A Life Overseas – When You’re Sure God Loves Ann Voskamp More Than He Loves You…

”I’m pretty sure God loves Ann Voskamp more than he loves me.” 

I wrote this to a friend recently. I don’t even know Ann Voskamp, but I was still convinced that when it came to actual love, I was in the dog house and Ann was in the castle on the hill.

I mean, what’s not to love? She clearly loves Jesus. She gives money to the poor. She eats off the land (she’s a farmer’s wife for god’s sake). She adopts kids from places Far Away. She writes books that are poetic and lyrical and get onto the New York Times Bestseller’s list. Her inanimate books even love Jesus. She travels the world and writes about it. Plus, she’s thin. Everyone knows that God  likes thin people best. She even has a quote on the walls of the American University in Suleimaniya, Iraq. I saw it with my own eyes. Actually, through my husband’s eyes because they wouldn’t let me past security, but whatever.

So, yeah – I’m pretty sure God and Jesus and the whole Trinity love her more, because when I compare my little life to that of Ann Voskamp? I can’t even.

I have weighed myself on the scale of God’s love, and I have been found wanting. 

It’s kind of depressing. No – it’s not kind of depressing; it is deeply depressing. Not that they love her more, but that in my heart I really believe this. And if you’re honest, you probably believe that God loves some people more than he loves you.

Because let’s just get it out there in black ink: It’s so hard to believe that we are loved uniquely, deeply, completely, and unconditionally by a God who delights in us. It is so easy to see why he loves other people, but it is so difficult to get that he loves us. He saw what he made, and he called it “Good!”.  Our thinking is distorted and we are tricked into believing lies abot God, lies about ourselves. 

Here’s the rub: If I really believe that God loves Ann Voskamp more than me because of all the things that she does better than I do, then I probably believe that God loves me better than some other people. As much as I deny that, the reasoning is logical based on my distorted theology.

Comparison kills and we will always be found wanting. Whether we convince ourselves that we are better or worse than the person we are comparing ourselves to, we will always lose. Always.

Comparison and envy rot the soul. 

A few years ago I wrote a piece about envy. I’ve included it today because this is what I need to come back to when I have thoughts like the one I confessed, thoughts that undoubtedly, God loves Ann Voskamp more than he loves me.

May all of us give our distorted theology to God and thank him that in his master design he made each of us and loves each of us – deeply, uniquely, and completely.

We sat in our postage stamp size garden, tea and home made cookies in front of us. The weather was beautiful — a cloudless seventy degrees, typical of a Cairo spring. It was early afternoon and the call to prayer had just echoed through the area from a nearby mosque.

We were talking about language learning, the time it takes, the struggle, how we vacillated between feeling like idiots to feeling like small children reduced to no verbs and minimal participles.

“I wish I had language ability like Claire. Her Arabic is so good!*”

The cloudless sky darkened and green entered my soul.

“Well – if you and I had been here as long as she has and if we didn’t have as many kids our Arabic would be good too!” I said it lightly with a laugh – eager to hide the ugly of my envy.

She laughed, whether in agreement or out of politeness, and the moment quickly passed.

But it didn’t. Not really.

Because this had happened more than once; this ugly envy that entered my soul around a myriad of things. Whether it was language learning or how many Egyptian friends I had, envy had this way of creeping in and affecting my friendships, destroying unity. 

Read the rest here.

A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones~ Proverbs 14:30

Have you dealt with potential competition or envy with fellow workers who are overseas?  It’s a hard but important question!

*name has been changed!


How a Cynic Met a Gratitude Journal – Thanksgiving 2013

It’s 39 pages and counting. It’s sometimes written in black ink, sometimes blue; there’s an occasional pencil entry and red ink dots a few of the pages. Some of the entries are scribbled, others are printed carefully, some hold explanations in brackets. “It” is a gratitude journal and I am a cynic. 

For a full year after Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, was released I had people tell me I should read it. “You need to get this!” said one emphatically. “You will love it” said another.

Oh.Really. I thought. It sounded so boring. It reminded me of Nicky Gumbel’s view of Christians before he became one “They were sooo boring. And no matter what” he told his friend “Never let them into your room!” 

On a whim one day as I was idling, I happened on a website where you could download the first chapter of the book at no cost. This was perfect. I would now be able to confirm my opinion with authority. By page three my throat was catching, by page five I was sniffling, by page seven tears were pouring down my cheeks. All my cynicism, all my ignorance of the book and its premise, all my skepticism about best-selling books by Christians — all of that was washed away in a tearful apology that Ann would never receive.

