Category Archives: Global Nomad

Melting the Frozen Grief of the Global Nomad

***** 2019 *****

Brenda lay in bed staring at the darkness. The clock read 2:59. She couldn’t sleep. She eased out from under the covers, careful not to wake her husband. She slipped into some shoes and grabbed her purse. Stealthily she crept out of the house, not wanting to wake her teenagers.

She winced when she turned the ignition, but the engine came to life quietly. She backed out of the driveway and nosed toward the highway.

She wasn’t sure where she was going, just knew she had to drive.

She passed cars until there was no one left in front of her. She drove hard, headed East.

After a couple hours, the sky began to lighten.

Still she drove. Two more hours and she knew she was reaching the limits of her bladder and the gas tank.

The gas would have to wait.

She reached her destination. The one beckoning her.

She pulled into the parking lot of the state park and headed to the restrooms.

Ahead of her was the sea, crashing waves on the sand.

She inhaled deeply and let the smells of salt and fish envelope her.

She remembered she had a bag of candy stashed in the glove compartment from the international market.

She opened the bag and put one piece in her mouth. Bliss.

She tried to recall which piece of the mosaic of the past this taste belonged to.

Growing up as an army brat meant moving every two or three years, sometimes overseas.

She pondered the taste, then remembered the summer she turned six.

******* 1980 ********

The neighbors were having a party. The windows rattled with the noise of the music and dancing.

She shared a room with her twin four year old brothers. They were giggling and talking. None of them felt tired. It wasn’t the music. They were used to that. They’d slept through worse.

She jumped on her brothers’ bed and joined them in laughing at who knows what.

Then she remembered the candy stashed in a pillow case under the bed.

Somehow they had been able to hide it from their mother. She shoved her hand into the pillow case and pulled out a handful. The boys weren’t able to unwrap the pieces, so she did it. The crinkle of the wrappers couldn’t be heard above the giggling and the giggling couldn’t be heard above the music. They were safe.

She told silly stories and jokes and unwrapped candy. Her brothers worshipped her adoringly.

Long after the soft snores of her brothers permeated the air, she lay awake.

The sounds of music and dancing died down and ceased.

Then she heard the rhythmic beat of rain on a tin roof. Inside she was warm and safe and happy.  She fell asleep comforted by the sound.

****** 2019 *******

She climbed a sand dune grabbing tall grasses to help her ascend the steep part. She summited and sat at the vantage point where she could survey the miles of coast.

She could feel her breathing slow.

She stared at the water, watching wave after wave crash against the sand. She noticed the creep of the tide.

She took a couple pictures on her phone, but instinctively felt she needed to capture this moment in a deeper way.

She ran down the dune and headed back to her car.

She headed back to the last town she’d passed. First of all, gas. Then a craft and hobby store.

She bought a canvas, some oil paints, and brushes. She debated about an easel, then grabbed it, too. She didn’t make a mental calculation about how much she was spending and tried not to think about her already maxxed out credit cards. Surely she had one that wasn’t at the limit.

She threw her purchases into the car and raced back to the beach.

Before she began climbing, she walked past a pool filled with kids laughing and splashing.  She caught a whiff of chlorine.  The smell took her back.

******** 1991 *********

The girls’ PE teacher was out for the day, so 5th period PE girls were told to get their swimsuits on and head to the pool for a co-ed class attempting to learn water polo.

She headed out and stood poolside, scanning the group.  Some of her favorite people were in this class.  Some were good friends.  Some she wished she knew better.

The boys’ PE teacher was a first year teacher with enthusiasm and energy.  He spent fifteen minutes explaining the rules and strategies of water polo, then quickly divided the group into two teams.

Another five minutes was lost determining who would play in each position.

Finally, the competition began.

The attempts were comical.

Then it turned into a free for all, with no regard to where the ball was.  The main goal was to splash your opponents if you were close to them or your teammates if you weren’t.

Screams, shouts, water everywhere.

Lots more fun than water polo.


She fell behind the other girls walking back to the locker room. She wanted to savor this delicious feeling. The feeling of utter happiness. Of belonging and being seen and accepted and wanted. No self-consciousness or akwardness or embarassment.

The feeling of being somebody, but not even that. A somebody who was part of the tribe. One who belonged.

She loved it. This feeling.

