Night Walks


I started walking at night while I was still sick. I had just returned home from India, battered and broken and relatively lifeless, and had little else to do but walk. Actually, at first anyway, I could do little else. I suppose I could have walked during the day but I never wanted to.  I didn’t want to go outside during the day. I spent my days sleeping and staring and writing and playing guitar and crying. But for some reason, when night came small specks of life began to stir in me. I recognized it immediately because I hadn’t felt it in awhile – life, that is. And these specks of life eventually lured me outside into the night air.

Perhaps it was because I hadn’t been able to walk alone in India at night and so walking alone in Canada at night felt special. Perhaps it was because I was depressed and my doctor told me I needed to get exercise if I was going to get better. Or perhaps it was because I heard the voice of God call to me from the thick darkness.

Whatever the case, I began to walk up and down the streets of my neighbourhood, night after night. I established a route. As I walked I looked at the tall trees lining the streets and often stopped to gently run my hand over the bark. It was good to feel something outside of me. I looked at houses and wondered about who lived in them and I observed what kinds of cars people had parked out front. I discovered a retirement home just around the corner from my apartment, and church buildings, and back alleys, and school yards, and homes with lights on and homes with no lights on. I heard people talking through windows, and practicing piano, and yelling at each other. I saw the flicker of late night television through curtain-drawn windows. You know, the kind of simple discoveries you make when you take notice of your surroundings. And when you don’t want to notice anything else.

I would go walking as late as possible. I didn’t want to see anyone and I didn’t want anyone to see me. For the most part, my timing was perfect. I had the place to myself, darkness acting as my comforting sweater and solitude as my map leading me to nowhere in particular. I could hear crickets chirping and rain dripping and the breeze rustling the leaves of the trees and…

I could hear my heart, its pieces rattling around inside – broken, confused, lost, aching.

There was something about walking at night that felt very familiar to me and for many months it was the only time I felt a measure of home and peace. The day held people and conversations and so-called answers and expectations and “light.” People could see me. I could see me. But at night? It was just me at night, no one was watching; I wasn’t watching. The minute I stepped outside and filled my lungs with the humid night air – I could breathe!  And these breathes, one at a time, rising and falling, started to fill me with life once again.

It was as if the darkness wasn’t dark at all. It was as if these night walks of mine were the only time I could really see light. Because, finally, I had nothing to prove to anyone or to myself or to God. It was just me. And Him.

I started talking with God. My words mixed with my tears and my tears with my words. Those were messy conversations and the most real conversations I’ve ever had.

I especially loved when it rained while I walked at night because I felt even more safe in the rain. Sometimes I couldn’t tell where the rain stopped and my tears began. We were one – the sky and I, crying together, creation groaning together, begging God to fix things once and for all. In the earth and in its people and in me.  We didn’t know it at the time (well, I can’t speak for the sky) but we cried because we knew there was still something, somewhere, worth crying for. It was our act of worship.

Eventually words came, one by one, and then sentences and paragraphs followed. Whispers and yells and passionate pleas and singing. If anyone saw me, surely they thought I was crazy. Maybe I was. A crazy woman, yelling at the sky at 11:30 at night, stumbling down the sidewalk in blind grief. I even laughed on occasion and I’m sure that was the icing on the cake!

But sometimes my words sounded more like gasps – those seconds and minutes when you are filled with so much anguish that you can’t breathe properly. So I would stop talking and just keep walking.

In those moments, my steps became my words, persistent messages to God that I would keep going, that I would not give up, that I believed that I would once again walk in the land of the living. After all that had happened, why did I keep believing this? I still don’t really know except to say that faith is a baffling masterpiece and only ever a gift. 

Something remarkable happened on those night walks. I got honest. I mean, really honest. I said things to God that I never said before. I asked questions that I never asked before. Nothing was stopping me now. Besides, what did I have to lose? I was empty – empty enough that there was finally nothing between my heart and me. I saw it for what it was – the redeemed and the yet-to-be redeemed. And I laid it before Jesus, night after night, layer after layer, and we talked about it.