My cynical heart was moved. The words in the book pierced with the challenge of “Eucharisteo”.  The author notes that every time Jesus performed a miracle, he first gave thanks. “In everything give thanks” the words of scripture tell me. Seemingly an impossibility, words written by someone who didn’t live in my reality, and yet there it was. And a deeper look at the man who penned the words, the Apostle Paul, made it clear that his reality was far more difficult than mine could possibly be.

As I read the book, I began to get the gnawing sense that I needed to do this, that I needed to begin a journal. I didn’t want to admit it, so stubborn am I, but I was deeply affected by the importance of thanks – the truth that Eucharisteo precedes the miracle.

So I began.

At first it felt silly. I would sit at dawn as per my routine, looking out a window at a sky not yet ready for morning. I would hold my pen and my journal, lost in thought. And then I would begin to write.

Warm home-made bread with honey on it.


Hurting heart.

Pain and healing.

Day after day, page after page, this cynic’s icy heart melted with the warmth of gratitude. 

At 39 pages I reached one thousand. I look back and see miracle on miracle. This conflict resolved, this child in college, another with a heart restored. The list is a story that only God and I would understand. It would make sense to no one else, but I think that’s the way it is supposed to be. I marvel at the way just listing thanks, inscribing gratitude in ink on a plain page, is changing the way I see life, the way I view my reality. It is healing my mind and changing my vision.

So today I remember this journey and I thank God that he saw fit to change a cynic’s heart and begin to fill it with gratitude.


The turkey has brined since early yesterday morning with a savory concoction that my daughter created. Pies are everywhere, and our refrigerator has vegetables, fruits, olives, and cheeses in such abundance that each time we open it, we fear the door won’t shut.

This afternoon our home will be filled to capacity with people from Israel, Iran, and Russia. As Christians, Muslims, and Jews we will share the holiday together with traditional Thanksgiving foods that include turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and stuffing.

I am so grateful to you who read and share in this writing journey. Ann in Cambodia, Jill in New Mexico, Petra in Phoenix, Pari in Kuwait, Janet in Minnesota, Rachel in Djibouti, Lara in Somerville, Carol in Istanbul, Donna in Chicago, Stacy in Dubai, Judy in Moscow, Bruce in Gardner, Jayna in San Antonio, Leslianne in Washington DC, Dounia in New England, Bettie in Macon, Sophie in Australia, my mom in Rochester. There are so many more of you who have emailed or commented, letting me into your world. It is a gift.

So from me, sitting at my computer trying to write out thoughts that make sense:

 *  Thank you *  شكرا  *  danke  *  آپ کا شکریہ  *  спасибо  *  merci  *

* teşekkür ederim *

Pink Punch and Lemon Squares


They served pink punch at the funeral.

Pink punch with sherbet in it. And lemon squares and those little finger sandwiches stuffed with different fillings: egg salad, ham, salmon salad, tuna. There were vegetables cut up neatly, in bite-size pieces. And there was dip for the vegetables and more sweets – chewy blonde brownies, Rice Krispies squares, dark chocolate cookies.

It was a spread to make a church proud; the sacrificial hands of church ladies who had done this before were there, waiting to direct and refill plates.

And I sat idly back, an observer feeling the pain of the widow. A widow who was burying her life partner, the man who had wooed her as a young college student and grown old with her; a man of integrity and faithfulness, by all counts a man of God – now dead. She would go home to a bed and a house half full, echoes of a life lived well all around her.

To live means to lose. To live means to experience death. To live means loss.

In Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts she writes “I will lose every single person I have ever loved.Either abruptly or eventually. All human relationships end in loss. Am I prepared for that?”*

All this loss wrapped up in pink punch and lemon squares

And if the end is just a service, pink punch, and lemon squares then it’s pathetic. The human heart cannot handle sustained loss on a diet of sweets. That every single relationship ultimately ends in loss is too much for the heart to handle without a Saviour.

I think about words from my faith tradition, words to an ancient church in Thessalonica, a church that had experienced death and loss: “Therefore we do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope”. There’s a mystery to the words. The mystery of Christ conquering death — Christ, risen from the dead, trampling down death, bestowing life.

Bestowing life so that serving pink punch and lemon squares is not an act of irony, but rather an act of sweet hospitality and grace to those who have come to offer comfort, to grieve with hope.

And as I think about all of this, the life and the loss, the hope and the hospitality, I realize I want pink punch with sherbet in it and lemon squares at my funeral.

