For Those Who Receive Hard News This Week

Dear friend,

I don’t have to tell you, it’s the holiday season. We have reminders surrounding us. I don’t care where you live, social media and the internet won’t let you forget.

You might want to. The holidays are supposed to be happy, but you’ve gotten news this week that has t-boned you and now you’re not sure which direction you’re going.

It was the day before Thanksgiving last year for our family. With one doctor’s report pieces both fell into place and scattered all over the floor.

So that might explain what’s going on. 

Oh my word, this … just … might … I do not want to say it because then it will make it true … be his last Thanksgiving. 

Hard news near a holiday

Your news might be medical too. Or involving relationships or finances or your job or be about your kids or a pregnancy or a dashed dream.

So many ways bad news can enter a life.

I am so sorry for the hit you have taken. The air that has been knocked out of your soul. The way you may have lost your bearings this week. And though you know you’ll (probably) recover from this, right now you’re a bit stunned. And you know deep in your gut might be a game changer. You will bear the mark of this week for the rest of your days.

What you might not know right now is the size of the scar.

The news you received may end up fading over time. Or it may not. Our shock is over, but we still dance around the holes in our lives figuring out what they mean.

For you, what to do this week? When the message being projectile vomited at you from all directions is be thankful (OR ELSE).

That’s not the gospel. That’s not why Jesus came. Your pain is real. But your pain is not supreme. So, again, what do you do?

Embrace the messy middle. You may need to make adjustments this holiday. Change locations, scale back, maybe make a road trip. I don’t know what you will need to do.  Honor the holiday in some way while also honoring your pain. I am grateful for the memories I have of last year. They include Dad’s last turkey dinner at a dear friend’s house and texting with my sister afterwards saying how for both of us there had been tears. We were in shock.

The messy middle creates space for the good and the bad. The joy and the sorrow. The pain and the pleasure. You may want to deny what’s happened or deny the holidays. If possible, lean into the tension and find ways that real holidays involving real life are richer than the shallow versions offered by advertisers. A better cell plan isn’t the answer to a rich and fulfilling life, finding ways to make gestures towards each other is.

A few years ago part of our family was with Dad who was in rehab for a broken hip, and just as the rest of us sat down for the meal my phone rang. After I had spent most of the day on a situation involving a suicidal American in China, I was now going to miss the meal with my family because her mom had gotten my phone message. I had to break the news that would forever be associated with this holiday and yet she needed to know and be a part of the plan for her daughter’s safety.

Let me say it again — I am so sorry for the news you received this week. Some years are harder and you’re having one of those.

It comforts me that Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation was written in the midst of Civil War. Clearly all was not right with the country. And yet.

And yet he knew in the midst of bad news it is worthwhile to pause and remember the story is bigger than this news, this week. God gave us two hands, one to hold the troubles and one to hold the hope. Use them both. Offer them both.

I will be thinking of you this week. And if you want me to pray for you or just want to share your story leave a comment or email me at We can’t make it go away, but we can let you know you’re not alone.

With blessing,


Is Bravery Biblical? (Not as obvious as it may seem.)

Princess Anna is brave. Jackie Robinson is brave. William Wallace is brave. Sarah of Sarah, Plain and Tall is brave.

Hmmmm. I am rather informed by Hollywood when it comes to bravery.

This week at Velvet Ashes we’ve been looking at the idea of “brave” in anticipation I asked myself three questions:

1. What do I think brave/bravery means?
2. Where did I get this idea?
3. What does God say about brave and bravery?

If you look at my examples above, most involve the extraordinary and a doing something impressive. Is this how God sees Bravery?

Getting no where fast doing google searches of Hebrew and Greek I contacted my friend Karl Helvig and asked for his help. He sent me a treasure trove of information.

He said, In the Hebrew, ‘Brave’ is rare and, when used in translation, translates a root word that encompasses a rather wide semantic range. {OK, so I’ m feeling better about not immediately have verses jump to mind!}

– The semantic range does seem to conflate our senses of bravery and courage
– contexts of battle, fighting, and quarrelsomeness all come up.


“Brave” shows up 19 times in the OT in the NIV, but only a handful of times in other translations and often in the context of battle, fighting, and quarrelsomeness. There are no appearances of “Brave” in the NT in the NIV, ESV, NRSV, or NASB.

But if we look for “Courage” the NIV has 8 NT uses, NASB has 16 NT uses, NRSV 7 NT uses, and ESV has 6 NT uses. For more information of what my friend shared, read here. But suffice it to say, there is overlap in words and concepts and though the OT and NT may not use the word “Brave” it is not foreign to us.

Greek words are translated as “Courage.”

tolmao: verb, to dare, endure, or submit; endure, undergo; in the infinitive form: to have the courage, hardihood, effrontery, cruelty, or the grace, patience, to do a thing in spite of any natural feeling, dare, or bring oneself, to do.

tharreo:  be full of courage, act boldly, be confident, have confidence in, make bold, venture

parresia: openness, frankness; boldness, confidence, assurance; used sometimes to refer specifically to events made in public (as in Acts 4:13)

euthumeo: take courage, be happy. (Acts 27:25) Literally: good feelings, “eu” means: good, well, happy, and “thumos” means: intense feeling; esp. anger or rage.