We talked about how broken I was. I didn’t just “confess” or “repent”. No, we were far beyond that now (as necessary as these are as a starting place). This wasn’t church or religion or a to-do list or false-guilt or moral obligation or… this was ME! Me, this little broken human being, standing before my Creator under the night sky, asking for a way out of death. I already knew what Jesus did for me, but this wasn’t about believing something in my head that happened centuries ago, as real and relevant as it was and still is. This was about today, and today was dark, today was broken, today had lost all hope.


Maybe that’s part of the difference between believing something and following Someone.

God started showing me things – difficult things, beautiful things. He began mining the depths of my heart, gently digging up memories and hurts, unhealthy thought-patterns and crooked beliefs – He show me things I had not seen before and things I had covered up long ago. Where was He going with all of this? And why? How deep can He go until He digs right through to the other side? It was painful. I didn’t recognize who I was any longer. And yet, night after night, I went back for more. Walking, talking, crying… something was happening inside of me. Life was happening! This slow chipping away of my heart was uncovering something invaluable – new soil.

And then, just like that, it was done. I don’t know when exactly, and I can’t say how exactly, but the overhaul was done and He started planting seeds. And He’s been planting seeds ever since.

I still take night walks. I’m in a different season of life now, but, then again, I suppose its not really all that different. I still need to pace the streets in the night air, I still need to talk with Jesus about my brokenness and the brokenness around me, I still need Him to see me as I am and change me, and I still need to worship God with my tears. But now when we walk we also talk about other things – hopes, dreams, and people and situations. Walking at night has become one of my favourite things to do. It’s the time of my day or week when I feel most alive, most like myself, most connected to my Creator, most like God is right there at my side, in my backyard and on my streets – it’s as if I was made to walk and talk with God.

I was. We are.

I guess once you see your heart, forged in the fire of God, you don’t want to look away; you don’t want to go back to how it used to be. Because, what you are actually seeing is a miracle in the making. Stone turning into flesh, the old being made new, the broken being put back together again, and a Redeemer who walks with you every step of the way. Even at night.

Especially at night.

“I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name” (Isaiah 45:3).

(P.S. Don’t worry, Mom. I live in a safe neighbourhood!)

(P.P.S. Awhile after I started walking at night, I started running during the day. You can read about that here if you want.)


© Stephanie Ratcliff and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Stephanie Ratcliff and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Stephanie Ratcliff can’t remember where she got the photo from, but definitely somewhere on the internet. She apologizes to the Photographer. If you took it, let her know, and she’ll definitely give you props. Thanks!


look out, heart (EP Fundraiser Concert version)

This was the last song in our set at my EP Fundraiser Concert. So fun! Especially because everyone had a chance to do a little solo work at the end. I’m so thankful for these beautiful people I got to play with, and for the many beautiful people that came out to support me. You can see my utter joy at the end of the song, or maybe you can’t, but know that I’m having the time of my life. 🙂

I wrote “look out, heart” earlier this year and I’m hoping for the chance to record it someday (it may or may not be on the EP I’m recording this Fall). Whatever the case, it’s special to me because i think it expresses well my need to burst out of the ground, particularly after a darker season of life. It’s a song about falling and getting up again (but a little different this time), about springtime in the prairies, about recognizing that we all get to start over new, about seeing in part, about patience, and about… well, I’ll let you take from it what you want.

Thanks for listening!

look out, heart

it’s touch and go
it’s touch and go
do we ever get to land
that’s not been overthrown

the mighty fall
the mighty fall
i got strong then scraped my knee
dirt’s in us all

this new heart
is but a look-out for the things
i’ve only known in part
so look out, heart

we can see for miles and miles across the plains
where wild flatlands dance and the wicked winds sing rain
but it’s been buried deep below these fields of grain
and it’s straining to get out, to grow a tree for it’s new name

there’s treasure found
there’s treasure found
but we gotta dig with love
as we’re going down

these resting birds
these resting birds
don’t know they’ve been resting
on a growing word


© Stephanie Ratcliff and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Stephanie Ratcliff and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

grown up (blue grotto mix)

So, back on December 13, 2013 I wrote a song called “grown up”. I was sick that day with a bad cold, but not sick enough to be confined to bed, and in my head fog and slight stupor, I picked up my guitar and strummed, then started a congested hum, and then suddenly this little ditty came out. (Was it the medication or inspiration? No one will ever know.) Right after I wrote it I decided to do a rough recording on Garageband so that I wouldn’t forget the tune (a common problem), and then after I finished recording it I thought, “I know! I’ll just post it on Youtube and Facebook because… zzzz.” And so that’s what I did.

