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Easter Sunday


Death and mourning. Sadness and despair.

It seemed the story was over. Christ had died and his body lay in a tomb. It was the end of an era as far as anyone could tell.

There was weeping, mourning, uncertainty, and confusion.

What next?

Mary Magdalene stood at the empty grave…certainly, there must be some explanation. Her heart gave way to tears, and she wept.

One of the most captivating statements I find in this resurrection account is the question the angels ask Mary as she is looking into the tomb…searching for answers.

“Woman, why are you crying?”

John 20:13

Good Friday calls us to pause, reflect, and contemplate the cost that Christ bore for our sins. Because we know there is a resurrection, we can so easily lose sight of the significance that mourning plays in the story.

This question, posed to Mary- “Woman, why are you crying?”- might have seemed silly or inappropriate in light of the crucifixion.

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

John 20:13

Distraught that something might have happened to the body of Jesus, Mary’s heart was wrestling with fear and grief. When she turned around, she stood face-to-face with Jesus…but she did not recognize him.

He, too, asked her why she was crying.

“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

John 20:15

She was looking for Jesus, who was standing right in front of her.

Carrying the sadness of Friday into Sunday, she could not see her Messiah. Resurrection had come, but she had yet to grasp it.

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

John 20:15,16

In an instant, Mary’s eyes were opened…and she could see her Lord. Overwhelmed with emotion, she reached out for him…clinging to her living Savior.

The question, “Why are you crying?” makes sense now. Why would she, or anyone, cry in the presence of the greatest miracle in history? Death defeated. Resurrection. Redemption. Complete victory.

May the only tears we shed on Easter Sunday be tears of joy!

After this encounter with Jesus, Mary ran to the disciples to share this amazing news.

“I have seen the Lord.”

John 20:18

Can you imagine their reaction? “I have seen the Lord.” No more tears. No more sorrow. Jesus is alive.

While there continues to be much to grieve in this world…death, brokenness, heartache, and sorrow…Easter reminds us that victory has come…death has been defeated…and, through both Christ’s death and resurrection, there is a greater hope.

The empty tomb was not something to weep over.

The empty tomb was the reason to rejoice.

No more crying.

“I have seen the Lord.”

Christ has risen.

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Good Friday


A crucifixion.

The events of Good Friday were filled with a kind of drama that we cannot fully comprehend. It was ugly. The worst of human nature spilled out into every street and every corner of the city. Jealousy and envy had blossomed into hate, and hate burned hot. All of life, nature, and the whole world collided with goodness, mercy, and love, and everything stood still.

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Isaiah 53:3

Despised and rejected.

The suffering he bore made him familiar with our own suffering and pain.

It was so hideous that we had to turn our faces away. This kind of suffering, we cannot truly grasp.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:4-6

Did he see my face as he hung on the cross? As he was pierced through and his body hung crushed, were my sins and my failures and my pride and my transgressions on his mind? Was he thinking about me as he took his last breath?

When the angel visited Mary and gave her the exciting news that she would conceive a baby through the Holy Spirit who would be God’s Son…the Messiah…and to her question, “How can this be?”…the angel’s reply was, “Nothing is impossible for God.” I do believe that Jesus, the Son of God – God in the flesh – could see the face of every human life – past, present, and future – as he hung dying for the forgiveness of all mankind. Because nothing is impossible for God.

His punishment…the horror of his death…brought you and me the peace we long for and the healing of every wound. Forgiveness, grace, restoration, and completeness became ours through Christ’s brutal death.

The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Thank you, Jesus, for the cross on which you died…where you saw my face and you bore my sin.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth
. By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Isaiah 53:7-9

Innocent, he walked the path of death.

Jesus, sinless and pure, took the grave of the wicked for the redemption of the world.

And he did so in silence…without a cry of “not guilty”…without a word of self-justification.

So many misunderstand the necessity of this part of the Easter story. They would rather bask in the resurrection than pause and reflect on the gravitas of the cross. Were it not for this poignant moment of mourning, we could not truly rejoice in the victory three days later.

Death was not the finale of this story, but it cannot be brushed over. God allowed his Son to suffer…and his Son, Jesus, chose the way of suffering. God so loved the world that He gave…and Jesus so loved the world that He gave.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes
his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered,
he will see the light of lif
e and be satisfied;
by his knowle
dge, my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

Isaiah 53:10-12

He made intercession for the transgressors.

Those transgressors are you and me. Those transgressors are any human that has ever lived, is currently living, and will live in the future. Jesus made intercession for us all.

Because Christ poured out his life unto death, and because he continues to intercede on our behalf, we have hope…we have redemption.

Good Friday is not just another date on the calendar to fill with another service, another gathering, or another ritual to observe. No. It is a sobering moment to pause and reflect on the suffering of Christ on behalf of you and me.

I do believe that He saw my face and yours as he hung, dying, broken, abandoned, and alone.

And when he said, “It is finished.” (John 19:30), he was declaring the end of striving…the end of fear…the end of hopelessness…the end of shame, and the end of death. He took our iniquity and he bore our sin…once…for all…upon the cross.

Words do not suffice for the enormity of gratitude I feel. But with words, frail and broken…limited and simple…I say to Jesus from the depths of this sinful heart, “Thank you, Jesus.”

It seemed as if hell were put into His cup; He seized it, and at one tremendous draught of love, He drank damnation dry.”
Charles Spurgeon

Maundy Thursday


Maundy Thursday is the day the church recognizes and observes the Last Supper of Jesus.

Defined as “the ceremony of washing the feet of the poor, esp. commemorating Jesus’ washing of His disciples’ feet on Maundy Thursdayby the Collins English Dictionary, Maundy Thursday calls our attention to those final moments between Christ and his disciples before his death and resurrection.

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with a towel that was wrapped around him.

John 13:3-5

If we believe we can carry the mantles of leadership and shepherd without walking through the acts of sacrificial service and suffering like our Lord, then we are deceiving ourselves. Christ, throughout his entire earthly ministry, spoke clearly and modeled humbly the expectation for those who chose to be called disciples. The true significance of Passion Week was not Christ’s triumphant entry and the cheers of “Hosannah” as he rode into Jerusalem nor was it in the dramatic display of Christ’s authority as he drove out the money changers from the Temple. Rather, the significance of this week was in the quiet and humble declaration that Christ was King and that all the hierarchy and position that was hoped for and expected were not the markers of his power and authority. It was found in the act of washing his disciples’ feet.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

John 13:12-15

In Luke’s account of the Last Supper with Jesus, he includes an additional story that took place during this pivotal moment in history. Having shared with these men that one of them would betray him, the disciples began to murmur and discuss which of them would do such a thing. This conversation led to an argument about who would be considered the greatest. Jesus stopped them in their tracks with this statement:

“The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

Luke 22:24-27

This was not the first time Jesus addressed this seemingly difficult-to-grasp concept with the disciples. In their humanness, the question of greatness came up often, as it does so today. We are sin-driven people. We hunger for power. We yearn for a seat at the table. And Jesus addressed this hunger for position over and over again. And we, now 2,000 years later, witness Christ’s example and hear his words of gentle conviction. It is not about having a seat at the table; it is about a heart humble to service.