She had almost reached the locker room, when she heard her name called.

She whirled. She recognized a student office aide.

“Hurry up and get changed. Your dad is here. You need to hustle into the guidance counselor’s office pronto.”

Her heart plummeted. Her dad wasn’t due back for three more days. There could only be one reason he would show up at school in the middle of the day.

They were moving.


Her bubble had burst.

******* 2019 ********

Even though the sky was blue with white puffy clouds, and the sea a mesmerizing mixture of greens and blues, her painting was dark.

Blacks and grays for sky and sea. White caps and white clouds and and occasional white gull.

But no color.

She couldn’t bring herself to use the blues and greens.

The blacks and grays were necessary.

She worked without stopping, except for an occasional sip from a water bottle.

When every square inch of the canvas had paint, she exhaled.

The tightening in her chest relaxed.

She breathed again, deeply, looked out at the water and felt a moment of peace.

Then she unscrewed the caps on the brown and red and yellow paints.

She added an island to the painting, crowned by a lighthouse that sported a yellow glow.

She closed her eyes and exhaled again.


P.S.  If you’re new to the concept of frozen grief, start here.

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Closing the gap:  connecting across the miles

There’s a box in my closet that’s been virtually untouched for ten years.

It holds framed pictures of my kids’ grandparents and aunts and uncles.  They used to hang on the wall of our house in Mexico when we lived far away from our blood relatives.

Since we moved back to our home state and we see family on a regular basis (and our kids have grown) there’s no reason to have them displayed.

But there was a time when I wanted my kids to know and remember their family.

Long distance family relationships are a constant in my life.  Good-byes are normal.  Homesickness is, generally, a non-issue.

But keeping up with long distance relationships is a challenge.  There’s time differences.  There’s time pressure of the here and now and juggling schedules.  There’s also more options than there used to be.  Skype.  Internet phones.  FaceTime.

There are more ways than ever to stay connected and more distractions than ever to keep us from connecting.

Here’s a few ideas for keeping in touch with faraway family:

Send pictures via email.

Post pictures on social media of special events or everyday life.

Set up a private facebook group to share with the select what you don’t want to share with the world.

Make a recording of you reading a favorite book and send it with the book as a gift.

Send book recommendations including links to library ebooks that can be checked out.

Go for a visit.

Start the rhythm of writing weekly family news.

Send gifts for special occasions.

What have you done to keep in touch with far away family?

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When a Tumbleweed Grows Roots: What I Learned Winter 2019

“I grew up transient, with change as my constant. I lived a privileged life in many ways, and benefited from a plethora of experiences denied many of my more settled peers. In fact, I felt competent to handle most of what my spinning world threw my way. It was when the world stopped spinning that I got dizzy.” Dr. Rachel Cason

I resonate with Rachel’s words, because her experience mirrors mine.

I’ve lived on the East Coast, the West Coast and the Mid-West.

I’ve lived in the Middle-East, the Far East and Mexico.

My nomadic life began before I was old enough to decide and continued when it  was my turn to choose.  I developed coping skills for transition, not for rootedness.

And now, my world has stopped spinning.

The first four decades of my life were transitory.

The past ten years I’ve lived in the same state, most of those years in the same house.

Occasionally, I wonder what would happen if we uprooted again.  Occasionally I want to.

Some call it itchy feet, some call it wander lust.

But, it appears this tumbleweed is finally putting down deep roots and coming to terms with it.

I wonder if a case of itchy feet comes from a desire to escape all the pressures and stresses of the life we lead.

I’ve written before about finding and creating community as a survival strategy for nomads.

Two other things help me.

Focus on gratitude.  Sure there’s things you wish were different.  Of course there are stresses, conflicts, tensions, pressures, fears and worries you want to escape.

But, it’s always a mixed bag. There are always blessings, too.

Contentment is the by-product of gratitude when I realize I don’t have to move an inch to be happy.

Escape into Fiction.  Reading has always been my go-to survival strategy.  That applies to transition as well as rootedness.  A great movie can do it, too.  Or even an engaging TV series.  But, my top choice is an uplifting, brilliantly written novel.  A based-on-real-events book can do it, too.

When I’m yearning for a change of scenery, it’s often just the desire to get out from under whatever’s pressing down at the moment.

