Sharing Faith and Losing Face

Last year, I gave a number of professional writing workshops to non-native English speakers in New York City. During a break at a workshop in Manhattan, one woman said something that threw me off a bit. 

“You have an inner smile when you teach. Is this your teaching style, or is it just your personality?” 

An inner smile. It was a strange phrase, but I knew what she meant. 

She sensed something different about me.

No, she sensed someone different in me.

She sensed Christ. 

“An inner smile… no one’s ever said that before,” I said. “No, it’s not a special teaching style, it’s just my personality I guess.” 

I immediately knew I’d lost an opportunity. She was open, curious, and clearly respected me. All I had to say, was, “What you sense isn’t from me; it’s from Jesus. If you see anything good in me, it’s from him.” It might have opened up a conversation, or she might have thought I was crazy. I’ll never know.

Here’s another story. I was at a workshop in NYC, this time in Harlem. I decided to walk around on my lunch break, and let me tell you, I. was. out. of. place. To say I stuck out like a sore thumb is a cliché, so I’ll say I stuck out like a redhead with a limp (that’s a story for another day) I walked up to one of the Halal food carts I’d been craving (biryani please!), when a tall black man in his late forties approached me. “Miss, can you spare some change for some food, I’m out of work.” I took a few dollars from my purse, planning to hand them off and be on my way, but I stopped when I looked into desperate, jaundiced eyes. 

“Can I pray for you?” I heard myself say. 

“Yes m’aam,” he said, eyes lighting up. “Are you a Jesus person?” I nodded, smiling. “I could tell you were a Jesus person! My name’s Prince.” Prince then started rambling about God and Jesus and the Lord’s plan. After I prayed for him, he gave me a huge, lingering hug. People around us stared, but I didn’t care a bit. I walked away joyful, peaceful, and full of energy. And in Harlem, certainly not one of the safest places for a redhead with a limp, I hadn’t felt an ounce of fear. 

Long before these experiences, I’ve wrestled with why I so boldly share my faith in some situations and am so reticent in others. It seems that for every time I’ve dared to speak the truth, there’s another time I’ve held back. And since I want to grow so badly, I’ve been trying to find the root of the problem, because I know that to just try to treat the symptoms (just talk about Jesus already!), without identifying what’s up in my heart is just going to keep me walking in circles. 

So, what was the difference between Manhattan Hope and Harlem Hope?

I think a big part of the answer can be summed up in one phrase: losing face

But before I dive into this awesome sociolinguistic concept (Don’t leave! It’ll be worth it!), I want to make it clear that I am talking about sharing faith in an American context where there is virtually no risk. 

I am NOT talking about: 

  1. Strategic missions within a closed country

I completely understand that it is often unwise for missionaries hoping to ignite a church-planting movement to go around on the street talking about Jesus to everyone they meet. In persecuted regions, missionaries often have to build trust and build relationships before they can share the gospel in a way that carries weight to the hearer, poses minimal threat to the local church community, and is likely to spark a church planting movement. What might be simply bold in the US could be foolhardy in certain countries. 

2. A one size fits all approach to evangelism 

I believe that much of the evangelism we are called to is within organic relationships. And as each relationship is different, the way that you express and contextualize your faith might be different. Not every conversation calls for a full gospel presentation. And as apologist Randy Newman says, in this day and age, many people “aren’t even spiritually awake.” They don’t often think in terms of the spiritual, so a question that might have resonated to 80% of Americans in the 50s, “Do you know where you’re going when you die?” might not be the best starting point. Rather than leading with that question, seek to first “spiritually wake your friend up” by asking for his thoughts on spiritual things in general. 

What I’m talking about in this article is the heart issue of reluctance to share when you have a green-light opportunity like I did with the “inner smile” lady. It’s a heart issue, but it’s also an issue of culture and language. And man, do I love a good intersection of faith, culture, and language!

Although I couldn’t get a job with my linguistics degree (thanks for the warning, Gordon), what I learned in undergrad continues to connect with the way I live out my faith (so thanks, Gordon, really). My favorite thing to talk about, as my longsuffering roommate can attest, was “Face-Threatening Acts.” I loved talking about FTAs because they seemed to explain a lot of my awkwardness in social interactions and why guys didn’t ask girls out as much as I thought they should. FTAs are: “statements or requests that could make the hearer feel pressured or embarrassed. The seriousness of an FTA is measured by the culturally defined amount of imposition in the request and the social and power distance between the two interlocutors” (Brown & Levinson, 1987, p. 76). 

