Jeremy Statton

Living Better Stories

Choose Joy: Interview with Alece Ronzino

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From Jeremy: This is an interview with Alece Ronzino. Alece chose to live a better story by dedicating her life to mission work in South Africa at the age of 19. Despite living her dream, everything change suddenly and unexpectedly and she found herself living a different story. One that she never anticipated.

In this interview we talk about  better stories, how they can change, and her decision to choose joy. To find out more about Alece, follow her on her blog or follow her on Twitter.

JS: How did you end up in South Africa and what was your ministry there?

Alece: I went to Africa on short-term mission trips as a teenager, and when I was 19 I moved there. I wanted to do mission work there long-term, but initially committed to a year. Thirteen years later, I was co-leading a nonprofit called Thrive Africa that focused on leadership development and AIDS prevention in the poorest region of South Africa.

JS: You were living a life that most would describe as perfect, living the dream of ministry in Africa. What happened?

Alece: Well, my life was far from perfect, but I absolutely loved it. Even with the challenges of leading a support-driven organization with a multi-cultural staff team of over 60, I undeniably felt like I was right where I was supposed to be, doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

Then the bottom fell out of my world when my husband confessed to a long-term affair with a friend of mine, and ultimately made the decision to leave with her.

JS: How did you feel when all of these things happened?

Alece: To say I was devastated would be the biggest understatement of my life. I went through a long period of depression, and for a long time—years, I mean—I couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. The hits kept coming, with further layers of betrayal and deceit being uncovered. When we couldn’t get financial support back up, the Board of Directors eventually made the decision to close the ministry.

Through that season, I lost basically everything in my life: my marriage, my home, my ministry, my community, my dream, my future. The heart-shattering grief left me immobilized for a long time. “Long dark night of the soul” is about the most fitting phrase I can think of.

JS: Did you ever consider giving up on God?

Alece: While God and I weren’t exactly on speaking terms for a long while there, I never really considered walking away from Him entirely. Like all the other relationships in my life, maintaining closeness just seemed to take more effort and energy than I had. I withdrew from everyone, including Him. I was empty and broken, and lacked both the strength and desire to press into Him. When I’d stop and think about it, it would compound my feelings of failure—like once again I wasn’t doing enough.

Eventually as my heart began to show signs of life again, it finally felt easier to “go there” again with Him. Corporate worship, a great counselor, and the free therapy of my own writing helped me reconnect with God and recognize the ways He’d been there with me all along.

JS: Do you ever ask God “why?” What helps you with that question?

Alece: While I don’t understand what happened—and I know I likely never will—I never really asked God why. Decisions were made, and the consequences of those decisions sucked… but I knew it wasn’t God doing this to me. I was forced to come to terms with my “God is good, all the time” faith that really didn’t know how to acknowledge His goodness in the portions of “all the time” that were just plain awful.

But I eventually realized that I can’t trust in the God who gives without also trusting in the God who takes away.

JS: You had a close friend, Sara, who died. Her motto was “choose joy.” How has she influenced you as you deal with life?

Alece: Oh, Sara… I could talk forever about her, her friendship, and the impact she’s had on my life. In short, she was my daily dose of perspective as she lived homebound, in debilitating pain, with a disease that was slowly and excruciatingly taking her life. Yet she lived every day with more joy than anyone I’ve ever known.

She taught me what it meant to truly trust God, and to believe in His goodness even when life was anything but good. Even now that she’s gone, she remains an ever-present reminder and inspiration for me to look beyond my circumstances and choose joy.

JS: You recently took a trip back to Africa for the first time since moving back. What was that like? Do you see yourself ever moving back?

Alece: I returned to Africa this past spring for the first time since losing everything. It was extremely emotional for me, being back in places that held both good and bad memories. I had to make the choice to do the hard work of facing and feeling it, eventually finding healing in and from the place that had been the source of my deepest wounds.

I was able to see again that it was also the source of my greatest joys. And I came to grips with the fact that while Africa is no longer home, she will always have my heart. I don’t foresee living there full-time again, but I know I will always continue to be involved in work there in some capacity.

JS: What would you tell someone who has seen their dream shattered? (I hope that’s not too strong of a word.)

Alece: It’s definitely not too strong of a word, because that’s exactly what happened. My dreams shattered. And while it looks different for each person, everyone eventually goes through a season of shattered dreams.

The greatest thing I can pass along to someone who is in that place right now is something a friend had said to me. Don’t bring building supplies to the graveyard. There will be a season where all you can do is sit in the grief and the heartache. You have to face it and feel it, and not try to shortcut around it. But eventually—and you, or those you trust to speak into your life, will just know when that time is—you have to start taking steps forward.

Give yourself permission to grieve. And then give yourself permission to hope again.

JS: Thanks Alece for sharing your story and helping us to remember that today is an opportunity to choose joy.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

About Jeremy Statton

Jeremy is a writer and an orthopedic surgeon. When not ridding the world of pain, he helps you live a better story. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook or Google +.

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50 Replies

  1. Thank you for sharing your journey, Alece. Love this advice about grief “You have to face it and feel it, and not try to shortcut around it.” So very important.

  2. This was a great interview!

  3. Especially the person being interviewed and the story she is choosing to live.

  4. “Don’t bring building supplies to the graveyard. ” Powerful statement. Thank you for sharing your story.

  5. Thank you so much for this! I can relate–though only in a small way–and found myself nodding “yes” all the way through.

  6. so glad this resonated with you, katie. no matter how different loss and grief looks in each of our lives, the effects are the same. we are never alone, even though no one else will ever fully understand our own unique pain and journey.