A good two or three hour stint into the world of fiction takes me away from the pressures of life and provides stress relief.

Parmesan Cheese Lids fit on Canning Jars

This life hack popped up on the internet and inexplicably brings me joy.

I use canning jars a lot, especially for homemade kefir.  I have a couple of white plastic lids that fit on them.  I’m always wishing I had more, but it’s never priority to go looking for them.

Parmesan cheese lids, on the other hand, wander into the house every week or so without any extra hassle.

Take that, Marie Kondo.


Sarah Mackenzie                                                     Kate DiCamillo

Emotional connection to a story transcends literary analysis.

Authors don’t write stories for literary analysis. At least, Kate DiCamillo doesn’t.  Sarah MacKensie interviewed the author of Because of Winn Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux on the Read Aloud Revival podcast.

Kate DiCamillo tells of reading a story in elementary school that touched her emotionally and then turning the page to find fifteen questions about the story.  And her heart sunk.  She didn’t want to dissect the story and analyze it.  She just wanted to enjoy it.

Sarah talks about making meaningful and lasting connections with your kids through books.  The memory of a shared experience when you read a book out loud together.

The emotional experience of reading a book that touches you.

That’s what literary analysis ruins.

The emotional connection between the reader and the story.

That sacred magic that happens when you become part of a story.  Tearing it apart and studying it from all sides ruins that magic.

That’s what Kate was trying to avoid.

I’ve never heard anyone articulate this before, but I LOVE it.  Listen to the whole interview here.

So that’s what I’ve learned this winter. Some authors are writing for emotional connection, not literary analysis.  Parmesan cheese lids fit on canning jars.  Tumbleweeds who grow roots thrive when they focus on gratitude and consciously escape into fiction.

What have you learned this season?

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Why you need that reunion and the reunion needs you

I used to think community was one network that served as a safety net.

But, community isn’t just one circle. Your network is actually multiple circles where you belong. Sometimes they overlap and sometimes a it’s a group that you were part of in the past.

Like your nuclear family.

Or a class that you were part of.

Or a church or small group that you used to attend.

The fact is that past communities helped shape who we are as humans.

Reunions are communities of the past that we re-connect with in the present.

Reuniting with that community is important to understand ourselves. Who we were then and who we are now.

When that community gets together again, the shared memories are the glue that cements the community.

It is the communities of the past that have shaped who we are. And, we in turn have shaped them.

Some communities we have chosen and some we haven’t.

But the communities of our present and future we choose. We choose to identify with them. We choose to be a part of them. We choose to influence them. We shape those communities, to a greater or lesser extent. And they shape us.

All the communities of our past have influenced who we are today.

To re-connect with those people means to touch our former selves.

Emotional and relational health involves coming to terms with past communities. Being at peace with yourself in relation to them.

Accepting the good, bad and ugly and redeeming the negative.

Extending forgiveness when necessary. Accepting forgiveness when necessary.

Expressing gratitude for the impact the people in those circles have made.




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Has Your Identity Been Influenced by Different Cultures?

Mosaic art is made of tiny pieces arranged to be pleasing to the eye.

The artist chooses which pieces he wants to include.  It’s the vision of the artist and the choice of the pieces and the arrangement that turns discards into art.

We are the creators of our present and future.

We can choose the  best pieces of our past to be part of our present reality.

Global nomads can choose all the best parts of their wandering life to turn their story into a beautiful mosaic.

All the best relationships. All the best traditions. All the best foods.

Obviously, there will have to be adjustments. There will have to be tweaks. All the ingredients won’t be available for cheap right at your fingertips. You will have to work harder to keep up the friendships. You might be standing alone in your traditions, without the support of the surrounding community.

But. You get to choose.

Better yet. You get to choose all the best parts.

You can let go of all the negative and keep the good.

What a gift you have.

You know more than one way to do life.

You’ve observed and participated in different paradigms.
You can contrast and compare like a student of English doing an essay.

You can celebrate the mosiac of your past.

You can introduce your community of today to the richness of your yesterday.

We do that without thinking, don’t we?

We get hungry for foods we used to eat. So we research, track down the ingredients, bring back the taste of our past and invite our friends. Suddenly, our nomadic life has enriched our present reality.

But, we can do it intentionally, too.

