Playing the Flame Game

It has now been two weeks since the violence at Charlottesville.

I have spent that time trying to compose my thoughts; trying to put words to the chaotic torrent of emotions pumping through my veins in time with my heartbeat.

I am numbed by the hatred, anger, and racism so prevalent in our nation. My grief is so heavy, it feels as though I’ve swallowed a boulder. Leaden. Dense.

“If you’re not feeling the weight of these times in your belly, that’s more likely indifference/detachment than the peace of Christ.”
– Jonathan Martin

My current emotional state is reminiscent of the day I found out Nancy died.


The troopers came into our house, pinching her license between their fingers. “Is this your daughter?” they asked my parents. When my parents nodded yes, they continued speaking from a place miles away. I strained to listen, but it was only through a great effort that I heard what they said next, as it felt as though I’d been suddenly thrust under deep water.

“She got into a car accident today and she didn’t make it. I’m so sorry.”

My bones turned to rubber and folded underneath me. I collapsed into the current of the water and it began pulling at me, slowly at first than faster and faster. As it spiraled madly around me, I flailed, trying to break the surface, trying to inhale the lungful of air I so desperately needed. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t see. The boulder that had taken residence somewhere in my gut weighed me down further, pulling me deeper by the minute. I eventually managed to grab a conveniently placed doorframe and pull myself to the surface of the torrent, only to discover that I was still unable to breathe because the boulder knocked the wind out of me. Wild-eyed and gasping, I wept. Emotions beyond the realm of words poured out from a place deep inside me that had been irreparably broken.


There are five stages of grief.

The first is denial. This isn’t happening, this can’t be happening, we tell ourselves. Some of my white brothers and sisters are still stuck in this stage of grief. This is a defense mechanism, our mind’s way of rationalizing otherwise overwhelming emotions. It helps offset the immediate shock of the loss. It acts as an anesthetic through the first wave of pain. It grants us to survival to the second stage.

The second stage is anger. As the denial begins to wane, the pain reemerges, as intense and raw as we left it. We are still unprepared. However, since we can no longer deny the reality of the situation, we deflect it away from us in outbursts of anger.

I am currently camped in the angry stage of grief. I don’t think that I’ve ever sat down and written a blog post while I was this angry before. I try to spare those who read my posts the full intensity of the fire that runs hot and wild through my veins.

But unfortunately, not being angry is a luxury I can no longer afford. This anger is important.

Attitudes that I thought we as a nation had condemned, and belief systems that I thought we had dismantled have resurfaced with a horrifically ravenous fanaticism. Conversations that I never thought would be necessary on this side of history have become the norm. Groups of people have been repeatedly devalued or ignored by other groups of people scrambling to ensure that they remain in power. It’s sickening.

I need to sit with this anger against white supremacy, tight and hard in my chest. I need to feed this fire against injustice, hot and fierce and dangerous. I need to guard this flame against racism, carefully cultivating it into something productive, allowing it to give me direction and mold me as it runs its course. This fire is valuable. It is a fire that has burned its name on my bones and seared its name on my flesh. It is an anger that will not easily be doused from my memories – nor is it one that should be.

Yes, friends, I am angry. I am angry, because I am grieving.

“If we hand our sons and daughters a faith exposed as racist, misogynistic, unconcerned about creation and the poor, they aren’t wrong to leave it.”
– Jonathan Martin

My heart is broken for my brothers and sisters of color, for the marginalized and the oppressed. My heart is broken by both the silence of some of my white brothers and sisters, and the excuses that some of the others are offering on behalf of groups that are not worth defending. My heart is broken by the flippancy with which the President is treating these issues in an increasingly divided nation. My heart is broken by the labels which we’re using as weapons to further divide us and choke empathy. Simply put, my heart is broken.

“The purpose of life is not just to be happy.
The purpose of life, my love, is to feel.
You must understand that your pain,
is essential.”
– Christopher Poindexter

Matthew 5:4 says that those who mourn are blessed, because they will be comforted. In the Greek, the word for mourn here is pentheó, which can also be translated lament or manifested grief – i.e. a grief so severe that it cannot be hidden; a grief that takes possession of a person. It can also be translated to grieve over death – and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Thus, this Beatitude could just as easily read: blessed are those who lament their sin, for they will be comforted. I used to think the implications of this verse were merely personal, but I’ve since realized that to lament your own sin is to lament all sin, because as you acknowledge your sin, you realize that the same root bears the same fruit. This is why in Isaiah 53, Jesus was prophesied to be “a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” He knew the ramifications for sin more intimately than anybody. He perfectly knew perfection; thus He grieved over imperfection.

It is imperative we face our own darkness before we can fight against the evil so prevalent in our world – lest we become like those we are fighting against. History attests to this. America was involved in World War II against Germany and the Nazis, while simultaneously placing Japanese Americans in internment camps. Without the humility to look in the mirror, we become hypocrites. None of us are beyond the reach of our own fallen nature, in spite of the best of intentions. “The authority of compassion,” Henri J. Nouwen writes, “is the possibility for each of us to forgive our brothers and sisters, because forgiveness is only real for those who have discovered the weakness of their friends and the sins of their enemies in their own hearts, and are willing to call each human being their sister or brother.”

