Honoring the Shadows

This weekend I stood beside two of my dearest friends as they pledged to love each other when they’re happy and sad, silly and mad, and for the 36 hour wedding whirlwind I was profoundly present, savoring each little detail as it came into focus around me.

Those of you who know me well know just how much I fight to be present. My mind rarely rests in one place or time, which is why, when we finished the rehearsal dinner and I realized that my mind had remained in the moment nearly all night, I wanted to jump, and dance, and tell the whole world!

This summer has been a crash course in surrendering my desires and ideas of what “should” be happening in order to savor what is currently in front of me. Savor is the word God gave me for 2017, and as soon as I received that word, I knew choosing to live it out would be much more challenging than choosing discipline was in 2016. To be completely honest, there have been large chunks of this year when I ignored the choice to savor because it just. seemed. too. darn. hard.

However, in the past moth I’ve had a breakthrough in my understanding of being present that is too good not to share!

It is as follows: in order to truly savor, you must honor the shadows.

Ryan O’Neal of Sleeping At Last wrote a song last June called “Joy.” In the process of writing it, O’Neal asked his followers on social media how they would define joy, and then he synthesized their answers to write the lyrics. Each line in the song reflects a different angle of joy, but my favorite line defines joy as “the honoring of every shadow.”

As people we’ve gotten too good at numbing and running, believing the lie that the only way to the good life lies in avoiding our pain. But the freeing truth I’ve found is that we don’t have to ignore reality anymore. Suffering and sorrow are unavoidable companions who will join us for segments of our journeys. If we ignore or repress them, they will unexpectedly sneak into situations and distract or even derail us. But, if we can muster up the courage to acknowledge them, we get to experience new depths of joy. Even if our situation hasn’t changed, our perspective is dramatically different.

Before I left for Ellisa and Cody’s wedding, I took some time to grieve a relationship that is not where I expected it to be. I also put time and forethought into how to best care for my quirky and unpredictable body on the trip, and packed a large bag of Kelly-safe food to bring along. I honored my shadows (which take shape in the form of unmet relationship expectations and my continued health struggles) and, in doing so, was released to enjoy the festivities. Sorrow and suffering were still present, but they didn’t clamor for my attention because I had already acknowledged them.

So tonight I want to offer you a challenge. What are the shadows you’ve been pushing to the fringes of your life, and how can you better acknowledge them? I can promise from recent experience that the pain of this acknowledgement is worth it. When, instead of fearing our pain we feel it, we finally get to discover the sweetness of being fully present.



A Precious Gift

Last Tuesday, when I dragged myself across the finish line of my job as an on-campus custodian, I was completely burned out and used up. This summer was incredibly difficult, and I had hit the point where I had nothing left of myself to give, yet I knew that come Wednesday morning I was going to enter a new position as an orientation leader where I would need to offer myself freely.

Tonight, however, as I sit on the tail end of international student orientation leading, I can honestly say that if I had to choose one word to describe the past eight whirlwind days, I would choose joy!


While it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I loved working with the new international students, I was caught off guard by how quickly and completely they stole my heart. They breathed new life into the parts of me that died this summer, and gave me a fresh perspective on my strengths.

When I was with my students, I got to simply be Kelly. Although I was playing the role of orientation leader, for the first time in months I felt valued not for what I could do, but for who I was.

As an orientation leader, my purpose was twofold. Firstly, I was to help the students complete tasks such as opening bank accounts, acquiring student ID cards, buying laptops, finding housing, learning English vocabulary, and paying campus fees, to name a few. Secondly, and more importantly, I was to help the students feel welcome, both at our university and in America.

Although taking care of the practical details of moving to a foreign country was an important part of orientation leading, in extending hospitality to the students I found the true sweet spot where my passions and abilities collided with their needs.

One moment I would be fielding a practical question such as “Where is the white paste for my salad?” And then, in the next moment a student would ask why people from her host family’s church celebrated when members of the church were dunked in a lake. For as useful as I felt explaining the location of the ranch dressing, it was when a student’s inquiry about baptism gave me an opportunity to share the Gospel with her for the first time that I realized the eternal weight and significance of what I did this past week.

By simply being myself, my all-in, empathetic, passionate, intuitive, culture-loving self, I became a familiar face and a safe space to land for students who came here not only seeking an academic experience, but also seeking spiritual fulfillment from a God they have not yet had the chance to encounter.

The truly incredible part of orientation leading was that in giving my time and energy to the students, I was able to receive a precious gift. In accepting me as Kelly and allowing me to live into my strengths, my students gave me a renewed chance to believe that God didn’t make any mistakes in His creation of me. Do I have rough edges and areas in need of improvement? Absolutely! But when others give me encouragement and more importantly, when I give myself permission to let go of who I “should” be and live into my true identity, the result is pure, unadulterated joy!