  7. thank you, ngina. that sentence bumped around in my head and heart for a year before i felt ready to pick myself up and start taking steps out of the graveyard. thankful for friends who speak truth…

  8. such an honor, jeremy. thank you for inviting me into the sacred space of your blog, and for being an incredible source of encouragement to me this past year.

  9. it’s so hard but so crucial. our tendency is to hide, to distract ourselves, to look away… but choosing the hard of allowing ourselves to fully feel the weight of it all and work through it is what gets us to the healing.

    thank you for your sweet words, eileen!

  10. I love reading about friends who have allowed their biggest tragedy to become a victory. God will do it – but Alece has granted Him permission and it is beautiful!

  11. wow, allison. thank you for those heart-strengthening words.

    so… about that move to nashville… 😉

  12. ” Don’t bring building supplies to the graveyard”…what a great concept. I love this, probably because it is so contrary to the easy-believism that so easily infests faith. We want to think that God being good all the time means that we won’t struggle, that pain isn’t real, that sorrow shouldn’t exist — but that’s not true. In my experience, taking the time to grieve is so vital to keeping close to God long-term

  13. The light of Christ that shines out of you, Alece, both online and in person, shines brighter because you have allowed him to work through the darkness. I love how you addressed the dream shattering, too. We will all go through it at some point.

    Thanks for once again, baring your scarred heart for us to see. It is beautiful.

  14. I’m glad it encouraged you.

  15. I bet that felt like an eternity. I’m glad you began walking out, too.

  16. YES! so well-said, chris. all too often, we don’t give ourselves the permission — or the grace — to grieve as we should. we feel guilty or un-holy for acknowledging the heartache and just sitting in it a while (because that’s sometimes all we can do, is sit in it) — as if we should just slap on a smile and say “well God is gonna turn this around”. gah! there is more strength and courage and faith in doing the hard work of grieving than there is in sweeping it all under the rug and pretending everything’s okay when it’s not.

  17. ohhhh thank you, janice. it means a lot to hear you say that.

  18. “Don’t bring building supplies to the graveyard. ” Such a powerful image. Thank you for that, friend. And thank you for sharing your hope and healing with us. <3

  19. Amazing how though I have heard your story, even journeyed with you through parts of it, it always speaks to me in a new way each time you share it.

    “Don’t bring building supplies to the graveyard.”

    I’m in the graveyard right now; grieving, crying, mourning. I don’t want to stay here but it’s the place God has me in right now. Although I know in my head that it’s not a permanent place of residence, my heart needed to hear it the way you said it.

    Thank you sweet Alece. I love you and praise God for allowing our paths to cross five years ago.

  20. Beautiful story of pressing forward after unbelievable pain. Thanks for sharing.

  21. pamelahunter

    Thank you for your honesty and transparency, Alece. As always, you bring the right words at the right time, as if they are a gift from God, just for me. I love how you share your heart and hurts to help me and so many others heal ours. Love you, friend.

    Forever choosing joy,

  22. Cristi

    A beautiful interview. You need to write a book, Alece! There’s too much wisdom there to not share on a larger platform. . . xoxo, Cristi

  23. i want to… still trying to get my brain around what exactly i’d want to say and how to have enough to fill a book. just not sure how to organize my thoughts beyond 500 word blog posts! maybe i should rope you in to help me with that, cristi… 😉

  24. thank you so so much, pamela. i’m beyond grateful to know that God is using even this—even me—to bring healing and hope to others. He doesn’t waste a thing… it’s mind-blowing.

  25. i’m so sorry to hear about your current graveyard, ayla. but you’re right — allowing yourself to sit in it and mourn does NOT mean a desire to camp there forever. don’t let others (or yourself) tell you it’s not ok to stay there a while. loss affects every area of your soul, and there is simply no quick-fix for that.

    praying for you today. i, too, am grateful for how God crossed our paths so many years ago…

  26. mmmm… thank you for this, bethany. really.

  27. Alece … I love seeing you here. You embody what it means to live a better story.

  28. This is so beautifully said, my friend. Thank you for allowing us to witness the hope found in your journey. Thank you for sharing yourself.

  29. thank you for being a constant friend through my journey… {i so wish you lived closer.}

  30. Thank you Alece. So many of us live silently with shattered dreams. Your words comfort me.

  31. you are so right, kadee… some, i think, feel their shattered dreams aren’t “big enough” to warrant their grief. but there’s no comparison game when it comes to grieving. loss hurts, no matter what.

    i hope that in some small way, by putting words to mine, i give others the gift of going second — the freedom and safety to say “me too” and find their own words for their loss and grieving/healing process.

  32. I loved this. Yes, everyone’s dreams shatter, but perhaps this allows us to enter into the fullness of God. It doesn’t make sense, but somehow–eventually–it does.

    Thank you, Alece. Praying for you, friend.

  33. yup. it’s in our brokenness that we find our wholeness in Him. (thank you, renee!)


    Thanks for sharing such a raw and authentic story, Alece. (And great questions Jeremy.) It’s awesome how you’ve learned to hold unto God amid such trials. God bless you!

  35. I agree. Hers is a story worth telling.

  36. Just start writing. You have more than enough material to write a full book.

  37. I found them helpful as well.

  38. The graveyard is so consuming, you certainly doubt you will ever walk out of it. It is tempting to choose to stay there instead of choosing joy.

  39. Laura

    Loving you and I know Sara loves you and is so very proud of you!!

  40. that means the world to me, Laura. thank you, sweet friend.

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