“Grant, Lord, that I may know myself,
that I may know Thee.”
– Augustine

Humility is a cornerstone of Christianity. To know God is to be humbled by Him. As you are humbled by Him, you are able to better love others, because the gospel is the great equalizer. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. There is no Jew or Greek, there is just people. Jesus said Himself that the two greatest commandments are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. These are not two unrelated commandments, but rather the second commandment hinges on the first. If you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, the natural outpouring of that is to love your neighbor. 1 John 4:20 states that “whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” We are all created in God’s image, thus no person or group of people is better than another. This scarcity mindset – that “there will not be enough for me if they benefit too” – is eradicated by the gospel. There is enough equality for all.


I don’t truly remember the days following Nancy’s death. I was in a fog; everything is blurred at the edges. But this I do know – in that time of deep grief, I was not alone. I was not left to drown in an endless pool of blackness. People held me, cried with me, and laughed with me. People reminded me to eat. People squeezed my hand and rubbed my knee, assuring me that they were going to journey through this with me; that they were there if I needed anything. In particularly, my childhood best friend Aurora did not leave my side for days. She slept with me every night, ensuring that if I woke up I wasn’t alone with my thoughts and darkness. Aurora sat with me, listened to me, loved me. No one told me that my grief was out of place or that I was overreacting.

During this season of immense political and racial turmoil, we would all do well to take a lesson from Aurora. We should be the faces of compassion to our black brothers and sisters – listening more than we speak and validating, not undermining, their grief. We don’t have to understand everything perfectly to love well. Aurora gave flesh and bones to love during my season of deepest grief; let us do the same.

My prayer is that our anger will be repeatedly kindled against the immense injustice experienced by our neighbors, so that we will cease playing the blame game, and begin playing the flame game.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

Ephesians 6:12

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The Miracle Worker: How Theatre Saved my Life

For as long as I can remember, I have always been entranced by the power of a good story. As a child, I was an avid reader, devouring books of all genres, topics, and sizes, barely digesting one before I was halfway through another. My appetite for stories – for a better understanding of the human condition – could not be satiated. I watched the world around me with curious and eager brown eyes, constantly on a quest to better understand others – and, whether I realized it or not, through that, to better understand myself. I wanted to know the why behind the what. I craved context. I wanted to know the motives that drove actions. Are people born wicked? Or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?

When I was young, going to the theatre as a family was always big production. Together, we annually attended the musical put on by my local high school. And, even though we were just attending a show at the high school theatre, my mom always made us wear dresses – with tights. It was much ado about nothing, if you asked petulant seven-year-old me. We always lamented about being subjected to dress up to attend the shows – “but mo-o-o-om, no one else has to!”

However, whatever anguish we suffered at being subjected to dressing up was quickly forgotten as we settled into our seats, the curtain went up, and we got swept away with the story.

The lights. The music. The intensity and frailty of live performance. The palpable adrenaline and rawness of it all. It’s truly inexplicable. My breath often caught in my throat more than once, and it had nothing to do with the constricting waistline of my tights.

I don’t even remember the specifics of most of the shows that I saw. I do, however, vividly remember the first time I realized that the stage was accessible to me. We were leaving the high school theatre, the Indian River Theatre of Performing Arts, (or IRTOPA, as it is affectionately nicknamed through its acronym) after watching a family friend perform as the fairy godmother in Cinderella. Seeing someone I knew onstage changed my perception of theatre entirely. Suddenly, the people who played the characters I saw depicted in shows ceased being these larger than life caricatures as I had fabricated – untouchable and unattainable beings. Instead, I understood and recognized them for what they were: people. Mere people: daughters, sisters, students, sons, friends. Yes, the cast of a musical was a conglomeration of immensely talented people, united toward a common goal. But they were still simply a group of people, nonetheless. I left the theatre determined that I would join their ranks and be among them (that is, as soon as I was old enough.) There was a million things I hadn’t done, but just you wait. The world was gonna know my name. I intended to break both legs on that stage.

Little did I know then that theatre would save my life.

I landed my first speaking role as a sophomore. I depicted the Mayor of Munchkinland in The Wizard of Oz. (Believe me, the irony of that being my first speaking role didn’t go over my head either.) The following fall, I played the endearingly spoiled Amy March in Little Women. I then played the despondent eleven-year-old Alena Lederova in A Child Shall Lead that winter, a play based on Terezin, a concentration camp that the Germans put the more prominent Jews and children in during the Holocaust. It was a “show” concentration camp of sorts, as disgusting and horrifying as that prospect is. I transitioned from hating dressing up for shows to willingly dressing up in order to put on a show.

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I loved it all; the entire process. The auditioning. The rehearsals. Blocking. Memorizing. Props. Sets. Doing character work. The excitement of opening night and the sorrow of closing night. The comradery and the community. IRTOPA became my home away from home and my fellow cast members became my second family.  Through the roles I had the honor of depicting, I was beginning to gain a deeper understanding of myself.