Peace Home

I have a new blog post up on the Tiny Hands Blog! Also, I promise I won’t only be posting Tiny Hands posts to this site. At two weeks into the semester I’m still working to establish a routine, but I’m playing with lots of ideas for new blog posts, so stay tuned!

Peace Home

On our sixth and final Saturday in Nepal our team leader announced that we would be visiting Peace Home, the one Tiny Hands’ home in Kathmandu we had yet to see.

Normally, when our team visited a children’s home, we would spend the afternoon doing fun activities with the kids and seeing the work of Tiny Hands firsthand. Because we had already done multiple visits, I thought I could anticipate how the afternoon would unfold. We would introduce ourselves in English and in Nepali, and then play games like Dutch Blitz and Fire in the Mountain with the mainly elementary school aged kids.

Unbeknownst to me, God had a better plan.


You can read the rest at http://www.tinyhandsblog.com/?p=223.

A Holy Dark

This morning I woke up early. And by early I mean 5AM, which I know is not as early as some of you greet the day, but in my neck of the woods, on these late October days, 5AM is two hours before the sun rises, and therefore, early.


Although the rest of my house was still asleep when I cozied up in our living room, far from feeling alone I felt surrounded by a comforting crowd of early risers. I thought of my friend Anna who lives in Pennsylvania, and routinely rises before the sun to go to her seamstress job. I thought of my grandparents who have always lived by the motto “early to bed, early to rise!” I thought of all the mothers awake before the dawn to hold their precious, fussy babies who refuse to sleep through the night. And I thought of my own mother who has always preferred the peaceful morning hours to other, faster paced moments of the day.

Now, I don’t normally get up at 5AM, but last night I had a stomachache, and chose to go to bed by 9 o’clock, which meant the only way to complete my homework was to wake up before the sun. But although my purpose in getting up early was to work, I found a holy stillness in those pre-dawn hours. I took great joy in my steaming bowl of oatmeal, the twinkly lights in our living room, and listening, for the first time this year, to the Thanksgiving music my mom and I so deeply enjoy.

For the past two years my life has been full of really exciting experiences. First I moved out of my childhood home to a new city, then I ventured to Eastern Europe, next I entered and exited my first serious relationship, and then I spent an exhilarating six weeks in Nepal, with plenty of smaller excitements in between. These experiences have been good, and hard, and stretching, and beautiful, but most of all, they’ve been big. After returning to the states from Nepal, I distinctly remember thinking, “I could use a season of quiet, simple, undramatic everyday life.” And that’s exactly what this season has been. Somehow the big experiences have helped me better appreciate the little beauties hidden in every day. The older I get, the more I realize that I don’t want to take any blessing for granted, no matter how small. As a sweet 92-year-old woman reminded me yesterday, every day is a good day because I am alive!


So Father, thank you for the Holy Dark I experienced this morning. Thank you for using it to energize me, refresh me, and remind me that your mercies are truly new every morning.

Grandpa Roy

The rush has finally slowed down, and for the first time all evening, I can breathe. I’ve survived another Monday of frantically making mini pizzas for the almost 1000 students who funnel through our cafeteria on a weeknight. As I am collecting my thoughts, I look up to see a welcome and familiar sight: Grandpa Roy has arrived!

For those of you who don’t attend my school, Grandpa Roy is a wonderful elderly man who has adopted our campus. During most weekday lunches and dinners you can find him sitting in the cafeteria at the same round table, reading the newspaper or talking to students. He is known for being a good listener, having an infectious smile, and giving away hundreds of flowers from his garden.

Every Monday night at seven, Grandpa Roy comes into the part of the cafeteria where the food is served and gives each of the workers a flower. At the end of a long shift, it never fails to make my day. I always pin mine to my name tag until I get home, and then I put it in a little dish of water. By Tuesday morning, the tight bud will have opened, and for the next few days the cheery little blossom will brighten my bedroom.


Every time I see Grandpa Roy, I think to myself, “I want to be like him when I grow old.” So many elderly people in our society are grumpy or bitter, but Grandpa Roy is exactly the opposite, a bright spot of joy in a weary world.

I truly believe Grandpa Roy has found the secret to aging gracefully: keep pouring out. While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with retiring from your job, I also don’t think there ever comes a point when you should retire from your calling, or “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Frederick Buechner) The Bible never says to love your neighbor until you turn sixty-five and start collecting social security, and I think Grandpa Roy beautifully exemplifies loving well until the end. Someday your time on earth will end, but until then, you have a reason to be here. Whether you’re twenty, or eighty, God wants you to be his agent of redemption in the world.