Dear Mathilda,

When you told me your mom recently died the air in my lungs evaporated.

We were standing in a lengthy line at the bookstore when that sad, haunted smile crossed your face. We had barely known each other a week. I no longer cared about my overpriced textbook––I wanted to leap across the divide of unfamiliarity between us and embrace you.

I wanted to tell you I know what it’s like to scream with the Psalmist: “Why are you cast down, oh my soul?” (Ps. 42:5) Your heart feels such indescribable agony––your throat physically closes off and refuses to inhale oxygen.

Instead of verbalizing my lament, I stammered a shaky “I’m sorry.”

I’m sorry for saying “sorry”––a sad, scrunched-up apology for my inability to cure you of your suffering. A few weeks later, you stunned me. You said I remind you of her––your mother.

I wish I had known Tammy.

Known her when all she loved was being under the trees near your forest home as she cared for outcasts. “The mountains and trees that call you were her home,” you said.

That was before the devastation of cancer.

I haven’t experienced the death of someone so close to me, but I do know something of the pain of loss. At times, it is excruciating when you miss someone that much––your spirit hardly stirs because it is so crushed.

These are the times when you cling to the promises of God with clenched, trembling hands, knowing He is “near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18).

On Earth, we march to the beat of weary hearts and fatigued steps. But we will one day join all the saints in eternal, celestial song.

“High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O ruler of all.”

I urged you to meditate on the victory of Christ that one Saturday night when we ate Little Caesar’s under smog-layered stars.

What a joy––that we have a Great High Priest who is able to sympathize with our weakness. “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).

In our pain, we know He is intimately acquainted with our griefs, the sorrows over which He has triumphed.

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:13).

There will be a day when we will join Tammy in ceaseless praise, singing a new song to the Lamb––our Redeemer, our Comforter, our Lord.

I love you. But He loves you infinitely more.



And now she gazes at her Savior. (1959-2016)

Gazing Toward the Future

Carissa A —  October 3, 2016 — Leave a comment


In quiet moments, my mind revisits cherished memories – like a late-summer swim in the dimming waves of a San Diego sunset with a kindred sister in Christ.

Gliding through the water, we faced the distant horizon of the sea and the horizon of our futures. Sunset orange, crimson and purple melted down to light up the ocean around us.

Brilliant colors in the sky faded into dark blue, and our voices sailed over the waves in soul-nourishing conversation. We became misty-eyed as we pondered the mercy of God in light of our insufficiency.

We are prone to nautical wandering – we truly don’t know how to navigate the ocean-like immensity of the future.

Time is an ever-fluctuating and vast sea with an unreachable horizon of tomorrow. Still, we feign knowledge of the unknown future because of our natural craving for control. Desperately and hungrily we reach, longing for a sure stability of safety.

We might as well try to conquer the ocean. Time is unforgiving – she has no concept of care for individuals caught in her flooding tides.

But the Eternal One alone commands the sea of time. 

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” –Mark 4:41

He is all-merciful and all-powerful, even over the inevitable and oft ominous currents of time. I aspire to be a woman always basking in humbled wonder at the great magnitude of His providential and sustaining mercy – even when the future looks like a murky expanse.

Looking back, I remember the taste of rippling, moonlight-drenched waves, the depths of His faithfulness, and the arrival of hope. I see a season of euphoric joy sometimes eclipsed by shadowy pain and sorrow.

Looking forward, I gaze toward the horizon of the future. I do not know what it holds, although I seem to glimpse fragments–a journey to India, a not-so-far-away college graduation, and post-education ventures into the exhilarating unknown.

I do not need a precise awareness of what my future holds because I know the sovereign One outside of time. The Alpha and Omega who knows the beginning from the end in His timelessness.

My grandmother’s words return to me: “You may not know what is to come, but you know the One who knows.” Security in the face of a fast-approaching future is only found in pursuing Him, the One who holds all the waters of time in His hands.



Longing for Lion Eyes

Carissa A —  September 10, 2016 — 1 Comment


You have lion eyes,” my dad said. “Like mine.”

I inherited his eyes – brown and molten gold in the sunlight, and I long for the heart behind those eyes – reflecting both warm tenderness and fierce flashes of fortitude. Instead, I wake from care-ridden nights of fear, tossing and turning the tables on myself.

