When the Thief Steals {A Life Overseas}

by Jonathan

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” ~ Jesus

Thieves steal. Sometimes the impact is NOW; you know it immediately and you feel it deeply. Other times, it takes some time; the bomb’s on a delay. And then it blows and you begin to realize all that was taken. All the time lost, the lives shattered, the relationships fractured. It feels like the wind gets knocked right out of you and you can’t even tell if the crater in your soul feels like anger or sadness or some other concoction of pain. But it’s definitely pain.

Sometimes the thief steals stuff, but often it’s more. Much more.

Maybe the thief looked like a robber on the back of a moto, or a home invader. Maybe the thief was a corrupt government, stealing freedom, opportunities, and futures. Maybe the thief was a cruel family member, or someone from your church or mission, a “friend.”

Whoever they were, they stole, they destroyed, and they killed. Or at least they tried.

Continue reading at A Life Overseas


Avoiding Platitudes, Accepting Influence, and Loving Jesus (John 11:1-44)

Last Sunday I had the privilege of preaching at the ICF here in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

To listen to the message, click here, or view on iTunes.

We looked at how Jesus allowed his emotions to be influenced (by a woman!), we talked about platitudes and why to NEVER use them, and we considered the different ways Jesus empathized with Mary and Martha.

He mirrored each woman and responded very uniquely, in fact.

We also talked about the one thing we must remember for this story to make sense: I am NOT the center of Christ’s universe. The Father is. Christ’s love for me is secondary and derivative. His primary goal is NOT to relieve my suffering or heal my disease.

So, although he loves, he sometimes “stays.”

— Jonathan T.



Children’s caskets are the worst

by Jonathan

A tiny casket.

White lace.

Autumn sun.

Tearful community.

Perhaps more than any of my other siblings, Laura Beth’s short life and early death changed mine.

The death of a little one changes things. It always changes things.

It’s a giant slap in the face, wakening those near that things are not as they should be.



When I slow down long enough, I begin to feel the undercurrent of real sadness. It’s there. It’s always there.

Sweet Laura Beth. I love you.

I miss you.

Yes, there is joy, there is laughter, and there is hope. There is also a deep — almost foundational — sadness.

Unanswered questions. Gaps. Unfulfilled longings. Dissipated relationships.

And sometimes the Psalm just ends.


A Lonely Birthday

by Jonathan

I swim in the abyss of memories. People and places I cannot return to, and few know.

It is a morass I voluntarily enter, knowing it will hurt, but needing it still. Someone should remember these things.

Birthdays used to be happy occasions, full of cake and memories of years gone by. Now, birthdays are just full of memories of years gone. And places gone. And people gone.

Home, once lost, can never be regained. Another home can be built, to be sure, but what has been cannot be again. It is gone.

There is hope. But hope for the future does not remove loss from the past.

When does one grow up and forget their childhood? Thirty-five? Eighty-five? I think never. Something deep and strange happens when the heart goes back. When pictures show you things you remember feeling more than seeing. Like the faded painting on the wall – of water fowl and cattails — that I haven’t thought of in decades. My mom loved that painting. It feels peaceful, silently overwatching a family grow up, and then leave.

Another picture shows my late mom and dad in the kitchen, but what I see is the blue metal bowl with white speckles. It was part of the country kitchen I grew up in, the one with glass doors looking out upon green, or brown, or white, depending on the season. I see that bowl and hear the clank of metal spoon upon metal bowl, and I feel at home. No one else had metal bowls.

Oh how mysterious is the snapshot that elicits such emotions!

I look at the photos slowly, seeing the details. Looking for the background. The memories swarm, and I let them. Something deep within is washed by these shadows of what was. I need this cleansing. I need to remember my moorings.

I won’t be getting a call from my mom on my birthday. She won’t be telling me she’s proud of me, or asking about the grandkids. I won’t hear about how her journey with God is growing and changing.

My dad won’t ask about my work or ministry. We won’t talk about books or hawks or how tall the grass is.

A Pacific separates me from siblings. Time separates me from everything else.

For now.