So basically, an FTA is anything that could be considered a.) impolite or b.) awkward. Another way of putting it is that an FTA is anything that makes you or your listener “lose face.” There are two different types of “face” that we have to lose: negative and positive. “Positive face” refers to “the desire…to be approved of,” and “negative face” refers to “the desire to be unimpeded in one’s actions” (Brown & Levinson, 1987, p. 13).

Brown and Levinson (1987) assert that the way we interact with each other is governed by our attempts to meet the others’ face needs when committing potentially “face-threatening acts” (p. 76). The way we avoid causing others to lose face is through the following “politeness strategies.” 

1.Bald-on No effort to mitigate the FTA, e.g. “Go out with me.”
2.Positive PolitenessInformal and friendly, attends to positive face needs, e.g. “Hey, I think you’re a great person, do you want to go out sometime?”
3.Negative PolitenessAvoids pressuring the hearer, e.g. “If you’re not busy on Friday night, there’s a movie I was wondering if you’d like to see with me.”
4. Off-record A hint, e.g. “I sure wish I had someone to go to the movies with Friday night!”

Brown and Levinson (1987) argue that these politeness strategies are universal, but that different cultures value different face needs in conversation (p. 13). This is where U.S. culture and sharing out faith intersects. In the United States at large, it is taboo to ever threaten someone’s “negative face,” or make them feel as though their freedom has been imposed upon. Americans don’t like to be told what to do. And when they are told what to do, they like the person telling them what to do to pretend that they’re not telling them what to do. That’s why American bosses say, “Could you have this in by Friday?” when in reality, they’re telling you “Finish this by Friday, or else.” Also, in today’s culture, tolerance is lauded as one of the cardinal virtues. If you express an opinion about morality, the culture often labels you as immoral. And as Christians, we’re so steeped in the culture that we fall for the illogical argument that to be an effective witness, we have to act according to the culture’s paradigm of morality in order to share Jesus, whose morality is starkly different from the world’s. So, the first reason that we don’t share our faith is because it has been ingrained in us that we must not make others feel pressured or uncomfortable. 

But honestly, I think that our positive face “needs” are more likely to get in the way of sharing our faith than others’ negative face needs. In the US, we’re big on not imposing our beliefs, but we’re even more into how awesome we are as individuals (maintaining our positive face). A defining characteristic of U.S. culture is an individualism that, on one hand, frees us up to pursue our unique dreams, but on the other hand, puts a laser focus on self and how we appear. At their core, positive face needs have to do with our desire for approval. We want to be liked and approved of by others, and sometimes we justify our cowardice as tolerance, as respect for others’ negative face needs, when in reality, we just don’t want to lose face. 

Putting this all together, sharing our faith in Jesus can be one of the biggest potential face-threatening acts in North American culture because we are threatening both our positive face and others’ negative face to a high degree. We threaten people’s negative face by communicating, “I truly believe that if you need to take action on what I’m saying. It’s actually a matter of life and death.” We threaten our positive face by risking being thought of as crazy, irrational, backwards, stupid, or narrow-minded. And that explains the difference between my two interactions: I didn’t care what Prince thought of me, but I was basking in “inner smile’s” approval, and I didn’t want to lose it.

This isn’t just an American struggle though; it’s a human struggle. John tells us about the leaders who believed in Jesus, “but because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue;for they loved human praise more than praise from God.” (John 12: 42b-43). Ouch. From ancient Israel to modern day American, the fear of losing face has been an issue. 

One thing that helps is remembering that Jesus himself was one walking FTA. He was so intent on speaking the truth that others’ negative face needs were irrelevant. It’s how Jesus didn’t attend to his own “positive face needs” though that is most striking, because if anyone deserved approval and admiration, it was him. But when he was accused of blasphemy, he didn’t speak back. He was willing to lose face because his love for us outweighed his desire for approval. 