As much as I long to have lion-hearted valiance, my eyes too often dim with hesitation and weariness. I turn my gaze downward, rather than setting my mind’s eye on eternal things.

I can only be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might (Eph. 6:10). Only then can I “not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Pet. 3:6). This is a faith-driven fearlessness in the face of the most menacing foes – even death itself.

We must have a reverent fear of God, awestruck and speechless in light of His infinite holiness. Through this worshipful fear, we move forward with a bravery provided through our Great High Priest, the Lion of Judah Himself. His atonement guarantees that we can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

This mercy and grace will carry us to a place of fearless determination, where our lives are spent for the gospel. It fuels a willingness to “run with endurance the race set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:1-2).

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.”

Eyes that blaze with lion-hearted courage are only possible as we gaze on Him who redeemed us. Filling our eyes with the Lord’s splendor and majesty, we behold His glory and reflect that glory with the brilliance of unshakable hope in our “sure and steadfast anchor” (Heb. 6:19).

May we run in His strength alone, pursuing lion-like boldness, confident joy, and courageous devotion.

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Here is a sampling of the books I read this summer! With the exception of Bible reading and various ongoing devotional readings, this represents a substantial amount of what I read over the course of the past few months. I am a firm believer in one’s reading list reflecting a lot of who they are, so welcome to a bit of who I am, embodied in my summer reading list.

  • The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy (fiction): Ivan Ilyich is a haunting exploration of one man’s foray into the heights of worldly success and his ultimate downfall – a dire diagnosis leading to a rapidly dark confrontation with death.

Why you should read it: At some point, every person must come face-to-face with the sure reality of death in their own life and the lives of others. This book excellently chronicles the struggle of a man devoid of hope, echoing the turmoil of millions even today. For Christians, this should drive an increased urgency in sharing the gospel with those around us. Thanks be to God, through whom “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:55)!

  • Into All the World: Four Stories of Pioneer Missionaries, Vance Christie (biography): One of several missionary biographies I delved into this summer, Into All the World succinctly chronicles the lives and ministries of four pioneer missionaries into previously unreached areas: David Brainerd to Native Americans in colonial America, Adoniram Judson in Burma, Robert Moffat in South Africa, and John Paton in the South Pacific.

Why you should read it: Stories of the Lord’s faithfulness throughout the history of His church are manifold, and I often found myself in chills reading about the tenacity and courage of these pioneer missionaries as well as others, such as Amy Carmichael and Gladys Aylward. Missionary biographies provide a wonderful opportunity to worship the Lord for His great power worked through the lives of redeemed sinners for His glory!

Continue Reading…

Traveling Home

Carissa A —  August 8, 2016 — Leave a comment


I am at home among the trees. In the forest, the air is full of brimming life, and towering pine branches rustle whisperings of majesty. Nature draws me to awe-filled worship of the King, and I often ache to make my home in the woodlands.

I blissfully drive Guinevere, my trusty black Honda Accord, through winding, tree-lined roads, euphoric in the exploration of nature. Yet I must remember even the most scenic views are temporal and mere shadows of the splendor to come – when we arrive home.


Where is that elusive idea? I have found homes in treasured people and places alike, but they cannot be the stabilizing anchors of my heart, for they will pass away. But His Word and His truth and His city never pass away.

“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” Hebrews 13:14

I am an earthly nomad – a sojourner and pilgrim in this world, waiting for the heavenly home where I truly belong. I long for that eternal, heavenly city along with a chorus of blood-bought sinners who have all received undeserved grace upon grace.

Still within the firm grip of time and not yet caught in the unending stream of eternity, we strive and toil in this life. We pursue holiness and faithfulness and yearn for the day when we weary pilgrims reach the Celestial City.

Until the sovereignly ordained moment when I reach my final destination, I will journey through woods and waves. I will seek the One who is worthy to be praised and honored all my days on this earth. I will serve Him with what meager gifts I have, resigned to the perfection of His providence.

I catch glimpses of that kind of tenacious devotion – like a child peeking through her fingers, temporarily blinded at the brilliance of God’s glory. If I’m not rooted in Christ, I’ll wander all over the earth, chased by incessant restlessness, which is why I must be anchored in His word.