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things you will be blessed if you do them.”

John 13:15-17

The blessing we yearn for comes not from elevating ourselves to places and platforms of greatness. Those often look like blessings from a distance. The crowds the lights, and the influence can draw our affection towards a counterfeit kind of blessing. But from Christ’s own words, and by his authority, true blessing comes from laying down our lives, our pride, and our status, wrapping a towel around our waist and washing the feet – serving in unseen and unglorified ways – of those in our home, our marriage, our family, our workplace or ministry.

Jesus told the disciples to follow Him. The heart will constantly tug towards greatness defined by the world, but Jesus said, “Do as I have done for you.” His standard is high. It takes far more strength, maturity, and character to lower ourselves in a Christlike way than it does to climb our way up the ladder.

On Maundy Thursday, as we enter into this time of reflection and remembering, let us recall the moment we said yes to Jesus…the moment we chose to identify ourselves with Christ…when we surrendered to the One who stooped down to live among humanity, the One who knelt down to wash the dirty feet of his disciples, and the One who reaches down into our hearts and draws us to himself.

He made himself low for us.

And our act of gratitude is to do the same for others.

If we truly believe that Christ is the greatest…that he is our Teacher and Lord, then why would we seek any other form of greatness? To align with Christ is to align with serving and suffering. His grace compels us to act in love and sacrifice. His love compels us to serve.

“The strange thing is that it is the man who stoops like that–like Christ–whom men in the end honour as a king, and the memory of whom they will not willingly let die.

William Barclay

remember your true joy


The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Luke 10:17-20


That one word – however – pulling the attention of the listener away from the events that just occurred, and even Christ’s acknowledgment, support, and affirmation is the paradox once again observed in Christ’s kingdom.

Luke chapter 10 opens with the story of Jesus sending out seventy-two disciples to go into every town and proclaim the kingdom of God. His instructions were simple but direct. Their main objective was to preach the kingdom of God and heal the sick. He knew there would be challenges and hardships – “I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” vs.3 – but he encouraged them and gave them the assurances they needed, “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me…” vs.16.

And off they went, entering towns, proclaiming God’s kingdom, healing the sick, and casting out demons. When they returned, they were elated! They were so excited to report back to Jesus everything that had happened. I imagine their feelings were much like the excitement and joy we feel after we have just returned from a missions trip. We have stories and photos and slide shows and testimonies, and we just can’t wait to share all the things with all the people. We want others to share in our joy; to see what we saw and acknowledge that God powerfully used us. We want to celebrate the good that God did. We also tend to shine a light on the part we played in the story.

When the seventy-two returned there was much joy and much celebration because of what had happened.

“Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” vs.17

This is typically the moment when the audience jumps to their feet with applause. Instead, Jesus turned this moment into a teachable moment…a very important moment for the seventy-two, and for us today.

He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” vs.18

What was Jesus saying here? There are two different thoughts on the meaning of this particular phrase. According to William Barclay, it can mean that while the disciples were out proclaiming the kingdom of God and seeing miraculous signs and wonders, Christ could see in the spirit what was happening to Satan; that his power had taken quite a blow.

Another thought is that this statement was warning the disciples against pride. It is understood that it was because of pride and arrogance in his heart that, once the most beautiful of all the angels, Satan was cast out of heaven. Pride was his destruction. And in this statement, Jesus was calling the seventy-two to pause and reflect.

It may be that Jesus was saying to the Seventy, “You have had your triumphs; keep yourselves from pride, for once the chief of all the angels fell to pride and was cast from heaven.”

William Barclay

Jesus spoke a great deal about pride throughout his ministry, so it would not be difficult to believe that rather than hoisting the seventy-two up on his shoulders as great champions of faith, he was warning them to guard their hearts against pride.

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

Jeremiah 17:9

Jesus knows our hearts better than we know our hearts. He sees our motivations that are often hidden behind even the best of intentions. As Jeremiah inquired, “Who can understand it?” We certainly cannot, but Jesus can…and he did. He wasn’t trying to squash their victories or shame them for feeling joyful, nor was he downplaying the incredible good that had been done, but his greatest concern was that the hearts of the seventy-two remained grounded in humility and surrender to God.

“I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” vs.19

The work that took place in each town and village wherein the seventy-two ministered was good that came directly from the power and authority of Jesus Christ. And it was after he acknowledged the miraculous deeds that had happened through those individuals that he switched the focus to what was truly worth rejoicing about.

“However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” vs.20

The perspective is convicting.

As missionaries, we carry genuine and perceived expectations on our shoulders. We struggle with how to articulate what we are doing, how we are approaching ministry, and how to communicate our work in such a way that will cause others to be proud of us, to choose to support us, or keep people from choosing not to support us. It’s a tricky balance of telling our stories and sharing our victories without creating a small, but very real, platform of celebrity for ourselves. The truth is, I think we all struggle with this. Our wicked hearts get in the way, and while we do things in the Name of Jesus, we also do things to receive the pat on the back, the thumbs up, and the applause from the audience.

Jesus wasn’t just speaking to the seventy-two in this story. He was speaking to you and me. And while it is not a story that prohibits sharing, rejoicing, and celebrating the victories – on the contrary – it is a story reminding us that our greatest source of joy, and purpose for celebrating, is the fact that our names are written in heaven. That is truly a reason to rejoice! Our salvation is secure…our hope is eternity with Jesus. Our greatest earthly accomplishments are not nearly as miraculous as the forgiveness of our sins and the redemption of our souls. There is nothing we do – the greatest or the smallest things – that can outshine our salvation.

Pride bars from heaven; humility is the passport to the presence of God.

William Barclay

This is what Jesus wants us to grasp. It is by Jesus, for Jesus, and through Jesus that our stories and our testimonies and those miraculous moments were done. Through him, and him alone. Our salvation – this gift from God – is our treasure…and our true joy.