My senior year, I landed my first lead role as Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker. There aren’t words to describe the elation that I felt upon seeing the cast list for the first time. I was entirely overwhelmed and ecstatic. I had been dreaming of this day for years. I couldn’t believe it had finally arrived.

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“Teacher: t-e-a-c-h-e-r.”

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DSC_1494A short few months later, The Miracle Worker closed and the time to audition for my senior musical was rapidly approaching. I spent hours honing and perfecting my audition piece. I was determined to realize the dreams of 2006 Amy and make her proud. I would dare to dream the impossible dream.

On December 9th, 2011, I walked into audition for Annie. It was a Friday night, so I wouldn’t have access to seeing the cast list until Monday.

Fortunately, much to my relief, later that night, I received a call from the director:

“You did it. You’re Annie.”

In that moment, if you had asked me to fly, I could have.

I’d done it. I was Annie. 2006 Amy could rest easy, knowing all her dreams had been fulfilled. I sprinted up the stairs to tell Nancy and my mom. Breathlessly, I panted, “I’m Annie. I’m ANNIE!!”

Nancy wasted no time engulfing me in a hug. “I never doubted for a second that you’d get it. I’m so unbelievably proud of you. You’re going to do so well!”

My mom smiled broadly and squeezed my shoulder. She knew how much this meant to me.

That night, I went ice skating with Nancy, Jeriah, and my sisters, alongside a small cluster of our friends. In truth though, I was floating around the rink. I was Annie. Annie.

My cheeks burned from smiling so much.


It only makes sense that I would have to come back to earth eventually. But I wasn’t expecting for it to happen so soon nor so abruptly.

The weekend wasn’t even over before the cloud I had been floating on dissipated and I found myself free falling, entirely unprepared, toward the harsh reality of earth. I hadn’t even had the chance to see the cast list for myself yet.

I suppose there’s no way for you to ever be adequately emotionally prepared to sky dive. But the show always must go on.

December 11, 2011 brought a plot twist into my story that I never could have prepared for. Nancy’s passing broke parts of me that I didn’t even know I had, much less that those parts could be broken.

My cheeks burned from crying so much.


I had never gone sky diving. I was going to have to rapidly teach myself to deploy my parachute blindly, or be dismembered by the rocky reality awaiting my descent into grief.

I opted to deploy my parachute. Theatre, by the grace of God, simply afforded me the tools and instruction I needed in order to do so.

The show must go on. And I intended to be a part of it.

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Me, scrawling my initial next to my name on the cast list of Annie, the Wednesday after Nancy died and my first day back at school. By placing my initial next to my name, I was indicating to the directors that I accepted my role.


I immersed myself in Annie. It provided the ready distraction I needed to limp through those first few months after Nancy’s death. Nearly everyday, I sang some portion of the phase: “The sun’ll come out, tomorrow. Bet’cha bottom dollar that tomorrow, there’ll be sun.” I lived and breathed those words. They became my mantra. Yes, “weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). Annie was suddenly much bigger than simply the realization of 2006 Amy’s dreams – it salvaged and rescued 2012 Amy. I had to make Nancy proud. I had to finish what I started. For me, it wasn’t a choice; it was a duty. Nancy would be so disappointed if I dropped out on her account. I couldn’t disappoint my beloved sister.

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Sandy. 


I would never wish that anyone lose someone close to them. It is a wound that never entirely heals, it’s merely a wound you learn to live with. However, God, in His omniscience and grace, brilliantly timed the death of my sister in a way that allowed for the imminent and immediate distraction of both me and two of my sisters, KristiAnn and Emily (who were also cast in Annie.)

Annie became my parachute. And for that, I’m forever grateful.

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NYC, what is it about you? 

Even losing Nancy was an act of inexplicable grace. Whether I had realized it or not, I was still living a predominantly works-driven, legalistic faith. Legalistic faith is an unsustainable one, and wreaks havoc to the soul. I didn’t understand the gospel. I didn’t understand grace. I only understood performance. But when you lose someone so close to you, there’s no room for performance. Simply functioning requires any energy you possess. The masks, the make-up, the costumes you wear in your daily life are stripped away, and the truth of who you are is spotlighted: a broken vessel, in desperate need of grace. However, while the performer in me was entirely incapable of saving me, God still made use of the performer in me to save me. It’s this beautiful, glorious oxymoron.

God is good. 

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The Miracle Worker is the story of how Annie Sullivan drew young Helen Keller out of the dark, lonely world she was living in and taught her to speak through sign language. Annie is the story of an eleven year old orphan living in the slums of New York City. Through a stroke of incredible luck, she meets and is eventually adopted by a millionaire, Daddy Warbucks.

Both of them are stories of rescue; of people discovering their voice through immense hardship and tragedy.
God wanted to equip me to do the same.


The first Broadway show I saw was Wicked. For my sixteenth birthday, Mark and Tami Adams, my best friend’s parents, bought both her and I tickets to see it when it came to Rochester.

The May after Nancy died and after Annie closed, I got to travel to New York City on the Drama Club trip and see Wicked in the Gershwin Theatre on Broadway, due to the immense generosity and determination of my friends (they both convinced my parents to let me go on the trip and fundraised for me so that I could go.)

