He gave me permission

valley of the shdow

I’ve walked through the Valley of the Shadow. Many times over.

So have you. This I know.

Your Valleys look different than mine. Or maybe it’s just the Shadows that are different. Either way, we all experience the same-yet-different sorrows, pains, and troubles that come in this life. We are all human. Our bones break. Our hearts hurt. Our loved ones die. We face illnesses, rejections, addictions, losses.

Yet the faith culture I was raised in didn’t leave room for acknowledgment of the Valleys. Emotions were indirectly declared evil—the kind of theology that emphasized that Jesus is all we need, so whatever we might be feeling is invalid.

Because to grieve a loved one’s death is to disbelieve that they’re in a better place.
To be disappointed in your now is to doubt that, in Romans 8:28 fashion, it really is for your good and His glory.
To express sadness means you distrust that He is in control.
To feel hurt by the doors slamming in your face is to disbelieve that He has something else better for you.
To be frustrated by your financial position is to forget Jehovah Jireh, God your provider.
To question, to doubt, to say “I don’t know” is equivalent to not believing at all.

The end result of this sort of theology wasn’t a faith community that didn’t feel negative emotions. The end result was a faith community that hid them. We wore masks that plastered artificial smiles on our faces. We spouted out platitudes and trite answers instead of being honest.

I finally realized, as I traversed the Valley of the Shadow yet again:

That’s not faith. That’s denial.

Faith is most genuine and true when it acknowledges the current reality and still says, “Lord, I believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.”

I’m struck by the story of Jesus when He visits the grave of His friend Lazarus, four days after he’d passed away. He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, but right then, right in that moment, Jesus still felt, acknowledged, and expressed deep grief over His loss.

Grief doesn’t negate faith.

Even though He knew that in just a few minutes He would hug his friend again, Jesus wept.

Just as they did for those with Him that day, His tears give me permission to not only feel what I’m feeling, but also to express it. He validated my emotions. All of them.

He’s the One who gave me them to begin with—even the ones that are all mixed up and “negative” and un-faith-filled. He put inside me a heart that feels, and He handcrafted me eyes that cry…

So right here, right this moment, right in your Valley, He gives you permission to feel what you’re feeling.

It’s okay…

Face it. Feel it.

He’s right there, weeping with you.

(photo credit: jayRaz)

the fellowship of the unashamed

dandelion

I can’t bring myself to part with the Bible I’ve had since I was a teenager. Every time I try to start over with a new one, it just feels… wrong. Sterile. Clean, fresh, and new in all the worst ways. So I inevitably return to my old faithful, held together with duct tape, glue, and rubber bands. It smells uniquely like a combination of the 29 countries it’s traveled to. Sprawled throughout it are notes, photos, stickers, quotes, memories… And all together, they make the words on the pages that much more alive and rich and full.

Written in the back of my Bible is this note, found written in the office of a young pastor in Zimbabwe after he was martyred. And it still stirs my heart just like it did twenty years ago…

:: :: ::

“I’m a part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I’m a disciple of His. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.

My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure. I’m finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, worldly talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, am uplifted by prayer, and labor with power.

My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions are few, my Guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the adversary, negotiate at the table of the enemy, pander at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I won’t give up, shut up, let up, until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, preached up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till He comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till He stops me. And when He comes for His own, He will have no problem recognizing me—my banner will be clear!”

live the questions now

Live the questions

grace

grace

While I wish it weren’t so,
I know that it wouldn’t really be grace
if it were as easily dispensed as PEZ candy.
If it felt good
and made me smile
and came as naturally as a hearty laugh,
it wouldn’t be grace.
It couldn’t be grace—
not the genuine, utterly needed and utterly undeserved kind of grace,
which is really the only grace there is,
because it’s the need mixed with the undeserving
that makes grace grace.

We call it ‘amazing’,
but it feels anything but amazing in the moment it’s given.
It feels grueling
and painful
and impossible.
It tastes like swallowed pride
and bitter tears.
It’s as exhausting as going the extra mile
and then another
and then another.
It feels like forgiving 70 times 7,
and turning the other cheek,
and kissing Judas right back.

It’s nothing like a dinner table prayer
and everything like a wilderness experience.
It’s the 40 long days and 40 long nights
of saying and wishing and hoping that I can do this,
but feeling like I can’t.
It’s the heaviness of one foot in front of the other
when there’s no end of the road in sight.

It’s enduring the heartache of betrayal,
the sorrow of loss,
the pain of deception,
and the humiliation of being made a fool—
and still locking eyes
and saying
‘I’m not going anywhere.’

Grace.
It’s what sets apart not only Christ,
but also Christ followers.
Without it, we are but hardened hearts
and ungrateful, calloused souls.
We are blind eyes and deaf ears and unfeeling hands.
We are amnesiacs,
quickly forgetful of our own need and undeservedness.
Oh, but with it—
with it, we are extensions of His likeness,
reflections of His character,
bearers of His light,
glimpses of His face,
beats of His heart.

When we extend grace,
when we offer it—even through tears—
like a beautifully wrapped present held out in our hands,
our hearts stoop low,
remembering the gift that’s been extended to us,
over
and over
and over
and over again.

to everything there is a season

all the trees (small)

The Truth You Know

press on

Let us live up to what we have already attained.” (Philippians 3:16)

What I hear in that verse is this: Act on the truth you know.

I may not feel ready to do the next-right-thing that’s in front of me. I may feel as though I lack the knowledge, skills, or sheer courage to put one foot in front of the other. I may not know the fullness of what to do in any given situation. But I typically know enough to start. I can act on the truth I know. I just usually don’t.

It’s easier to wait for God to lay it all out. Because then I can blame my paralysis on Him, instead of myself.