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” vs.21

I appreciate how Luke’s narrative of this story has captured the emotion Jesus was feeling at this moment. Jesus was feeling good! He rejoiced in the souls that had been open to the message of salvation. He was full of joy through the Holy Spirit. The testimonies and the miracles that the seventy-two brought to him were good and wonderful stories that brought joy to Jesus’ heart, and he said it was for God’s pleasure! If we, at any point in this story, only see Jesus as a joy killer, then we have misunderstood the whole thing. The simple truths were received by those with childlike faith. Again, the paradox of God’s kingdom. The greatest in the kingdom will be like children. Not because Jesus favors youth over maturity, but because those with open and childlike hearts are more receptive to Christ’s message. Jesus was happy. And therefore we, too, can be happy when God’s message is received. Yes, we can absolutely celebrate that!

As we approach the work that God has put in our hands, may we remember by whose power and authority we have been commissioned. May we celebrate the victories, but with humility, knowing that each soul redeemed, and each life transformed has been done only through the power of Jesus Christ. We are simply the stewards of his work. Pride is sneaky. Our hearts rarely detect it. This is why it is imperative for us to continuously lay our pride and our weaknesses at the foot of the cross. If we think that one act of surrender and sacrifice is sufficient, then we are lying to ourselves.

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Galatians 6:14

Remember your true joy. Boast in the work of Christ and seek humility at the foot of the cross.


When God starts chopping away at the branches of my life, I can’t say that I am full of joyful surrender. I typically resist the spiritual machete that starts swinging in my direction. I don’t want it. “God, you can keep your machete to yourself. I’ll happily live with overgrown branches and dead limbs.” But the reality is that life in the Spirit – life in sync with Christ – requires a life surrendered to the pruning seasons.

There is a natural ebb and flow to the life of a Christ-follower: Pruning and Fruit-bearing.

When there are too many dead branches or the limbs are hanging low, they will no longer produce fruit, or, the fruit will not be as sweet. A good farmer knows about pruning.

We had rose bushes galore in our garden in Malawi. They were absolutely breathtaking. The family that lived in the house before us had planted this rose garden. As I poured my morning cup of coffee, I would look out of the kitchen window and gaze on the rich and colorful roses…

…Until the fully blossomed roses dried up and fell to the ground…one petal at time. Eventually, as the weeks progressed, the thorny branches of the rose bushes started growing in all kinds of directions. And they rarely produced any roses.

I’m not a gardener. I, honestly, have no idea how to keep any type of plant alive. As was confirmed in the case of our roses, I was clueless to the fact that the branches needed to be pruned in order for the roses to come back to life. I thought “the bigger the better”, but apparently that is not true…not true at all.

Our day guard came to me one day and asked me if I would mind if he cut the branches down. Kindly, he explained that the reason the roses were not blooming was because they needed to be pruned. No fruit could be produced until pruning had taken place. I gave him the go ahead to do whatever needed to be done to bring the roses back to life. After cutting them back, to what looked like baby bushes, and after some rain and cultivating of the soil, the rose bushes blossomed in full once again.

Pruning is a gift in the wilderness season of transition.

The empty nothingness of the in-between is often the perfect time for God to get into our lives and start pruning out the old and dead branches. This pruning is deep and, often, painful work.

“I feel like I got shot out of a cannon and straight into a plate glass window. I’m still pulling out shards of glass. I’m not sure how long it is going to take to heal.”

Joel shared this with me during one of our weekly breakfast dates. Still reeling from the pain and hurt he experienced in Malawi, it seemed like the process of healing was taking its sweet time. God wasn’t/isn’t done with the pruning.

When we are looking out upon the wilderness of transition it is not merely a vast nothingness that doesn’t make sense, but it is purposeful in the shedding of the old identity and claiming the new one. Part of the shedding process is pruning the old away so that the new can grow. It is imperative for this to happen. And so, we feel pain in the in-between, but that pain is a gift from God.

In John chapter 15 Jesus is challenging us to surrender to the pruning process. He is comforting us, even though it is painful, with the profound truth that in order to grow, in order to produce lasting and rich fruit, we must give ourselves completely to the pruning process:

“I am the vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit…”

John 15:1

There are branches in our lives that are not fruit bearing branches. It is God’s grace that offers to cut them out so that we are no longer enslaved to the superfluous materials and waste that clutter up our hearts, minds, focus and purposes. He cuts off every branch – every distraction and hidden issue – that does not bear fruit. What an incredible gift.

The in-between season in transition is probably the most vulnerable of stages in the process. Everything is laid bare. We can’t hide our dead and fruitless branches from anyone. While we may have been able to block out those hidden things behind our old identities and our old successes, when we step out of that place of comfort every single part of our souls become exposed.

And God graciously uses this time to cut off the dead branches.

“…while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

John 15:1

Guess what…not every branch and every limb needs to be chopped. This is good news! In spite of ourselves, if we are walking with Christ and abiding in Christ, we will produce fruit. This is encouraging to me. However, like my rose bushes in Malawi, in order for the plant to continue to grow and become even more fruitful, it had to be pruned.

In his book, “Building a Discipling Culture”, Mike Breen discusses the natural rhythms of life in our spiritual journey. Like a pendulum that moves from one side to the other in a focused rhythm and steady speed, so our lives move from pruning to growing. Both seasons are necessary for ongoing growth and fruitfulness. He also likens this process to the balance of rest and work. These seasons of pruning – that we surmise as punishment or discipline or something painful to be avoided – are actually seasons of rest.

The pruning season allows us to rest in submission to the purposeful work God is longing to do in us spiritually. He prunes back the fruitful branches. Yes, we had experienced a great season of fruitfulness in our previous ministry and identities. We can point to specific victories that bolster our faith and give us the confidence to move forward. But to move forward and into an increased season of fruit bearing, even those past victories must be pruned. And the best way to walk through this process is to surrender to it and rest in it.


Take a Sabbath rest.

Inventory the areas that God is pruning, and let them go. Allow him access to every single fruit bearing branch.

Because, the next season to come is growth.

How do we do this? How do we allow this pruning process to take over?


“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (emphasis mine).”

John 15:5

The first gift we receive from the wilderness of transition is pruning. The way to allow God full access to work out this process is by abiding and remaining in him. The fruit we bore in the past, and the fruit we will bear in the future, are not harvests we can manufacture on our own. This fruit is from God. Apart from him we bear nothing but dried up dead branches.

I don’t want leftover fruit. I want fresh fruit to grow out of my life and the only way to accomplish that is to remain steadfast in Christ. He is the vine…he is the source and the resource…apart from him I can do nothing.