As Christians, we are called both to be like Christ and to proclaim what he has done. When we sign up to become a Christian, we sign up to committing FTAs! Jesus says, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15: 18-20a)

I’ve come up with a question to ask myself the next time I have an “inner smile” conversation, one where all I have to lose is my positive face but I’m still holding back: Whose face?

Whose face are you trying to protect? Your own, Hope? Or the face of Christ, the one you’re representing? 

Whose face is on display? Your own, Hope? Or the face of Christ? 

If I ask these questions, I hope that instead of letting my own “face needs” get in the way, I’ll sacrifice them to share the truth. And I pray that I would grow in desiring the approval of God more than the approval of humans. I know I won’t be perfect, I know I’ll fail, but I also know He’ll help me get up again. So let’s get out there and commit some face threatening acts!

Reference: Brown, P., & Levinson, S.C. (1987). Politeness: Some universals in language usage. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


Saying “Yes, And” To a Life I Didn’t Expect

In improv comedy, there’s a lovely little principle called “yes, and.” When you’re in the middle of a skit, you never question what your co-actor does. If he says, “I hate this Georgia heat,” you don’t say “Seriously, honey? It’s winter and we’re in Maine.” As an actor, you know that the best way to create an engaging story with believable characters is to go along with the reality your co-actor is creating. You say yes to the new reality and you build off of it. So when he complains about the Georgia heat, you don your Southern drawl and tell him you’ll be right back with some sweet tea. To refuse to say “yes, and” breaks the flow of the story and puts the focus on you, the actor, rather than on your character. 

The Office’s Michael Scott is a perfect example of what happens when you don’t follow the “yes, and” principle. In his improv class, he hijacks every scene by yelling, “I have a gun!” Whether a little girl is skipping down the street or a fortune teller is reading his future, the invisible gun comes out. He thinks he’s bringing energy and excitement to the skit, but in reality, his scenes are boring, repetitive, and to top it off, his classmates can’t stand him. 

Michael Scott’s antics might seem to win the gold medal for bad improv, but I’m pretty sure I’m a worse offender than him. In almost every scene that God has started writing in my life, I’ve acted a lot like Michael. But instead of saying “I have a gun!” I say, “Am I finally going to get what I want?”

In junior high school, I wrote obituaries for me and my friends. In bubbly cursive on wide-ruled paper, I inked stories in which our every hope and dream was fulfilled. Dream job. Check. The perfect spouse. Done. That dog you’ve always wanted. You got it. 

Mine read something like this:

“Hope Johnson lived a truly adventurous life. She majored in youth ministry in college and fell in love with an aspiring youth pastor named Jeremy who loved Russia just as much as her. Immediately after college, at age 22, Hope and Jeremy got married and moved to Russia to do mission work. They had three beautiful children on the mission field. After 10 years, they were called back to Hope’s home church in Hampden, Maine, where Jeremy became the senior pastor. And they lived happily ever after.”

You can probably tell by now that a.) I was a strange child, and b.) the obituaries didn’t spring from an obsession with death, but an obsession with life.

Life on my terms, that is. 

From age 13 on, I lifted this story I’d penned up to God again and again, asking him to bring it all to pass. And my dreams were good, I reminded God the closer it got to “crunch time” (i.e. the end of college when there was still no husband in sight). I wanted to do missions and ministry with a godly man, for heaven’s sake! Of course God could get on board with that.

But He didn’t.

I didn’t meet the love of my life in college.

I did go to Russia the year after I graduated, but it was the loneliest year of my life.

I struggled with depression for 3 years after I returned from Russia and wondered if I would ever feel “normal” again. 

Things in my twenties were clearly not going according to that obituary I had written years before. My response: clench my fists and deny reality. Each time a self-imposed milestone passed, I would lift up the story I had written, a story as tired as a crumpled, yellowing piece of wide-ruled paper, and beg God to tell me that the reality I was experiencing was just a dream. 

At the same time, I knew at my core that God himself was truly better than any plans I could imagine, and that he deserved my trust and allegiance regardless of what happened. And I have followed God in this crazy journey full of the unexpected, and let me tell you, He has done amazing things! He’s given me precious friends, brought me to places I’d never imagined, carried me through depression and walked me into joy. He’s orchestrated opportunities for me to speak the truth and grow and change that I never would have had if my plan had worked out. But still, until now, I’ve never quite let go of that “perfect plan” I had outlined for my life. 