We can purpose to identify the best parts of our past and release the negative.

We can re-establish the traditions that we love.

We can even change the pace of our life to reflect a saner way of living.

With a little reflection, we can pinpoint what we miss and figure out some way to re-create it.

I don’t want to diminish the losses. I think they should be grieved.

But, when that hard work is done, or significant progress is made, I think it’s time to celebrate.

Be grateful for the gifts of the past. Choose the best parts and make them a part of your joyous present.

Your life and your future is in your hands. You can make it what you want it to be. You have the privilege of knowing different cultures.

Embrace all the pieces of your identity and celebrate the best parts.


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How Our Social Circles Shape our Identity

In our earliest days, all of our communities– our circles of influence– are chosen for us.

Our families, churches, schools, neighborhoods.  All chosen by those responsible for our lives.

But, the day comes–on the playground, in the lunchroom– when we start to build our own communities.  To choose the people we tell our secrets to.  To forge friendships and gather tribes.

This happens in the context of the universe that was already predetermined.  But, the process has begun.  Some kids are friends and some are not.

We begin to choose groups with common interests:  band, soccer, drama, chess club, youth group.  Now we are with people who have similar gifts, goals or passions.  We share time pursuing activities that we are mutually interested in.

Belonging to a group shapes our identity, and in turn, our identity shapes the group.

We jockey for position, for a pecking order, for our role in the group.

Someday we will leave that circle.  But the memory of that group and the part we played in it becomes an integral part of ourselves.

Eventually, we move on as autonomous adults who choose the communities they belong to.  At least, most of them.  You might not choose to be a prisoner or a widow, but you choose your church and job and spouse.  You choose book club or AA or Mary Kay.

This is one of the many reasons why family reunions and schools reunions are so important.  Our identity is formed by the communities we didn’t choose as well as the ones we did.

The better we understand what shaped us, the better choices we can make in choosing and creating the communities of our present and future.

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When the world stopped spinning I got dizzy

“I grew up transient, with change as my constant. I lived a privileged life in many ways, and benefited from a plethora of experiences denied many of my more settled peers. In fact, I felt competent to handle most of what my spinning world threw my way. It was when the world stopped spinning that I got dizzy.” Dr. Rachel Cason

I resonate with Rachel’s words, because her experience mirrors mine.

I’ve lived on the East Coast, the West Coast and the Mid-West.

I’ve lived in the Middle-East, the Far East and Mexico.

My nomadic life began before I was old enough to decide and continued when it  was my turn to choose.  I developed coping skills for transition, not for rootedness.

And now, my world has stopped spinning.

I have unexplained confusion in my life. This is why I write. To untangle it.

One thing I’ve come to believe to my core is the critical importance of community for emotional health.

Maybe for the nomad it looks different.  Maybe for the nomad it becomes more challenging to find people who understand you.

There’s two different ways to incorporate healthy community into your life:  find it and create it.

Two essential elements that both require initiative. In general, they are not going to fall in our laps.

What are some tips for finding community?

Be patient.

Looking for community can be hard. You can feel uncomfortable, awkward, on unfamiliar ground. It might take time to build relationships and bridges. You might feel like people don’t really “get” you.

Trust takes time to develop. New communities don’t look like old communities.

Contribute. Participate. Even when it’s awkward and uncomfortable.

Accept the limitations and imperfections of new communities.

Take advantage of reunions with old communities, but don’t compare. Every community has it’s own personality and timeline.

How about creating community?

We start creating community when we meet someone for coffee or dinner, when we invite them over and even when we bump into them by chance at the store and stop to catch up. Those are the seeds.

But, it can grow to form a group. It could become a party, a retreat, a tradition. It could develop a purpose and a mission. When we start to do life with other people, we create community.

Community is built on individual relationships. Brick by brick. One by one. So strong communities are built on the foundation of strong relationships.

Friends that will help you when you are in trouble, when you need help.

Friends who will listen. Friends who will accept you for who you are, warts and all. Friends who are faithful.

These are the elements for building community.

It doesn’t hurt to have two or three tribes. It’s probably necessary to have overlapping community.

With the internet, it’s easier than ever to find your people, but maybe harder than ever to establish and maintain real relationships.

What truths have you discovered while finding or creating community?

You might also like:  3 Ways Global Nomads Find Community and the search for community as told in metaphor.