Recognizing this and embracing this process will set you up to move into your new identity and your new beginning with humility and grace.

The wilderness is not a final destination, and neither is the pruning season. We were not meant to live in either of these stages forever. There will be many more in-between seasons to navigate throughout our lives, just as there will be regular seasons of pruning. Walk slowly and rest in the gift of the pruning zone.  Allow God’s work to be accomplished, and keep your eyes focused on Jesus.


Our daughter, Sydney, would often get completely stressed out when learning something new at school. She lived with this misguided perception that she needed to be capable of operating in a skill, whether in math or language arts, before the material had been presented. She would feel anxious and place unnecessary pressure on herself when learning something new wasn’t grasped immediately or easily. There were many, many nights when Joel and I would sit with her as she wrestled her way through the emotions of fear, anger, and disappointment because of this false narrative in her mind. She didn’t understand that the whole point of going to school was to learn something new. She wasn’t in school to prove that she already knew complex fractions and how to diagram a sentence. She was in school to learn.

Anytime we do something new there is a learning curve. There is a space between starting and finishing, and the length of that space is unpredictable. It all depends on the level of complexity of the new skill, and all of the external factors – predictable and unpredictable – in which one is trying to learn this new skill.

There are many difficulties that we face in the middle of the wilderness season. There are curve balls that get thrown our way at our most vulnerable moments. Wrestling with the fear of looking incompetent is a true struggle in the middle of transition. Oftentimes, it is not the actual work that catches us off-guard, but the context in which we are doing this work that compounds the challenge and brings us into a complete state of humility (and I use that word “humility” not in the spiritual sense of a “humble heart”, but in the sense of “I have completely humiliated myself because I look inept trying to do something I’ve been doing for 20 years, but somehow here, in this context, I can’t even figure out how to spell my name” kind of humility). Learning new things can be humiliating. Especially when you are midway in your career and there is a “felt” expectation that you can perform at a significantly higher capacity than your younger counterparts.

But transition is not selective. Transition doesn’t care how many acronyms one has at the end of their name or how many years’ experience you carry on your resume. Transition doesn’t choose favorites. Transition will highlight one’s weaknesses and push all of the strengths to the bottom of the heap. Learning how to do something new, learning how to adapt to new rhythms, new structures, new cultures, new driving systems, new organizational flowcharts and protocols, is confusing, humiliating and stressful. The fear of looking incompetent will bubble up when it is least expected.

I was standing at the checkout station at one of our grocery markets in Malawi, Africa. The cashier rang up all of the items I was purchasing, and while I could see the total on the register, in my stress I could not read the number of zeros in the total. I tried to pay with my debit card, but the internet was not working (a very common issue), and I was going to have to pay with cash. At that time, the conversion rate from Kwacha to Dollars was K780 to $1. So, for instance, if I was buying $50 worth of groceries, the total in Kwacha would be approximately K39,000. That is a lot of Kwacha. To add to the complexity of it, the largest denomination they have is a K2000 bill. I cannot remember the total of my groceries on that particular day, but there were many zeros behind the number, and I found myself panicking as I was counting out my Kwacha in order to pay the bill.

An older and seasoned missionary had advised me to never pull my money out of my purse in public when counting out the Kwacha. She had also given me a little “Kwacha hack” – to divide the Kwacha into bundles of K10,000 so that, when paying a large sum, one could pull out the bundles and not have to rummage through counting out K39,000 in front of a large group of spectators.

On this particular day, even with my K10,000 bundles, my brain went blank and I couldn’t count, I couldn’t make out the total on the register, and I started to panic. I ended up handing the cashier all of the Kwacha I had in my purse so that she could count it out for me. She looked at me like I was insane, and I kind of was. My heart was pounding, beads of sweat were starting to drip down the side of my face, and I had a massive lump in my throat. The cashier began counting out the bills and returned to me a stack of unnecessary Kwacha. I have no idea what the people in the queue behind me were thinking, and by that point, I simply didn’t care. I just wanted to get the whole experience over with and get out of there as quickly as possible.

In this moment, I felt completely incompetent. Everything seemed upside down. For a split second, I could see just how much I was mentally, physically, and emotionally adapting.

Thankfully, it didn’t take me a year to figure out a system for paying for groceries and any other item I needed to purchase. While it wasn’t one big moment of enlightenment in which I figured my way out, it was, rather, that I grew into a new way of thinking, processing, and navigating the various situations I found myself in. It happened in time, but I had to embrace the reality of my incompetence and not allow that to break me or cause me to pull back. I had to keep going to the grocery store, continue to swallow my pride, and step back up to bat every single day.

Transition – this wilderness season of change – is a time of learning something new. Not much will come naturally. It will take time to decouple from the old way of doing normal to a new way of doing normal. And it will require humility. It will take all of one’s accomplishments and bury them deep underneath incompetency. The soul will have to learn how to surrender and be at peace with the process.

I know this may come across rather simplistic and theoretical. I know if I read something like what I’ve just written, I would probably wonder about the nitty-gritty of wrestling with the fear of looking incompetent. I would need some practical tools to guide me through all the discomforts of this particular component of transition. So, I am going to share a few actions steps that Joel and I took when we faced the reality of our incompetence.

Seek out safe people.

There were three missionary families that became guideposts for Joel and me throughout those early months in Malawi. They were all from different mission organizations, and they had Malawi experience that ranged from eight months to almost 15 years. Each family had insights and experience that filled in many gaps in the learning curve. While they couldn’t predict how various lessons would play out in such an unpredictable context, they could speak to the emotional and mental challenges we were working though. They became our resources for anything from schooling for our children to finding a language tutor, to visa challenges to those vulnerable moments of “I think I’m losing my mind and I just need to vent”. They were safe. They loved Jesus. And for some reason that I can’t quite understand, they loved us enough to bring us into their circle. Safe people won’t judge you when you look incompetent or are having a tough day. They won’t look at your deficiencies as character flaws, but as a normal part of the transition process. Seek these kinds of people out. They will be your life preservers.

Lower your expectations.

Most individuals who make it through the process of full missionary appointment are go-getters. They are self-driven and self-leading. They have proven their competence by jumping through the many hoops it takes to become fully appointed missionaries. They have taken multiple psychological assessments, written out pages of personal history, sat through interviews, allowed their flaws to be highlighted and discussed, read stacks of books, and sat through hours of training. These individuals are not slackers. And, I would imagine, live with high personal expectations.

While this is all good and admirable, when such individuals hit the field with the same high level of personal expectation, it can be devastating when they hit the wall of incompetency. It will feel like running into a plate glass window.

