The Gospel Brought to Life

I’m in the middle of packing and sorting my things for another cross-continent move. My bedroom is filled with black tubs and suitcases and my conversations with my kids are peppered with questions about whether this stuffed animal should go or stay. I’ve got four weeks and two days before I get on that airplane and leave one home for another.

The “found object” that represented my emotional state this retreat, was a picture of a free fall because I find myself in the middle of transition without clear direction and I feel out of control, adrenaline coursing through my body. It is easy to get caught up in the certainty that I am the only one who feels lost or stressed or grieved. I’m the only one who has ‘that’ problem to deal with and no one else will understand.

I think I want my experience to be unique. I want to hold onto the idea that I have it hardest. It gives me the right to live in a place of self-pity, anger or bitterness and holds me stationary in that one place. Desperately wanting to be affirmed in my pain, demanding that Jesus fix it and save me now.

Yet, throughout the retreat testimonies, I could hear myself in much of what each woman was saying. And the words of God spoken to them in the midst of their struggles were now being spoken to me, and through it God breathes life and comfort and peace, calming the soul.

It is okay that I don’t understand what God has done, he is still patient and loving and kind.

It is okay to let go of ministry as the focus of my value and worth.

It is okay if I don’t see success and sometimes God doesn’t give me what I think I need to find healing.

But God will sustain me where I am, with the people he has chosen to surround me with.

I think that this is the power of the gospel in community. When we share the depth of personal experience and encounter with God, we breathe out what is true and what is good. Our words leave the arena of dogma as our experience gives life to theology and people are transformed. We are moved to contemplation and action. We are challenged, rebuked and we are inspired to trust that there is life in this death, there is relief in these tears and joy in this pain.

Thank you, ladies, for telling your stories because right now, in this moment, God is using those words to sustain my faith and bring his peace.

We really aren’t all that different, you know, because we are all women of God, seeking to understand service and joy and love in the middle of a chaotic, ever changing life. When we share our stories, open and honestly, the gospel light shines through and Christ is glorified. We are a sisterhood intent on finding the face of Christ. This is the beauty of our Velvet Ashes community.

‘That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Jesus Christ has made me his own.’ (Philippians 3:10-12)

What words resonated with your soul as you retreated? What stories can you tell in your own life that can empower others?

Photo by Kamil Pietrzak on Unsplash


  1. Spring April 25, 2018

    I love your thoughts that being the “only one” hold us in bondage to the sins of bitterness and self pity. I hadn’t thought about it in that way but it is so much the truth. I do remember as we started our first term I thought to myself that my friends in the US had no clue how hard it was to be me. Then I returned to realize, there are different, just as difficult things.

    I have been enjoying the Testimony of Joni Erikson and how 50 years after becoming a paraplegic, she has faced cancer How God walked with her through it instead of healed her from it. It is less difficult of a road to enter when we realize we are not alone. Thank you for that reminder!

    I was not able to retreat this past week due to other commitments. I hope to this coming weekend

    1. Joy Smalley April 25, 2018

      Hi Spring! I agree, that our experiences and burdens are lightened when we depend on each other. It is so true that we can assume that our cross-cultural life is more difficult then a mono cultural one and yet when you get to know people and hear their stories it does break down those preconceived ideas. God Bless and enjoy your time retreating!

  2. Hannah April 27, 2018

    Hi Joy, I get you! It is so good to hear of another woman in a time of transition, plastic bins all over the house, deciding what to take and what to leave… Etc. We are leaving the country in three weeks, and moving out of our house in two weeks. Thanks for your words of Grace in my inbox. Honestly, it is just good to be reminded again, that I am not alone; and the challenges that I’m facing aren’t putting me in some kind of special category. 🙂 There is Grace for me just like there is Grace for everyone else. I wasn’t able to do the retreat yet, but plan to do it next week.

    1. Joy Smalley April 28, 2018

      Hi Hannah! I’m at two weeks before we move out of our house now too. It is crazy and overwhelming and ok all at the same time. You are most definitely not alone and I am praying for you as you pack up and say goodbyes. I may not know your specific requests but as I pray for myself I will pray for you also and God will be our mediator. Blessings!!!

      1. Hannah April 29, 2018

        Thank you so much Joy!! By the way I love you name…I named my daughter Joy as well. 🙂 You’re so sweet to pray for me also in this time. Abundant blessings.

  3. Rachel April 29, 2018

    Thank you, Joy, for these words. They hit a chord with me. Especially the part about wanting to hang onto my hard and give myself permission to be bitter and angry, believing I have the hardest hard. And I like what someone else said in the comments about realizing other people are dealing with hard, it just looks different.
    And even our stories look different- I’m ‘settled’ for about 2 yrs now in a home in the US. But I have similar heart struggles!!
    And I’m beginning to see that most everyone is living something hard. I am saddened by how long it is taking me to see that “I’m not the only one”!

    Right now the story of Kara Tippetts is gripping me. She had a blog called “mundanefaithfulness” and wrote 2 books, one which was coauthored with another person, and I highly recommend them to anyone in this sort of “woe is me/no one gets me” boat.
    They’re called “The hardest peace” and “Just show up”.

    1. Joy Smalley April 29, 2018

      Hi Rachel, I am blessed to hear that it resonated with you. Thank you for the blog and book recommendations, they look like good reads that speak to suffering. I love how another’s story can give us courage and insight and speak into our own. God is so amazing in that way. Weaving us all into connectivity even though we are in different countries with varying experiences. Gives me chills 🙂

  4. Bonita July 19, 2018

    The idea that my ministry is not the focus of my value and worth I totally get mentally but I am noticing lately that perhaps my work/ ministry is almost an idol for me because it so easily defines me or is what I use to define myself and others use it to. Thank you for this reminder that it does not have to and doesn’t define me in God’s eyes. I know in my head that God loves me even if I do nothing but living that way is a different thing!

    1. Joy Smalley July 21, 2018

      Hi Bonita, I can relate. It is so easy to build an identity around what we do and believe that God loves us more or less depending on our “work”. Yet, I think my soul longs to believe it because there has to be rest in that truth. What a peaceful place it would be if I truly believed that God’s love for me was not dependent upon what I did or did not do.

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