The House That Regret Built

rearview mirror

I know what I want to be when I grow up.

After burning through four college majors, two college degrees, teaching high school English for seven years, momming it at home for ten years, working on church staff for three years and traipsing around the planet for forty-two years, I finally know.

And the thing is….I vividly remember bumping up against what stirred my soul on several occasions along the way.

In the early years of my adolescence I wanted to be a missionary. I was born with a teacher’s heart, so during that span of life, I “practiced” the missionary life by teaching my sister about Jesus. Heather is ten years younger, so I would sit her three year-old little self in my lap and read her endless Bible stories. Asking her questions to check her comprehension as any teacher worth her salt knows to do.

I again rubbed elbows with my heart’s love at the end of a bar in Clemson shortly after my college graduation. With a degree in Secondary Education. Deep in conversation about what I wanted to do next, I stifled tears when I shared my desire to search out the poorest community I could find and enact change through quality education. With a grand finale flourish, I released the tears and concluded, “I think I may be a Democrat.” True story. I didn’t know what to call the fire in my belly. I didn’t have a label for it.

My trip to Kenya in 2009 once again inflamed this thing in me. It felt like all my senses were on high alert. Colors were more vibrant, smells richer, flavors deeper. I felt all wide-eyed and alive.

And then. My recent trips to visit with the female inmates in the Florence County Detention Center sealed the deal. The thing was back. And this time I knew what to call it. And it isn’t at all tied to a political party.

Fear and doubt in the form of…

You can’t go live in a foreign country by yourself.

It wouldn’t be safe for you to work in a low-income community as a young teacher.

What are you going to do? Sell all of your belongings and feel sorry you were born in America? How does that help Kenyans?

…caused me to reject the stirring. My own preoccupation with safety and certainty has stolen years.

I regret that. It makes me sad to only now walk with clarity of purpose. It took decades to get here, and time is short. There is so much to do…..

There are other things I regret too.

But here’s what I know about regret. It builds a house and invites us to dinner. It rolls out a lavish spread and makes it easy for us to accept its hospitality. Regret says, “Put your feet up. Rest. Cry if you want to; your tears are welcome here.” And all the while it coaxes us into paralysis. Until our faith atrophies. Our hope feels like concrete blocks. We are smothered by the oppressive blanket of the past. We’re a guest at the inn of shame where no sunshine angles through the window. It’s dim. And we’re stuck.


That’s the house regret has built in my life. Does that ring true with your experience at all? Is that your current address?

Well, here’s what else I’ve learned about regret. If we’ll intentionally muster the persistent effort to leave out the back door, we’ll find ourselves standing in the sunshine on the front porch of opportunity.

Because we can’t change the weight of the past.

But we don’t have to continue to sit under it.

God has provided informed hindsight where He’s allowed me to look in the rearview mirror and see how essential every part of my journey has been to our current location. Experiences from my childhood taught me Jesus is the source of healing and helped me connect with others who have similar backgrounds.

My early love for disciple-making and the years of studying educational theory and practice as a college student work nicely together.

My years on a church staff taught me how to lead a ministry, how to lead people and build teams. How to engage people with the Truth and the pure joy of serving others.

My mistakes have baptized me in an understanding of grace that I desperately needed, and they have broken the legs of pride that attempted to stand too tall. Because sometimes the Lord’s goodness tastes like humble pie.

While He has worked good from everything in my life for His purposes, He has said as He did after the miracle of feeding the five thousand in John 6, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted” (v. 12).

Let nothing be wasted.

I look back and know that every part of it was necessary. Though I could have chosen to learn lessons in less painful ways.

Today, as I stand in the sunshine on the front porch of opportunity, I am not alone. There are two friends with me, Kay Douglas (the business/legal guru) and Lindsay Haselden (the creative/marketing brain), and we peek in the window and see a ministry called Tenacious Grace. God has knit us together with a submission to Him, a love for each other, and a passion for seeing people thrive in their relationship with Jesus. I am particularly broken for poor, marginalized, hurting women.


We don’t know all of the specifics, but we know that Tenacious Grace is a place where people can find Truth, strength, and hope in Jesus. Through speaking and writing and serving in jail and whatever other directive the Lord gives, we intend to point to Jesus, champion grace, and serve women who haven’t enjoyed the advantages of life we have.

We have a tiny office and bills. We are in the process of filing for 501c3 (nonprofit) status, and next month we’re filming a six-week video-driven Bible study, which will be our first major project.

If you are interested in watching and participating in what God is doing through the ministry of Tenacious Grace, like our ministry page on FB, subscribe to the blog, and share posts to help us reach outside of our circles of influence. There will be lots of opportunities to get involved, and we would love to have you on board.

As always, thank you for reading, and I hope you’ll stop by again real soon.

[Feature Images: Miguel Angel Arroyo Ortega and Max and Dee Bernt]

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  1. Christy Moore
    Christy MooreReply
    July 27, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    Ahhhhh, this is AWESOME!! Count me in helping any way I can! So proud of all three of you great girlfriend’s!!

    • Cookie Cawthon
      July 27, 2015 at 4:36 pm

      Girl, You know I already have thoughts about where we need some Christy Moore! Love you!

  2. Martha Davis
    Martha DavisReply
    July 27, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    Cookie, my jaw dropped! I’m so excited for you and your sidekicks. I do have some knowledge of a 501(c)3 from my years as a nonprofit director. If you need help with bylaws and what makes an effective board member, I’m glad to lend that expertise.

    I’m very proud of you and can’t wait to see what God does through you! Jeremiah 29:11

    • Cookie Cawthon
      July 27, 2015 at 4:38 pm

      Martha, we are under a deadline crunch with the study right now, but I would love to get your wisdom in the next month or so. Thank you, thank you!

  3. KFreeman
    July 30, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    Count me in!!! This is amazing and I am so proud to call you three ladies my friend. SO SO glad that God lead me to each of you and our group!!!

    • Cookie Cawthon
      July 30, 2015 at 2:38 pm

      I love it! This makes me super happy, Karen! There will be much more to come about how to join what God is doing through Tenacious Grace…particularly after the study launches. Stay tuned… <3

  4. Debbie Strickland
    Debbie StricklandReply
    July 30, 2015 at 3:07 pm

    Precious Friend, kindred spirit, love of my life……I want in…I will clean bathrooms, sweep office floors, whateverrrrrrrr……I am really speechless right now and my eyes are full of tears, so holla when you need this old girl:) Muah!

    • Cookie Cawthon
      July 30, 2015 at 4:20 pm

      My heart = Full. Welcome aboard, Beautiful, and you can bet I’ll be in touch. Love you!

  5. Yo Lil Sister
    Yo Lil SisterReply
    July 30, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    I will forever and always count myself lucky to be your first student and I will continue to want to follow in your brave footsteps. Count me in to help with whatever and however!! If you need your floors swept, your phones answered, your girls watched for some God time, or a giant grape passing out flyers for Tenacious Grace, or really anything I’m your girl and forever your proud sister! Love you to the moon and back.

    • Cookie Cawthon
      July 30, 2015 at 4:28 pm

      Thank you for being such a good sport for missionary practice… 🙂 I love you millions, and I am so proud of you. You have the purest servant’s heart of anyone I know; thank you for being willing to put it to work for TG!

  6. Sherri Owens
    Sherri OwensReply
    August 22, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    Girl, count me in. I’m looking forward to what God has in store for y’all.

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