Magic Path to Happiness

5:00 a.m. Why do mornings exist? Leaving sleepland is like saying goodbye to a loved one.

“Jesus, thank you for warm showers, coffee, and time to write.”

The words pull me back from misery cliff. Now I get to write and drink coffee. I get to feel accomplished and realize it’s only 7:00 in the morning.

3:00 p.m. I’m standing at my desk to stay awake. Each hour of research brings five more questions. Why can’t America have siestas?

“Jesus thank you for interesting research, thank you for this job, thank you for Fridays off.”

Why am I whining? I love breaking the form-fill, analyzing complex questions, and turning the chaos into simple words. 10 hour days are long, but three day weekends are emancipation.

6:00 p.m. Piles of lumber in my dining room, brown streaking through three coats of white paint. Who thought buying a fixer-upper was a good idea?

“Jesus, thank you for helping family. Thank you for meals from my sister.”

I’m being spoiled. I haven’t made dinner in two months. I’m getting days of free labor from family.

God keeps saying, “I delight in caring for you, Mary.” I divert my eyes and smile.  

8:00 p.m. My bed has gravity that’s hard to fight. Nothing looks conquerable. Life’s like the the paralyzed, mute dream when the bad guy is coming.

“How was work?” Matt asks.

“I felt like an idiot all day trying to figure out a research project. How was your day?”

“Productive.”

Shocking. His days are always productive. Wait. I just lied. My day wasn’t miserable.

PC Ivana Vasilj (text mine)

PC Ivana Vasilj (text mine)

“I take that back, Matt. It’s really fun to have a research project. I like trying to figure things out and getting to write at work.”  

Why do I say the bad and ignore the good? Do I prefer being miserable? I’m lying about reality, stealing God’s credit, and ignoring others’ kindness.

Thankfulness is so much more fun. It makes me love writing, feel spoiled, and see thoughtfulness. When I thank God I’m the luckiest person alive. I have every reason to give.

I Made it a Year!

A year ago I hit publish and buried my head in Matt’s chest. I just bet my heart in public, now I have to win.

Now I’m a spacy writer trying to be a big shot. I have to prove I’m not selfishly blabbering.

Everyone told me to write like I dreamed.

“Stop studying, cut out the noise, and just do it,” Dad said again and again.

But if I started I had to finish.

So I made up righteous excuses. It’s selfish to pursue a hobby instead of helping people. It’s arrogant to think I can add anything to a bajillion written words. It’s holier to suffer doing what’s right.

“I made you to write, Mary,” God kept saying.

But I didn’t believe God. I kept trying to be an academic, a servant, a missionary.

“God, it can’t be right to do something I love so much. I want to serve you. I’m afraid.”

My terror confirmed I had to write. If I stayed, I could succeed by myself. If I exposed myself by writing, God would have to be my astronaut suit or I’d die in outer space.

“That’s exactly where I want you, Mary.”

“Okay, God. I can be disciplined. I can post every Thursday. But I can’t succeed.”

A year of weekly stories, scrapping, rewriting, re-leaving the space station feeling suitless. As I drafted, tears filled my eyes that don’t cry. My heart exploded with amazement at God.

He smiles when I’m happy. He delights in me.

I transcribed God’s glory in the everyday and found a million more reasons to worship. The daily gifts, the beauty, the people who love him.

I’ve heard people say they were inspired to worship God, and my heart leapt. That’s why I write.    

My worry about success is silly. My talent is just as inconsequential as the Israelites muscles were in conquering the Promised Land. God does everything. I just have to keep walking around Jericho, keep taking the crazy steps to outer space.

I’ve succeeded if my writing inspires worship. But that’s easy because there are always reasons to worship God.

It’s Not Just the Israelites, It’s Me

My house is torn apart with no end in sight. Maybe we should have stayed at our clean apartment.

At least then we would be settled and enjoying each other before Matt leaves for military training. Instead we’re preparing to be apart by working, stressing, and fighting.

“God, I can’t even take a break to write.”

“I don’t have a roommate for drill weekend,” Matt texts. “Will you come with me?”

Two days in a clean hotel room with nothing to do but write? Evenings with Matt away from the mess? “Of course I’ll come with you.”

