Monthly Archives: November 2014

Finding myself in the Middle of a Story by Donna VanderGriend

This woman is such a blessing to her husband, children, grandchildren and the community around her! Donna pours forth spiritual wisdom when she speaks and writes and has made it her way of life to be on call for God to use her however He sees fit. Saying yes to this call, Donna has impacted so many lives! This year she is on the Curriculum Team helping shape and form the content and “collisions” for each of our Collide events, as well as helping build our Next step classes. She is also meeting with every mentor and mentor to get to know them personally so she can connect them with the right fit. We often have so many young women requesting to be mentored and Donna is making it her aim to connect them with older women who can walk alongside them. This just melts my heart as I see such beautiful relationships beginning to take shape! She is a wise one, counselor, author, minister, mentor, and sojourner. You should read anything Donna writes! Enjoy! – Willow


My story is that I am surprised I have one. When I came into the world over seventy years ago, life was not about story…it was about living up to a standard. As the oldest of several, my parents reminded me often, “You must be a good example for the rest of the children.” Parenting is like that…full of hopes to encourage unscarred lives.

 As a member of a Christian family, school, and church, my upbringing was about learning to ‘get it right.’ I memorized scripture, creeds, catechism, and doctrine to get truth into my head. I tried to be obedient to the moral code of the Ten Commandments and follow the example of the biblical heroes of faith. I aspired to becoming a good Christian woman and thought I had the blueprint to build that kind of life.

At one point, however, I remember longing that my life would be a dramatic testimony, the kind of story that would inspire others to give their lives to Jesus because it had such a memorable before-and-after piece to it…(like once I was addicted and now I am free…)

“What do you mean you don’t have a story?” a just-new Christian asked me.

“All I can say is that my life is, well,..stable,” I said after deleting the adjective ‘boring’ in my mind.

“Stable!!” she literally shouted back at me. “Do you know how many people would give almost anything to say “stable” about their lives?!?” I felt reprimanded, but unconvinced that I had a story worth embracing.

So I remained in my familiar head-knowledge, goal-oriented world where I expected a nearly perfect marriage, children, career, and spiritual walk…if I would but follow the formulas taught in my youth. Family and Christian community had done (and are still doing) their level best to teach and train me from the outside. But my heart was un-done. That would take Spirit work from the inside.

Here’s the deal. God never meant our lives to be standardized or lived by rote. So at several points along the way, He gave me reality checks to startle me with messages that I was not the one in control or the one making things happen or the one getting it right.

God’s sometimes difficult love lessons were not on my expectation list. Who writes early deaths or decision failures, betrayals or regrets, or just plain misery into their ideal life? Who is not just a little surprised that their children’s DNAs are so complicated that they are sometimes totally unfamiliar, that their spouse does not march to the same beat as one’s own personal drummer, that there is very little one has control over, or that the guilt of never being, doing, giving, or having enough has an ever-present quality to it?

God moved me into meltdowns of the best kind. He turned everything that was in my head upside down, heated it up with an almost unbearable intensity, and changed it from unbending brittleness to a liquid that made it’s way down to my heart. He showed me love. And, instead of just living by the rules, I found myself in the middle of a story. A love story.


Now that I, too, have my own story, this is what I know in a much deeper way:

  • That every story has relationships at its core, not just concepts. Someone has said that God loved stories so much that He made people. Without God or people there would simply be no story.

  • That every really great story has love in it. There is a reason the good news of the gospel is called ‘the greatest story ever told’.

  • When I view the Bible as story rather than a book of required beliefs, I can better see what God has in mind for me, and the whole of history, for that matter. As I intermingle with the real characters He has included there, identify with their struggles and joys, see where author-God takes them, I begin to understand His overarching narrative of salvation for myself and others.

  • That with grace (undeserved and unearned) the whole Trinity takes me in and loves me. This is a heart-thing, the most crucial part of my story.

  • That God writes our stories in an all-inclusive way. He creatively uses every part of our story from birth through death to fit into His positive purposes, moving our biographies from brokenness to wholeheartedness.

  • That stories get really interesting if there are several generations involved.

What I appreciate most about my seven-decade story these days is that God has not stopped intersecting mine with the fascinating stories of others, with those in other generations and other cultures. Life takes on an adventurous tone…and a communal one. My calling is to be “on call.” Who will be my next “divine encounter?” What will we learn together about love? Where is God at work in her story? How has He helped the person sitting across from me reframe the tough stuff of her story into something redemptive?