“What happened to me?”

“Why can’t I seem to get into the rhythm of this new life/culture/language/routine?”

“I feel so slow.”

“I can’t keep my eyes open past 7pm.”

“I’m hitting a wall.”

“I’m confused and disoriented.”

These are all normal feelings and experiences. They are part-and-parcel of transition. If you feel like your world has just been shaken up and chaos abounds, then know that this is normal. And it is okay to lower your expectations for a little while. Set smaller goals for yourself. Take inventory of what is critical and what can sit on a shelf momentarily. Sometimes the critical stuff is not the fun stuff- like working through the visa process or facing cultural barriers. It would be much more fulfilling to jump into the things that are safe and do not create a state of vulnerability or humility for ourselves. We, by nature, want to look strong. However, in order to push through this particular phase of transition, vulnerability and humility are essential. Lower your expectations for excellence and surrender to the learning process.

Embrace your weaknesses and lean into Jesus.

In 2 Corinthians chapter 12, the Apostle Paul writes in humility and vulnerability about the weaknesses he faces, and his complete dependence upon the grace of God. He says in verses 8-10:

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me (this thorn in the flesh – this struggle – weakness – something that caused him great distress but is never clarified as to what this “thorn in the flesh” actually was). But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Facing the reality of our incompetence is essentially facing the reality of our weaknesses. With so many leadership buzz words and strategies and all the things that fill our heads and hearts and weigh us down, it is tempting to try and cover up our incompetency with skill and tactics that perpetuate this need to hide what is really going on inside of us. The truth in all of this is that we are weak people. And when thrust into an inconsistent and volatile environment, stripped of our previous identities and coping mechanisms, we have to embrace the reality of our weaknesses. When we land on the mission field, the only way to survive is to allow the vulnerability we are feeling to be exposed. We would all say that Paul was a great man of God. We wouldn’t argue with that statement. From our side of history, we see how God took this ordinary man, with all his weaknesses and flaws, and turned those flaws into a powerful expression of God’s work through him.

But he was weak.

Paul had flaws.

Paul needed Jesus.

As simplistic as this may sound, we have to lean on Jesus every single step of the painful and humiliating journey of incompetence and transition. Will you fall down and mess up and look frail and scattered and disjointed? Absolutely. Yes. Emphatically, yes. It will be the most painful part of the process.

And that is why we need Jesus so much. After we fall, we get back up and we allow God to strengthen us through our weaknesses and use us in spite of them. I think that is one of the most mystifying realities to me – that God could use me in spite of all the ways I mess up and fall down and fail.

I relate to Paul. I don’t count myself as a great leader or great missionary or even completely mentally stable (half-joking). I know how far I fail on the daily. And yet, God still chooses to use me. To use Joel. To use our family. It is mind-blowing. I think to myself, “Wow…if God can use us, then it is not a half-hearted notion that he can use anybody.”

As you wrestle through the fear of looking incompetent, give yourself the grace to rest in God’s strength and allow him to work through your weaknesses. Whether the daunting task of language learning, or the discomfort of working with people you don’t really click with. Allow him to strengthen you, refresh you, refine you, and do his work in spite of you.

Isaiah 40:29 became an anchor verse to me during our first year on the mission field. I still cling to it because it is a precious reminder to me that I am not alone, and that it is okay to admit incompetency. It says:

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”

While I don’t have the time to go into the full history of this Scripture and walk you through the context in which Isaiah was prophesying, I will say this: the character of God from the day those words were spoken and written down is the same today.

God has not changed, and he continues to prove himself true to us – to be our strength, to increase our power when we are at our weakest – even when, in the eyes of man, we don’t deserve it.

His promise of strength and power will see us through the fears, the anxieties and the many moments of incompetency. We can forego the wrestling match, and lean into his grace that is all-sufficient, humble ourselves in those vulnerable and exposed moments, and allow his power to enable us to get back up and try and try again.
Remember, in this season of transition we are learning something new.

And here’s a little curve ball I’m going to throw your way…we will always be learning something new. Always. There is no finish line to the unknowns and our incompetency. For every new thing we learn, there will be a hundred more that we have yet to discover.

So, as you navigate through the early stages of transition, don’t forget to…

Find your safe people.

Lower your expectations.

Embrace your weaknesses.

And lean hard into Jesus.

the least


The Least.

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.

Mark 12:41-43

She didn’t have much. In fact, she didn’t have anything of significant monetary value.

She was a widow, and she was poor.

And she was among the crowd of people coming to the temple to give their offerings. The wealthy made a big show of it, tossing their large sums of money into the temple treasury. She, on the other hand, made no demonstrative display of her gift when she dropped two small copper coins – such a coin was called a lepton, meaning “thin one” – into the treasury. This was not a fat offering. It was, literally, a very lean gift.

Perhaps, as Jesus and his disciples sat on the other side of this scene, nothing looked out-of-the-ordinary. I imagine there were a number of people, walking through the queue, waiting their turn to submit their offerings. This poor widow, most likely obscure in the hustle and bustle of the crowd around her, elicited no extra attention or admiration. She dropped her coins and moved along in the river of humanity.

But Jesus saw her. He didn’t just see her; he pointed her out. He paid significant attention to this woman, invisible to the world.

Jesus does that.

He sees the hidden treasures around us, and he redirects our focus. His heart is drawn to the least of these. He doesn’t praise them because of their lowly status, but he acknowledges and affirms their actions despite their status.

The widow woman, holding her entire earthly wealth in her hands, tossed it all into the offering.

She gave out of her poverty – the least of everyone.

Yet, Jesus said she gave the most.

The kingdom that Jesus taught about throughout his ministry was an upside-down – paradox to the human understanding of greatness – kind of kingdom.

If you want to be great, then you must become a servant – the least of these.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Mark 9:35

When he made this statement to the disciples, he didn’t leave anything out. He was clear and direct. This wasn’t a coaching session on how to become a great leader. It was a difficult conversation speaking to the condition of the disciples’ hearts (the condition of our hearts as well) and expressing this hard-to-swallow kingdom mindset of lowering ourselves to title-less servants of Christ. He gave them no false promises that if they become the very last that they will be servant leaders of all. No. Jesus was very serious about this issue. In fact, rather than teach and express this significant kingdom principle by walking and talking, he sat them down. It was as if he was saying to them, “This is a lesson I don’t want you to miss. If you miss this, you miss everything.” He plainly and intentionally communicated that the greatest, in God’s sight, are the least: the ones who serve, and whose highest ambition is to serve like Christ.

