The Blessing in the Burning

I was twelve when my house burned down. We were playing cards in our living room, in our log cabin, in small town Outer Mongolia when we heard what sounded like kids throwing rocks on the roof.

I remember my Dad running into the house yelling fire.

I remember running down our street to the one house that had a phone.

I remember watching outside our gate as the whole neighborhood converged on the house, pulling out all our belongings and making a pile of them in the yard.

I remember the sound the roof made as it crackled and the smell of the fire as we watched the house burn.

I lost everything in that fire. All my toys. All my clothes. All my childhood memories, burned.

A few months later we had our first family vacation in Asia and we took the trans-Siberian railroad from Mongolia, through Russia and Poland to Hamburg, Germany. During that trip us kids were allowed to choose one toy to take back with us and I chose a doll. I was too old for a doll, I didn’t play with dolls, but I wanted a doll that I could one day give to a daughter if I ever had one. I wanted something tangible from childhood that could be passed on, so I chose this beautiful doll with bright red hair that came with a little basket to carry her in. I loved it.

Fast forward a few years and you can guess that the doll was ultimately stolen as was everything else that I had left at home.

The doll was never something that I grieved or thought of much in the coming years. I moved on, finished high school and started college and developed a theology about who God was.

God required sacrifice.

God took from us the things, places, people that we love the most.

All for his glory.

I knew for sure God would never let me get married….and then I got married.

I knew for sure that God wouldn’t allow me to have kids….and then I got pregnant…. with twins.


My twins were born at 37 weeks completely bald. The most beautiful babies you could imagine. Around eight months old Luke and Anna started to get little tufts of hair and I vividly remember the day that God reached down to me. I was sitting on the floor while the babies were on all fours rocking, so close to crawling with their chubby limbs, and light shone through the window and hit Anna’s hair just right.

I froze.

My sweet baby girl has red hair.

At that moment I remembered my doll and God gave to me the verse from Matthew 19:29, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”

I felt a rush of grief as well as a rush of comfort and joy because in that moment God told me that he had seen it all. Every loss. Every goodbye. Every pain. He had been there, he had seen it, and there was a reward.

I tell you this because I know it’s true.

God sees every loss. Even the losses you tell yourself are inconsequential. He sees them all, he knows them all and he has a reward for you.

Granted, not every loss comes with such a tangible reward in this life, but I promise you this, nothing you give up for the sake of Christ’s name among the nations will go unseen and unrewarded. Every illness you experience, every goodbye you say, every humiliation, all the loneliness, is worth it. Jesus is worth it.

You know, the hundred fold wasn’t even that I got my doll back in the form of my red headed angel, it was the fact that when I wasn’t seeking, and when I wasn’t asking, Jesus himself sought after me.

He reached out and He saved me. He saved me from bitterness and brought me hope and He will do the same for you.

“For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.” Hebrews 6:10


How have you experienced God’s hundred-fold in your life?

What gifts and graces has He sprinkled into your life in the midst of the losses you have experienced?


  1. Danielle Wheeler September 21, 2016

    This is so beautiful! Brought tears to my eyes.

    I was reading the “Anyone who has left…” verse the other day. What stood out to me was that it says they “will not fail to receive a hundred times as much IN THIS PRESENT AGE…and in the age to come.” I think so often we only think about receiving his eternal blessings. But he is such a lavish Father on BOTH sides of eternity. Love the picture of him gifting you with your red-headed doll.

    1. Joy Smalley September 22, 2016

      Thank You Danielle. I haven’t yet been able to write out this story or tell this story without crying. It really is a sweet moment that I hold tightly to. I agree completely about God rewarding us both in this life and the one to come. God is continually exceeding my expectations as I see the gifts he gives, often the gifts look a lot different then I had expected and are often couched in pain but they are worth it. I love that we serve an incredibly generous and loving and kind God who never leaves us.

  2. Jessica September 21, 2016

    My parents passed away when I was young. By far my deepest grief in life has been my mother. My daughter (now 4) made my mother’s life come full circle in my own and it caught me totally off-guard. My daughter is like having a strand of my mama’s DNA walking around and there are the strangest things about her that remind me of mama. Hard to explain, but your words touched a deep part of me and it is the part that resonates with God’s power to restore even the most (seemingly) random and forgotten part of us.

    1. Joy Smalley September 22, 2016

      Hi Jessica. I think it is amazing how God is so intimately aware of our lives that he knows exactly how and when to reach out and touch us in our grief to bring healing. I love what you said about God’s restoration in our lives, even in the seemingly random or forgotten parts of who we are. Man, I love our God and how he actually cares for each of us!

  3. Jessica September 21, 2016

    It’s late and I’m tired and yes, I did just post a giant picture of myself with that last comment that I can’t figure out how to take down. Just laugh. Please, just laugh.

    1. Joy Smalley September 22, 2016

      Lol, it is a beautiful picture of a beautiful woman 🙂

    2. Julie September 23, 2016

      Jessica – that did make me laugh, and smile away the tears of this post. Oh my heart – Joy, that story is a blessing today. Thank you! And thank you Jessica for the smile. I love your picture and LOVE that you don’t know how you did it. So me! Hugs!!!

  4. Amy Medina September 22, 2016

    what a beautiful story. thanks for sharing.

    1. Joy Smalley September 22, 2016

      Thank you Amy!

