Soul Writing

soul writing

I didn’t hear about Velvet Ashes until about my sixth month in Southeast Asia. It came by way of my mom, who shot me off an email and said, “You should write for them.” She was currently living in Asia herself and had been introduced to Velvet Ashes through another cross-cultural worker.

Now, writing has been my lifeline for a long time, from the day I became enthralled with Harriet the Spy while living within the cold Mongolian steppes. It has been my place of safety and imagination, a place I could express myself fully in a way I wasn’t able to in real life. I could be a ninja spy who fought against injustice or an Amy Carmichael that saved children from harm. I could have the ability to travel through time and meet with characters long dead or be dropped behind enemy lines in WW2. It was a way for me to be strong when I felt otherwise helpless.

Once college came and I was in school and away from my Asian home, my writing took on an added meaning. It became my place of prayer. It was the place that I could rail against God and demand answers. It was the place I could cry out, kick and scream without having to act it out in public. It was also the place I learned how to write a paper, formulating thought, emotion and information into a digestible format.

After college my writing was for my own personal use. Whether it was a biblical study on sexuality or a devotion on beauty, it all came from within my soul yet stayed within my binder. This is why, when my Mom mentioned I should write for VA, I blew it off, because the thought of having my inner heart exposed for someone to reject was scary.

But then there came a weekly series on VA regarding MK’s and reading the articles made my body jittery and I had a hard time taking a full breath. Obviously, I had something to say.

So, I wrote. I wrote what I needed to say to get the body to relax and then, in a moment of courage, I sent it in. I was scared to death and I was legitimately surprised when they accepted it and used it. I was even more surprised when they used another one and then another one, until they asked me to join their crew.

Amy Young was the person who first exposed me to critique and editing in such a kind and gentle way that was palatable because, as I wrote out of my experience, pouring out my inner world on the page, it was nerve-racking. I knew I wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of coffee but I wanted to be authentic and honest about my faith and struggles and the impact cross-cultural living has had on my life.

But it isn’t easy for me to write so transparently. It is a physical, emotional and spiritual experience that will often leave me exhausted, feeling the grief or the pain all over again. There are times I haven’t felt like exposing myself in a post but my husband will read through these and say, “This doesn’t sound like you, it’s missing heart.” This sends me back to my corner where I connect to the heart of what I’m trying to say and put it down for others to read.

I believe the energy expended is worth it because I’ve found no growth or healing from clinging to illusion. It is only through the processing and acknowledgement of truth, no matter how messy, that I’ve been able to move forward and relate to God, others and myself in a more beneficial way. It’s a matter of integrity, for me, not to smooth over the rough, tenuous matters of faith. Believing that God stirs in us emotion and thoughts and questions in a way that draws us to deeper depths beyond systematic theology. My faith remains merely an embracing of doctrine when I do not connect the Scripture with the feeling and experiences that define me. This dogma has no power to heal; it only allows us to hide.

I will continue to write for Velvet Ashes as long as they let me because my heart yearns for others to find the freedom and healing that I am experiencing in God. The only way I know how to do that is to write from my own internal world, exposing the way that the Holy Spirit is moving on my heart at the moment. I imagine that there will come a day when I look back on what I have written and realize that I have grown from that place. That will be a good day. Proof that God is speaking to me and investing in my growth.

I would encourage you, if you were considering writing for VA, to write from your own experience, drawing from the places God is moving within you. We need your insights in order to process our own blind spots, your personal testimony of faith matters. So, take courage, the VA team is a delightful and kind one who will treat you and your stories with respect.  

What stories could you tell of God’s stirring in your soul?


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Photo by Jeremy Cai on Unsplash


  1. Monica F September 8, 2019

    You are definitely my cup of coffee Joy! Your words speak such truth, transparency and grace. I love that you say the hard things and bare your soul to the VA community in a way that reassures each one of us that it is ok to question, to struggle, to seek and find. I look forward to your posts every single time, re-read them, and share them with others. Thank you for sharing your gift with all of us, I feel so honored to learn from you as a writer!

    1. Joy Smalley September 9, 2019

      Thank you, Monica, for your sweet and kind words. You have kept me writing and pursuing writing when I have been overwhelmed over this last year. I am equally honored to learn from you and be inspired by you.

  2. Danielle Wheeler September 8, 2019

    So glad for that moment of courage! Your authentic, soulful writing has resonated with so many. Thankful for your words, Joy.

    1. Joy Smalley September 9, 2019

      Thank you, Danielle!

  3. Maria September 9, 2019

    I, too, want to thank you for your transparency in the way you write. It’s an invitation for the rest of us to follow. Thanks for leading the way!

    1. Joy Smalley September 9, 2019

      Thank you, Maria!

  4. Amy Young September 9, 2019

    Joy, from the first day we started working together, I looked forward to your posts. (And thanks to your mama for nudging you!) And look here . . . you are passing on the invitation, the holy nudge, the change to share. You are not only genuine, you are generous.

    1. Joy Smalley September 9, 2019

      Thank you, Amy. You are seriously the best 🙂

  5. Denise Beck September 9, 2019

    Joy….Thank you. Your authentic honesty breathes courage right off of the page. We need your words and the words of others like you who every morning place their feet firmly on adopted ground and allow God to move them, experience Him, and change the world.

    1. Joy Smalley September 9, 2019

      Thank you, Denise!

  6. Rachel Zimmerman September 9, 2019

    Beautiful writing and authenticity. Thanks for sharing and for the encouragement!

    1. Joy Smalley September 9, 2019

      Thank you, Rachel!

  7. Bayta Schwarz September 10, 2019

    Joy, I so much appreciate your honesty and vulnerability in sharing your story! Thank you for being so courageous! You are a blessing and an inspiration!

    1. Joy Smalley September 11, 2019

      Thank you, Bayta!

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