And then he told them that if they sought for greatness in his Kingdom they must find it, not by being first, but by being last; not by being masters, but by being servants of all. It was not that Jesus abolished ambition. Rather, he recreated and sublimated ambition. For the ambition to rule, he substituted the ambition to serve. For the ambition to have things done for us, he substituted the ambition to do things for others.

William Barclay

This way of Jesus shoots straight to the heart. While the disciples were arguing over who would be the greatest, Jesus was always – always- redirecting their gaze…their attention…to the least. We cannot hold on to our self-righteousness when we sit this close to Jesus. His ways are so far beyond ours- the complete and utter opposite of our natural inclinations.

“They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Mark 12:44

The widow woman…who gave her “thin one” to God, gave more than any person who showed up to church that day. The wealthy gave out of their wealth. It is not a sacrifice when there is a deep reservoir to continue to draw from. She, on the other hand, gave all that she had…what might have been useful for oil, or flour, or some form of shelter. Her gift that day was a treasure far weightier than any sack of money poured into the temple bucket. In Christ’s upside-down kingdom, she would be considered “greatest”.

But I don’t think that this kind of greatness is a title that many of us are keen on snatching up. How many of us are truly prepared to be the least- to give an offering that won’t gain us significant earthly approval? How many of us are honestly willing to become servants without promise of promotion?

These are big questions.

This was what Jesus wanted his disciples to grasp.

It is what he wants us to internalize and hold firmly to today.

The greatest is Jesus.

We recognize that not one of us can carry the weight that he carried, so why do we attempt to place man on a scale of greatness when Jesus is part of the equation? Are any one of us prepared to take on the sin of the world and sacrifice our lives on a cross for the redemption of all mankind? It is difficult for me to lay down my life for my husband and family…I’m selfish, and I get tired and irritated and struggle with feelings of entitlement. Can you relate? Even when I do surrender and push aside my selfish will, I find I have to continuously lay my ambitions at the foot of the cross. This act of surrender is a daily act of obedience.

Greatness in God’s eyes is not the pursuit of greatness, but the pursuit of the cross-bearing life; choosing to lay our lives down for others and serving them with the willingness to sacrifice any hope of earthly greatness in the act of giving. It is about our hearts.

In both of these stories, we see that Jesus is shifting the paradigm. It has nothing to do with wealth and poverty in the natural sense, but about the wealth and poverty of the soul. How much are we willing to sacrifice and surrender to God? Greatness has nothing to do with titles and hierarchy, but about laying down our lives for the sake of others; becoming servants of all. Period.

There was a profound difference between a servant and a slave in biblical times. A slave was one who was owned by another person, taken against their will and forced into servitude. A servant, on the other hand, was a person who voluntarily chose to serve. Jesus came, not to be a slave, but he came on his own free will to serve…to give his life. And Jesus exhorted his disciples, and exhorts us today, not to live as slaves but to live as servants; freely giving our lives and our treasure, our gifts and our ambition to Jesus and his purposes.

When we place ourselves in proper alignment to Jesus Christ, we see that we really are the least. That even the greatest accomplishments and skills, gifts, and offerings we offer are like the widow woman’s lepton, “thin one”. While we can never match the sacrifice that Christ made for the world, we can take our two small copper coins – the little we do have – and give it all in service to Jesus. We can humble ourselves to the status of servants.

God honors the least. It doesn’t make sense. None of it does. The math will never add up…it will never equal the greatness that we so often seek. But it is the way of Jesus. It is the way of good. It is the hope this world has. I am so inspired to give my “thin one” to Jesus- to be counted as the least. If it draws me closer to Jesus – to his heart…to his character…to deeper intimacy – then let me be a servant of all.

Humility is the mark of Christ. It is the way of power used rightly. It is Godlike to serve in humility. He who sits on the throne was the servant of all while here, and on the throne he continues to serve us by his Spirit. We must know him well and deeply if his work is to be accomplished.

Diane Langberg, Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church


Self-care in a season of chaos.

When we moved to South Africa, I had come out of a very challenging season in Malawi. It was hard on all fronts – from helping our children transition, to navigating life in a foreign country, the ever-precarious visa process, the insurgence of Covid-19, to understanding a new organization and all of the intricate policies, procedures, and bureaucracy. It was hard. But, like I have said before, we were able to find creative ways to establish stability.

Still, when we arrived in South Africa, I felt like I had run a marathon and was standing at the starting line of yet another marathon. The decision for our move was, primarily, to get help for Jasper. We knew he had some significant developmental issues, and South Africa provided the much-needed resources to help him.

As I sat in our Airbnb one afternoon, completely exhausted and weary, I remember thinking: “Can one lose resiliency? Is it possible that I am not able to bounce back from challenges like I used to?” A friend of mine called me. She and I have known each other since high school, and we are both Third Culture Kids. She said to me, as I was thinking out loud, that the question of resiliency cannot be answered when one is in the middle of transition. She encouraged me to walk slowly and take it one day at a time.

I was beginning to feel like, perhaps, God was disciplining me- that all of this hard stuff we were facing and working through was because I had, somehow, upset and disappointed God. I was stressed out trying to determine if my own frustration and anger at some of the things we had experience had been a result of me not being a good enough Christian, missionary, wife, mother, etc. While I was grateful- deeply grateful- that God had brought us to a place where we could help Jasper, and we had even found incredible resources for him, and for our family, I couldn’t shake this feeling that I was somehow responsible for how hard the past year had been. And I was worried that I might not bounce back from it.

A few months later, I was on a Zoom call with a mentor of mine, sharing with her my fears, my worries, and doubts, and she said to me, in the most empathetic and kind way, “Amy, I think you need to walk in God’s love. His yoke is easy, and his burden is light. He is not disciplining you. He wants you to know that he loves you, and he is with you.” I can’t begin to explain how the combination of my friend’s words and this mentor’s words spoke life to me. They still do. I have a small sign that I received as a gift from this mentor before we moved overseas. It says, “You are loved”, and it is a gentle reminder of this truth that I see each day when I sit at my desk.


Walk in God’s love.

Be gentle with yourself.


Release these burdens and cares and rest in God’s presence.

Take it one day at a time.

Transition in a season of chaos brings a kind of weariness that is difficult to describe. It overwhelms and saturates so much of our lives. Too often we brush it off, or we blame ourselves for not being strong enough or resilient enough to handle the chaos, rather than recognize that we have limits. And it is okay to have limits. It is okay to say, “I’ve reached my capacity.”

