When was the last time you cried?
I spent the weekend at Laity Lodge for the Breaking Ground retreat and got to share breakfast with a beautiful man named Alfonso. Alfonso has a kind face and warm presence punctuated with laughter. He leads a palliative care center called Silverstone to help people at the end of life die with dignity and hope. As we started talking, Alfonso asked me this unexpected question: “Andrew, when was the last time you cried?”
His question took me by surprise but touched my soul. When I was teaching at Wheaton College, I used to ask my philosophy students this question on the first day of class. (Their responses were voluntary, privately written, and kept confidential.) One of my student’s answers moved me so deeply that I invited him to meet for a meal in the cafeteria to talk about his life. This began one of Lily’s and my most cherished friendships, which continues to this day.
This memory washed though me as I sat at breakfast with Alfonso. I received his question as a precious gift and genuine expression of his desire to know me.
I answered that the last time I cried was with friends grieving Ethiopia’s civil war. The loss of life has been devastating, and many times we have had nothing left but our tears. The words fall short, and we simply cry together.
The war also changed Lily’s and my life very personally and profoundly. A few months into the war, I remember sleeplessly sitting in bed late at night in our apartment in Addis. The death threats were getting very close to home — warnings that they were going butcher my body (we lived in a neighborhood with many butcher shops), throw me off a bridge (I loved taking walks over one of the biggest bridges in Addis), or run me over with a car (our apartment was near a busy road). Our lives had been upended as we advocated for peace.
Before we would go to bed each night, Lily would put a flower pot behind our front door so we could hear it crash if someone picked the lock to attack us. We made a plan to shelter in our bathroom and call for help if this ever happened. I watched as Lily’s health deteriorated and I stopped being able to sleep.
Late that night as I restlessly sat in bed, something unexpected became clear to me: “It’s time for us to move from Ethiopia.” I couldn’t explain it, but it was as clear as day on that dark night.
This clarity was unsettling and terrifying to me. We deeply love Ethiopia, and I had committed the best years of my career to serving Ethiopia. We had no Plan B or any idea what might be next for us if we packed up our few possessions and started over.
In the weeks that followed, I bared my soul over WhatsApp with my friend and pastor, David Schmidgall. As he patiently listened and I tried to express what was swirling inside, David accurately named what I felt in my soul: I was “flailing.” I felt like our world was falling apart, as it was so much more literally for millions of our beloved neighbors in the heart of the war zone.
Sixteen months later, I cried again this morning.
David texted me a video of his wife and my publisher, Kate Schmidgall, opening a box full of copies of my new book Flourishing on the Edge of Faith. Watching this video was the second time in my life that I remember crying and laughing at the same time. The first time was also with Dave, on February 11, 2022, a couple hours before Kate invited me to publish my book with BitterSweet.
As I watched Kate take the very first copy of our book out of that cardboard box and hold it up with her face glowing with joy, the last sixteen months of our life flashed through my soul. We went from flailing in our beloved home at war with itself and moving 7,000 miles across the world to this seemingly impossible moment: my brilliant publisher holding this long-gestating book in her hands. The faithfulness of God pierced my soul, and what flowed out was tears and laughter.
In that moment, the title of our book took on a new intensity of meaning for me. Before I started writing it, Lily and I had literally been looking over the edge of our lives, fearing that we were going to fall into a deadly abyss. Our faith was tested like never before. And yet, as we prayed each day with Jesus and our friends, our flailing found its way into a fiercer flourishing. We experienced the integration of our vulnerable weakness and God’s resilient goodness like never before in our lives.
Dear friends, today is a sacred day of tears and laughter for me. Flourishing on the Edge of Faith: Seven Practices for a New We has officially been released and is now available for order. We look forward to publicly birthing this little baby on December 4th at Wheaton College. If you’re in the area or want to make a special visit, we would love to celebrate with you. Please RSVP here. It will be a special honor for me to thank all of the many people who make our work and this book possible.
I am in awe of God’s unconditional mercy. Even on the edge of faith, when we are flailing and fear our lives are falling apart without hands to hold us, flourishing is still available to us as God’s gift. Indeed, when our lives seemingly come undone, that may be the vital moment when a hidden seed germinates inside and a fiercer flourishing begins breaking through the soil of our lives. We find that we are being held by hands of love and that new hope is waiting to fill our lungs with life.
This mysterious process, sustained through prayerful practice, is essentially what my book is about.
I am delighted to be able to invite you to order our book for the first time today and to go on this journey of flourishing with Lily and me, Kate and Dave, our publishing house BitterSweet Collective, and billions of other neighbors who have walked this road with Jesus before us. If you’re suspicious of religion or sick of Christianity, or simply looking for a fiercer flourishing, I hope this book reads like it was written for you.
I return to Alfonso’s beautiful question: When was the last time you cried?
Perhaps a new flourishing is waiting to be revealed when we are flailing and fear our life is falling apart. Let’s take a risk together and rediscover flourishing on the edge of faith.
Yours with tears and laughter,
PS: Here’s the special moment when I got to hold this little baby in my hands for the first time today. Thanks for sharing our joy!