Thus Far

posted by Gretchen on ,

No comments

"What we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are... because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier that way to see where we have been in our lives and where we are going. It also makes it easier for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own, and exchanges like that have a lot to do with what being a family is all about and what being human is all about."  – Frederick Buechner


Several weeks ago, our ComGroup started telling our stories to each other. By this, I mean that we have set aside intentional time for each person to share a little bit about their lives, about their background, about the ways the Lord has been at work. I've done this before in small groups, and while I tend to despise anything related to being put in the spotlight, I think it's a really needed and beneficial part of journeying through life together. To really know one another and be known is such a gift.

So I made my notes the other night, a bit of a timeline of my life. Since I didn't grow up in College Station or even go to school here (shameful, I know), it made more sense to relay a synopsis than a few specific highlights of life. It's amusing now to look back and think about which moments were actually life-altering and which ones I just thought were at the time and to filter content that would fit within an hour and still convey "me". In the end, I'm not sure whether or not that was accomplished, but the neatest part was tracking the way the Lord has weaved provision and grace and purpose into seasons of life when it was least felt or realized.

I've never really thought I had much of a story to tell. There are events and moments of note and worth, sure, but nothing mind-blowing in comparison to some of the struggles and successes of others. But I guess that's ok, because my story is MY story, and it's important in it's own right because no one else has it and because it is also God's story. It is, and continues to be, a story of redemption and growth and learning to trust in pain-staking ways in the mountaintop moments as well as in the dark valleys. So after sharing last week, I actually felt like it wasn't enough, that there was more to tell, more about relationships – both healthy and broken – and marathons and singleness and art and my need to be outdoors and need to pray more and on and on and on, this need for more time to call out the ways the Lord has changed and shaped me and maybe that's the sweet spot. That recounting of the past as well as the expectation of what's to come. Because the Lord has been at work.

One of the stories in Scripture that always comes to mind in reference to "story" is the reference to the Ebenezer stone in 1 Samuel 7. Samuel implores the Israelites to turn to the Lord fully and with all their hearts. They do so, and when the Philistines come to attack, the Lord answers the cries of his people and throws the Philistines into a panic, saving the Israelites. Samuel then erects a stone, names it Ebenezer (stone of help), and proclaims "thus far the Lord has helped us". Perhaps this sticks with me because my dear creative Mother once constructed an 8' tall wire mesh and paper mache Ebenezer stone for a church event. We paper mached for hours, and then she painted the entire structure to look like a real rock. True story. And while I'm sure it ended up in the dumpster after all that work (because really, what do you do with that?), it made the story come alive for me. I love the ways that it was important to the people of the Old Testament to mark the times in their lives in which they knew they tangibly experienced the Lord at work, and I think there's something very powerful to be found in that still today. To stand and say, I'm not done yet, God's not done with me yet, but thus far the Lord has carried and delivered me.

I would say I'm in a season of not knowing what's ahead and really wanting to know, but then, that's the norm around here. I get impatient and concerned with what life might look like in 10 years and will I be a better person then and will I accomplish what I want to and will I love others better and will I trust the Lord more and will I be making a difference and will I feel like I've failed and will I be leaning into Him more even when I do? I guess if the last 10 years are any indication, I shouldn't be as worried about the next decade. For thus far has the Lord helped me.

So tell your stories. Tell the ones that make them laugh at your audacity, the ones that make them question your motives, the absurd and the silly, the scary phone calls that rocked your world, the highs and the lows, the times of tears and longing and broken hearts, and yes, even the utter ridiculous happenings and sacred glimpses of sheer joy. Tell them all and be known.


And to my story-sharing people here, proof that this happened. And it's worth mentioning that my first email address was You're welcome.

Unconventional Community

posted by Gretchen on , , , , ,

No comments


If we want to foster community, we are going to have to make a conscious effort to go against the flow. – Kate Hurley

I guess you would consider attempting to set a Guinness World Record every spring as something that goes against the flow. (Seriously, who does that?) Though admittedly I'm taking this quote a bit out of context, I think it's quite true; our culture is not set up in a way that encourages and promotes community. Thoughts of self, self, self scream much louder than give, give, give. And yet, there are these rare moments when we step outside of that and collide with the idea that maybe joining together could just very well be more powerful than standing alone.

I honestly don't remember the conversation that first got the Guinness events started; I guarantee it included something to the extent of "I've got a wild, crazy idea" and "this could gain the attention of people who wouldn't look twice otherwise", and "after all, changing the world ought to look unconventional". At least, that's how those conversations typically go! But I'm not sure that we (Mercy Project) could have imagined the gathering of support that would come from this event back in 2010 when we attempted to play 50 hours of kickball one weekend. In fact, Mercy Project didn't even exist as an official entity at that point in time.