This unexpected pandemic and all that has come along with it reflects this battle that I, and so many others I know, fight daily. We all had plans that seemed, good, very good, yet we were pushed into a reality that we hadn’t imagined or planned for. Weddings, postponed. Jobs, lost. Parties, cancelled. 

And it struck me that perhaps I’ve been living a little bit like I’m in quarantine, hunkered down, waiting until everything is over so that my real life can begin. 

A beautiful pattern in Scripture recently leapt out at me. The lives of so many who were intimate with God and saw Him do amazing things in their generation had this common denominator: they had a plan for their lives, God called them to something radically different, and they said “yes, and.” 

Here are just a handful of these amazing stories:

Daniel His plan: live out his life in his homeland.

God’s call: be taken captive by a pagan nation, learn the language and literature of his captors, face a grisly death (being eaten by lions) for refusing to stop praying to the one true God, see God’s power in a miraculous rescue from that death, and by God’s power, interpret the king’s dream, and prophesy about the coming of Jesus. 

Joseph His plan: enjoy a life of comfort as his father’s favorite

God’s call: be sold into slavery by his brothers, gain the respect of the pharaoh only to spend years in prison, but ultimately be a huge part of saving not only the nation from famine but the very brothers who had sold him into slavery. 

Noah: His plan: live a godly life with his family in an ungodly world; be a witness to those rebelling against God.

God’s call: be a witness, for sure, but do it by building an ark for and having those around you think you’re crazy.  

Ruth: Her plan: live out her life with her foreign husband in her homeland of Moab. 

God’s call: go to a foreign land widowed with her mother and law, work long hours gleaning in the fields to make a living, be united with a kind, godly husband, and ultimately, be part of the line of Christ.  

The list goes on and on-Paul, Esther, Moses, Samuel, David, Jesus’ disciples!

And as this beautiful pattern has come into focus, for the first time in my life, I feel the courage to give that open-hearted “yes and” to God whatever comes. It’s true, each person I listed above experienced more pain and suffering than they would have had their life gone according to their expectations. But the reward was so much greater than the pain: they were swept into the epic story of God’s love and redemption, and they knew Him personally with ever-growing intimacy. I don’t think they would have traded that for anything. And I don’t want to either.

One of the key reasons behind the “yes, and” principle is that if I take over the scene with my own reality, the focus is now on me, the actor, rather than on my character. This metaphor extends to the Christian as well. If I refuse to say “yes, and,” I’m going to obsess over self rather than reflecting Christ. I will spend my days walking in ineffective, repetitive circles when God is offering me the chance to join him in the great adventure of His kingdom work. 

The most beautiful “yes, and” to me in Scripture is that of Mary. I imagine she had a simple, peaceful plan for her life. Marry Joseph, live quietly, and raise lots of children. But when face to face with an angel who told her she was going to bring the Messiah into the world, she said yes, and her life was never the same. She spent day after day in the presence of Jesus, saw him fulfill the prophecies she held so close, watched him brutally murdered but gloriously resurrected. She surrendered the life she had planned willingly, and God gave her meaning and joy and abundance that made those plans pale in comparison. 

So I’m setting that old obituary on fire* as a 29th birthday gift to myself, and if I try to go pawing through the ashes, remind me of how two-dimensional and lifeless it was, of how quickly it burned up, and then remind me that real, vivid, colorful kingdom life is right in front of me. So year 29, here we go… and God, you have my “yes, and.” 

I’d love to hear from my readers: What’s your “yes, and” story? What was your plan, how was it changed, and what did God do? 

*Not really, I’m not that dramatic, but I liked the metaphor 🙂


What If Your Fears Come to Pass?

Hope, what if your deepest fears come to pass?

Your deepest fears, the ones that prickle just beneath your skin, the ones that no matter how hard you try to quiet, still pound in time with your heartbeat? 

If your fears come to pass, does it mean that your life will turn from one of hope into one of despair, from one of meaning into one of meaninglessness?

If your fears come to pass, does it mean that you mistepped and God sits there smugly, telling you that you made your bed, now go lie in it?

If your fears come to pass, does it mean that God isn’t good?

That He doesn’t love you? 