Recently my grandchildren brought me unexpected God-messages that went into a book called Out of the Mouths of Grandbabes. On a medical mission a few months ago, my husband and I felt the pain and the healing hope of people in Haiti. And now Collide has been a place to meet those younger (and oftentimes wiser) than myself. The theme of brokenness runs through all of our lives. So does the possibility of having an encounter with Jesus, a gentle love collision with a powerful impact. Ahhh, the stories yet to come… IMG_0261

  • Donna wrote this fabulous book called Out of the Mouths of Grandbabes and you can get yourself a copy or buy it for someone special this Christmas!
  • If you live locally in Whatcom County and are interested in taking Donna’s Next step class called “Reframing Your Story” check it out and register here.
  • If you are interested in having a spiritual mentor or interested in mentoring, email us here.



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All Throughout the Chapters by Roxanne Burgoon

It is amazing to “know” people and then to actually hear their story as they peruse the chapters of their life. Roxanne is on the Collide team this year and brings such a joy and strength! She has lived through the turning pages of adventure, drama, mystery and suspense. Her book is still being written, but her chapters will invite you in. Enjoy- Willow


Its really hard to know where to start……there are many chapters in my life. Some are short, some are long and drawn out and some have an unknown ending with the caption “to be continued”.

Chapter One. Let me introduce myself to you. My name is Roxanne. I was born into a loving family who loves God and taught me to do the same but there were struggles of alcoholism and divorce. Growing up was not easy, being diagnosed at the age of 4 with epilepsy and my parents divorcing at the age of 5. In this beginning chapter of my life I learned to love people for who they are and that God had a calling on my life to serve others. Because of my seizures, I had frequent interactions with medical staff.  I knew early on that I wanted to pursue nursing, so that I could someday care for others, as I had been cared for so deeply. This calling has never left the core of who I am.

Chapter seven. I was a freshman at a small, private Baptist college living the dream of pursuing my nursing career. I was walking from one class to the next and I decided to check my mail. I hoped for a possible care package or any mail from my family, but instead was horrified to find a note with large bold letters…”CALL YOUR MOM AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!” This was the beginning of a heart wrenching 10 days that would change me forever.


My dad had a severe case of pneumonia and had gone unconscious while driving, had a cardiac arrest after arriving at the hospital and was being airlifted to the nearest trauma center. As much as I wanted to be a nurse, the smell of an ICU is something that becomes scarred into your brain when it’s your dad laying in the bed, relying on every possible life support machine, and with little to no hope of ever recovering. After multiple days of one step forward and three steps back my family and I made the heart wrenching decision to withdraw support. I sat next to him, looking at his face just desperately wishing he would open his eyes, even if just for a brief moment. I was holding his hand as they removed all that had been sustaining his life; snatched away from him as quickly as it had been given. Watching a life you love and cherish end before your eyes is like nothing I had ever experienced before or really knew how to understand. It’s a moment of pain, loss, questions and altogether overwhelming emotion.

Chapter 10. The year is 2008. Having been married for 11 years, we had experienced hills and valleys in our relationship. This was a year of trials and I often felt weak and alone. Through several situations we had experienced as a family, I felt a strong calling from God to relocate to Washington State. This decision to move did not come without multiple moments of doubt but I continued to turn to God in these moments, clinging to his strength. This would be 1800 miles away from everything we had ever known. The first year in Washington, we struggled in our marriage, financially, emotionally and spiritually. Just as we started to feel a small amount of comfort here in Washington, our world was rocked again….

Chapter 11. I struggled with being accepted as a child, and I clung to the relationship with my mom. She was not just my mom but also mentor, best friend and a person I strived to be just like. As an adult, I still called her almost every day, and continued to when she moved to Hawaii. Hawaii became her heaven here on earth. Little did either of us realize she would soon travel from her earthly heaven to join our Father God in the true Heaven. It was a typical day driving kids around when I got a call from my mom telling me that her doctor had ordered an MRI to rule out a possible stroke. Her voice was shaking as she tried to hide her panic and stay strong. She gave her best effort so that I would not sense her true feelings of worry, and she hung up to be evaluated in the emergency room. 6:30 pm and my phone rings with an unknown number…”Roxanne, this is Joanne. I’m with your mom. She has a brain tumor and you need to come right away.”


