trust the story

Sep 1st. 16 years ago, it was a Wednesday. I remember my mom dropped me off at Patillo A+ Elementary School. “Love you!” I remember her saying that. I remember the silver Passat. I don’t remember much else from that morning. My life would change that afternoon.

Remember: to have in or be able to bring to one’s mind an awareness of (someone or something that one has seen, known, or experienced in the past).

I think it’s important to remember. My friend Hannah pokes fun at me when she catches me scrolling through my camera roll, remembering her cute daughters as babies or remembering how short my hair used to be. I do it more often than I’d like to admit.

I remember being in Kenya with my mom. I remember her by my side when we gave candy canes to little outstretched hands in the pediatric wards. I remember how the hospital smelled badly. I remember the bumpy roads. I remember her showing me how to use a squatty in a cramped dirty bathroom. I remember she let me and my siblings drink Coca-Cola from glass bottles and eat french fries with Peptang tomato sauce.

I remember when we came home from Kenya, my parents presented a slideshow to our church, showing photos and telling stories from the trip. I remember my dad said to the audience: “When we first thought about packing up five kids and going on a mission trip to Africa, I said ‘sure, piece of cake!’ but Lisa wasn’t so sure.” I remember wondering what that meant – ha!

I remember bits of life with my mom. I remember her wide smile revealing white teeth and her pink manicured toes. I remember her playing the piano. I remember her wearing denim shorts. I remember a time she forgave me when I disobeyed. I remember sitting on the porch swing, praying with her. I remember feeling special to have her time to myself.

I talked to a family friend on the phone the other day. “I didn’t know your mom well, but when my first son was born, she mailed me a Children’s Illustrated Bible. That meant so much to me! She was so thoughtful. I still have it,” Nancy remembered.

I think humans like to remember because we like to feel like we are part of a story. Bigger than us. Grander than just going to work or jogging on the trail or feeding our kids. We reflect on the past and anticipate the future, piecing together a story for ourselves – who we are and what our lives mean. We like stories. We like good stories.

I think God values and cherishes our memories, our stories. He likes stories. Jesus teaches with stories. Most of the Bible is made up of good stories.

But not every story ends well. There are confusing stories. Tragic stories. Stories that don’t line up, don’t make sense, don’t live happily ever after. Moms die. Dads leave. Couples divorce. Women miscarry. Racism. Depression. Bankruptcy. Sickness. Abuse. Poverty. Injustice. Bad stories.

I remember the seven days my mom spent in the ICU. I remember all the people in the waiting room. I remember balloons and hugs and casseroles and playing games. I remember the beeping machines hooked to her body. I remember her shaved head. I remember my Aunt telling me she saw my mom’s eyelids flutter. “She’s going to wake up!” My mom died September 8th, 2004. I was 9 years old. I remember my dad crying in the hallway. I remember him reading a Psalm out loud. I remember how much I loved the new skirt with flowers that I wore to her funeral.

So how do these things reconcile? The pain and grief and bad endings … with a God I believe in, who promises to be good and trustworthy and take care of us. This is a hard question. That theologians spend their lives trying to answer.

But I’m confident that part of the answer is that God does have a really good story, even when it doesn’t seem like it.

One that all of us are invited to be part of, one that He wants all of us to trust. One that is better and more grand than we could ever think of ourselves. One that has a really good ending.

The story that we are His children. That we are enough. That we are accepted. That we are okay. The story that God is good. That He isn’t holding out on us. That He loves this world and He cares for it deeply. That He has given this world everything it needs for abundant and flourishing life. That He rejoices over this world. The story that creation is good. Very good. (inspired by these AMAZING podcasts)

What would it look like to tell our hearts, to tell each other this narrative that God has written? What would it mean to trust the narrative He has written for us, for our neighbors, for this world.

Lisa Sykes Leland. Today I remember her. Who she was, what color she liked to paint her toenails, how much she cherished being a mom. I remember her life, her death, her story. 