Andridzomai: be courageous; literally, act like a man (1 Cor 16:13)

And now for the gem from the research. Karl wrote, “I saw one intriguing comment deep in the biggest, fattest lexicon entry on tolmao, it said that to act with courage meant to follow a particular course of action in spite of any natural feelings. 

That implies that we as humans have all sorts of natural feelings that regularly direct us NOT to do certain thing, esp. good things, esp, things for the benefit of others.  Courage, therefore, is to overcome the inner self that would prevent (fear, hesitation, insecurity, etc…) good actions.”

Beauty of Bravery

Final Thoughts on Bravery in the NT:
It looks like, at it’s root, courage is the english word that most accurately captures the root Greek and Hebrew meanings.  However, there is clear overlap in their semantic ranges, so that could simply be a matter of modern vernacular and usage.

If I were to attempt a succinct summary of the etymological foundation upon which stands out modern use of bravery/courage, {Can you see why I knew he’d help me understand what the Bible says about bravery?} it would be this: courage is the act of experiencing a generally internal fear, hesitation, disinclination toward a certain act, then choosing to perform that act inspite of the internal hinderances.

This is referred to and experienced most graphically and (historically speaking)} most commonly on the field of battle as the internal hesitation is clearly linked to an external danger to one’s life.

If I were to contrast this root meaning with some modern usage, I would note most significantly that modern usage seems to emphasize that bravery is what happens when one does not have internal fears, or it is an indication of being stronger or more capable somehow.  This, however, does not seem to square with the historical picture as the historical picture seems to embrace the reality of the internal turmoil, courage is acting in spite of that .  There is nothing negative or derogatory about having that internal struggle, having the struggle may even be part of the beauty of courage.

Hope my thoughts have been helpful, its been fun! Karl


Ah, I can see why bravery is most commonly packaged in a story, be it a movie or a book! And that we have gotten off a bit.  I love that last line: Having the struggle may even be part of the beauty of courage.

Karl emailed me four or five times in the last week and every time emphasized exploring these ideas was fun. Every now and then it’s good to “get our geek on” and root around in what has formed us. I know this might be a bit more academic than most posts, but it’s good for us. The messy middle isn’t just for simpletons :).

The practice of paying attention is harder and easier than it seems

Pay attention on plane

At Velvet Ashes I’m leading a weekly discussion as we work our way through Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World. The following was written for the chapter entitled The Practice of Paying Attention **** Picture this, I read it in the quiet of my home thinking holy thoughts about paying attention to God at work, and before […]

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T.H.I.N.G.S are going on all over the world! Let’s party!

VA birthday

I was focused on finding  presents for boys ages 10-14 so I didn’t notice the older man approach. “Do you do parties?” he asked extending a card to me. Since I was wearing my non-bifocal contacts because I was headed to Zumba after I finished my research I couldn’t clearly read the card. I’m not sure […]

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Eleven Gift Ideas for Boys ages 10-14 (Operation Christmas Child)


Last December I spent an afternoon helping to pack boxes for Operation Christmas Child and learned three things: 1. Operation Christmas Child is ah-may-zing. 2. Working a packing line is nothing like a Lucy and Ethel comedy. Not saying it wasn’t fun, but no chocolates where shoved in my mouth. 3. Boys ages 10-14 are […]

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A Trip In Review: what it’s like to revisit your old life

welcome home

In early October I shared I was going home. Home to China. I warn new teachers in China near the end of their first year as they prepare to return back to North America for the summer — watch out, the first trip home is often the hardest.  You won’t know they ways you have changed until […]

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Preschools in China agree with me: Chipmunks make great pets

pet chipmunk

We were picking Nathan up from preschool one day and he was giving me a tour. If you have the chance to be given a tour by a four year old, take it, take it, take it! Nathan pointed to a photo on the wall asking, “Do you see that girl?” Before I could even […]

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I don’t know how to answer this question

China road

I noticed it this summer. I was teaching a week long intensive TEFL class to teachers preparing to move to various countries around Asia. I’m sure I’ve been asked it before, but when I’m asked something again and again in a short period of time, I tune in to the question below the question. I […]

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What’s your favorite Chinese food?

Chinese burner

I mentioned on Monday one of the benefits of returning to visit one’s old life/self is the opportunity to see things about yourself you might not other wise know. Prior to the trip, if you asked me (and basically any foreigner who has lived or visited China) what their favorite Chinese food is they would […]

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Ever heard of this job?

New Career

When I was in high school 9th grade was the grade we explored careers. Via career assessment tools and shadowing an adult on career day I learned two things about myself: Either I am scattered or assessment tools stink. I tested as suitable for over 700 jobs! I could mark one career off the list: […]

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