Aching For Connection

by | Sep 4, 2013 | Uncategorized


We were pressed into the back wall of a borrowed church, huddled together and laughing before the service began. My husband turned around to scold me with his eyes.

A friend had something she wanted to tell me but was hesitant to say it across the laps of my children. So we moved to the back of the room.

“We went to a new restaurant last night,” she whispered. “They had seating outside with hookah pipes.” Her aqua eyes widened in a pause for my reaction. We both cupped our hands over our mouths in tandem, muffling the volume of our laughter. Then this came out of my mouth.

“That’s awesome; I can’t wait to check it out.”

I wasn’t dying to smoke a hookah pipe, just aching for connection.

When H and I travel in Europe, we walk by countless restaurants with chairs full of people lining crowded city streets, the fruity smell of pipe tobacco wafting ghost trails through conversations in foreign accents. The diversity makes my heart sing.

My friend didn’t know it but she was giving me a glimpse of global connection in my provincial southern town.

I hunger to see the broad open fingers of God’s Kingdom, beyond the small, familiar patch of his palm. Our short exchange was His gift with a simple message, “I know.”




Leaning into the back of a kitchen chair in the cottage a few months ago Murielle mused, “We have an international family, don’t we?” Something I’d taken for granted was new revelation for my teenager.

Moments before, we sat squeezed together on two benches, huddled around a picnic table smudged with sap under a canopy of tall pines. We were enjoying the fate of reunion with a large chunk of our family haling from Germany, Africa, and the United States. We’d gathered on the shores of the same lake for vacation in Canada. Several arrived on the heels of missions and trips to interesting places around the world. My kids savored the sweet taste of new culture and language by listening to stories of adventure and risk.

And their perspective grew six inches that day.


As I scooted in between my son and daughter on the wooden pew, I thought about where I sat two years ago.

Balancing one hip on the side of a meager couch, I was surrounded by the joyful laughter and native conversation of girlfriends in Rwanda. Strangely, I felt more at home there, than I do in my hometown.

I used to think that I felt more like myself when I was travelling, inspired by culture and place. But what happens when the places where you experience an overwhelming sense of love and belonging aren’t where you live?

The desire for connection is God given, innate. Without purpose and meaning, we suffer.

But the pathway to wholeheartedly living isn’t a change in circumstance, it’s in loving. Yourself.


Believe you are worthy of being loved and find the courage to let go of being so hard on yourself. Then wherever you are, you’re home.

Perhaps God’s mercy looks like mindless scrolling on the internet hunting for value and connection. Because that kind of emptiness leaves you desperately lonely, with nothing but Him.

You might find a hookah pipe in your small town isn’t just humorously out of place, its God’s way of loving you through obscure connection. So you can be set free to embrace the gift of self-compassion.


This post was inspired by Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly, an unplanned introduction to the unveiling of an October series based on The Gifts of Imperfection where I plan to unpack what loving yourself looks like practically. We’ll be diving into the deep end of wholehearted living. I hope you’ll join me.

Linking with Jennifer, Emily and Kristen.



Subscribe for Shelly’s stories and free resources here:


  1. Lyli Dunbar

    My friend and I had a discussion recently about the cultural differences in intimacy. We are from a Hispanic background, so we tend to be loud, open, and affectionate. Sometimes, in a room full of white middle class American Anglos, I just want to reach over and crack ope their head and take a peek inside. Too much reserve, not enough intimacy.

    I’m looking forward to this upcoming series.

    • Shelly Miller

      I think there are even differences between parts of the U.S. Lyli. It’s something you have to live, isn’t it? People steeped in their own insular culture don’t quite understand when you try to describe the differences.

  2. Helen Gaskins Washington

    Love this piece steeped in honesty, vulnerability and truth.
    I devoured The Gifts of Imperfection this past spring.
    So happy to learn of your upcoming series.
    Thanks for daring to be you.

    • Shelly Miller

      Thank you sweet Helen. So glad to know you’ve already read it. I’m excited, feel expectant with God’s hand on it.

  3. Kris Camealy

    I was just looking at that book on Amazon, thinking it might be a good one for me to read. Oh the list is.just. so. long. I always love your words Shelly. You challenge me in the best ways to open my eyes, and my heart to real connection, and to see God in ways I sometimes miss. Love you.