*page 85 of One Thousand Gifts

Wrapping Up the Week 3.23.13

This has been a week of blog silence for me. I re-posted and pre-scheduled all the posts that were published and went on a hiatus. You’ll get some of my thoughts on the break tomorrow, but right now I am clear-headed with the confidence that comes from knowing we are more than our blogs.

Now on to the week wrap up. 

On Teen Courage: Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old who has captured the heart of the world with her courage and tenacity has returned to school in England. We will hear more from, and of, this young woman as she continues to heal and pursue her education. But for now take a look at what could arguably be the best news of the week: A picture and short story of Malala on this NPR blog.

On Teen Pregnancy: A new campaign targeting teen pregnancy has launched in New York City. The ads show sad or crying babies and toddlers with captions like:

“Honestly Mom… chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?”


“I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen,”

New York City, Teen Pregnancy

Supporters say this is a great and realistic campaign, that teens need to think through the consequences and an ad campaign like this puts all those consequences right in your face with a gigantic cute baby crying from a billboard. But others aren’t so sure and the ads have stirred up a lot of controversy. One of the issues raised is that they are based on shaming teens and shaming doesn’t work so well in this country. Another is that depicting a child criticizing a mom is just plain sad. So what do you think? You can read more in the article “New York City’s New Teen Pregnancy PSA’s use Crying Babies to Send Message” What do you think? Does shame work? Do you like these ads or find them offensive? And why? I would love to hear what you think through the comments.

On Boys will be Boys: Steubenville, Ohio has come to symbolize a horrific picture of rape, disrespect, and wrong, indeed sinful, choices. We are collectively shaking our heads thinking about what has gone wrong in our society, about the place and plight of women and men, about dignity and lack thereof. Ann Voskamp speaks with the authority and words of a prophet as she calls out the Steubenville tragedy and presses truth hard on our hearts and souls:

“Son. When the prevailing thinking is boys will be boys — girls will be garbage.

And that is never the heart of God.

That’s what you have to get, Son — Real Manhood knows the heart of God for the daughters of His heart.”~Ann Voskamp

Take a look at her article After Steubenville: What our sons need to know about manhood. You won’t be disappointed.

On my Bedside Table: Are you ready? Augustine’s Confessions sits on my stand with the goal to have it read by this year’s Pascha (Eastern Easter) I read 5 pages and thought “Why has it taken me this long to pick up this book?” My thanks goes to Aaron Friar blogging at Like Mendicant Monk for the recommendation.

What has caught your eye this week? I would love to hear through the comments! 

Complaining or Lamenting

I struggle with the ‘in all things give thanks’ piece of scripture. I know. I know. Many of us have read with poetic passion Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts and no doubt most of us think it is an amazing book. We marvel at how we feel as we begin to keep that journal and give thanks. Initially words fly onto the pages, our pens barely keeping up with the flowing ink.

And then life happens with all its fights, disease, chaos, uncertainty, and discord. And suddenly the pen feels heavy on our paper, the passion is gone. We shout “Where is Ann Voskamp when I need her?” (and Ann undoubtedly shouts back “You’re supposed to say “Where is God, NOT Where is Ann!”)

I think what I haven’t always understood is that lamenting, and by that I mean true grief over a broken world, a broken relationship, a death, is not complaining. Lamenting is aching for a world that is not as it should be. Lamenting is crying out to a God who cares that it’s not as it should be. Lamenting is giving appropriate voice to those things that disappoint, those things that grieve.

If God had wanted our constant happiness he would have created wind-up robots – instead he asks for our deepest trust, faith, and yes – a lamenting now and then. We have evidence of this through the book of Lamentations where the prophet Jeremiah laments for the fall of Jerusalem. He’s in solitude in a fixed posture of grief. He cries out to God with his whole being – from his toes to his nose. And through his cries we are given a portrait of one in anguish.

“He has filled me with bitter herbs and sated me with gall. He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust.I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, ‘My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD.’ I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.”*

Laments can heal the soul because they take us back to God as God. While complaints lead us into an abyss of discontent and wondering why the manna went bad, laments get at the core of the human heart, the dilemma of living out truth in a broken world.

At the end of complaining is greater discontent; at the end of lamenting is the whisper of hope, for at the end of the bitterness and gall is this: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.”*

*Lamentations 3: 15-20 *Lamentations 3:21,22

Blogger’s note – and today I am lamenting for Israel and Gaza as rockets fly and civilians are killed. My heart goes out to those who have already died with prayers for what seems an impossible peace.

Imperfect Community or Safe Isolation

Ann Voskamp has a way of getting inside my head. For those unfamiliar, she has written a book called “One Thousand Gifts” that ended up on the New York Times Bestseller’s list for quite some time. She never expected this and her future writing has thus far not been affected by this success – a rare treat indeed.