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Both times, I was was overwhelmed and amazed by Elphaba’s (the green “wicked” witch) bravery in the face of immense pushback and misinformation. She had the courage of conviction to do what she knew to be right, even when Glinda, her very best friend, didn’t.

And she wasn’t celebrated for it. In fact, she was persecuted for her honesty and bravery. She was rejected and detested by the people of Oz. (Mark 6:4)

I deeply craved that certainty of purpose. However, I failed to count the cost (Luke 14:25-33). I failed to recognize that to much is given, much is required. (Luke 12:48)

I have been given much, so much. I had the opportunity to not only be Nancy’s sister, but to also be her very best friend. I also have been given much through her death, in being afforded the opportunity to know God intimately, in a way that few my age are able to.

For a long time, I resented these things. I’m only 23 but my mind is older. I hated being “different.” I idolized normalcy. I resisted drawing as near to God as He was calling, fearing loneliness and further separation from my peer group. I feared ending up alone if I sought God too closely. I feared rejection.

Fear was choking my joy.

But God is a jealous God. He will not be upstaged by our petty desires. He was not interested in playing a supporting role in my life. He wanted to play the lead. He wanted me to trust that He was sufficient to meet my every need.

I’m ashamed to admit how long I resisted allowing God to take center stage in my life. Even now, it’s a daily choice, a daily commitment. But I had to realize, like Elphaba, that any “love” that require I pursue God less comes at much too high a cost.

I may not have chosen to go sky diving. But I think that while I’m here, I’ll try defying gravity.

 

Celebrating the Struggle: The ‘Already’ and the ‘Not Yet’

Reeling in “get tos.”

Throughout my lifetime I have had many people tell me that they look up to me – especially in recent years. They mean that figuratively, of course. (In the literal sense, I obviously look up to everyone.)

It is always immensely gratifying and humbling to be told that. However, what a lot of people don’t realize is that the attributes that they admire – “my” strength, “my” wisdom, “my” resilience – are attributes that have been borne of grief and pain. They are a direct result of what I’ve walked through and the faithfulness of my God in the midst of my pain. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the product of what they see in the day to day – the poise with which I’m able to carry myself and the things I’m able to accomplish – is the product of many lonely nights spent weeping and crying out to God, many days of just going through the motions, many days of making microscopic decisions of obedience in faith, even when I didn’t feel like it. It has not all been glorious or beautiful. In fact, more has probably been gruesome than beautiful or noteworthy. I actually am of the opinion that I look quite hideous when I cry.

I’m not sharing this to proclaim how “amazing” I am and toot my own horn, but rather to display the incredible faithfulness of my God. I know how often I’ve felt alone or even diminished by my struggle with grief and depression. Ironically, it seems to be a self-fulfilling prophesy. In my experience it’s been all too easy to withdraw from people and isolate myself – which means it’s pretty easy to convince myself that I’m all alone and that no one understands because no one else is struggling the way I am. And how easy it would be for that perspective to remain unchallenged if I isolated myself and didn’t allow for others to speak truth into my life. Because the fact of the matter is that I’m not alone. Others are struggling and hurting. But unless you’re honest with yourself first, you can’t be honest with others. And it took me a longer time than I care to admit that I was struggling, because honestly, I’m a prideful person. I like being okay and pulling myself up by my own bootstraps (isn’t that the American Dream?)

Asking for help felt like admitting defeat. 

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As it would turn out, I was just admitting that I was human. 

It has been a rough few semesters for me. I had to take some incompletes last semester due to how crippling my depression became around the five year anniversary of Nancy’s passing. I’m still in the process of finishing the work. I’ve also had to withdraw from a few classes this semester due to some personal setbacks early on this semester – meaning my college graduation is likely put off by another semester.

I’m tired.

However. I don’t “have to” struggle. I “get to.”

This doesn’t have to be my story. It gets to be. I have a story, not of defeat or failure, but rather one of victory; the story of how a girl was able to still finish college in spite of losing her sister at the onset, due to the faithfulness of her God. So it took her a little longer – so what? All the more time for God to be glorified. After all, as a Christian I don’t fight for victory. I fight from victory. Death is already defeated, and Jesus is risen. I serve a living God.

 “And Lucy felt running through her that deep shiver of gladness which you only get if you are being solemn and still.
– C. S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe


“I am increasingly suspicious that laughter and tears are not opposites, but that somehow, in their fullness, the two run into one.”
– Diona Southcott


“There is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious. It is too good to waste on jokes.”
– C. S. Lewis

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Beaver Lodge, Beaver Camp. I’ve spent many hours in worship, quality conversation, prayer and stillness here. 

“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them He said: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow Me cannot be my disciple.'”
Luke 14:25-27

Jesus didn’t “have to” come to earth. He “got to.” He chose love over fear.

If that’s what Jesus did, what other choice do I have? There is no other choice. I get to choose love over fear. As Thomas Merton so eloquently puts it, “Our job is to love people without stopping to inquire whether or not they’re worthy.”