You seem to think so.

The fear of the future is the beginning of wisdom. Isn’t that how the verse goes? Because logically, it makes sense. It’s wise to analyze all the possible outcomes before taking a step, right? To be sure that this decision won’t shatter your life, because if you misstep, then God certainly won’t meet you where you messed up. Isn’t that how the verse goes?

The fear of man is the beginning of wisdom. Isn’t that how the proverb goes? Because if you look at the evidence around you, at the novels and poems and Instagram posts, human rejection shatters hearts and minds and lives, but human love heals and validates and means you are precious. Isn’t that how the proverb goes?

Of course, you know you’re dead wrong because you’ve memorized the real verse, that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The truth lives in your mind, but the false proverbs with their human logic have snaked their way into your heart.    

I know the way you naturally think, the society you’ve grown up in. It’s an evidence-based, humanistic society, where truth only comes from a testable hypothesis, and citations and sources are demigods. I know you have a million of them, of these citations and sources that tell you fear is the wise and logical response. I know the pain you’ve endured, the rejection you lived, that your natural instinct is to self-protect and run rather than expose yourself to hurt all over again. 

But don’t forget this: a source can be beautifully written yet be completely false. A citation may be perfectly formatted but point back to a boldfaced lie. Evidence may be compelling until you find it’s been falsified.   

I want to tell you a story. 

It’s the story of King Hezekiah and the King of Assyria. 2 Kings 18:5-7 says that “Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses.”

Read further, and you’ll find that Hezekiah was far from perfect; he was just as broken and prone to sin as you, Hope, but he chose to trust God’s evidence over that of his attackers. 

To be sure, the King of Assyria’s men would’ve gotten an A+ in your English 101 class for their clear, concise argumentation supported by ample evidence.

“This is what the king says: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you from my hand. Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord when he says, ‘The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria…Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?”

The evidence was there: no other nation had been able to withstand the forces of Assyria; their gods hadn’t helped them, so how could Hezekiah’s God?

But Hezekiah could see the hole in the king’s argument because He knew the power and character of the one true God.

And he prayed:

“It is true, O Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by men’s hands. Now, O Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God.” (2 Kings 19: 17-19). 

Hezekiah was able to identify the lie and refuse fear because he had confidence in God’s power. It was true that the Assyrians had defeated other nations. Statistically, they would probably conquer Hezekiah’s people as well. But Hezekiah knew that God is not a God of statistics, but of miracles. 

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord.

And the Lord defeated the Assyrians and saved his people. 

When your heart is fearful, Hope, you only see within the confines of 80 years, you only see the steady aging of a finite frame and the fears that come along with it, of aging, death, of unfulfilled dreams and lost loved ones, of the pain of cancer and broken relationships, of being abandoned or never being enough to be chosen in the first place. 

The fear is a festering bullet wound that you’re only putting a bandaid on when you read a quick verse but continue to live like “the fear of the future is the beginning of wisdom,” like God only helps those who help themselves, and like getting through your 80 years with minimal pain is what you should aspire to.

But, Hope, if you stop looking forward and instead look back, the fear will shrivel, because there are countless stories of God bringing you through the fire not to die, but to be refined, not because He didn’t love you, but to show you just how much he does. Remember the time, not even two years ago, when he walked with you into that greatest fear, the one where you were clutching your life so tightly, you were about to shatter it.

When your greatest fears came to pass, you thought you would crumble. You thought that the evidence of your worthlessness was damning and that the pain would weigh heavy forever. Your eyes were blurred by looking at human evidence, but the whole time he held your hand leading you, refining you, and finally cleansing your gritty eyes so you could see the brilliant colors of truth. 

You just met a woman who faced her greatest fear, betrayal and rejection and the crumbling of her family. As she began to tell the story, you expected bitterness, but instead, her eyes shone with strength. There was pain and there were questions, but there was also a defiant hope. A defiant hope that said God is still good even though her circumstances are not.

Some throw around the phrase “God’s best” as synonymous with getting everything you’ve wanted in this life, with your story being tied up as neatly as a Hallmark movie. A happy marriage, financial security, and healthy kids-this is what we often mean when we pray for “God’s best.” But following this theology, many believers before us didn’t experience “God’s best.”

Job lost seven children in one day.