Self-care in a season of chaos, for me, looks like:

1.     Waking up in the morning and reminding myself that I am loved by God.

2.     Loving my husband.

3.     Prioritizing my family.

4.     Homecooked meals.

5.     Handing over the things that are out of my control to God.

6.     Laughter with my family.

7.     Reading books that help me understand the process I am working through.

8.     Regulating social media.

9.     Speaking kind words to myself.

10.  Letting go of guilt when saying “no” to something is the healthy thing to do.

Transition is a season. It is not a lifestyle. The missionary life tends to be more transitory in nature than a regular occupation, but constant transition is not the norm, even for missionary life. It is a season; these seasons pass.

It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between that we fear…It’s like being between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold on to.

Marilyn Ferguson, American Futurist

Transition is the in-between. It’s the letting go and the reaching out with no clear sight of the new beginning. I would add to Marilyn Ferguson’s thought that we, as Christ followers, do have something – Someone – to hold on to. The season of transition breeds all kinds of internal restlessness, and it feels overwhelming when we are in the thick of it. However, we are not alone. As we learn to pivot in the chaos, we have someone in the storm keeping the boat from sinking. Jesus never leaves us. He promises that he has gone before us, and he is also in the middle of all the mess with us…standing strong.

Resting in his love and allowing his presence to carry us through the seas of the in-between, will give us the resilience we need to keep pressing on and moving forward.

It is okay to take care of yourself in these seasons of chaos. It is okay to hit “pause” and remind yourself that you are loved by God. Rather than try to figure out if you are doing it right, or doing it well, give yourself the gift of care – whatever that might look like for you. This is not a race…you don’t lose points for those moments you pause…stop…recalibrate. One of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself- and your family- through periods of transition is self-care. Eventually, you will find yourself on the other side of the trapeze.



He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

Isaiah 40:11

I’ve been a little obsessed with the animal kingdom lately. We were at a game reserve last year, and there seemed to have been a baby boom across the northeastern part of South Africa. We saw so many mamas and babies. What struck me, and what I have not been able to stop thinking about, was how naturally and instinctively these mamas watched over and protected their young, while simultaneously, the babies sought after and stayed within close proximity to their mamas.


Elephants are highly protective of their young. A mama elephant will charge anything that she perceives to be a threat to her baby. Elephants stick together in family units, and for increased security, they will join with other elephant families to form clans. Many of these family units and clans are comprised of females and their offspring. Lots of mamas protecting their little ones.

Touch is an important communication tool among elephants, especially between mother and calf. Wherever the calf and mother may be, they will be touching. And if the baby is behind the mama, she will reach out and touch her young with her tail. It is a beautiful picture of care, protection, and love.

On the other side of the size scale, sea otters are another fascinating creature! Because of their dense fur, they can sleep in the ocean floating on their backs, but they do not float alone. Sea otters will float in groups called rafts. These rafts can range from two sea otters up to hundreds of otters. They stay close, holding hands in order not to lose each other and to protect themselves from drifting away and becoming vulnerable to predators. Sea otter mamas hold their pups on their tummies and will spend hours fluffing their fur. This is more than just a fussy mom trait, but it is a necessary instinct they do in order to ensure the pup’s fur is prepped well for floating. A mama sea otter will carry her baby through rough waters and hostile environments in order to ensure the safety of the little one.

This picture, illustrated in living color, of intuitive care and motherly instinct is powerful.

Our older three children loved to be held when they were little. Sometimes, if they were feeling exceptionally affectionate, they would run and try to jump into my lap for a quick hug and kiss. Sometimes they would reach their hands up to the sky, a clear message to me to pick them up and hold them in my arms, simply because they wanted to be close to me. Even Jasper, who is not naturally an affectionate little guy, will lay his hand on my lap, or hold my hand close to his chest, when I am singing to him at bedtime. There is something very warm, comforting and affirming when we find ourselves being held by those we love, and who love us.

To be held.

There are so many images and Scriptures throughout the Bible that encourage us to hold on…persevere…cling to Jesus. We can find, in moments of exhaustion, mentally exhorting ourselves to just keep pressing on- and holding on to Jesus.

The challenge is that sometimes we wear out. We let go. Or we wander and get disoriented by the trials and heavy burdens we bear. Our intentions are good and pure…we are doing our best. We are holding on!

He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart…

Thankfully, the burden of our security and our preservation does not lie solely in our hands. Yes, we must hold on, but while we are holding – and in those moments when our grip releases – we are also being held.

We are held in Christ’s hands- gathered up in his strong and capable arms.

He holds us close to his heart.

Like a mother elephant, or the sea otter, he is always near…finding us…touching us with his presence…holding our hands so that we do not drift out to sea.

He will gather them in when they wander, gather them up when they fall, gather them together when they are dispersed, and gather them home to himself at last; and all this with his own arm, out of which none shall be able to pluck them. He will carry them in the bosom of his love and cherish them there. When they tire or are weary, are sick and faint, when they meet with foul ways, he will carry them on, and take care they are not left behind. He will gently lead them.

Matthew Henry’s Commentary

What a reminder of the constant care of God.

Our relationship with God is reciprocal. We reach out to Him and He is reaching out to us. It is not just us holding on to Him, holding His hand, reaching out to Him, but it is also Jesus holding us, leading us, finding us and carrying us. He keeps us safe in rough waters. He is ready to charge when predators come near.

We are safe.

We are loved.

We are His.

How comforting and encouraging.

Wherever we are, whatever we do…in our daily work or our evening rest…as we are holding on to Jesus, He is holding on to us.


Transitioning with littles and special needs.

I’ve shared our experience with transitioning with our older children. What about younger children? What does this process of transition look like with a three-year-old? Or a five-year-old? And, even more so, what about a child who has special needs- who, perhaps, cannot articulate their feelings verbally?

Jasper was three years old when we landed in Malawi. What we did not know at the time was that he is on the autism spectrum. If I had known that, it might have helped me a lot in navigating the transition with him. Without that knowledge, we did the best we could.

Jasper’s “speaking up” looked more like massive meltdowns (up to two-plus-hours of meltdown), as well as erratic and repetitive behavior. He was an unregulated little boy plopped into the middle of an unregulated and chaotic setting. From the smells to the language to the sounds and sights, he was overstimulated and out of control. I look back on that year in Malawi, and I can only say that it was God’s grace that brought us through. Sundays were a nightmare. He had no place to go that was a safe space. He was overwhelmed, and he could not string the words or thoughts together to express how he was feeling and what he needed. His language skills were delayed which compounded the emotional strain. I’ve often compared Jasper’s behavior to that of a pinball machine. The triggering stimulus or event would be likened to pulling the lever on a pinball machine that shoots the ball out of the corner. In similar fashion, Jasper would be shot out of his corner in the morning, and he would literally bounce all over the place, directionless and erratically throughout the day.