Now, I am in no way Jesus. But I have the privilege of knowing Him. And that changes everything, including my suffering.

Especially my suffering.

To be clear, it doesn’t change the fact that I suffer. Being a Christian is not some get-out-of-jail-free card that acts as a prevention against suffering. Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars. In fact, it is just the opposite. It invites it. After all, if you want to look like Jesus, you’re going to get some scars.

As Romans 8:16-17 states:
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. And if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.

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Imperfect yet thankful.

If Christianity prevented suffering, wouldn’t everyone convert? (I mean, it follows right?) However, as my pastor says, Christianity is a terrible religion – because it’s not based on your merit. It’s based entirely on Christ’s merit. Being a Christian is not all sunshine and unicorns. In fact, the gospel is the story of Jesus being nailed to a cross – the most tortuous way that the Romans had devised to kill people. And they were experts at killing people. They thrived on it.

But the story doesn’t end with Jesus dying on the cross. It ends with Him defeating death – the ultimate consequence of sin – by being resurrected back to life.

As Romans 8:18 goes on to say:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

My suffering is not the end of my story. It’s the beginning of a tale of God’s eternal glory.

“There is always enough grace for you, Amy.”
-Jarron Widrick

(a reminder from a beloved friend of mine recently that I think everyone needs)

Adventure in Hope

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Last spring, I decided to get a tattoo – partially in memory of Nancy, and partially for my own sake, as a constant personal reminder. I got the words “adventure in hope” written as a permanent reminder and memoriam on my upper left hand shoulder. It was a phrase I had coined upon initially moving to New Paltz, after years of debating how I wanted to honor Nancy. I wanted something simple but meaningful to me – words I would carry with me as a banner going forward in my life, and a reminder of where I came from. I finally settled on the phrase “adventure in hope” for these reasons:

  • I want my life to be an adventure. I want to love boldly, live joyfully, give freely. In truth, I think that my life already is one. I think that loving people unconditionally is the most adventurous thing you will ever do, and is entirely too rare.
  • Also, the term adventure reminds me of the summers I spent serving at Beaver Camp, the place that introduced me to adventure, my previously unexplored capabilities and interests, and my love of ministry.
  • Hope is a concept that became deeply meaningful to me after my mom had a stillbirth between Lorilee and Sadie Mae’s birth. It was then I discovered what a “living hope” meant (1 Peter 1:3-9). In retrospect, I can see how God used that time to prepare me for an even more devastating loss, the death of Nancy. The penmanship of the word hope on my tattoo is written in such a way that is intended to mimic Nancy’s handwriting.
  • But why the phrase “adventure in hope?” Simple. Adventure is both a noun and a verb, and hope is both a noun and a verb. Meaning they’re both things that exist in their own right, but that they’re also things that you can actively do. In my life, I intend for them to be paired together; I intend to adventure in hope. Both in knowing God, and in making Him known. (Yes, my tattoo has a dual meaning.)

The problem with knowing God is that you get a tiny taste of perfection on this side of heaven – in this woefully imperfect world. This longing to be with Christ only increases and makes some days on this fallen earth nothing short of torturous. My heart is broken by this dark, sin-encumbered world, and the despair we’re seeing as a result.

But that’s nothing – as one of my closest friends, Rachel Musteen so succinctly puts it: “God lives in a state of perpetually having His heart stomped on.”

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”
Philippians 1:21-24

“As Christians, we live in the ‘already’ and ‘not yet.'”
– Pastor Joshua Stewart

As I was reminded so boldly at a wedding for two dear friends of mine recently:

“Your ministry matters.”
– Dierdra Moran

You might not know the impact you’re having. But if you’re still on this earth, it is for a purpose. Cling to that truth. And rejoice in it. Your struggle is not in vain or pointless…ever.

I serve an intentional God.

“…all the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.”
Psalm 139:14bc

Kaleidoscopic Oceans

“To have been loved so deeply, even though the one who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.”
– J.K. Rowling

How do I begin? By all accounts, today is just like any other day. It’s just another Saturday. There are no holidays dedicated to the third of December. There are no parades. It’s a day that can easily slip by, undetected and unannounced.

And for most people that’s exactly what happens. It slides by, unnoticed. It’s difficult not to envy those people.

December is always a hard month for me, but this year it is especially so. This year is the first year that December 11th falls on a Sunday since it did five years ago – the day police arrived on my doorstep with my sister’s license in hand and my worst fear was realized.

My sister was dead. And what was previously unimaginable was my new reality.

This year is the first year since my sister passed that each day leading up to December 11th falls on the exact same weekday it did prior to her death five years ago. And somehow, that makes everything feel closer.

I can’t help but remember the Amy of December 3, 2011. She was so innocent, and so young. The Amy of December 3, 2016 is much more than five years older than her.

How do I capture how deeply devastated I was on that day? How do I describe the journey since? Grief is a tricky thing to describe, as no two people who have encountered it have seen or experienced exactly the same thing. No two relationships are identical. No two people are identical. So no one grieves identically – even if the grief is over the same person. It’s terribly isolating.