Jeremiah preached the truth and was rejected.

Noah obeyed God and was ridiculed. 

And as we learn in Hebrews 11, “some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted, and mistreated-the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” 

Hope, what if during these 80 years your questions are not answered, or your dreams fulfilled?

If your goal is the Hallmark movie, then of course you’ll be disappointed, you’ll grow bitter, and you’ll doubt God’s goodness. 

But at your core, you know that’s not what you truly want. You know that to pray for a Hallmark ending is to pray for a shallow, self-centered existence. God has put His Spirit in you and that Spirit cries out for meaning and depth and to live the sacrificial love of the one whose name you bear. 

Jesus’ kingdom call may mean the death of your dreams, but as soon as you open your hands, he’ll fill them with dreams greater than what you’ve imagined. 

And when you unclench your fists and surrender, you’ll realize there’s no need to fear. 

Because Hope, Jesus is faithful and true. Perfect love casts out fear, and He loves you perfectly. You are strong and courageous not because of you, but because His blood beats in your veins, you’ve derived your name from Him and the fearlessness he showed when he went to the cross. Satan showed Him the evidence, how at 33 years young, He would suffer torture and death and  separation from His Father. But Jesus knew that in light of eternity, in light of the joy of uniting the broken people He loved with God, that Satan’s evidence was a mirage. So he chose to face that fear, and he died. 

With 3 days in the grave, the proof piled up even higher, it said that clearly He was not the Savior, but a mere man who had rebelled against the truth and gotten himself killed because of it. Even His closest friends believed the evidence because it was flawless, but the evidence only spanned 3 days, 3 days that dawned into victorious eternity anchored in love. 

Hope, when fear tangles in your chest and anxiety stunts your breath, remember this: God is good and faithful and has always been your loving defender. Fear grows when you forget His faithfulness, but retelling the stories where He showed His perfect love casts out fear. And already, He’s filling you with a courage you didn’t think possible, you’re beginning to see outside the confines of the 80 years on earth, and you’re opening your tightly clenched fists. And one day, when you’ve run your race, you’ll see how each broken thread of your story is woven beautifully into the tapestry of His glory and salvation. You will see the redemption of all the hurt and betrayal and sickness and death, daughter of God, and when you do, it will be breathtaking. 

Guest Post: Lilly’s Rae of Hope

I’m privileged to have Amy Theisen Walz as a guest poster on my blog. We connected through Northwestern Christian Writers Conference this past summer in Minneapolis, MN. Amy has a passion in her heart for sharing hope through telling her story of how God met and restored her and her family in a very dark place.


Throughout my young life, I covered up sadness with people-pleasing and peacemaking tendencies. At the age of 19, I had my first undiagnosed episode of depression and was too ashamed to share the depth of my sadness to ask for help.  By age 26, I was married with three kids under the age of 4. The busyness of my life as a work-from home and stay-at home Mom caused my anxiety & perfectionism to overcome me, and I suffered from major postpartum depression. Thus began my first attempts at medications and therapy.  

For many years I continued to try my best, masking my pain to the outside world in a façade of constant busyness, people-pleasing, peacemaker and ultimate role of an overly-committed “everything for everyone.”  Struggling with severe perfectionism and feeling out of control, I struggled with anorexia throughout my 30s. It was then that the façade started to crumble, as It was visibly hard to cover up my bony figure, chronic pain, weakness, and overall sadness.  It was in the midst of weekly therapy to recover and rebuild that my then 11-year-old son was admitted inpatient with a suicide attempt and eventual diagnosis of major depressive disorder. 

It was during this time I felt Jesus strip away my control of all that surrounded me in order to create the life He knew I desired in my heart. When everything crumbled, he placed hope in my heart to simply trust and follow him.  He placed a beautiful little black lab pup in my family and slowly started to repair all the years of sadness in our lives. For the past 12 years, we have worked hard to rid ourselves of dysfunction, build each other back up and eventually, to thrive!  

Knowing In my heart that Jesus would one day use our story and struggle to help others, I simply waited for His timing.  The sign came on a day in March 2019, when my son lost his childhood friend. She was such a sweet and beautiful soul; she died from the complications from a suicide attempt.  Jesus simply said, “Amy, it’s time to share the hope you clung to in your darkness…bring it as a light to others suffering with mental Illness”. Thus, I share with you a journal entry from June 2019.