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Ensuring Emotional Health, No Matter Where You Live

What happens when you move somewhere new and have to re-establish your life?

Is there a way to ensure emotional health no matter where you live?

Based on my experience of living in different countries and moving in the States as well, I believe there’s areas you can focus on to create a life that is emotionally healthy.


I believe emotional health is connected to community.

I was trying to capture that when I wrote Another Campfire.

You have to have friends that are close geographically. Sometimes you have to connect with friends that don’t live close by.

You have to have a safety net. You have to have people that you see every week. You have to have people that you can call for help.

You have to be in some give and take relationships.

Spiritual Disciplines

Corporate worship.  Prayer groups.  Meditation. Bible study.  Inspirational songs.

The better you know yourself, the more you will know which spiritual disciplines are critical for your emotional health.

Physical Health

We can’t divorce our emotional health from our physical health.  Diet and exercise are critical to how we’re feeling physically, and that affects how we feel emotionally.

Hundreds of books have been written on diet and exercise.  That’s way beyond the scope of one blog post.

But, a commitment to improving physical health through diet and exercise will pay off dividends in improved emotional health as well.


Richard Swenson gets credit for introducing the concept of margin, but the idea is that you don’t use up all your resources, you keep some in reserve. He addresses margin in time, finances, physical and emotional resources.

You have to know your limits.

How much socializing you can handle? What do your spiritual disciplines need to be? How much music and art and creativity you need in your life?

How much exercise? How much time off from work? How much rest?

It’s really hard to find those limits at first and test those boundaries. It’s hard to know yourself.

But, it’s so important.

Meaningful Work

It’s important to know what constitutes meaningful work for you. It’s important to know your why.

It’s important to have a creative outlet, some hobbies.

You can build a life that works for you, but it does take some insight, some intentionality and some practice.


Focusing on the negative is bad for emotional health.

Structures and habits can be put in place to turn that around. I know because I’ve experienced it. What a huge difference it makes. Focusing on the white page instead of on the dark spot on the page.

In every situation, there’s something we don’t like. We miss certain foods. We miss people. We miss an identity or persona or a position that we held. We miss weather conditions. We miss living conditions. We miss luxuries. We miss access to goods or services. We can miss a whole way of life.

Also, in every situation, there are things to enjoy. The pace of life. The time for deep friendships. The fresh fruits and vegtables. The view. The pursuit of meaningful work. The anticipation of seeing people we love. A simpler life without luxuries. Not having access to goods or services.


These are the areas I’ve noticed that contribute to emotional health.

What would you add to the list?

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Another Campfire

The sun filters through the leaves of the trees.

The time has come.

Moving slowly indicates your lack of enthusiasm for the task. This is reluctant packing for sure.

You sweep out the tent with a tiny brush. You wrestle with the sleeping bags, trying to squish them back down to the size they used to be.

You collapse the tent.

You pull the stakes. One is stuck. You grab and tug. The hard plastic grinds into your hand.


When you’re nomadic, pulling up the stakes always hurts.

Unexpectedly a strong arm reaches around you and pulls effortlessly in one smooth motion.

You finish the job in tandem then, folding the worn pieces of tent fabric into each other forming an unwieldy mass. Together you stuff it into the tent bag. But, as usual, it refuses to fit, making it impossible to zip.

You give up and leave it messy, unable to find closure or feel the satisfaction of a job tied up neatly.

You load coolers in the van. Duffel bags of clothes, squishy sleeping bags, the bursting tent bag. Boxes of cooking supplies, camp chairs, a pair of shoes, sunglasses, purse, phone.

The campsite clears out when everyone heads to the camp store for last minute snacks.

You sit down under a tree and stare at the campfire ring, the contents black, charred and sooty.

You think about last night’s fire blazing and roaring and mesmerizing.

Because that’s what camping’s all about, isn’t it? The fire? The warmth and heat. The circle of camp chairs around it.

The joking and singing. The stories and jostling. The sticky fingers and burnt foil packets. The meat sizzling in the skillet. The feeling of being and belonging. The dark creeping in and the whine of mosquitoes and the chill in the air.

It all happens around the fire, the heart of camping.

But now it’s over.

It’s time.

Time to get in the van and drive away.