For the time being, I am time’s subject. Moving at its pace, regardless. But time is God’s subject, and at the end of all things, time itself will be changed, and we will reign with him “forever and ever.” Time’s thermodynamic authority will be renounced, along with its painful propensity to separate. No longer will time rob and decay, slowly pulling like gravity on the soul.

God will finally do something I never could, although I was told to often enough. He will redeem time.

And he will relocate.

In a physical, undeniably earthly way, he will come home.

“Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.” (Revelation 21:3)

And when he gets here, He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:4)

He’s longing for home too.

So, in my drownings and darkness, perhaps I am brushing up against the heart of God. Perhaps I am tasting his tears too.

I will never go home again. Until I do.

And that home will last forever, and not just in snapshots and pixels. It will last forever, in three-dimensional space, because of him. And all those longings, elicited by memories of home, will in turn be satisfied.

I will belong, with my own place at the table.

I will be at peace.

I will be wanted. There will be a mutual desire for presence. I will desire to be with God, and he will desire to be with me.

And then I’ll find my mom and dad and a blue metal bowl, and we’ll sit and talk forever about work, and grandkids, and maybe even grass.

And we will be,


A Far Away Funeral — Memories of My Grandma

This past weekend my extended family celebrated my Grandma’s life and mourned her death. I couldn’t be there in person, so I sent my love through this letter, and my mom read it at the funeral. I’m sharing it now for any of my family who wants to read it. I love you all and am missing you desperately at this time. ~Elizabeth


I remember polka music. I remember dancing. I remember ancient family photos on the staircase, and current family photos on the book case. How I would stare at those pictures, as though I could absorb the family history by osmosis. I remember seeing pictures of Grandma as a young woman and thinking she had the most beautiful face I had ever seen. She was prettier than the prettiest model in my eyes (and probably in Grandpa’s eyes too!).

I remember kolaches and rolickies and hoska. How I would gorge myself on the delicious Bohemian dough that Grandma always baked to perfection. I remember her Duck and Dumpling. How I adored those potato dumplings. And I remember the apples — apples every year, and oh how I balked at eating their skins.

I remember their house being such a hot place on Christmas Eve, stuffed as it was with all those people, the kitchen heated to the boiling point with noodle soup. (The stairs to the basement, however, were still cold.) I remember waiting, just waiting, to graduate from kid tables in the dining room to adult tables in the kitchen. And I remember how long the dishes took after dinner, with all the aunts washing and drying and talking together.

The Musels were this big, loud, happy Catholic family, and I loved it. Grandma and Grandpa’s home felt like my home too, while my parents and sisters and I wove our way around the States and around the world. At Grandma’s, cousins were like brothers and sisters, and being at her house meant playmates never being far away. I remember loving her front porch, the most amazing porch in the world. It was covered and large enough to play house on, large enough to play Red Light Green Light from. And it was large enough to host scads of stair step cousin photographs.

I remember Grandma and Grandpa’s 45th wedding anniversary. I remember the hall and the candles and that beautiful surprise slide show and the music that accompanied it. To this day I can’t hear “What a Wonderful World” without thinking of Grandma and Grandpa. And it was always Grandma and Grandpa together in my mind, not separated as they’ve been these last 15 years. How these 15 years must have hurt. How she must have ached.

It’s been hard to be away these last 3 ½ years. I’ve missed weddings and holidays. I’ve watched photographs of the family appear on Facebook. I’ve rejoiced that I’m part of a family who still loves each other enough to get together. I’ve also mourned the loss of nearness and togetherness for myself. When I went away, I didn’t know if I would see Grandma again. I knew she was getting older and that my last goodbye to her might be my very last. But still, I hoped it wouldn’t be; I hoped to see her again.

None of us knew this past 4th of July would be Grandma’s last time to gather her family around her and love them. She looked good. She looked happy and healthy and as beautiful as ever. Those pictures make it hard to accept that this really happened, that I really have to say goodbye. I wish I didn’t have to say goodbye from far away. I wish I could say goodbye in person. This goodbye won’t be forever; I know that. We will meet again. And I’m sure when we do, it’ll be over fresh poppy seed kolaches and the music of the Christmas Polka.