Monday June 10, 2019

Today reality has really set in with Lilly’s remaining time with me.  It actually started yesterday as I noted further signs of her decline.  We had a wonderful day on Saturday, her 12th bday, but Sunday I sensed she was not herself.  Unfortunately, she attempted the back porch stairs. I was surprised to hear her climbing the stairs and I saw her head at about the third top step, then she fell all the way back down.  My heart has felt so heavy since then. Maybe I pushed her a week longer than I should have. Maybe I should have arranged her date for heaven to be on her birthday like I had originally wanted.  I really wanted Dr. Erlandson to be with us during this time, as she is simply the sweetest, but was it more for my convenience? So many questions and doubts swirling around my mind…again, did I wait too long?? The questions of her going too soon were on my mind during the decision process as well.  She has really started showing me, many times in the past two weeks, she is truly tired and ready to go. Darn fall yesterday has truly got my heart in my throat of late.  

Today I’m simply a mess with only having 5 days left with her.  The reality hit me last week that her actual body will not be present in our house anymore. I don’t remember the house filled with much silliness or playful love before Lilly. What I do remember was sadness and dysfunction. Lilly unconditionally loved our family regardless of our issues and problems. My heart aches so badly today; it almost feels like an anxiety attack is coming on. The waiting is starting to take its toll on me as I watch our sweet girl struggle.  

But, the mission God has placed on my heart is so exciting and heart-warming…knowing that I will carry it out in her honor. I will share pictures and talk of her when I share our mental illness journey.

Today, she said goodbye to Maddie, the oldest daughter of the family where we got our Lilly-girl from. We shared a sweet conversation about Lilly’s mission. We shed lots of tears and chatted about the role a pet truly plays in a family.  I thanked her for blessing our family with Lilly…I simply wonder where we’d be without their litter of puppies from Mama Daisy. What would have happened to our family? The unconditional love Lilly has given and taught us can never be replaced!  I truly believe our family would not have stayed intact if it hadn’t been for Lilly. We also never would have had Oliver, our other silly and sweet pup.

Gosh, my darn heart is in my throat again and so many tears…grrr…I know this is all part of the journey and I can marvel at all that has happened over Lilly’s life with us, but my heart is simply breaking.

She has been so many things to me. She is my constant companion, emotional guardian, motivation,  protector, and simply my best friend who has carried me through the worst (and eventually the best) years of my life.  Her love and devotion have meant the world to me. She loved me simply for me. She taught me to love myself as I am, the real me, and to let go of the façade I lived for so many  years. I learned to accept that my heart feels everything very deeply and that is perfectly okay to fully share that with others. She helped me embrace the light and hope at the other side of depression and to share that hope with others.  Especially those that feel distressed, hurt or stuck in the sadness of depression themselves or with their loved ones.  

With a severely lost perspective which resulted in depression, anxiety and anorexia, Lilly was an answer to a prayer.  She drew me away from the battle of severe people-pleasing, peacemaker tendencies and the need for perfection. 

As I felt God whisper her into my heart at our first encounter, I was certain God sent her to save us.  As Lilly walked alongside us sharing her unconditional love, we became a family that prospered and endured.  We learned through many challenges and found true joy and love. As a family, we learned to love ourselves, love each other through all the ups and downs of life, and to share our feelings honestly. 

My life without Lilly will definitely not be the same, but I feel so thankful to carry her in my heart with the mission God has placed before me.  Thank you, Lilly, for teaching and loving me these past 12 years. I do think I will eventually miss her whining to eat all morning long and every evening for me to take her to bed. I will miss our walks, playing fetch, swimming, wet kisses, whining when I sounded sad, and snuggles in bed. Simply, I will miss her presence in my life. I look forward to her pain-free days, playing fetch and swimming to her heart’s content.

Until Saturday, I will savor every moment and try not to worry her with my sadness. I know in my heart and I truly appreciate the signs she’s showing me that she’s ready to move on. Oh my sweet girl, Lilly Rae of Hope.  