The chatter in the vehicle dies down and you are spent.


Dusk settles and then darkness cloaks, and eventually, pinpricks of light punch through the velvet sky.

And still you ride.

Following the ribbon of highway straight in front of you, with only the lulling sound of tires on pavement.


Content to be traveling.

Confident in the knowledge that somewhere down the road there will be another campfire.

  Related posts:

Frozen Grief: Why It Matters to Global Nomads

Ties that Bind: Understanding the MK Connection

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Anna’s story, part 3

“Weep deeply over the life that you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Feel the pain. Then wash your face, trust God, and embrace the life that he’s given you.”

John Piper

Missed part one of Anna’s story?  Or part two?


All the volunteers from church had cleaned up and gone home. The sun was setting. This was the last day for everyone to come and work on the memory garden.

She walked around it, touched the statues and stone work. Traced with her fingers the names of her husband and son etched into the monuments. Even though they were buried several states away, her tribute to them was here. Their words and names etched in stone, trees in their memory, a fountain and flowering bushes. There was also a stone with the names of her parents. Her tribute to their lives. Her memory of love lost.

She looked over at the stone in memory of Ben’s brother with his name on it. Someone she had never met.

Then the tears came, heavy with wracking sobs. This was not what she expected from life. To be left alone. This is not what she asked for. This was not what she wanted.

The sun was completely gone. The chill in the air felt appropriate.

The tears slowed, the sobbing quieter. She was spent. Empty.

Everything was quiet.

Sitting there, completely alone, she didn’t feel lonely. She felt a warm presence with her. She felt peaceful.

No, this was not what she hoped for, not what she planned, but she knew she would survive.

One foot in front of the other. One step, one day at a time.

She could rewrite a different ending. She could create a different path. Just like the renovation of the barn, repurposed for something new.




Anna sat on the back porch swing with the letter from the doctor in her hand.

The test result said that abnormal cells were detected and further testing was needed.

She smiled to herself and felt inexplicable peace.

Maybe this was the beginning of the end. Maybe it wasn’t.

Whatever the future held, she was content to be in this moment. Content and fulfilled with where her life was right now, the life she had crafted out of the rubble of the past.

As she glided back and forth, she heard the voices and laughter of Ben’s kids running and playing. It was a balm to her soul.

On the refrigerator were pages that they had colored for her.

On the table were wildflowers they had picked for her.
Cooling on the counter were three pies she had just pulled out of the oven.

Seventeen expected at the big house for supper tonight. Since there was still some lemon cake leftover from last night, three pies would be enough.

She breathed gratitude for the changes in her life in the past seven years.

She was thankful to be living in community. She was thankful for meaningful work, for a chance to invest in eternity. She was thankful for the joy that three happy, healthy kids brought into her life.

She loved looking at the renovated barn and the memories of the gatherings it had hosted so far.

She loved looking at the Missionary Care Center: The stone walls, the slate roof, the cornerstone with immortal words engraved to stand the test of time.

She loved hearing the dull roar of ATVs racing through the distant fields.

She looked over at the memory garden.

That’s what she loved the most.


And, yet, this peace.

Knowing that reunion awaited.

Still content. Right here. Right now.


Anna’s story is not meant to be a literary masterpiece.

It’s written as an encouragement for the discouraged.

We transcend our own life for a brief moment and walk with fictional characters in their journey. We temporarily forget who we are and live vicariously through them.

After they conquer their dragons and descend from the mountain victorious, we return to our own lives.

But we bring their courage with us.

That’s the power of story.

When Katherine Patterson was asked if her work of fiction were true,answered, “It was meant to be.”

Because every discerning reader knows whether or not a story rings true. Whether or not it resonates deeply in their soul.

We were made for story.

We’re living it out.

And although I believe in an Author who is writing history, I also believe He gives us the freedom to choose how our story will play out.

I believe we can re-write the ending the way Anna did.

We are not stuck. Just because we’re up against a roadblock does not mean we’re at the end of the road.

At that point, though, our biggest need is hope.

That’s what I want Anna’s story to be for you. Your ray of hope.

The pain is what we identify with, but it’s also the hope.

The desire to build something, to put down roots and build a memorial to someone’s life. It’s the deep rooted desire we have to make our life count. To have a meaningful purpose and to live in community.

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