“I did this for your good,” God says, “to humble and test you so you would never say, ‘I’ve achieved this on my own strength and energy.’”

Wow. I’m an Israelite. I’m complaining about the miracles God’s doing in my easy life. I can’t even imagine if I was hot, hungry, and thirsty in the desert.

After a few days, all freezer food tastes the same. Years of wafers, and I’d be whining about catching scurvy and salivating for a hunk of meat.

The Israelites look forgetful and ungrateful only because God’s telling their story from his perspective. God freed them from slavery, provided food and water, kept sandals new for forty years, and won battles.  

He gave them paradise.

“But we’ve been stuck in the desert for 40 years, God,” they whine. “These giants could kill us, God.”  

I say the same things. “This house has been a trash can for so long. My husband’s leaving me. This really is hard, God.”

But God says, “You thought you’d never find a better place than the rental across the street. Then I bought you this house so Matt could own and you’d be three houses from your sister while Matt’s away.

“You thought encouraging Matt to follow me meant losing a weekend monthly. But I gave Matt this officer position and you a monthly vacation right when you needed a break.”

“I’m sorry, God. I always wonder how you could exceed my spectacular imagination. But you always do. I could never have earned this.”

“I did this simply because I love you.”

It’s Time for the Cupcake


The story of Heather Hoffman written by Mary Alysse Dodds

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“Can I please pay for the meal or help out?” I kept asking. At least let me pray for you, do something?

I didn’t deserve their generosity. The Scotland host couple spent three days spoiling my sister and I, but I hadn’t done anything for them. I didn’t even know them. Why were they paying for me?

“Heather, can I ask you a question?” Jim asked.

“Sure.” I nodded.

“Who’s your father?” His kind voice made me stop for a minute.

“Jesus.”

13055879_10207522611357236_276572552796039035_o“Heather, if you can’t receive gifts from me, how are you to receive good gifts from your heavenly father?” 


His question pierced me and stuck. If a couple who barely knows me wants to spoil me, how much more does God?

I got two weeks traveling Africa, Spain and Scotland, with cheap flights and spoiling hosts. I delighted in the beautiful Scottish seaside cliffs and realized God is excited to fulfill my smallest desires. God protected me from buying a house with a hidden sewer problem I wouldn’t have been able to afford.

Then there was an opening for my dream job. But I laid it down. I told the kids at my church ministry I wasn’t going to look for a job. God would just plop it in my lap. So I let the idea slide.

It was like God said, “Here Heather. Here’s a big cupcake, and you can have it right now,” and I said, “No, Jesus, it’s not time.”

12466020_939121319498202_4964182257120800056_o“Heather, you have to apply for this job,” a second friend texted.

Okay. God sent two ships, so I applied and had the position in a couple weeks. The Lord keeps reminding me that he always provides, and I should give just as freely.

“There are women who need to know the love of a home,” God said.

“Oh, Jesus, I’ve been really careful with my money. I saved to bless my future husband. If I buy a home for Reading women no one’s going to want to marry me.”

But I received spoiling in Scotland, and there’s someone on the other side of my act of obedience, of my giving–the cancer patients, the women in my home.


It’s like a row of dominos. I can pick up the person in front of me because I know Jesus is behind to catch me. I never thought I’d be 23 and buying a house for inner-city women. But home is where God calls you.

12183704_10206356138556145_7088269900736680148_oHeather Hoffman is a nurse, a faithful friend, and a follower of Jesus. She works in Reading with Feet on the Street’s youth and women’s ministries, and is scheduled to settle August 24, 2016, on a five-bedroom home to expand her women’s ministry. Heather gets ecstatic when God pops her the perfect, cheap gift at Goodwill, she loves to laugh, and she’ll always make you smile.

Does Jesus Really Love an Ant Like Me?

The strongest love turns to irritation when a towel is left on the floor. All love I know is conditioned. I can understand that others love me, as long as I leave the towel on the floor less than they do.  

But how can God love me? He’s perfect, and I hurt him daily.

When I’m a jerk, I’m amazed my husband still loves me. But he hurts me too. The hurt with God is always one-sided. I always abuse. God always loves.