Dr. Leland – smart cookie!!

Her story is a good one. And has an even better ending. Her story was about Jesus. Her story continues with Him, forever.

I was tickled to hear just a few years ago that apparently my mom liked to skip to the back of a book, with the intention to read the rest only if the ending was a good one. Who wants to read a story with a bad ending? I think we feel this way about our lives – we all want a really good story with a really good ending.

Consider the invitation for your story to be one of meaning and hope; to be a really good one. Let the reality of our stories be that God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Let our story be about Him.

I leaned over to tie my pink tennis shoe. I was standing at the mailbox in front of my grandparent’s house, ready to jog.

“You’re Ronald’s granddaughter aren’t ya? I didn’t know your mom but I knew your grandmother. I loved your grandmother Jane. That was such a terrible car accident. I’m so sorry for your loss.”

I stood up straight, taken aback. This was just last week. In front of me was a man I’d never seen before. Why should I be surprised, I’m in small town Eastern Carolina.

“Yes sir, yes I am. Thank you for saying that,” I replied, feeling thankful to be part of a story that is still remembered, 16 years later.

I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.
I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set pines in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together,
so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the LORD has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.
Isaiah 41:18-20

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Philippians 3:12-14

17 thoughts on “trust the story

  1. Davona Parisher October 6, 2020 — 6:29 am

    You truly are inspiring. Your mom would be so proud of the young woman you are today and of all the accomplishments you have yet to achieve. I am so proud of you and can’t wait to see the great things you will do. Much love, Davona


  2. Wow Janie that is the most wonderful tribute I think Ive ever read, and Ive read a few in my days. It brought back so many happy memories when we served here with your folks. Also brought some tears thinking of her passing. But I do remember the memorial to honor her very well and how many people some total strangers had so many great and wonderful things to say about your mom. You have your moms joy of life and love of others. So glad you decided to come back to Africa and we’ll see how the rest of this great story and legacy unfolds.




  3. BTW, can you share this with the FOT Board and champions, I think they would love to hear it



  4. There are many mornings when I am on my front porch I can still hear your mother playing her new piano. My favorite hymn she played was Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling. I would sing along across Main Street. Godbless you Anna Jane. You are loved.

    Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling—
    Calling for you and for me;
    Patiently Jesus is waiting and watching—
    Watching for you and for me!
    Come home! come home!
    Ye who are weary, come home!
    Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
    Calling, O sinner, come home!

    Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading—
    Pleading for you and for me?
    Why should we linger and heed not His mercies
    Mercies for you and for me?

    Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing
    Passing from you and from me;
    Shadows are gathering, death-beds are coming
    Coming for you and for me!

    Oh, for the wonderful love He has promised—
    Promised for you and for me!
    Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon—
    Pardon for you and for me!

    Come home! come home!
    Ye who are weary, come home!
    Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
    Calling, O sinner, come home!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a meaningful tribute to beautiful Lisa, who appreciated the simple joys of life yet who pondered the profound mystery of Christ in it all. She loved those around her so well – just like you. I love you. June


  6. natalielcoulter October 6, 2020 — 3:29 pm

    Love this Janie. I’m learning that it takes an incredible amount of intention, surrender and maturity to hold this tension in grief. You have done it beautifully with your mom. She looks so fun and kind – you look just like her. Love you and miss you!

    On Tue, Oct 6, 2020 at 12:07 AM Total Kenya Girl wrote:

    > janieleland posted: ” Sep 1st. 16 years ago, it was a Wednesday. I > remember my mom dropped me off at Patillo A+ Elementary School. “Love you!” > I remember her saying that. I remember the silver Passat. I don’t remember > much else from that morning. My life would change that aft” >


  7. lbolthousemaccom October 7, 2020 — 9:41 pm

    Janie girl, thank you for marking your mom’s story in a beautiful and profound way. You are loved!