Amy Theisen Walz Is a daughter, wife, mama, “mimi” (grandma), sister, aunt, friend, neighbor, volunteer, vocalist, pup-lover, advocate for the “underdog”, future hope mentor through speaking engagements, Cancer Registrar and and small business owner/Event Coordinator. She lives in Monticello, MN with her husband Nick and silly pup Oliver. (She loves when her three adult children, their significant others, and her grandson Declan come home for a visit though too!)

Rebellious Hope

Last month I attended the Northwestern Christian Writers Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was an incredibly inspiring weekend where I was able to meet some of my favorite authors, learn more about the industry, and connect with other Christians who have a similar fire in their heart for writing truth. One writer who I’m so glad I connected with is Carley Reinke. Carley writes about the hope we have in Christ with an exceptional clarity, and I’m so thankful to have her as the very first guest poster on my blog!


I am a person shaped by stories. I think we all are in some ways. We love stories as children, and our favorites shape us and stick with us into adulthood. 

My dad raised me to be a Star Wars fan. Now, I am married to a man who is even more passionate about these stories. While I was raised on the original trilogy, one recent addition to the galaxy far far away spoke truth to my soul that I was unable to shake. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, was a fun ride with characters I fell in love with and themes of love and sacrifice and with a bittersweet end to the movie, there was one thing left: Hope.

After all, “rebellions are built on hope.”

There is great truth to this. I need hope in my life, to believe that the best is yet to come; That we as human beings and as followers of Jesus, can tell a better story. There is power in hope. I believe this. Hope proves to be a greater force for change than the power of anger, hatred, war, political endeavor or suffering.

I have been struggling with anxiety for years and will freely admit that I far too easily see only the negative in the world. Knowing this makes it is so important for me to hold on to any thread of hope I can find. I have been to a very dark place of hopelessness. I need to be honest: I know that the darkness is real, but so is the light. 

In hope, I look to Jesus. I don’t know where else to look for it. The wood-working man from Galilee, who was also God’s greatest self- revelation to this world gives me hope. God made so many statements in Jesus about himself, about us, and about this world.

On the cross, God said that he would rather suffer and die than live without us.

In Jesus, we have a glimpse of the kingdom of God. He established it with his teaching and presence here on earth as a human who was also God. Jesus displayed the power and love of God on the cross, declaring that violence and destruction and sin had had too much power over those he loved enough to die for. He secured this upside-down Kingdom’s final victory in the resurrection.

God’s Kingdom is here. It has already won.

And yet. Even those of us who have embraced this marvelous truth still struggle with darkness. With fear.

Satan is still playing his game. He knows he has lost but wants to make sure the end of the game stings just a little bit. So Satan lies, he tempts us to hopelessness. And when we look around at the world, yes, it can look dismal. There is violence, conflict, injustice. We need to grieve this. 

We can be angry but we can’t stay there. We need to move. We are the light of the world, so we need to be the beacon of hope that the world so desperately needs.

We start by embracing hope for ourselves. In this world, hope really is a rebellious act. Hope is resistance to the principalities and powers (Ephesians 6:12) that would love to see those who love and follow Jesus paralyzed by anger, guilt, fear or apathy.

Hope is not just a nice idea that we embrace in private. No. Hope breeds action.

So here is my declaration of HOPE: Jesus has already won. He will win. This victory is not won from militaristic might or violence but by winning the hearts and minds of human beings from our own willful rebellion. That rebellious tendency in all of us can be redeemed to a rebellion fighting vehemently against hopelessness. Jesus will come again and set things fully right. In the meantime, Jesus calls us to kingdom-building work. Good work. The rebellious work of shining a light and declaring to a world tempted to hopelessness, that there is hope.

Where do you find HOPE in this life?

Carley Reinke is a self-proclaimed Jesus-loving misfit, a middle school youth director in Fargo, North Dakota, a blogger, and aspiring author. She has a degree in communication from Bethel University and an M.A. in Christian Thought (theology and cultural application) from Bethel Seminary. Carley blogs about faith, Christian life, and theology in an effort to encourage readers in their faith in Jesus Christ. A native of Minnesota, she enjoys spending time outdoors with her husband, camping, hiking, kayaking, riding her motorcycle and downhill skiing. She also enjoys time spent indoors with a big mug of pour-over coffee or tea and reading books with her two cats. Check out Carley’s blog here.

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