When I do nothing to deserve it, I’m flattered if my boss notices me. God’s notice is so much grander and so much less earned. Yet he knows and loves me?

“Jesus help me understand.”

Warm sunshine. The hand of God reaches down to touch an ant. The love is thicker than Pennsylvania humidity. There’s no disgust. He’s smiling at every joint he made, every habit he knows. He delights in me.

His love undresses me. Bashful and undeserving, it hurts to be loved so much, but it’s even more amazing. The weight of the love makes me cry. To see every wart yet look me in the eye,

“I made you beautiful.”

Like a sobbing, confessing child receiving a parent’s hug, I want nothing more than to please this love. Nothing more than to be like it.

Even I wouldn’t notice an ant. I barely notice the homeless. I dismiss the rude. But all love is from God and to God. It has nothing to do with the loved, or he’d never love me.

I’m so much smaller than an ant compared to God. But he made me. His love gives me value like a child’s love gives value to his tattered blanket.

No matter how dirty or worn, God will never throw the blanket away. He adores his creation, and I cannot break his loyalty. The beauty of God’s love blinds my self-disgust.

Joy so strong I cry and smile. My heart’s in heaven, and I just wonder. Wonder at this love my mind has never felt before. Amazed that such love exists. I long to worship more than I long to sleep at midnight.

“I want to see more love, Jesus, for me and for others.”

Worth Throwing Up in a Squatty Potty

The story of Dan Harper written by Mary Alysse Dodds

12091217_10207717999338393_7323566822064249822_o - CopyI was throwing up in a Himalayan squatty potty thinking I don’t ever want to do this again. But then I thought about Jesus.

“Will you share the good news with lost people, Dan?”

“Yeah. I’ll be sick in a squatty potty for that any day.”  

Simply saying yes to Jesus has changed everything. At six I knew following Jesus was the right thing. I tried to please him, but I was afraid to share Jesus with my friends in high school.

When I said yes to six months with YWAM, Jesus started asking me to pray with people. Each time I became more courageous. The fear lessened, but I always had to step out.

“Dan, will you return to staff YWAM?” God asked?

“I thought I was signing just up for six months!” But I said yes.

I laid in bed thinking tomorrow I will be a team leader.

“God, I can’t lead these people. I’m the same age or younger than most of them. I don’t know what I’m doing. Here I am without any money, and I’m supposed to be telling them how to live their lives.”

10247249_10202525325149221_2506112169019779200_n - Copy“Be strong and courageous, Dan.”

“All right. I’ll just go for it.”

Sometimes I’d think my prayers were totally cliche, but the person cried. Sometimes I’d feel right on and get skeptical looks.  

Sometimes the fear of getting it wrong made me passive. Then I missed out. I would rather have gotten it wrong than not try.

Like when a student heard God’s voice for the first time. He said the name of a Himalayan city.

“We’ll go and see what happens.”

We prayed between the temples and sacrificial goats, basically in the middle of Hindu worship.

People started jumping, “It’s different. It’s different.”

10173548_10152384269638421_419194970938207872_n - CopyThey brought their families and friends. Six hours. I was tired and hungry. No matter how short my prayers were, people kept getting healed.

“Jesus, I feel like a machine.”

“Then do it with me, Dan.”

“All right, Jesus. Let’s heal this person.” I started teaching the kids around me to pray.

It makes sense God uses healing to reach the hurt and afraid. Most have lost family and homes to earthquakes. They think the spirits will punish them with sickness or bad dreams.

If I simply tell them there’s a God who loves them, if I introduce them to Jesus, they don’t have to be afraid anymore. It’s just so simple in my mind. They don’t want to serve their gods.

13767395_10153831069692569_8545835033218950469_oI’m ready to hike audio bibles to roadless villages for the rest of my life or until the Himalayas get saved.

Daniel Harper finds joy in saying yes to Jesus. He’s spent the last three years with Youth with a Mission as a student and team leader. After getting married in December, Dan and his wife plan to move to the Himalayas. They have a passion to hike to roadless villages after times of worship and prayer.   