Grief is a kaleidoscope. But rather than just being something that you look through, it is a monster that engulfs you. Sometimes it’s all you can see. Your perspective is entirely changed as you look at life through the fragments of colored glass. Things are distorted. Even the things you once knew and loved look completely different. And just when you feel like you’re beginning to make sense of the “new normal,” the floor is knocked out from underneath you. Everything spins. And when you’re finally able to right yourself and make sense of your surroundings again, the picture that you were starting to familiarize yourself with has changed. And so on and so forth. Eventually, it’s hard to be motivated to stand up again. Or bothering to familiarize yourself with the new picture within the kaleidoscope.

Of course, take my words with a grain of salt: I’ve been trapped within a revolving kaleidoscope for five years now, and I’m a little dizzy.

Grief is an ocean. Deep and mysterious. Some days, the tide is low. The ocean is calm. The sky is blue. All is peaceful. Other days, there’s a hurricane brewing. The tide is high. The ocean is no longer inviting, but dark and dangerous. It’s a place where you could easily drown if you don’t tread carefully.

It would be easy to lose my identity in my grief. After all, what is one person to an ocean? Nothing.

Fortunately I know the Creator of oceans. He also happens to know the number of each and every grain of sand in existence, tucked alongside of the knowledge of the number of hairs on my head.

I am so deeply known and loved.

And this – this is where my identity begins.

Nancy and I were so intrinsically linked – so much of who I was, or who I thought I was before she died was tied to her. She drew out the best in me, while still allowing me to be myself. She “got” me. She was my hero and best friend. She was the type of person who inspired those pithy sayings that all the rest of us peasants aspire to. The world lost a beautifully precious soul on the day she died. I grieve for those who never got to know her.

Ever since she passed, God has been steadily working at reestablishing the foundation of what forms my identity. Not because the things I identified myself with – such as being a good student or as a singer or actress – are inherently bad things, but rather because they are only good things when they are superseded by greater truth. My identity is not, and can never be rooted in what I do. It has to be rooted in what God has called me: Beloved. (Which is actually what the name Amy means.) I am loved – not because of what I do, but in spite of what I do. I am beautiful, because of the work that God has accomplished through the Gospel in my life, not through my own effort or strength. As C.S. Lewis so succinctly sums it up, “When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed, but increased.”

I have been given my own personal thorn in my flesh to serve as a constant personal reminder that His “grace is sufficient” for me (2 Corinthians 12:9). I have struggled with depression since Nancy died, and it has been a harrowing – and exceedingly humbling – experience, to put it mildly. It is likely something I will wrestle with for life. To be perfectly honest, if I laid the years of my life side by side, and had to rank them, 2016 would probably not be at the top of the list. Or even near the top of the list. It’s been a hard year for me personally, for a myriad of reasons. But even in the midst of this, in the midst of such an insanely difficult year, I am overwhelmed by God’s grace and favor towards me.

My depression, as dark and oppressive as it seems some days, does not have the power to snuff out hope. It does not have the power to diminish beauty. And it certainly does not have the power to lessen my God.

I write about it now, not because it defines me, but because I think that vulnerability and honesty are the antidote to prideful isolationism. As Sheila Walsh so beautifully says, “My brokenness is better bridge for people than my pretend wholeness ever was.” I am no longer ashamed that I struggle with depression, because I have realized that it is not something that defines or cheapens me. It is not who I am. I am not a depressed person; rather I am a person that struggles with depression. Maybe that all seems like rhetoric, but the difference in those two statements, when applied, is key. Depression is something that brings me closer to people, because it’s created a deeper empathy within me than I ever could have cultivated without it. It has made me slower to speak and quicker to listen. It has helped me to be less hasty in my judgements of others. Not to mention, I was loved before I struggled with it, and I am still loved now.

I have wrestled with depression more consistently this past year than I have previously. Not because my life is less beautiful than it has been previously – but perhaps because in some ways it has been more so. This year, I began seriously dating someone for the first time – and it has been a wonderful wonderful thing. It has not been perfect – far from it, as we are both flawed individuals – but it has been good. Experiencing this relationship has been living breathing proof in my life of God’s faithfulness and I am so thankful. I never imagined that such joy could be mine in communion with another person following Nancy’s death.

“I do not know a perfect person. I only know flawed people who are still worth loving.”
– John Green

That isn’t to say that it’s been easy. You see, I know exactly what I am risking to love another person so openly and vulnerably. I know what it means to lose. Grief is the price of love. But I refuse to allow the fear of loss to creep into my life and paralyze me from doing the best thing humans are capable of – which is to love.

I will not live a life void of love to protect myself. What kind of life is that? Worse than no life at all. I will love, and in 2016 I was given the chance to love in a new and profoundly deep way – a way I have never loved before. I have wept for what is at stake in loving so deeply, and for the fact that Nancy will never have the chance to meet him or vice versa – at least not on this side of heaven. But I rejoice in this gift, in this capacity to love and go on loving. No matter how distorted things look through the kaleidoscope or how deep the ocean seems, this is one thing that will not be distorted or drowned: love is worth it.