    • Shelly Miller

      I know what you mean Kris, so many books, so little time to savor them. I would love to have you join me in this one. It’s going to be good, I can feel it.

    • Shelly Miller

      Yay! So glad to have you Christie, you have such depth and wisdom. Can’t wait to do this, it’s gonna be good, I can feel it in my bones.

  4. Kelly Greer

    Shelly…you just spoke something my heart needed to hear…so often I am tempted to draw the line on the wrong side of the place where real connection happens. Hmmm…
    ..I might just hop on your invite…

    • Shelly Miller

      Would love to have you Kelly. It was something I needed to hear too. An epiphany of sorts for me in all the best kinds of ways.

      • Lynn Morrissey

        Shelly, you will love Kelly! She is one special lady, writer, and woman of God. (And do you recall when I had mistaken your name as Kelly once!? 🙂 You are two lovely ladies in the Lord!

  5. ThandiweW

    so grateful you hit publish. This was a rich blessing…one that makes me glad you have embraced me into your tribe.
    Peace and good to you,

    • Shelly Miller

      So glad God saw fit to link us together Chelle, you are quite a blessing.

  6. kelli woodford

    no words to leave here, Shel.

    only love.

    thank you for stepping out and letting yourself be seen. beautiful things to come … i just know it.

    • Shelly Miller

      I feel it from you Kelli. So grateful to call you friend.

  7. DeanneMoore

    ouch, ouch, ouch…people have been stepping all over my feet this week. (JDL on her blog about comparison) Just days ago, I sat in my nook with yellow pad in hand and wrote all the countries where I have gotten to serve on mission teams, doodled around them with my pen, found myself dancing in Old Havana and teaching English to an astrophysicist in Eastern Europe, moderating a debate on gender roles among university students practicing their English in Moldova. And I was miserable. And I said audibly to God, “Why couldn’t I just be able to shop at Whole Foods without having to drive an hour?” I had been thinking of the indoor food market in Ukraine in the dead of winter. Now that is that pitiful or what? I thought I was whole-hearted until just recently, but there are still a few holes left to fill. One of these days by God’s grace, I will wake up one morning and know that who am is exactly who I need to be. Thank you for pushing publish, being real. You didn’t have to but I think the risk was worth it. You didn’t fail but would it have mattered? You got on the blocks, jumped and swam your laps.

    • Shelly Miller

      I probably haven’t expressed the degree that this rocked my world in the post Dea. It was one of those markers in my life I hope to never forget. It was like the past to two years of writing were pointing me to this place of seeing how hard it is for me to love myself. I wondered if I hit the finish line, but I’m probably just starting. I realize that self compassion is a struggle for most children of alcoholics. We feel most comfortable being hard on ourselves and jumping through the ridiculous hoops we create. Anyway, I’m glad to have you cheering on the sidelines of my marathon.

  8. Leigh Kramer

    You don’t know how timely this is, Shelly! Really looking forward to this series.

    • Shelly Miller

      Leigh, I’m so glad to know that. I value what you have to add to the conversation, excited you’ll join us. Hope you’ll help me get the word out as we get closer in too.

  9. pastordt

    Shelly!! I am so excited by this post and what October holds. I sense a new firmness in your writing, a centeredness, a direction/purpose/conviction. I’ve always loved your words, but now. . . I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something beautiful is rising. Wowza. (And man, do I get this feeling – that your hometown doesn’t give you the most flavorful taste of life. When we moved to where God called us 16 years ago – a very wealthy, almost all-white suburb – we left behind over 20 years in a polyglot mid-sized city of different colors and languages. Those first months here, I got in my car every single day and just cruised the one street in this town that had signs in Spanish and people of color on the sidewalks. It was the strangest kind of homesickness – but powerful. I hope I never lose it.)

    • Shelly Miller

      Oh wow Diana, your words feel like they are prophetic for me somehow. That you felt those things in this piece is huge for me, really. Yes, there is indeed something beautiful rising. I’m expectant. I said those very words to my H last weekend, I feel a sense of something like beauty and truth preparing to collide and break open new things.