I’m Not the One Who Keeps the World Spinning

Today we were going to wire the lights and start painting the cabinets. Instead, we removed the hardware and glued the fascia to the wrong side of the cabinet. We didn’t even sand yet.

We’ll never finish at this rate. Everything from my brain to my toes is tense and tired. We have to work faster and more efficiently, start earlier. Maybe if I just paint these light sockets, I’ll feel like I accomplished something today.

I accomplished something all right–crashing before I spent a minute with my husband.

And now it’s Sunday. Do I work, or do I rest?

“God, it’ll take forever to finish the house if we only work one full day a week. We’re just extra busy right now.”

“Even during plowing and harvest you must rest.”

“Really? Even if my food for the year depends on how much I get done right now, you want me to rest?”

So I stop. Slowly every muscle unclenches. My brain starts to breathe, finally powered by sleep not caffeine.

Stopping long enough to look around, I am amazed the world keeps spinning. Nothing falls apart when I take a break. Maybe the world doesn’t spin on my energy. I’m not the one who orchestrates renovations or life organization.

Every good thing is from God. In work mode, I was stealing the credit and carrying the responsibility.

Then I give God a day and realize he’s really giving me a day. He’s taking care of everything while I rest. I guess he always has been.

The cool idea for the light fixtures, God gave me that. Matt’s mental capacity to figure out electrical work, God gave him that. The mother who ran my errands and unscrewed all my cabinet hardware, she’s from God too. Even our ability to earn a living and afford this house  is from God.

The longer I work non-stop, the more I think my efforts are controlling something. If I don’t do anything, nothing gets done, I think.

But then I stop, and it’s like the magic that happens when a computer reboots.  

Maybe that’s the point. When I think the world will fall apart unless I keep working, that’s exactly when I need Sabbath rest. God’s the one renovating my house anyways. Trying to push God just makes me tired.

This Microwave Is Not My Kitchen

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The pantry boxes in the bedroom and the dish drainer in the bathroom are unsettling. My coffee shouldn’t be brewing on a closet organizer, my shoes shouldn’t be lost, and my dinners shouldn’t be microwaved.

Pieces of my brain are scattered with my belongings. Plaster chokes my asthmatic lungs, my muscles feel like jell-o. I just want a clean kitchen and a settled place to sleep.

But it’s okay because this microwave is not my kitchen.

It’s an adventure camping out. It’s rewarding smashing plaster, seeing height and light. This cramped 50s home holds potential to house the nicest kitchen I’ve ever had.

But for now I’m learning to receive more free dinners and help than I’ll ever deserve. I’m growing deeper with my husband while conquering this mess. I’m amazed by God’s gifts, the space, the location, the view.
IMG_3278Nourished green, cheerful wildflowers, timeless trees. The scene quiets me. Billowing gray swallows bright blue. Power makes me small. Beauty makes my heart ache for home.

This isn’t the paradise God intended. Mosquito bites and itchy grass interrupt the high. Beauty decorates brokenness like flowers at a funeral. Tears cloud the scene.  

Perfect beauty is always out of reach because this world is not my home. Perfect dinners don’t happen because this microwave is not my kitchen.

Hope swells. It’s supposed to hurt. I’m not being weak and unrealistic. I’m just not home yet.

Relationships aren’t meant to be broken. My shoes aren’t meant to be lost. Pain is just as out of place as not being able to breathe in my own house. But it’s also just as temporary.

I will go home. This construction zone will turn into something beautiful.

The loneliness, the ache, the loss just remind me there’s something so much better coming. The pity would be if I thought microwaved dinners were the best to be had and this fitful love was the real thing.

IMG_2618If I felt at home with piles of plaster and lumber, you should pity me. But you don’t because I’m making something beautiful.

If I settled for the patched-up emptiness, if I thought this was the happiest I’d get, I should be pitied most of all. But every empty feeling reminds me how much better home will be. The ache will explode with satisfaction. And I’ll realize all of earth was just a microwave. 

Death and Protection

The story of Janelle Groff written by Mary Alysse Dodds

IMG_0414God will protect my family in the Middle East. Nothing will hurt us. I believed that, and then my husband was killed.