The next 12 hours were filled with fear, worry, and an overwhelming sense of an unknown outcome. I arrived the next evening at the airport scanning all the happy faces in the Honolulu airport. They all appeared full of joy and anticipation. My eyes suddenly spotted my mom across the wide open room but I was viewing a woman who did not reflect MY mom. Her posture was far from her usual, bent over with struggle, her face filled with both despair and eagerness to find me. The moment stood completely still while my mind raced realizing this situation was bigger than me or anything I had ever encountered before. The next 18 hours were filled with moments of bonding through the pain of reality. I was giving her medicine for pain, serving her food, helping her shower and get dressed, and receiving very clear instructions on how she wanted her makeup to be done. The time was 11am and we were on our way to her neurologist appointment when everything changed. I was driving in very congested, lunch hour Honolulu traffic when my mom suddenly lost consciousness in the passenger seat next to me. She was breathing but not well.

It’s moments like this that change you forever. I am a nurse by profession but a nurse is the last thing I wanted to be in this moment, with my mom sitting next to me becoming lifeless before my eyes. This is not something you ever prepare for in nursing school. This was the last moment on this earth that I would ever be able to communicate with my mom. Her brain tumor had hemorrhaged and the life she knew would never be the same.

I stayed by her side for the next five days watching her struggle, holding her hand, praying with her, combing her hair, and even painting her toes, but she lay there lifeless. Realizing that God’s plan was not what I had in mind was painful, to say the least, and the remembrance of this pain still causes a sudden flow of tears as I sit here and write this story today. I knew the moment was here again, the moment we would remove the life support from my mom. I was familiar with this moment. The room is dim; the medical staff begins to slowly remove tubes and machines out of the room in the quietest manner you can imagine. It’s so surreal knowing you are sitting next to a person as they pass from this earth to meet our Heavenly Father. Everything in the room seemed to be put on permanent pause as I held her hand while she was taking her last breath, having her last heart beat, and no longer living this side of Heaven.


Chapter 15. I am a wife of 17 years, mother of four beautiful children (16, 14, 10, 9), a nurse working full time in the neonatal intensive care unit and a woman trying to follow God’s plan for my life. These previous chapters in my life have made lasting impressions. They have caused me to ask questions to God such as “Why does a person need to lose both parents by the age of 34?” “Why would you take my mother from me, my best friend, when she was such a light in this dark world?” I don’t have the answers to these questions but what I can answer is that through these moments of extreme trial I still know and believe that God loves me. He cares about every tear that I have shed enduring the pain of loss and struggle. He can give me strength even when I feel I have none to offer. Looking back on my previous chapters I can see how God’s timing is ideal. It is perfect and flawless. In those moments of frustration and trying to understand why God would be saying “No” or “Wait”, I can now understand how I wasn’t ready.  God is the life support that is never taken, removed or snatched away from us. He breathes life into us every moment and loves us through all of our ugliness. Sometimes we rely heavily on every amount of life support he can provide and other times we are able to fly with pure ease and freedom.

maybe it’s time to change your stats


So the football season just ended for my son’s team. They won county champs and I feel like a character in Friday Night Lights, though I am not sure I like the role casted me. I mean, I like the other characters and I like the lights and I like the cheering….but Aidan kicked this season off with a sweet shoulder injury that had him sitting the sidelines. His shoulder, according to our smart, kind, doctor friend was subluxing. I think this is a fancy way of saying, it was popping in and out. Apparently when your shoulder pops in and out when you are jumping on trampolines or putting your seat belt on, this is not good and you should not consider ramming your body into other bodies and calling it a tackle.

For a kid who loves this sport, standing on the sidelines and not engaging in the contact, the plays and the love, was the greater injury. The first game I was able to go to, I sat on the sidelines cheering on his friends as they ran plays, intercepted balls, threw passes and huddled. These little guys looked like big giants in the eyes of a mother and I am proud of all of them. As I watched, I got a lump in my throat as I saw Aidan run out to his team during a time out with the water bottles. He was the water boy. And of course at the same time that I had a lump in my throat, I was also recalling lines from Adam Sandler’s Waterboy movie just hoping that Aidan doesn’t turn out like Bobby Boucher. Internally laughing and crying, I saw my kid have to face disappointment and circumstance head on and be called to find Christ’s character in the midst of this unexpected change in his plan.


We all want to start. We all want the best positions. We all want to make the touchdowns. You are lying to me right now, if you are reading this, saying “not me.” Whatever game we play, we want to win, we want the pick 6’s, we want our own unique touchdown dance. None of us want to be the waterboy. None of us want to lose our starting spot. None of us want third string.