  5. Carolyn Stoker September 22, 2016

    Thank you for sharing your journey. I think especially of my kids and all they “lost” as war consumed the country in which they grew up and we relocated to anther African country. I remember so vividly one day my oldest son crying in the car as we stopped on our way to soccer practice that the soldiers had killed his life – they had stolen the life he knew. Or my daughter filling out her passport application with the name of the country in which she was born (which no longer has that name) and the passport agency rejecting the application because she had to use the current name of the country even if her mind that was not “her” birth country. I too read that passage just the other day and thought once again of how God will redeem it all.

    1. Joy Smalley September 22, 2016

      Hi Carolyn. Often the losses that come from being a TCK can be overwhelming and we are often made aware of our grief in those random moments. I will be praying for your kids, that God will reach down and redeem the losses and help to bring healing. TCK losses are rough. Kids are incredibly resilient but not unaffected by circumstances. May God continue to bless your home and I look forward to the moments God brings to you and your kids to show his excessive grace and crazy outpouring of love.

  6. Emily September 22, 2016

    I needed to hear this.
    I might need to be reminded daily.
    I’m trying not to let my home leave be overshadowed by the impending goodbyes.
    I was reminded me of Psalm 40:17.
    “As for me, I am poor and needy,
    but the Lord is thinking about me right now.
    You are my helper and my savior.
    Do not delay, O my God!”
    He is thinking about me. 🙂

    1. Joy Smalley September 22, 2016

      Hi Emily. I love the verse you posted, it brings about a calming on my soul to dwell on the reality that God is actually thinking about ME. Crazy old me. As someone who has said her fair share of perpetual goodbyes it makes it especially hard to fully engage in the relationships in front of me. I will be praying for your home leave that God would give you his grace in ways you couldn’t imagine if you tried.

  7. elizabeth September 22, 2016

    We are having a “holiday” and shopping for supplies in town right now. On the wall of our bedroom at the oversea guesthouse where we are staying is a large poster printed with “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much…”. We have been experiencing months of deep stress and distress and loneliness in the place where we serve, our one and only daughter is starting boarding school in January, another child is struggling…and the past week I have been looking at that poster and thinking and wondering where the hundred-fold is. Oh, I know my perspective is skewed right now and I am weary, but truthfully, this is where I have been at this week. I have been asking the Lord if it is really worth it, worth the cost. So, thank you for your timely post because it spoke deeply to my heart. .

    1. Joy Smalley September 22, 2016

      Hi Elizabeth. Believe it or not, last week I asked myself the same question after saying goodbyes to my family again. I think it is a good question to ask. My prayer for myself was that God would not hide himself from me but would give of himself more freely and openly to me as I continue forward. I know it is a huge cost to us mothers when we have to say our goodbyes to our children, sometimes it feels as though God keeps upping the ante of sacrifices. I will be praying that in the midst of the stress and pain that God would pour out his joy on your family.

  8. Gina September 22, 2016

    Seriously tearing up about this post, which is awkward because I’m at work. 😉 Thank you for this!

    1. Joy Smalley September 23, 2016

      Ha Ha…glad you liked it 🙂

  9. Hadassah September 23, 2016

    Thank you, Joy, for sharing this with us. For me, what meant the most was the verse at the bottom: “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.” (Hebrews 6:10) This week we had visitors from the United States come to our school for an accreditation visit. Even though they had a lot of good things to commend us about, it was especially difficult to hear some of their suggestions for improvement…considering our reality vs. theirs. I felt really discouraged, but your verse was like a gift God gave me this week, speaking encouragement to my heart. I know I shouldn’t be after praise, but whether or not it is recognized here on Earth, God sees everything we do in order to serve Him. It isn’t overlooked by Him. I may need to cross-stitch this for above my desk:)

    1. Joy Smalley September 23, 2016

      Hi Hadassah, I am so glad that God spoke through that verse for you. I also hold tightly to it, especially when I am feeling discouraged, it just is such a good reminder that God is watching and that he is on our side.

  10. Carola September 27, 2016

    I can just agree with your words. When I was a child, we were living in Brasil and we didn´t had money for a piano. So every day I went to the church to train there and every day I prayed that we could afford to by a piano. 5 years later we moved to Germany and on my 16. Birthday, my parents took me to a piano shop and I could chose a piano. That was the best gift ever. 10 years later, I was moving to Portugal, to be an overseas worker there and had to sell my piano. It was very hard and in Portugal I was living in an apartment and could not have a piano. 10 years later I was married and moved with my family to Mozambique. There a M told me, that they had a piano in the guesthouse, that was taking place they needed and they wanted to give me the piano. In the middle of Mozambique, in the bush, I was not expecting a piano, and if then a very old piano. When they brought the piano to our house, I was moved to tears. It was the same (type of) piano I had chosen in that shop with 16 years (and still god). God was showing me, that he saw me and all my life, all the sacrifices. Thank you, for reminding us.

    1. Joy Smalley September 27, 2016

      What a beautiful story Carola! God is purely precious in his dealings with us to give us such sweet images of his caring presence in our lives.

  11. Ann October 8, 2016

    “Every illness you experience, every goodbye you say, every humiliation, all the loneliness, is worth it. Jesus is worth it.” In the midst of all of these things, this reminder was needed to read this morning. thank you.

    1. Joy Smalley October 8, 2016

      Ann, I am blessed to know that the words encouraged your heart. May God meet you where you are at today and bless your soul with himself.

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