Thursday, October 5, 2017

Hiraeth- my home away from home

It was a typical day at the Caribbean Mountain Academy in the Dominican Republic where I worked as a missionary.  I was hiking the mountain behind our campus, guiding a family who had never been on the trails before.

"Are you sitting down?" a stranger asked on the other line as I answered my phone.
"That's strange," I thought. Normally I can't even get reception up here.

"I'm so-and-so from the German embassy".  My stomach sank, instantly knowing what she was going to say next.  I sat on the rocky ground in a daze as she explained the news of my sister's death.  I remember my friends surrounding me and praying for me as I stared straight ahead, not seeing anything but with tears streaming down my face.  I remember somehow making my way down the mountain but feeling like I was floating and not really experiencing it.
The 'spot'

Fast forward almost TWO years later, and I'm in the EXACT same SPOT where I had collapsed to the ground and heard the traumatizing news.  I remember that awful day vividly as I sit there now.  I look around and note that the place has not changed one bit.  Except for ME.  I'm not crying this time. Just reflecting.  I never thought I would come back here.  I never thought I could be in such a healthy place and survive this.  The pain is still there, but I can also recall how God has worked in my life these last two years, comforting me and healing me in his special way.

When I left the DR a year ago, I had many negative and bitter memories associated with it.  Coming back after a year allowed me to have closure and remember all the things I loved about this amazing place. The good, the bad, the ugly.  It's all here.  Except this time I feel lighter, able to remember all the good memories that I had while here.

There is a nostalgic longing for this place - a place I didn't think I would ever return to.  The English language does not have a word for this feeling.  But other languages have it - the Welsh hiraeth, the Portuguese saudade, the Romanian dor, etc.

It's a concept that's hard to explain, but one that the global nomad is all too familiar with.  
I left the DR due to circumstances outside of my control.  It just didn't seem fair!

But my visit to the DR this time around reminded me of something that I knew all along...

When I was stranded in Miami due to Hurricane Maria, I questioned whether I was really supposed to come to the DR or not.  Was I being foolish?  I was the only crazy American still on the flight trying to get there.  After the third or fourth cancellation I thought, "This is it.  I will sleep in the airport tonight and if it's cancelled tomorrow morning, then I will cancel my trip and go home."  I cried at this realization and a man from my flight kindly gave me his dinner and tried to console me.  He was a missionary in Santiago and let me read two of his books.  

The titles? Fearless Faith and Safe in the Storm.
So I read them.  There was nothing else to do! 
But I felt such a peace at being reminded of God's sovereignty and control in the midst of the storm.

"We have all the desire to control things that we cannot, and we often forget how deeply God cares for us..
We think that if our circumstances change, we will be at peace...
Difficult times are opportunities to be grateful for the strength that Christ supplied, that we might endure them...
God will not protect you from what he can perfect you from...
If you are doubting his Sovereignty, review His promises"

Ok, God I get it!
Miraculously, the flight took off without a problem the next morning and I spent an amazing week in the DR!  I'm so grateful that I got to go back, spend time with old friends and visit some of my favorite places.
God is at work and continuously bringing me closer to Him, even though I can't understand it sometimes.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Dosing your pain

Grief is like a chest of drawers.
The individual drawers come in many different sizes.  
Some large. 
Some small,  and holding just a small memory.
Which drawer will you open today?

My counselor introduced me to this concept, explaining that some days you can only open a tiny drawer and feel a light memory of pain.  For me, this may be hearing a song that reminds me of my sister or wearing a sweatshirt of hers.

Some days you open a larger drawer with a stronger memory that brings you to tears. 

And some days, the grief is so strong that you pull out the entire drawer only to crawl inside for the rest of the day.

Which drawer will you open today?

Just this week I was working like normal on my computer and suddenly a song came on that reminded me of my sister.  I suddenly stopped and burst into tears.  I spent maybe an hour crying and looking at pictures of my sister.  And then just like that- it was over.  I resumed my day without a problem and like nothing had happened.  Thankfully, I was alone and had some buffer time in my day where I could do this.  That day I only needed to pull out the drawer for an hour.

The problem with grief is that you don't always have control over which drawer will be yours to open that day.