Yet now, after 50 hours of kickball, 24 hours of flag football, 49 hours of baseball, 50 hours of baseball, and 24 hours of a mile relay, I'm beginning to see it. I'm beginning to see that the Kingdom takes all kinds of support, and it doesn't look anything like we tend to imagine. The Kingdom certainly does look like feeding the hungry, praying for hurting people, sharing clothes with those who have none, and showing up at church on Sunday morning. But it also looks a lot like playing sports for a ridiculous amount of time, rejoicing in efforts of all skill level and confidence, and running next to a friend in order to encourage them to give their very best. It looks like sharing conversation with someone who believes differently than you and thinks differently than you, but in whom you find the common ground of grace and running. It looks like staying up all night, cheering on the underdog, and giving of hours and effort to be part of something greater than yourself.

This past weekend, I witnessed community and Kingdom support in so many different ways, in so many different people. An army of 180 runners joined forces to run the most continuous miles in a 24-hour period, beginning at 7pm Friday and ending at 7pm Saturday. Many of the runners I knew well, while many I met for the first time. But I witnessed acts of kindness and selfless giving in each one. I saw it in...

• The young man, barely old enough to participate, who showed up alone – not at all a runner – and was so excited to achieve more than he thought he was capable. His smile lit up the track.

• The running club team who wore garishly bright colors at 5am and cheered and paced and encouraged each of their teammates – whether new runners or veterans.

• Families who drove in from hours out of town, kids in tow, because they believe in us and in our work in Ghana.

• Two guys who could look at most of us as mere amateurs and instead gave of their talents and effortlessly ate up 4 laps quicker than most of could finish two. Their humility of their gifts astound me.

• Several friends who had to gather much courage to step on the track at all, much less run a full mile. But they showed up, pushed themselves to do their best, and showed me what it means to do hard things.

• Several young men with endless energy who brought humor and excitement to the middle of the night.

• Many who showed up to support and help and bring coffee, church friends who lined the bleachers towards the end of the night Saturday, friends who have become my family and community here.

I could honestly say something about each of the runners and volunteers who came out this weekend, all giving of their time to support Mercy Project and each other. These people – both mere acquaintances and good friends – teach me a lot about myself and a lot about our need for community – both in everyday life and in the life of an organization that is always grateful to garner support, whether through awareness, encouragement, or financial means. We were made and designed to live life together, not alone. Nothing makes me more aware of this than Guinness weekend when I all I have to do is look around at the broad spectrum of people collected for a single cause and marvel at the way the Lord is working. Maybe there are easier ways to foster community than trying to break a world record, but if that serves the purpose, I'm ready for the next one. Here's to 5 more years of wild and crazy dreaming.

Less of Me, More of Him.

posted by Gretchen on ,

No comments

To be honest, I don't know that much about Lent. I get the general idea behind it and the basic historical/biblical significance, but the tribe I grew up in didn't practice or really even talk about Lent, so I don't know that I have a deep, foundational understanding or connection with it.

Much of what I've witnessed surrounding this season has been more about "what I will give up" and less about connecting with the Lord. Proclamations of anti-caffeine/meat/facebook/fill-in-the-blank sentiments are all fine and well, but I want to know: how does that draw you closer to the Lord? On Easter morning, how will that make you different from the person you were 40-some-odd days ago? And more often than not, those questions are harder to answer than the decision to not drink a Dr. Pepper every morning.

That said, I've had some good experiences with Lent as well: group commitments to read through the Sermon on the Mount each morning, to choose 40 people to pray for or write notes of encouragement to, to dedicate prayer on the Hours. These I love, these I connect with more fully and have made a positive impact on me. But I struggle to find a balance between what I will actually stick to in a season that is way too busy to begin with but that will also be more meaningful than checking a box to say I completed my Scripture reading for the day. And yet, I think this is the point, isn't it? That if we make this season about us, about what we can manage and complete, about what we are able to resist or add to our schedules, we've missed it altogether.

It's not a season about us, it's not a time to see how strong and sacrificial we can be and how that stacks up to what anyone else is choosing to do. It's not about selecting water over soda, vegetables over a pint of Ben & Jerry's, or silence over the latest sitcom. The giving up and adding to and tangible decisions to act are mere catalysts to draw us near to Him, to deepen our focus on Him. So that's where I want to point my heart for the next several weeks. I'm asking tough questions of myself: in what areas of my life do I need less of me and more of Him? And the disguise of busy, while true and legitimate, is often a means of packing life so full and overflowing that it's way too easy to dodge thinking about the parts of me that need, well, less of me. And so perhaps this is the very best time indeed to lean in close.


