God's grace when someone is missing from the room and there is just grief standing there instead? Two friends reminded me when I spewed out my hurt and confusion last night. Even precious baby didn't deserve anything. God gave her a few weeks to be loved deeply here on earth, and then wrapped her in His arms and took her home. Took away her suffering, her pain, and gave her new unending life. God's mercy, God's kindness. I'm not afraid anymore to assert it. God is good. I don't pretend to understand or to have answers. I hate death and the sorrow that it brings. But I do know that it's not just grief in these houses. God's mercy stands there too. Because none of us deserve to have beautiful, unending life in heaven with Him. And through His Son, even death is just a passage into that incredible mercy.

Then will come about the saying that is written,
"Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?"
The sting of death is sin,
and the power of sin is the law;
but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.