Thank you Nancy for teaching me that and modeling it for me. I am proud to say that legacy will not die with you.

“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.”
1 John 4:11-12

Hard Pressed, Yet Still {So Indescribably} Blessed

“Where, oh death, is your victory?
Where, oh death, is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 15:55-56

A punch to the gut. That’s what it felt like. A merciless, taunting, punch to the gut that left me speechless and unable to breathe.

“Is this your daughter?” the trooper had asked moments before, holding up Nancy’s license for Mom and Dad to see. When they nodded silently, the trooper continued woodenly, “She was in a car accident this morning and died instantly. I’m sorry.”

The world around me tilted wildly as my mind struggled to process this information.

Dead? How could my sister be dead? She was one of the most vibrantly alive people I knew. It didn’t make sense. Nothing made sense…

I was angry, but didn’t know who to target my anger towards. It was no one’s fault. However, I came to resent the ease and poise the trooper stoically carried herself with as she talked with us about the situation. The logical part of my brain recognized that she was just doing her job and being professional. However, I still raged against her internally, although she was just the messenger. DO YOU REALIZE THE GRAVITY OF WHAT YOU JUST SAID? DO YOU REALIZE THE FACT THAT MY LIFE JUST CHANGED FOREVER? HOW DARE YOU BE SO UNPERTURBED. HOW DARE YOU. DO YOU REALIZE?

Out of reflex, I thought, I need to talk to Nancy about this. She’ll know what to do.

Reflex thought or not, I immediately kicked myself for having it. Amy, you idiot. You CAN’T talk to Nancy about this. That’s the whole point. That’s why there’s a situation to begin with. She’s gone. 

I didn’t know how to come to grips with the situation. I didn’t know how to understand it. Throughout my entire life, Nancy had been a constant presence. I didn’t know the world without her in it. Suddenly everything seemed very harsh and cold.

The weight of this knowledge settled into my bones, exhausting me instantaneously.

I was tired for three years.


At the time when it happened, I remember thinking, (in a rare moment of clarity) This is when faith counts. This is when faith becomes just that: faith, “the assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” The way I see it, I have two choices before me that will determine the course of the rest of my life: 

1: I can walk away from my faith and everything I previously claimed to believe since it doesn’t feel true right now, or
2: I can trust in the midst of confusion, knowing that God is in control even when I don’t understand His ways. 

Two choices. Two very different outcomes.

One life hinging on one decision.


I’m eternally grateful that I chose to trust. It has single-handedly changed my journey of grief more than the dozens of other decisions I’ve made since.

To be clear, the fact that I had faith did not change whether or not I grieved.

I’m still as human as anyone else. To this day, I still miss my sister. And I’ve come to the realization that I always will. Her absence has become it’s own kind of continual presence in my life.

However, the fact that I had faith did change the orientation of my grief. I was not grieving for Nancy. No, for the Christian, to die is gain. I was grieving for myself, for the loss of the presence of my dearest friend and confidante on this side of heaven.

With distance that time provides, and the graceful restoration that God is faithful to supply throughout time, I’ve actually grown to be exceedingly thankful that I lost someone so beloved to me so young.

Am I saying I’m thankful my sister died? No. Am I belittling the necessity of grieving or the emptiness that ensues when you lose someone you love? Not in the least. But I’m saying that in spite of all those things, in spite of how broken and alone and low I’ve felt at points since my sister passed away, I am thankful.

My sister’s death taught me the truth of the gospel and God’s sovereignty with the intense intimacy that nothing else could have. And now I have the joy of walking in that truth for the rest of my life. For that, I will forever be grateful. What an incredible privilege! I will even go so far as to say that experiencing the loss of my sister was perhaps one of the best gifts that God has ever given me.

Does it make sense? No, not even a little bit. Not how I understand logic to work at least. How can something so awful become something so beautiful? How can something so terrible be morphed into something so wonderful? You see, these are questions that I still don’t fully understand myself, but Christians get the divine honor of pondering. How can something so painful become cause for celebration? The only answer I have is to point to the cross, to Jesus’ resurrection, knowing that this glorious mystery begins and ends there: at the place where death was defeated and true life was born.

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”
1 Thessalonians 1:13-14

“If there is no resurrection from the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise Him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only in this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people to be most pitied.
But Christ has indeed been raised, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
1 Corinthians 15:13-20

Realizing what the gospel is, well, it’s enough to change your life.


To be honest, since Nancy’s death I’ve gotten into several car accidents. Some just due to inexperience, others due to weather. Based on the amount of car accidents I’ve been in, and the caliber of some of them, I should be dead.

But I’m not.

The most recent accident I was in paralleled the accident that took Nancy’s life (almost) perfectly. I was going around a corner and I hit black ice. My car began to slide uncontrollably. I was absolutely terrified. A tree shattered the driver’s side window, causing an explosion of glass and noise.

It was only when my car came to a shuddering halt on the side of the road that I gave myself permission to cry. I didn’t understand why God had allowed me to survive another accident…particularly an accident so similar to Nancy’s. And yet here I was, unscathed again. Crying. I was an emotional wreck for weeks afterward.