Picture this: our house in Malawi had five doors that all led to the outside. It is common for people to open up doors and windows of their homes- and keep them open- throughout the day in order to allow the breeze to flow through the house. We did this, initially, until we realized that these open doors created enormous stress for Jasper. He would run like a person on speed, in and out of the house, out one door and in through the next, circling the house over and over again. The running didn’t calm him down or wear him out. It actually revved him up and set him into a physical and emotional tailspin. When we recognized how the open doors were creating an atmosphere of stress for him- and for us- we decided to close all the doors except one. There would be only one open door for coming and going.

It really breaks my heart when I think of how hard that transition must have been for him. I tear up when I think about it because I know I didn’t always handle myself well in those high stress moments.

I can’t go back in time and fix all the mistakes I made in helping Jasper through the transition, but I can take what I’ve learned – and am continuing to learn – and apply it in our current transition and future transitions, and hopefully spark some creativity and hope to those who are also going through something similar to this.

With younger children, we have to slow down. We have to get on pace with them and their emotional process. I’ve heard it said multiple times that moving overseas is much easier with little ones than it is with older children. Speaking from my own experience, I would say that I disagree. It is not easier, just different.

Little ones explode in behavior. They meltdown, and they wear out easily. Fatigue creates a tired and angry little tyrant. They verbally can’t tell us, “Hey, I feel uncomfortable in this situation.” Or “I am scared, and I don’t understand what is happening.” We have to interpret their emotions, feelings, and grief through the negative behaviors we observe.

Slowing down means just that: slowing down. We want to take our new life by the horns and run, but our little ones need us to take them by the hand and adjust our pace to theirs. Jasper’s three-year-old legs were, and still are, significantly shorter than mine and Joel’s. If he was physically so much smaller than Joel and me, try to imagine the emotional equivalent of this disparity. We had to modify our pace both physically and emotionally to meet Jasper’s needs. It comes down to recognizing that the mountain we are so determined to conquer in one, two, or even four years, may take two, four-year terms instead of one. And we have to accept that and be okay with it. It’s not that the mountain will never be conquered; we will get to the top, but maybe not as quickly and heroically (from the perspective of the world) as we had anticipated. But to be very honest, I don’t want to make it to the top of the mountain by myself…a wise parent/leader wants to get there with their people. And so, we slow down.

Walking through the daily routines, creating visual schedules, and becoming intentional observers of our little ones helps them to feel more regulated and gives everyone a sense of control. Talking to them pre-event, rehearsing and play-acting on what a new experience might be like, also alleviates some of the internal stress. Pictures of places, people and possible sights that they will experience also prepares the child mentally for what is to come. They now have a frame of reference for the “new thing”.

The visual schedule, while not a miracle-working resource, was a huge help in regulating Jasper. I found pictures online that would match his daily routines and printed them out. He and I went over them together multiple times before we started implementing them. For him to “see” the process of his day was incredibly regulating.

Creating visual stories also became a part of his life and has helped him significantly with all manner of transitions. From starting a new school year, to toilet training, to preparing to fly on an airplane, visual stories have helped give him a picture of what is coming up and what he can expect.

Just as routine and structure have been good for me and our older kids, it is of utmost priority for our little guy on the autism spectrum (and I would add that it is critical for any young child, on or off of the spectrum). Routine regulates. Structure creates security. When chaos abounds, the little ones need a place of refuge, and that refuge is home. This is not a critique on working moms. I’m not pushing an agenda. I am speaking directly to helping a child process transition in a season of chaos, and home is their refuge. It takes incredible focus and intentionality to create a place of stability in a complex situation. If a caretaker is sidetracked with work and meetings and the demands of a job, then the child is not going to get the focused attention that he, or she, needs. Meltdowns will intensify, and the family will live in an elongated season of chaos. This, I guarantee.

This pathway to adjustment is a slow path and also requires keen discernment on what to say “yes” to and what to say “no” to. I have found that in our current transition, I am saying “no” to things that I normally wouldn’t say “no” to. I am doing this because I see the ripple effect of each of those choices, and I have had to get really selfish with my time and my energy. The ripple effect is real. One decision impacts a million other areas of our lives. Some of those decisions are good, and the ripple effect is beneficial. Some of those decisions are necessary, and we have to learn to roll with the punches (and be really aware of how this unavoidable stress will affect our little ones). Some of the decisions we are faced with are not necessarily wrong or bad, but unnecessary. They can wait. If it can wait, then wait on it. Wait until life is more regulated. Because eventually, it will settle down, and everyone will be in a place of strength, and not constantly pulling from a tapped-out reservoir.

In addition to this thought, little ones- specifically little ones on the spectrum- are going to struggle with smells, sounds, tastes, and textures. They lack, especially without adequate resources, the internal fortitude to “handle” uncomfortable situations. From temperature to the volume of music, singing, talking, to the smell of new foods, Jasper was a walking time bomb. While I wanted to show respect in our new home/country, I also recognized that forcing Jasper to eat these strange foods, or force him stay in the church during service, was futile. The quickest way to completely unhinge that little boy was to force him into compliance. I had to let go of trying to please all the people. I had to say “no” to a lot of things. Those decisions to let my expectations fall were the best (and wisest considering I had no idea what I was doing) I have ever made.

Get the professional help and resources you need as quickly as possible. If you have a clear and professional diagnosis for your child before the major move, then you are well on your way to a “smoother” transition. I think it is most ideal if you are able to locate the necessary resources before you land at your new destination. If not, finding the appropriate doctors, therapists, and schooling options should be a priority upon arrival.

We came to South Africa, not with a formal diagnosis, but with a high recommendation from two doctors of what kind of help Jasper would need. We were referred to a Pediatric Developmental Psychologist in Durban, where we live, and as soon as the December holiday was over, we began the process of getting a formal diagnosis for Jasper. From that point on, we were thrust into a beautiful community of support, therapists, and resources for Jasper and our family. Having access to these tools has been- and continues to be- a blessing for all of us.

I believe the key to navigating transition with a child on the spectrum is formulating a plan of action well before the transition, ensuring that where you are landing will have the adequate resources you need, and adjusting your expectations on how it is all going to unfold.

And give yourself a lot of grace. It’s going to be messy. It’s going to be hard. There are going to be good days and bad days. That’s okay. Breathe deeply, and rest in grace.

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