I will continue to travel through this swift earthly existence, driving Guinevere beneath star-emblazoned skies, along endless coastal highways and windy, mountainous roads. But my real destination is farther and unseen.


The day when I experience sweetest and fullest communion with my Lord and His saints is coming. In that great and final day, I imagine that the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” will sound quite a bit like “Welcome home.”

For more breathtaking shots of Yosemite, watch “Euphoria,” a stunning supercut video from Caleb Arend Films.

The Fragility of Life

Carissa A —  July 24, 2016 — Leave a comment

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“I was hit by a car.”

There, the answer to my strangulated “Dad?” after muffled voices, road clamor, and the ominous absence of that all-too-familiar voice.

My stomach plunged to the depths of my worst fears. He was alive – that was all I knew. I floated in an eerie numbness from office chair to bedroom door to kitchen.

My mom flew out of the house and into the car, hurtling towards her husband and a mangled road bike. I continued cutting the cantaloupe she left in her wake, because when tragedy strikes, someone must continue the cutting of abandoned cantaloupe and ponder the fragility of life.

I surrender all.

Those words have new meaning when you prepare to bid farewell to the dearest objects of your heart. Am I willing to utterly and irrevocably surrender all to my King, whose reign encompasses my temporal and feeble existence?

When my heart becomes dulled to the life-giving gospel, I forfeit my ability to truly live as I am called to live. There is far too much at stake to waste this fragile life — this frail existence swinging over the brink of eternity, destined to drop away into the depths of infinity at any time.

Can I take the fall?

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:17

All is from His hand – a full heart, broken heart, even a halted heart. These are multiplicities and prismatic variations, but in Him there is not even a hint of variation or change. In a vortex of changes, He remains the immovable epicenter. 

Even when life seems to be at its flourishing zenith, it is fleeting. Though awash in golden, ambrosial light, every morning comes to an end, speeding to the next stage of time. The morning of one’s life quickly diminishes as the brilliant light of dawn melds into vibrant tones and shades and flavors throughout the lovely yet fleeting cycle. All too soon, night approaches. 

To whose light will you run to in the eventide of life? Whose light will illumine the dark trenches of dimming day? 

The Lord of light Himself is and must be your answer. He is the only one who can irradiate and eradicate the dungeon of death – both natural, inborn spiritual death and natural, inevitable physical death.

Life is more than gazing upon the sight of green-draped mountainous heights and stunning sea depths. A pursuit of the height and depth of Christ’s magnificence is the only secure light, upon which we may be anchored in the everlasting morning of His love – stronger than death itself.

Abounding Grace

Carissa A —  July 8, 2016 — Leave a comment


“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” 2 Cor. 9:8

Grace is remarkable to me. It is the rushing power of God’s grace that drives the past, present, and glorious future. His grace sustains every moment of my existence. As the years progress, I view in greater measure the depth of meaning behind my name – Carissa from charis, “grace” in Greek.

He is able to make all grace abound; therefore, He is far above all itself, attesting to God’s infinitude and omnipotence. When we correctly align our doctrine of God with Scripture, we can affirm that yes, it is indeed in His character to make all the possible streams of grace accessible to us in Christ.

This grace is not merely accessible, but abounding, overflowing, and ever-increasing. Our God is outside the limits of confinement and constraint. He obliterates the floodgates of restraint with the truth of His boundless character. As a result, He is more than capable of granting to us all we need “according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19)

In Christ, we not only have “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3), but we have all sufficiency. The ultimate filling of our cavernous and thirsty hearts is possible through the atoning work of Christ alone, and it is complete for “all things at all times”. Since the rich plenitude of this grace has been lavished on us (Eph. 1:7-8), we are able to abound in every good work as God causes all grace to abound to us. We are conduits of His grace to a lost and dying world.

We can trust that God is magnificently almighty in His lovingkindness and accordingly, we are enabled to joyously abound in the work He has called us to. He has provided an abundant reservoir of His mercy stored up for us in the place of well-deserved wrath, even when our circumstances seem to indicate spiritual scarcity. We can find joy in obedience, an overflow from jubilees of praise, and find fullness of satisfaction in Him alone.