“My life is not my own,” I prayed as a youth. “I’ll sacrifice anything for you, Jesus.”  

Then Jesus held me to it. Al Qaeda targeted and killed my husband. My two sons were fatherless.

Now My lofty promises felt naive, but God knew they came from the depths of my heart. He knew I’d cling desperately to Him even as I beat his chest, angry, hurt, and betrayed.

“Why didn’t you warn me, God?” My ideal of living sacrificed for Jesus was shattered.  It wasn’t supposed to end this way.

Still I felt protected. In the shock, I felt overwhelming peace.

“You should feel free to remarry if I die,” Joel said amidst the sound of distant explosions. The thought paralyzed me. I abruptly ended the conversation. 

But God knew this was going to happen. Joel sensed and received prophecies he would be martyred for his faith. He even warned me before we were married. Still, I thought God would physically protect us from the enemy.

739858_1089498237738765_8150717831005184016_oThen Joel was forever with God, protected more than I could ever protect him here on earth. His death inspired the salvation of many. Hundreds of Arabs protested Joel’s death in the streets of our city. More were saved after Joel’s death than during his life.

We’d said so many times the price would be worth it. In the daily tears, the unendurable loss, I felt the eternal protection of people I loved, people worth the sacrifice.  

Thankfulness shined a light. My family and church provided the support the boys and I needed.  My financial needs were abundantly met. I had children, a part of Joel to stay with me. Blessing in the midst of pain.

“But why did you let this happen, God?” I felt an offensive sting when I read the Bible. I knew I needed it like cleaning a gaping wound, but it hurt like hell. “You have no idea what this feels like, God.”  But I knew he could relate.

Offense and gratitude sat together. I cried every day. I wanted to face everything head on that first year. I wanted to feel all the pain and grief so I could be done with it. Every single-mom decision and need overwhelmed and exhausted me.  My deep identity in being a wife was shattered.  

The second year only solidified, yup, it still hurts. Grief turned to depression. I started Prozac.  Like the postpartum depression, I was at the end of my rope. Had God been preparing me to shoulder the pain?  Was that protection?

12115750_10153229075723716_7057289914305445607_nGrief took time. The cliche was annoyingly true. I started to embrace the reality that I was a widow, and tell people in conversation. Acceptance invited hope, hope pushed out fear and made room for confidence. Confidence in my savior, redeemer, and protector.  

God had to be my husband and a father to my boys. I had to find my identity in Christ alone.

I did remarry as Joel suggested. To my surprise, I feel miraculously normal and more settled than ever before. I’m embracing being happy. But I hold it loosely because my view of protection will always be bigger than it used to be.

Janelle is a wife, mother, and homemaker. She loves music and leading worship. She and her family make prayer, missions, and the Holy Spirit a part of interacting with neighbors and everyday life. Janelle’s a sweet, deep, and steady friend.

If It’s Heavy, It’s Not My Burden

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Hurt, anger and brokenness are scarier than heights or spiders. Emotional needs slap me in the face.

“You can’t even face your own emotions, Mary,” they jeer. “You’ve caused this exact hurt. You’ve been the self-righteous jerk. You’ve failed yourself, how can you help others?”

I can research legal questions, but how can I heal a relationship? How can I help someone else emotionally? That toolbox is empty. What if I just make things worse?   

“Shh.” God said, “If it’s heavy, it’s not your burden.”

“You sweat drops of blood, God. And this is pretty dang heavy. All I want is what you want–restoration.”

heavy-934552_1280“What I give you to carry is light.”

“Healing with my words and actions? No matter how hard I try, even if my heart is loving, it’s never worked before.”

“Who saves you, Mary?”

“You do, Jesus.”

“Who saves the people you love?”

“You.”

He’s right. I’m trying to heal these relationships. To be a perfect wife, friend, person to fix this situation. Every act of service, every conversation, every chore I measure by the outcome.

“Healing is my job, Mary. Just trust and obey.”

trust-1418901_1920I thought about every word before I said it. I tried to be like Jesus, to love, to be gracious, to bring healing. There were moments of connection, but I can’t heal relationships. I guess only God can fill emotional and spiritual needs. Only God can bring salvation.

Just trust and obey.