Ann weaves words together, creating a blanket that covers me and makes me cry. It is simultaneously frustrating and life replenishing. So yesterday she did it again. In a contributing piece to the blog {in}courage she wrote about why we need community. Only because she is Ann, she pushed the envelope; she wrote about why we need community even when we’re hurting. That’s a big caveat.

You see, I can find community in many places when I’m not hurting. I have a community with my coffee shop as we laugh and joke together; I have a community with my neighbors as we exchange conversation and slowly move into knowing each other a little better; I even have a community of sorts on the subway of glaring people – that’s when I’m not hurting. When I’m not hurting I trust and open up. That’s when I’m not hurting.

But when I’m hurting? My inside self curls into a tight fetal position as I try and protect my wounds; my inside self doesn’t want anyone too close because close means I’ll have to share; my inside self screams “leave me alone” even as it cries out “I don’t want to be alone”. When I’m hurting I want to hide and self isolate and medicate – that’s what happens when I’m hurting.

So Ann Voskamp comes along with her post and she writes about me. Oh it’s a different name and a different place and different DNA – but really it’s me. She is honest about where community fails and insistent on why we still need it. And though I want to accuse her of not knowing what it is like to be hurt by community I know deep down that she knows exactly what it’s like to be hurt – she wouldn’t be able to write the way she does if she hadn’t experienced it.

“You belong in the imperfect pews, you belong in the community that disappoints yet is anointed to keep on pointing to Him who cannot disappoint, you belong to the club of all the failing passing on all His mercy, all the members of the marred sisterhood being impossibly redeemed by love, lit by transparency, perfected by grace.”from Why You Need Community{even when you’re hurting} 4.12.12.

I’ll close with the words of my friend who read it and says “the message that imperfect community is better in every way than safe isolation is an important one for all of us…” What do you think? How have you made community work even when it’s hurt you? 


The Grace of the Gospel

How do you live so that when your kids think of the Grace of the Gospel, they think of you?Ann Voskamp ~ The Importance of Being the Prodigal Parent

Why did I have to read this at work and have my eyes cloud over my computer screen? Why couldn’t I have read this in the privacy of my home where I could weep unabashedly? Why did Marty have to post from “A Holy Experience” anyway? Why, oh why, oh why did I check Facebook while I was at work?

The tears fall and fall and I pray that my co-workers won’t wander over and see me, head on my keyboard, tears falling and heart overwhelmed.

Thoughts and memories rush over me and my eyes flood again. Because so many times I haven’t lived out the grace of the gospel and it hurts my heart. Because I am such a hypocrite – I sit and I write, and I talk, and I write more, and I talk more…and all the while how am I living?

And then I get mad at Marty because I can’t get mad at Ann Voskamp, because I don’t know her and she won’t care. But Marty knows me well. And Marty will care. And I get mad because she isn’t here to talk to and process these tears and this gospel thingy. And these damn tears….they are like my drippy faucet back home, persistent and never-ending.

But over and over the words “grace of the gospel” come to me. Over and over like the music on the blog, like waves erasing the beach, like the hum of cicadas on a summer night. And I realize that this grace, this grace of the gospel, is for those times when I parented so poorly. For those times when I shouted or swore and I shouldn’t have. For those times when I was overwhelmed and made the wrong decision. For those times when I didn’t pray enough, didn’t care enough, didn’t live my life through the grace of the gospel – for if it can’t cover all of those times, then I don’t want it. The grace of the gospel has to be big enough to cover my parenting.

And the tears slowly stop so now they are like light raindrops on my cheeks. Raindrop tears calmed through the grace of the gospel.

Bloggers Note: The post I was reading as I wrote this was “The Importance of Being a Prodigal Parent”. I decided to post a comment – here it is:

“I was ok reading this post until I read “How do you live so that when your kids think of the Grace of the Gospel, they think of you?” And then the tears flooded and I realized that I can’t read this when I’m at work because too often my eyes cloud over and tears fall and I’m a snuffly mess. 5 I have. 5 who have seen all my hypocrisy, all my flaws and failures and my tears fall more. And then I realize that this, these flaws, are what the Grace of the Gospel is for. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and my clouded over eyes.”

And Ann Voskamp, in all her graciousness, did care! She responded with this:

And 6 here, sister… There is grace and His scarred love covers our sins when we turn. Exactly, Marilyn: “these flaws, are what the Grace of the Gospel is for. ” You see Him. You beautifully see Him, heart open wide for us to come home.

Praying with you right now, Marilyn….