I'm (rather impatiently) waiting for Bread & Wine to arrive in the mail this week and am excited to dive into it over the coming days. I've planned some other ways to engage this season of Lent – but only ones that will actually spur and encourage drawing near. Less of me, more of Him.

If you want to read more, these two articles really resonated with me and helped wrangle my thoughts a bit:

What God’s graciously given you is always enough to be abundant grace for someone else. (Ann Voskamp)

Lent is not a self-help program. It’s a crash course in getting real with God. (Susan Isaacs

And this is another great post by our pastor who comes from a similar background but is a much more brilliant writer than I.

Our hope is not that God will keep us from death, but that Jesus, acquainted with the way, will walk with us in our dying. (Thad Norvell)

What I love most right now is learning how this season means different things to different people. It's as if God intentionally meets each of us where we're at....

Watch for the Light

posted by Gretchen on ,

No comments

I was riffling through a stack of books this morning that have been sitting next to my bed waiting to be read since... oh, sometime last fall... and found a copy of a selection from an Advent book that a friend shared with me back in December. Meaning to reread it, I had printed it out and stuck it in with said books; now, it makes a timely appearance.

Intended for the Advent season, yes, but it resonates with me now, this day. This day, I see broken and messed up and wrong. I see it, and I focus on it. And each time, each bit of news or negative word enables that focus. And it's true – our world is very broken. But sometimes I forget to look for the good, to look for the light. So I find these thoughts quite appropriate, and I want to learn to watch for the light, to dwell on the ways in which God is coming quietly and redeeming, the ways in which He is making right, the ways in which at just the right time, He will fulfill everything that is scattered and longing – the ways in which He has already done just that.


This is adapted from an Eberhard Arnold selection in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, bolded words my own.

"When the time was fulfilled..."
You came to us at Bethlehem when the time was fulfilled.
What insight there is in these words!
We are concerned day in and day out
with lesser or greater matters in the service of your kingdom.
We work sometimes until we are weary
and yet we see so little result.
Does everything remain as it was?Haven't we gone forward at all?
And then we see again the light
shining from the stable in Bethlehem.
Christ came not after a great mass of people had accomplished something good,
but as a miracle, as a gift from you
which you lay into those arms that are stretched out to you in longing.
So we wait sometimes for years to be freed from some need.
For a long, long time we look out from the darkness
in search of the light.
And then when the time was fulfilled,
a solution,
a light,
a deliverance comes quite unexpectedly
though perhaps quite differently than we expected.

So it is with our yearning for the salvation of the world,
for a new shining forth of the kingdom of God.
When we are discouraged,
this we can still know:
the time shall be fulfilled.
In all the noise and activity and work,
we often do not hear the hidden gentle sound
and the movement of the life that is coming into being.
But here and there,
you let us see how everywhere you are at work
and how your cause is growing and moving forward.
The time is being fulfilled.
The light shall shine,
perhaps just when it seems to us that the darkness is impenetrable.
But the miracle comes not only from above,
but also through us,
waiting for the hour when we open our souls up
and let them flow out into the world.
Wherever love proceeds from us and becomes truth,
the time is fulfilled.
Then your divine power floods through our relationships and all our works.
Then everything that is lonely and scattered
and longing for you
shall be bound together in you,
and then shall the world be born
in which Christmas is fulfilled as reality.

They Are The Future

posted by Gretchen on , , , , ,

No comments

A final post about our last rescue trip in Ghana; if you need to catch up, start here.

As soon as we stepped onto the sand, I started looking for them. Had I known the faces of the other 20, I would've been looking for them as well, but all I knew for sure was to find the 2. The 2 boys from October, the ones I had met and shadowed as they worked. (You can read about that here and here.) The 2 who had shot cautious glances my way, not sure what to make of me, fearful of this stranger.

We sat under the mango tree and waited as the village gathered. One by one, children came out of huts along with teens and babies and adults, elders and fishermen and women of the village – everyone gathered. Hailey spotted him first – there's Dotse – but I hardly recognized him. With a fresh haircut and a striped shirt far improved over the stained, ratty Puma hoodie from before, he looked like any ordinary 11-year-old ready to take on the world. He hung back, acting shy, staying behind the crowd with a few other kids. But watching, always watching, and I wondered what he was thinking.

Michael appeared too, and I knew him immediately; though I hadn't seen them interact with each other in October, I could tell now that they were friends. They sat together on the front row of benches with the other 20, watching us and taking everything in. At 11 and 12, they were among the oldest, among the leaders in the group. When it was time to leave and get in the boat, they were the first of the group to climb aboard, talking excitedly.

I continued to watch the boys on the journey south. Their shyness slowly seeped out, replaced by smiles of confidence. Every now and then, I would catch one of them stealing a quiet moment away.