Another image to describe this idea is to 'dose your pain'.  Coined by Dr Wolfelt, a leading grief psychologist, this image simply means feeling the pain in spurts instead of the full brunt of the intensity.  He explains that sometimes you may need to distract yourself while other times you may need to make a safe place to grieve.  However, this DOES NOT mean running away from the pain! It will always be something that you have to come back to.
I love what he says here:
"To live into the future depends on my response to the reality of what I am experiencing. Temporarily, I need to create an insulation from the full force of what I am coming to know. If I felt it all at once, I might die. But feel it I must". (p. 141 in Understanding your Suicide Grief)
Learning the concept of 'dosing your pain' was huge for me!

After my sister passed away, I drowned myself in the pain and intensely exposed myself to the grief.  I thought that by doing this, I would 'get through it' at a faster rate.  But the pain was at such a constant intensity that I almost didn't survive it.

I think I was stuck in this extreme because I wanted to avoid the mistakes I made when my dad passed away.  After my dad passed away I used the coping mechanisms of avoidance.  For instance, on Father's day, I would purposefully schedule myself a 12-hour shift at work so that I wouldn't have to think about it.  Avoidance is not healthy and only hurts you in the long run.

In contrast, dosing your pain is a way that you can create a safe place to grieve when you are ready.  There are certainly times when you may need to distract yourself temporarily to ease the pain.  It's ok to protect yourself and retreat to safety when you need to.  I learned that grief is not something you can do all at once as if it were a 'To Do' checklist.  Dosing your pain is healthy alternative to both wallowing in constant despair or avoidance all together.

So what drawer will you open today?  
It's ok if you don't have the strength to open one today. 
Tomorrow is a new day.
Be kind to yourself.
Dose your pain.  

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Master Gardener

Sadly, my brown thumb has killed more plants than I care to admit.  But a dear friend saw it as her mission to transform the backyard of my new little bungalow into a cute little garden.  I did not realize that gardening took so much manual labor!

My friend explained to me that after a flower or plant is transplanted into a new location, it is vulnerable and needs lots of care and water.  It takes time for the roots to grow deep again and get settled.

This is the perfect illustration of my life for the past year.  Exactly one year ago I was 'transplanted' from the DR to Fort Wayne.  I was vulnerable, weak, and going through a lot of pain.  I didn't have many friends when I moved back and was reluctant to make new ones all over again.  Everything in my life was different and I had to establish my roots yet again.  Being an MK (missionary kid) I have had to do this countless times in my life, but it never gets any easier.

Last June, when I returned from the DR, I knew that I needed to spend some serious time with the Lord and just take a break from things for a while.  I didn't work for 6 months. I had a LOT of alone time to think, journal, pray, read, and just be with God in nature.  I attended ELIM, a spiritual renewal retreat for missionaries.  I also sought counseling and spent a lot of time with family.

PC: Natalie Kunkel
And now...a year later...his work in my life is proof that God is the ultimate HEALER and Master Gardener!

On more than one occasion, people have told me that I even look physically different, lighter.  That is all due to God's amazing work in my life as the Healer.  Even though I was uprooted, God didn't just forget about me but took care of me as a diligent gardener would.

Even though I didn't work for awhile, God continually found ways to surprise me by providing financially for me as well.  For instance, someone I don't even know sent me a check, allowing me to purchase a hospital bill in October was miraculously $0... a random scholarship came in for tax refund was more than enough to pay for car repairs...and on and on.

So what else have I been up to? I have been working part-time helping immigrants and refugees and I have loved using my Spanish again!  I will also be graduating in August with my MSW! (finally!)  I don't know what I will be doing after graduation, but that's ok!

Reflecting on the last year has led me to feel so overwhelmed by God's grace and goodness in my life!  So many changes, yet God has been so good!

"So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness". 
Colossians 2:6-7

Thursday, April 6, 2017

LOOK UP- My Jehovah Nissi

One of my favorite names of God is Jehovah Nissi- the Lord is my Banner.  A few months before my sister passed away, I had been studying the Hebrew names of God and this name had impacted me the most! (Another example of God's perfect timing as he knew I would need this truth)

In the Old Testament, the Israelites carried banners with them on their march through the desert.   They were used as a rallying point for troops before battle and were meant to instill hope and arouse devotion to a leader or cause.  When they were in the fray of the battle, they were to look up and gain renewed hope and confidence amidst the chaos.  It was a standard to look to and a reminder that no matter what the crisis, God would see them through!