He is more than able to meet every need in Himself, for His grace is far greater than the powerful cascades of any and every waterfall on Earth.

Facing the Past

Carissa A —  July 2, 2016 — Leave a comment



I turn, look straight at my nostalgia, and I say it again.


Shaking my head like an exasperated parent (“Not again…”), I sigh and take the hand of my nostalgia, pulling it away from a painted mirage of the past overlaid on the present. We’re here again – “here” being near a place or person undeniably laced with memory. Haunted.

“No,” I sternly warn that desperate, hungry nostalgia. “You will not take this place and warp it through a fisheye lens of sadness.” A deep, melancholy breath.

Nostalgia and I no longer square off like old arch-rivals. Now we meet up for coffee every so often. Like a distanced friend, I immerse myself in nostalgia’s presence only once in a great while. There are far too many circumstances flooding my senses in the present moment to lurk amidst shadows of past memories and miss them all.

Looking back can be dangerous. It’s impossible to grow when you’re fixated on fighting against the road you’re predestined to travel.

Nostalgia again: sinister, insisting, “Remember how wonderful this was?”

Yes, I remember. But then I remember this is not all there is, that this world is not my home. My joy and my life are grounded in redemptive truth that exists outside of time – outside of me. At the end of the day, it is not my own past that defines me. In fact, it is neither my own present nor my future that defines me, either. There is only one past event truly defining who I am.

The cross.

When the second person of the Trinity bore my sin and shame upon the cross, dying the death I deserve after living the life I could not, that, yes that is the past that defines me. I am not my own (1 Cor. 6:19-20), for I have been bought with a price – the precious blood of Christ. Upon His death and victorious resurrection lies the crucial hinge-pin of my life’s very purpose.

I don’t serve the god of the past, my nostalgia, or lingering, leech-like pain. I serve the only true God, whose immeasurable worth is beyond compare; an infinitude of words could never do His character justice. 

I know I’m safe in His sovereign and omnipotent care. If anything, the past should have taught me that. Evidences of His work in my life are as numerous as the galaxies of stars He knows by name.

This life is pretty breathtaking. The fact that we are living, feeling beings suspended in space surrounded by a universe of fathomless infinitude only surpassed by the living God is astonishing.

The past, the future, and the moments you graciously spent reading these tear-stained words are all ordained by the Creator and Upholder of time itself. In light of His all-sufficient grace, a battle with nostalgia is infinitesimal since each memory is absolutely necessary to guide you to where you need to be. Press on.

The Weight of Joy

Carissa A —  June 11, 2016 — Leave a comment

The Sky


“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him.” –Psalm 103:11

I like cloudy days. Deep cloud banks hold more weight than airy blue skies, and I feel that weight acutely. I empathize with the sky. The weight of both sorrow and joy.

Did you know joy has weight? I certainly didn’t, until I felt the seemingly insurmountable weight of all else. Trapped beneath a collapsing sky. The clouds that appeared so friendly now threaten to close in, suffocating all thoughts of His steadfast love. But regardless of how I feel, the sky remains intact, and His love is from everlasting to everlasting.

True joy is weighty. It’s not all airy, giddy, and light. Joy is weighty because it cannot – must not – rely on trivial things. These things are fleeting, but true joy is unwavering and rooted in eternity.

“Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven.” –Lamentations 3:41

I attempt to lift my heart to heaven, but I’m left gasping for air with the weight of fear and heartache and lamentations. Tears rise unbidden when anxieties fall heavy. I tremble at the thought of change. Blanketed in melancholy, I experience immense weight, but I know a greater, steadying weight that undergirds and supersedes all.

The thundering of the storm brings to mind the thundering power of my Savior. I am safe and sheltered, guarded in the shadow of His wingsthe sovereignty of His reign. The beauty of a life lived in submission to a loving Heavenly Father is that He holds the future in His hands. He has lavished His torrential grace upon me; He is the God of all renown, and He can be trusted.

Lifting my weary eyes to the sky, I watch radiant rays slanting through slits in ominously thick fog banks. I catch glimpses of glowing heavenlight slipping through the darkness. The heights of hope are undaunted by the density of the dark.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” –Psalm 27:1

This is the weight of joy.