Christ was on a road one day and a few guys on his team were arguing over who was going to have the best positions. Jesus was almost disgusted by their misunderstanding of the game. See, the game Jesus invited them into doesn’t look like any other game you will play in the world. No, the game He invited them into, He said, it is an upside down game. He said: The first shall be last and the last shall be first. 

change em

This wasn’t merely a statement of a reality that would one day be true, but more. It was a call from a coach to his team. Jesus calls those who say they are on His team to make themselves last. He calls those on His team to give others water before they themselves drink, let alone play. He calls those on His team to look to assist others to score before they themselves try. He calls those on His team to serve rather than come to be served. This call, frankly is one that none of us want. No one would choose to lose their starting position and hand it to a third string guy and willingly with excitement say “Go crazy, have fun and I will bring you some water when you need it!” 

The agony of saying yes to this call has so many implications for our lives and how we live them, that I think it easier for all of us to keep on trying to be first. I saw the agony of this spiritual learning lesson through the eyes of an 11 year old this year. Once his shoulder got better and he was given the ok to head back into the game after 6 weeks of being off, he was more last than being injured. Now he could play, but he lost his spot and he had to battle back to be first. What a mind game… one we play all the time in all sorts of weird ways in all aspects of life.

I couldn’t hear the call of Christ to be last and in my right mind make this whole circumstance for Aidan all about Nike’s mantra “Just do it” and Russell Wilson’s “Why not you?” That kind of inspirational blah blah blah wasn’t what Jesus was inviting us into. It is not that Jesus is a pansy and doesn’t care about us doing our best, working hard and believing upon Him for good, big things. It is just that God is often up to something bigger and deeper than just the success we pursue. He is usually up to something on the inside, in our character, which is often way more challenging to work toward. If I sat down with Aidan and made this entire “opportunity” about what he could do to get to number one, what then am I calling him to? I am calling him to be like the teammates that were arguing with Coach Jesus about their positions. God was calling us to something more. And it was this.

change your stats before they change you

I sat down with Aidan and I said “What stats are you going to celebrate after today’s game?” 

He said “What do you mean?” 

I said “Normally players measure their stats in tackles, yards run, touchdowns, interceptions, right?… How will you measure your stats now?” 

He said “ I don’t know.” 

Out of nowhere this idea came to me and I suggested, “You have to change your stats. This can’t be about field goals kicked, plays run, none of that. This has to be about something else…..” Where was I going with this, I  wondered. I was learning too. And then it hit me.  “What does God care about? He could give a rip if you are a good football player. Do you know that?”

I don’t think Aidan liked the idea that God doesn’t care about being good at football, but he will one day. And Aidan knew I was right. I said “What does God care about?” He said “That I am good to people.”  His answer might be a good answer but living it doesn’t come any easier for him than it does for you and I.

I said “Yes, Aidan God cares that You love Him and love others. Jesus summarized all that is important in life in those two things . Those are our stats! After your game the only thing I am going to ask you is, did you love God and love others?”

So our conversations after every game became less about scores, outcome and performance on the field, but more… love. Did you respect your coach? Did you say good job to your teammates? Those kids of things were all we talked about…

So in the midst of injury, disappointment and changing positions, we changed our stats. And I say this out loud, right now, right here, to you because you need to change your stats.

The stats in which you measure yourself are ever changing and when you find yourself failing, when you find your identity wavering because your position has changed, when you aren’t doing what you had hoped you would, those stats, those measurements, those numbers won’t identify your value in the game, if these stats are. Your stats need to be changed so that no matter what team you find yourself playing with, no matter what position handed you, no matter the score, you can always play, you always have a role and you always know who your coach is. When you change your stats, the financials no longer measure your success, the booked calendar no longer calls you by name, the phone that doesn’t ring has no power, the scale’s numbers don’t scream ugly words at you, and the titles behind your name no longer define your worth. You are right, you can keep looking at all the other stats everyone else does, or you can play the upside down game Jesus invites you into and play for different stats. It is then that no matter the position or the game, you will win. The best Coach says so.


Change your stats, its the stud-liest thing you can ever do. It takes more guts than going for the win. It takes biceps beyond what you can manufacture in a gym. It takes courage to follow The Coach and serve the team, to the point of personal sacrifice for that of living Love.

Love God. 


Love others.


 Those are your stats.