In Exodus 16, the Israelites were facing hardship at the Rock of Horeb where the water sources were very low. The Israelites chose to complain, not believing that the Lord was really with them. They are doubting God's goodness and about to face war with Amalek.

Yet God provided a way out. As long as Moses held up his arms during the battle, the Israelites were winning.  I'm sure that in the midst of the fighting the Israelites could look up and find hope in seeing Moses' arms outstretched.  After they miraculously won the battle, Moses built and altar and called proclaimed the Lord as his banner.  The banner is an amazing symbol of God's promise to bring us through, providing protection over us.

One of the biggest things I've learned is that when you are suffering, the best thing you can do is to LOOK UP.  Difficult circumstances can sometimes throw us into a pit and sling mud over our eyes so that we can't see clearly.

Yet God is our banner of encouragement to give us hope and a focal point in the midst of chaos. He is our victory and the one who wins our battles!

Suffering is a very vulnerable time.  A fact that Satan will take advantage of every time.  We may be tempted to focus on the chaos of our circumstances and the battle instead of God's character!  Look up and find HOPE in the Lord's protection and promises.

My favorite song during this past year has been Bethel's Through It All.  Part of the song goes, "Through it all, my eyes are on you!".  I would listen to this song on repeat several times a day to remind myself of this truth.  You can listen to it Here.

When you are suffering, the best thing you can do is to LOOK UP!

Graphic from

Monday, March 27, 2017


Good from Horribleness
By Bonnie Bruns

                  At this point, dealing with Adriana’s death has not gotten “easier with time”.  But I DO know what DOES make it easier.  When God makes good from something so terrible, THAT is what makes it easier.  I continually pray, “Lord, please bring good from the horribleness of what has happened.”

                  Since Adriana’s death I have gleaned much from Romans 8.  Even though I’ve read this chapter so many times before, God is continually showing me more truths.  The oft-quoted verse 28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good….”  As the Lord reveals these good things, I am  keeping track and the list is growing!

I want to focus on His faithfulness in bringing about good, instead of on the horribleness.

 For example, let me share how He has orchestrated good through a “violin story”:
                   Adriana had played the violin faithfully since the first grade, thus accumulating a lot of music over the years.  As I contemplated what to do with all of it, I thought of a friend who gives violin lessons.  We arranged to meet and as I handed her the stack of music, she knew JUST the student to whom it could be given – a student whose family had recently moved to the area.  They had been through a house fire and the student had lost all her violin music in the fire!

But it doesn’t end there!  I also gave my friend Adriana’s last violin with two bows enclosed inside. That very afternoon I received an email from my friend:
“I delivered Adriana’s violin to a new student of mine…. Her violin broke at our last lesson.  It was a hand-me-down and in bad shape.  Her family couldn’t afford a new, used, or even rent one right now.  I told them to pray after our lesson last Tuesday and I would connect with a few people who might have one they could loan her.”   She continued, “I told her that Adriana’s violin can bless her as much as it blessed Adriana and others when she played but when she was done playing it, or maybe decided to change to another instrument, that I would love to have Adriana’s violin back.  My intent is to allow Adriana’s violin to bless many students over the years and that it won’t be retired or sold but given to other children who wish to make beautiful music to the Lord; allowing Adriana’s love for the instrument to continue for generations.” 

And yet a third student was blessed through Adriana’s violin!  My friend went on to tell of another student whose family had been through a lot in the past year.  She badly needed a new bow for her violin.  “She loves playing violin and cried/laughed when I brought her one of Adriana’s bows.”  My friend closed with, “God’s timing is always amazing.” And it truly is as I watch His goodness unfold.  

                  Well, that’s the end of the ‘violin story’, but not the end of God’s goodness!  As I look through Adriana’s aviation materials, I believe it's time to make a trip to Purdue.  Certainly this pile of aviation books and accessories can be a blessing to others in the aviation department there.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…"

Romans 8:28