Once at the shelter, there was so much excitement: a nice meal, new beds, new school uniforms, new friends, new school books. They could not stop smiling/giving me the "why are you taking another picture of me" look. 


Before leaving, we had a chance to sit down with the boys and interview them, asking about life in Sabonjeda, what they liked about Challenging Heights, what they were most excited about, and what they wanted to be when they grew up.

Dotse, especially, was very open in our interview time with him, answering some pretty tough questions in front of us, whom he'd only been around a handful of times. The last question we asked was "what do you think about all the children who are still working on the lake"? JP translated his answer as this: He actually doesn't feel like going back there again so he doesn't even want to talk about how he feels about that. Touche.


I don't know that I give enough credit to a God who creates such resiliency in children. In a world where youth so quickly become jaded and scarred by their pasts – whether chosen or inflicted – I feel as if God has protected these little ones and covered them in a very special way. Though they have quite a long journey ahead – one that will not be easy and will not be handed to them – and they will always have memories of the past, they are quick to love, quick to forgive, quick to begin again. In just three days time, they are becoming kids again. Michael dreams of being a famous soccer player when he grows up, but if he cannot, he'd like to become a teacher. Dotse also would like to become a teacher.

The separation of past and the welcoming of dreams wasn't even possible when I met the boys in October. One of the greatest gifts of this work is getting to see the transformation that is taking place in their lives. We acknowledge that it is a slow transformation of healing – physically, emotionally, relationally. But a price cannot be placed on the ability to begin dreaming.

Michael and Dotse now have a future. They now are the future.

More Than a Rescue

posted by Gretchen on , , , , ,

No comments

And so it began... I like to think that sometimes the Lord wants to just keep us on our toes, remind us who is really in control. In fact, I'm pretty confident of that! A few days before Saturday, we got word that additional paperwork was needed to complete the rescue and be able to transport the kids to the shelter. Long story short, we were able to get what we needed, but there was a bit of anxiety surrounding whether or not we would be able to stay on the projected timeline. That's the beauty of Ghana – with a limited window of time in country because of significant travel, we're to a large degree at the mercy of a culture which doesn't exactly place time as a high priority. But we were ready, the village was ready, and the Lord showed His favor once again.

After that, the rest of the journey went incredibly smooth. Much of that was a testament to the fact that Sabonjeda really has adopted the partnership that we initially presented – and not just that they're willing to work with us, but that they've taken on ownership of the project as a community. They've shown in tangible ways that they choose to live a better life – to give their own children and their trafficked children a better life as well.

This was evident in the ways they blessed the children and joined our team in praying over them as we met under the mango tree. This was evident in the ways they had many of the children dressed in clean clothes and with fresh haircuts. It was evident in the ways they walked with the children down to the boat, making sure they were safely settled in and ready for the journey. Perhaps not every village will respond in this manner, but so far we're 2-for-2, and that may just be a lesson of trust for us – that if we continue in seeking the highest good of each village, our established relationships will make all the difference in the ways we are received and sent off.

Watching our team walk out of the village with the children is always so surreal, and it happens so very quickly. I left the mango tree meeting in time to get down to the boat to shoot the group walking out. One of the fish cages was out of the water, so I climbed up to stand on it for a better view. And in about 3 minutes, the group was down to the shore area and all the kids were clamoring to get on the boat – and I was still standing 5-6' in the air realizing I should be on the boat too! I wish I could freeze that moment and look at it from every angle, see every child's face, every master's expression. It truly was a release, a celebration.

Once we climbed in the boat, the village waved and cheered and sent us off in great spirits. I can't imagine what the day was like for them. Happy to know the children will be able to go to school? Fearful of the future and the reality of no longer having the children to help them work? Wary of whether we really will be back, despite our promise to return the next week? Sad to see the children go, many of whom have been with them since infancy? I'm sure a mixture of all of the above. But I am so incredibly grateful that they are choosing new life and trusting the process. What a gift. We call this part of the process "rescue", but it's not just for the children; it's a true rescue for the entire village as well.

My favorite moment of the day, and perhaps of the entire trip, came right as we all settled in the boat and pushed off a little from the shore of the village. We had a comprehensive list of children – their names and ages – leading up to the trip, but those are never 100% confirmed until we're actually in the boat pulling away. We all counted the kids multiple times (making sure not a one was missing – and that we didn't have any stowaways!), and then Samuel called them all by name, one at a time. And that moment for me was so very rich. Hearing their names, matching those names with faces, placing identity on each.

Dear child, you are no longer a number on the lake; you are Kingsley and Dorcas and Hannah and Ame and Albert and Dotse and Roland and on and on. All 22 of you.

Yes, so much more than a rescue.

Total Pageviews