    Love, Laurie



  8. Beautiful!💕


  9. Kimberly Marsigli October 8, 2020 — 9:38 am

    I remember your mom as such a beautiful person with a simple elegance, radiant and drawing people to her presence. I do believe it was Jesus inside of her that permeated through her and brought Light wherever she was, but she also had a natural beauty about her too. I remember your family visiting our church and I was keeping the nursery that Sunday. Will and Caroline walked up and Will boldly announced that his name was Will and this was his sister Caroline. He said I am 4 years old and 40 pounds. I have never forgotten that cuteness. Your whole family represented something perfect, pure and whole and worth emulating. I also remember being at the Art gallery on Sunset the day I heard news of your sweet Mom. It hit me deeply and still resonates such loss, for you and your dear family, but also for the body of Christ and all who knew her and those others who surely would have been touched by your Mom had they ever been blessed to meet her. You have her same beauty, draw and radiance, that of a kind and gentle and loving Savior Who permeates your very being. Thank you for being so transparent and sharing your heart! Your Mom’s story is good and leaves this world a better place. A great story, worthy of being told!!
    Love and blessings to you, Janie!
    Kimberly Marsigli


  10. Janie,
    Your mom would be so very proud of you.
    Love and hugs,
    Aunt Sandy


  11. Janie,

    I love thinking back on summer soccer camps, trips to the beach, and hide-and-seek at the lake house. Those memories are truly priceless. Aunt Lisa was and is the embodiment of kindness. I remember how deeply she cared for others. She always wanted us all to be happy and feel loved; family meant the world to her and it showed. I miss her smile, and I’m so happy to have had her in my life. Thank you for writing such a beautiful tribute.

    Love you,


  12. aswa0804yahoocom October 8, 2020 — 5:37 pm

    Thank you for sharing this, Janie. I miss her so, but her life continues to impact mine when I remember her prayers and words of wisdom. She was an amazing woman and I cannot imagine my life without her part in it. I miss those days, but remain grateful that she and all of you Leland’s are a part of my own life story….and I’m pretty sure I am one of many who feel the same. Love and hugs to you and your family, Ashley


  13. What a great tribute to your mom! I always figured she was an amazing woman because she had 5 amazing kids! I still am impressed at how your dad juggled all your schedules too!
    Jaime (SCHUTTE) Zimmerman


  14. Janice Davidson October 8, 2020 — 9:44 pm

    Dear Janie,
    What a precious tribute to your sweet Mom. I loved her so very much. I see a lot of her in you. Your Mom would be so proud of the remarkable young woman you have become.
    Love you!


  15. Janie, What a beautiful tribute to your mom. Remembering is so important. All through God’s Word, He tells His people to remember. We see His faithfulness and His hand giving us hope and encouragement. I don’t know that I ever told you how I knew your mom. We were in BSF together and I remember how I loved hearing her share what God was teaching her through His word. I admired her wisdom, insight and devotion. We were both pregnant together, Lisa with twins and me with my first child. I remember sitting together at the Pregnancy Care Center Banquet Fundraiser when MM & Jack were weeks old and in car seats and I admired her as she juggled with such grace…it seemed she never got distracted, always giving her full attention to whomever she was with at the time. Then your precious mom, with comforting words and the sweetest kind listening ear, called me as soon as she heard that my mom passed away suddenly from complications to cancer treatment. My mom was so young. I remember Lisa’s call so clearly and how it seemed to last all night. And though I cant remember her words, I so remember how she made me feel. I felt her crying with me over the phone, listening to my every word with genuine love and sympathy. That was 17 years ago. Her life was impactful, and she reflected so beautifully her Savior and Lord.


  16. Janie,
    This is so beautiful….so beautiful, inspiring and gives new meaning to hope in a broken world. Thank you for sharing this. I miss you at Tenwek… hope you come back. Stay safe and God bless and keep you.
    Stacy Agneta


  17. Oh my, you have gifts! A gift of memory, a gift of love, a gift of writing and a gift of grace. I am happy to know you and be influenced by what you share. As much as you have, you give. Thank you so much!


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