And yet I know that I will not die a moment before I’m supposed to, nor did Nancy die sooner than she was supposed to (Psalm 139:16). I know this because God is in control and knowing that, I have the confidence to live fearlessly.

Understand, I don’t mean the kind of “fearless” that is used to justify stupid life choices. I mean the type of fearless that permeates through everything  – the type of fearless that is evidenced in a quiet confidence, an understanding in Who the Lord is and who I am in relation to Him. I mean the type of knowledge that only comes through trials and heartache and grief.

Not living in fear means living in freedom.

Yes, in knowing all these things, how can I be anything but thankful for my sister’s death?

“Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.”
– Hymn, The Love of God

Three Years and Counting

It never ceases to amaze me how in a matter of moments, everything can change. How something can go from meaningless to meaningful instantaneously. How fragile life really is.

I spent years of my life – nearly seventeen of them in fact – with December 11 being nothing more than another day in December. Maybe it meant something in that it brought us one day closer to Christmas – maybe. But even then it only derived its meaning from the next big holiday I affiliated it with. The day itself blended with all the other mundane activities that we call life. And yet, now it marks the single most devastating and important anniversary on my calendar.

The death of my beloved best friend, sister, and confidante, Nancy Lee.

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A Letter

My dearest sister Nancy,

You are infinitely missed. Perhaps more than infinitely. In fact, if there were something of greater depth and breadth than infinity, the amount I miss you would exceed that too.

I still remember finding out that you were gone vividly. When the troopers came in and told us, it felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me…like someone had knocked the wind out of me to such an extent that I no longer remembered how to breathe. I gasped for breath, trying to wrap my head around what this meant – what life could possibly look like without you to enjoy it with.

I came up with nothing. It was literally impossible for me to imagine my life without you as a part of it. Later that night, I remember thinking that the only person I wanted to talk to about this with and process it through was you. YOU! Nobody else. You just got me. You always understood me better than I understood myself. And I know that I’m not always the easiest person to be close to. I’m needy and annoying more times than not. But you weren’t deterred by that. You just loved me so much and so deeply. I hope you were fully aware of how much I reciprocated your love, in my way. But knowing you, and knowing how you knew me, I’m sure you did.

In a way, these past three years have been primarily me recovering from that initial punch in the gut. Re-learning how to breathe, if you will. The breaths were few and far between at first, very shallow and painful, almost nonexistent. But now they are much deeper, and sometimes I can even breathe without having to think about it. Sometimes.

It’s funny, because I think people think that once a person is gone that they’re actually gone – the whole out of sight out of mind mentality. Nothing could be further from the truth. You are just as much a part of my life now as you were when you were still living on earth with us, if not more so. The person I’m becoming is very deeply embedded in the person that you were – you are an irremovable part of who I am. As you always have been and you always will be.

I never thought I would heal from your death. Or ever be even remotely okay again. And there’s a part of me that will never be, honestly. But these few years have taught me something. Healing doesn’t mean that you are restored to the person you once were. It means you are restored to a better person than you ever were before, and could’ve ever been apart from the brokenness that now dwells inside you. There is a part of me that died with you Nancy, a part of me that you brought out that is gone until our reunion in heaven. I can’t even count the times I’ve longed to ask you for advice…even though I know exactly what you would say, it doesn’t eliminate the desire to hear it from you.

Would you believe that I’m actually a (somewhat) physically affectionate person now? I especially love cuddling. I know, I know. Why did I hold out on you then? It wasn’t intentional I promise. It’s just that all those years of forced hugs eventually wore me down. Apparently even the most stubborn of people have an expiration date when they finally yield to the inevitable. Also, I’ve graduated from high school, the Bible Institute and Jefferson Community College in the time since you’ve been gone. I still maintained my role in Annie my senior year because I knew you’d be angry if I dropped it. And I moved down to the Hudson Valley region of NY this fall. I’m planning on finishing my Bachelor’s at SUNY New Paltz. I stood up for Heather at her wedding this past June, and now Sarah is engaged to David! No worries though, I’m still as single as ever. I have alot of ambitions and things I need to figure out before I even think about inviting someone in on this mess. There was a time that I thought I was ready, but circumstances proved differently. I also not only own my own car, but I pay the insurance on it. It’s crazy. All these big things of adulthood we were looking forward to doing together I’m facing alone.

I still grieve. I grieve not only for the things that are never to be, but for the people you’ll never meet and the things we’ll never share. I grieve for Lorilee and Sadie Mae, who only had a few years with you, for KristiAnn and Emily, who will never be able to share their high school events and beyond with you, for my future children who will never know you, for my college graduation that you’ll be absent from, for my wedding that you can’t witness, for all of the little moments that become the big moments in retrospect. All those big adulthood moments that we spent a childhood anticipating doing together I grieve for. I’m so thankful for your example of faith, because faith is the only thing that has sustained me and kept me functioning these past few years.

There is so much more to be said, but I’ll close with this: Nancy, you have impacted more people than you know, and your legacy of love will never be forgotten. It’s a good thing we have eternity to catch up.

I love you.

Always, your sister,
Amy Joyce

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