When I feel overwhelmed by a situation or an aspect of myself I need to work on, the enormity of it all makes me shrug. “I just don’t know where to start.” Because I don’t know how to do it all, I do nothing.

I call it “waiting on God”.

Meanwhile, He’s waiting on me.

Why should I expect God to show me the whole plan when I’m not being obedient to the small thing He’s already shown me? Why should I expect Him to keep speaking when I haven’t acted on what He’s already said?

As small and inconsequential as it may be, I need to do the bit I know to do. Take that first step. And trust that His light will shine at the exact moment I need to know what to do next.

Two verses earlier in that Philippians passage is the more familiar encouragement and challenge to “press on”: “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 3:14)

But it finally clicked for me that, as I read on, the following verses continue the thought. It’s as though the next part tells me how to press on: By living up to what I’ve already attained.

So the challenge stands for me and you today:

Press on. By acting on the truth you know.

slow to speak

I’m thinking about our words. Thinking about things we say and who we say them to, and why we say them at all.

In this age of social media, everyone has a megaphone for their opinions and their short, sharable soapboxes. There is so much that is good about the ability for every voice to be heard in this online space. But just because we can say something doesn’t mean we should. And just because we think something, feel something, or have an opinion about something, doesn’t mean it needs to be shared publicly.

Some things are best kept to conversations with friends and family, where space and touch and hearts and dialogue and history are mutually and lovingly shared.

Some things are best kept between a few trusted loyals.

Some things are best kept to ourselves.

And we just need to pause long enough to decide which of those is the case before the words fall out of our mouths or fall through our screens when we hit ‘send’.

Today, I am more intentionally looking for that pause button.

{And, no, the irony isn’t lost on me that I’m saying this in a blog post.}

quick to listen slow to speak

bring the rain

Alece-Ronzino-Bring-the-Rain

The list of roles I played in my former life that I no longer play in this after life is staggering. Wife. Founder. Leader. Missionary. Pastor. Ministry Director. Daughter-in-law. Aunt.

And though not the largest, nor the least, of the losses I faced through my divorce, I no longer fit among certain groups of people. Like pastors’ wives, or ministry leaders, or ex-pats, or even just people who only spend time with other married couples. I lost a lot of relationships. And a lot of opportunities.

It feels at times like my history has been erased.

So when my friends at A Life Overseas asked me to share with their online community, I was blown away. Shocked, actually. Though I no longer direct a nonprofit overseas, their invitation told me they still value my voice and experience in that arena. And I can’t even begin to tell you what that did for my heart.

All that to say, I’m really humbled and grateful to be sharing over there today. Come join us…

Bring the Rain »»

the vulnerability of joy

fleeting joy

Vulnerability is far bigger than owning my weaknesses. 

I’ve discovered that vulnerability also includes owning my joy.

On a deep level, joy taps into my very worthiness. I question whether I even deserve it. I can think of so many who are worse off, and it feels unfair that anything should go my way at all. Who am I to have good things happen? Who am I to be happy? Especially when so many I care about are currently going through their own challenging and dark times.

The contrast of joy against others’ pain makes my heart ache. And I instinctively dim the brightness of my joy because fully feeling, acknowledging, and expressing it seems wrong. Immodest. Arrogant, even.

The battering ram of the past 4 years left my heart tattered and torn. Grif and heartache consumed everything for so long that, without even realizing it, I became afraid of joy. In its place grew a deep, underlying foreboding… a proverbial holding of my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

So when good things happen, of any variety, I find myself dismissing them. It’s too good to be true. This won’t last long. I shouldn’t be happy. I don’t deserve good things. 

Somewhere along the line, I unknowingly convinced myself that being happy in this “new life” means I’m glad my “old life” fell apart. That enjoying Nashville is somehow an acknowledgement of gratitude that I’m no longer in Africa. Saying it out loud, I know it’s ridiculous and untrue. My own journey of the past few years has taught me rather vividly that joy and grief usually reside together. I can be completely joyful and grateful for today, while still grieving over yesterday. One doesn’t nullify the other.

And yet, still, even when joy comes, I don’t embrace it. Knowing just how fleeting it can be, I send it on its merry way and close my eyes, cringing, for whatever might come next.

This is no way to live…

So I am intentionally forcing myself to lean into the vulnerability of joy. To look it straight in the eye, pull it close, and hug it tight. To allow myself to feel it and own it. To smile, to lift my eyes, to give thanks.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, or if there’s another shoe waiting to drop, or how long anything in this life will actually last. But I do know that the God who gives and takes away wants me to be fully present in the moments He’s woven into my story.

It’s not up to me to control what happens. But it’s up to me to choose to live wholeheartedly—honestly accepting and embracing all that comes my way.

And so today I’m leaning in, embracing the risk, and owning my joy.

[photo credit]

sometimes

prayer in the everyday

Sometimes
prayer is simply the steadfastness
of going about my day,
doing what needs to be done—even—especially—that
which I’d rather not do,
or that which I feel unable,
inadequate to do.

Sometimes
prayer is simply one foot in front of the other.
Sometimes
arms raised in worshipful surrender actually looks like
putting tired, aching “hands to the plough,”
not looking back.

My greatest, truest, most honest prayers
aren’t the interjectory conversations
with God
throughout the day. They are
merely the faithful stewarding
of what He’s given me to do—
who He’s given me to love—
today.

My intimacy with Him is measured not
by the length or frequency or eloquence
of my verbalized prayers,
but in my active trust in the small moments
of my everyday—
in the quiet prayers of a life sought to be lived well.

Sometimes
prayer is
simply breathing in, breathing out,
and doing—with moment by moment grace,
integrity,
and love
—what’s right in front of me.

[photo credit]

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