A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

On Finding the Upside of the Downside

It’s very possible I’m showing my age with this. But remember One Fine Day with George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer? He’s Jack, popular reporter and ladies’ man; she’s Melanie, overprotective single mother. Of course, they’re starting to fall in love. At one point:

Melanie: I-I realize it’s difficult what with, uh, Celia, Kristen, Elaine.

Jack (pauses, looks at her): I know your name, Mel.

This is what I like: I get that sometimes, you just want to know someone sees you. That you’re not just another name.

Maybe that’s why the words from Isaiah are whispering through my brain nearly once a day right now: See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.

I know your name, Janel.

I’ve written somewhat openly about our transition from Africa; about grappling with my own broken heart, even as I insist to my students and implore my kids that He’s good. Period.

But if I tell you what’s tearing me in pieces, the ways I sometimes feel bewildered or have to actively slog uphill against embitterment—it’s only fair that I tell you when He is so clearly for me. As an individual. 


The List, Highly Abbreviated

I could tell you so many of the little things I have cherished about these last few months. They’re as tangible as if God were setting a hand on my shoulder, or pulling me close when I started crying a little. (Again.)

Some of them are a bit more generic: re-entering stellar Colorado summers with that slight chill in the mornings. Enjoying unending running (hot!) water, electricity, a dishwasher. Strawberries. Residing in an area so beautiful it’s flooded with tourists. A breathtaking sky while camping with more stars than I ever thought possible. Fireworks savored from my own porch with family clustered around, chuckling at my kids’ wonder.

But there are other things that breathe, I know your name. The retreat for missionary women next week, and a church asking if they could sponsor me to get away there. A wraparound porch on our new home (I love wraparound porches!). A park (!!) and a library (!!) two blocks from our home (not really a thing in Uganda). My family pooling together to surprise me with some writing software for my new freelancing job. Huddling in a tent with my nieces and nephews to read stories aloud, completely with all the voices. Walking a few blocks away to ice cream with my thriving, happy kids–and my mom. (Yay!) A house just the right size: Small so I don’t feel uncomfortable in its elaborateness, moving back; and so I’m protected a bit from the accumulation of stuff. But, hey—just big enough that come the days of perpetual snow, I will not want to make my antsy children sleep on said porch. And right off my bedroom, a private, wee little sunroom perfect for typing to you right now as the light fades in tangerines and pinks. (I keep looking down on this doe and her two fawns out the window. My husband wants to call them “The Fonz,” from Happy Days. I am not sure about this.)

I know your name.


When Happiness Feels…Wrong

Honestly, sometimes even grateful happiness, or even cataloging it for you, feels wrong. It’s like after our adoption fell through a few years ago. I…felt guilty enjoying my life. I felt grieved to such a degree that delight in something would betray the value of what was lost.

Now I know that our brains can also become addicted to negative emotions. I’ve wondered, since I’ve been grieving and sometimes angry for nearly a year, if my brain would simply find those neural pathways more comfy and familiar. (It’s part of what kept me trying to dig out of them.)

But isn’t it one of Africa’s key gems for me the diamond that is gratitude? Isn’t it to see God cultivating around us and remembering us, even in a slum?

Isn’t thankfulness still priceless and a genuine saving grace, no matter our grief?

So integrity begs me to set the record straight. As my heart starts to lift with what is going right here, I adopt Moses’ prayer: Lord, show me Your glory. Don’t let me stubbornly choose blindness, as if Murphy’s Law were conspiring gleefully around me. Help me see the stacks of gifts piling up right and left. I would want my kids to be grateful for what I labored to provide for them. Help me…see.


I know your name.



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  1. Janel, I believe you nailed what I felt when we moved to Little Rock. I KNEW God was in that move and He proved it over and over. I couldn’t put into words how I felt or what I was going through. Transition. God moves us and we can know His purpose is there. Acts 17:26

    • Peggy, what a perfect verse for transition. And I love seeing how yes, God has proved His presence in that decision repeatedly! (It certainly blessed us!) So well spoken–that He moves us and is trustworthy in His “straight paths.” Thanks for the warm words!

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