      • Lynn Morrissey

        Ooh Shelly! Diana has nailed it…..that voice we were talking about. I’m glad you take her words for the deep gift they are. Ponder them. Treasure them. I know you are!

  10. Emma

    That ouch is painful isn’t it? The realisation that we are truly loved – if we only let ourselves be. But oh the joy once we accept it and finally are not so hard on ourselves – we are indeed home wherever we are. Thank you for having courage and pressing publish. Love you Shelly, am so looking forward to this series.

    • Shelly Miller

      Bleh, it may be easy for some to admit they aren’t very good at loving themselves but for me, it was like standing naked on my blog. I knew that if God was giving me the epiphany that self-compassion is not one of my gifts, it means I have to do something with that knowledge. I trust my blogging community to keep me accountable and pray we will all gain from the experience. It truly is letting go in the deep end and grasping trust. Love you loads, so glad you’re my friend.

  11. ro elliott

    Love that book….so look forward to conversations that will flow here…no matter our age…God wants us free…to love Him…ourselves and others….love the Grace you are finding.

    • Shelly Miller

      We’re never to old to learn something new are we Ro? I hope you’ll join in the conversation next month since you’ve read the book. Your insights will be cherished.

  12. Lynn Morrissey

    Well, Shelly, you will realize that I live in my own little planet when I didn’t even know what a hookah pipe is! Granted, I hate smoking of any kind, but I LOVE this post! And whenever I come home from Europe (not like I do it regularly, but we’ve traveled there five times now), I am always enriched by the dirversity of God’s creation of so many interesting people and their fascinating cultures. It’s so important to travel–epsecially for Americans, I think. We realize that we are not the only people in the universe. Like you, I love those sidewalk cafes, brimming over with warmth, rich conversation, great food. (I am just writing a poem, in fact, about someone I met in a cafe in Southwell, England this past July, who was a real inspiration to me). And my favorite thing to do on trips? CONNECT! My husband Michael is always trying to scurry me along, but I’m undeterred, knee-deep in conversation with someone…..a passerby, a tea-shop owner, a merchant, a man tending his strawberry patch in England’s hottest summer in years, the vicor of a local parish church, or a singer in a minster. Yes, we see beauty in our travels, but the real beauty lies in the heart of connection. I look forward to your series. I just look forward to YOU, period, and how God is leading you. I’m staying tuned!

    • Shelly Miller

      I’d love to read that poem, I’m sure its rich. And somehow, I don’t have a hard time envisioning you being pulled away from conversation at every doorpost you enter. It’s what makes you delightfully you Lynn.

      • Lynn Morrissey

        Oh you are so sweet, Shelly. Thank you. I will tell Michael this! =] And when I finish the poem, I’ll send it to you. That’s what I love about poetry; one never knows where it will land. It’s takikng a far different bent than I had intended! =]
        Love you always.
        PS Do you write poetry?! Your writing basically is that.

  13. Glenda Childers

    I am reading Brene right now, too.


    • Shelly Miller

      Oh good, I hope you’ll join us in October Glenda.

  14. Natalie

    Just this week I’ve been pondering this very reality of feeling more like myself, more easily connected with others, more able to relate and wondering about the connection between culture, common interest and place. Thank you for your question: “But what happens when the places where you experience an overwhelming sense of love and belonging aren’t where you live?” Thanks for your thoughts. It takes courage to live the question and that is what I must set out to do.

    • Shelly Miller

      It certainly does take courage Natalie. I’m glad you mentioned that. I was sort of afraid to publish this because I knew with the realization comes responsibility. The hard work of living it out. But I’ve had enough experience so far to know it will be worth it.

  15. Nancy Ruegg

    Wow. You hit me between the eyes, Shelley. When I came to this sentence: “But the pathway to wholeheartedly living isn’t a change in circumstance, it’s in loving…” I was NOT expecting the next word to be: yourself! And the last word of your post was also surprising: self-compassion. I’ll be looking forward greatly to your series that explores what loving ourselves might look like!

    • Shelly Miller

      I know Nancy. It was like being punched in the gut for me. Ouch, Yuck. And okay, now I have to do something about this.

Pin It on Pinterest