My friend Ian Cromwell heard it and immediately messaged me and was all like, “Steph! I can totally add some strings to that!” So he did. And I posted that beautiful version on this here blog a few months ago. You can find it here.

Around that same time, my friend Anelda, who owns a recording studio in Nashville and works there as a sound engineer, messaged me and said she loved the song and would enjoy getting her hands on it when she had some down-time.

I’m ALWAYS up for people helping  me with my songs. I mean, after all, I’m writing and recording with a limited knowledge of… well… almost everything! So when the professionals want to swoop in and help, I absolutely don’t say no. (Unless it’s a professional assassin or something. Then I say no.)

Several months later, when I finally remembered to email the files to her, and when she finally had a free afternoon, Anelda sat down with my song, which originally was just a guitar and a vocal track, sprinkled her sound engineering magic and some good ol’ fashioned hard work all over it, and sent me back this song – the one I posted at the top.

So much thanks to Anelda Spence, her husband Sean Spence, and the crew at Blue Grotto Sound in Nashville, Tennessee for taking on this little song, and helping bring it to life… free of charge! I am so thankful for your gift to me, and I love how it turned out.

You can check out more of their fabulous work by clicking here.

Lyrics to “grown up”:

what’s in a face
i follow the trace of a tear from a crack
in my heart to the place where we plant
to the place i call dibs on you

there’s so many ways
so many names that i could have worn
could have born could have sworn
that i lost you long ago

but as it is
and as it will be
we’re more than a means to an end
we’re an end to a start
and as it is
and as it will be
we’re all grown up now
except for the hope in our hearts

i’ve held on real tight
my knuckles are white as the flag i have flown
i have sown, i have covered the dead
and prayed for life again

but we’ve got what it takes
though i know the stakes are high and we try
and ask why as we fall but i see
it in your face


© Stephanie Ratcliff and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Stephanie Ratcliff and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Deep Waters, Wooden Boats, and Why I Didn’t Drown


Concert_Poster (4)

I’m afraid of deep water. I have been for a long time. The ocean is so mysterious to me, and the thought of being emerged in this other-world can bring me a slight sense of panic if I even just think about it for too long. It is the part of our planet that makes me most leery. When I go swimming, I stay close to the shore and close to others. The thought of my body dangling there, with only my head above water and no ability to see what’s going on below is very uncomfortable for me. It’s too big! There’s too much! What’s under there? What world lies beneath?

Truth be told, I have a hard time even looking at the ocean in an atlas. You know, those big atlases you find in school libraries where you innocently look at countries and land masses and as you turn the pages suddenly there before you is the end of a land mass and… it’s… all… ocean… these two large, glossy pages of deep blue ocean staring right at you, swallowing you alive. It scares the bleep out of me! I seriously have to close the atlas, walk over to the magazine section, and read Seventeen for awhile.

Maybe I’ve watched too many movies (The Abyss, anyone?). Or maybe it represents even greater fears in me – fear of not being in control, fear of the unknown, fear of what I can’t see or understand.

So, it’s kind of ironic that when Bre and I sat down to brainstorm ideas for my EP Fundraiser Concert poster, I couldn’t get the image of the deep sea out of my mind. It’s been with me for awhile now, actually. I wrote “the fisherman” with the same image in mind. In fact, much of my writing over the past couple of years has been inspired by the sea. And not just the sea, but the sea at night. Double scary!!! I explained to Bre what I was picturing, and she took my ideas and merged them with her own artistic flair and eventually she made a beautiful watercolour painting for me, which was then turned into the poster you see above.

Funny that my fear is all over that poster. But, then again, maybe not so much anymore?

See the boat floating on the water? For the majority of the past three years, I’ve been in that boat. I’ve rowed like crazy some nights. I’ve casually paddled on other nights. And then there were nights when I gave up completely and just lay there at the bottom of the boat, staring up at the night sky, wondering if I’ll ever reach shore again, wondering if I was going to drown or starve or suffocate, wondering if the storm would win, wondering if God was there anymore of if He ever was in the first place. For awhile I even stopped trying to fix the leaks. That boat in the poster? That’s my boat.

The songs you will hear if you come to my concert in July or if you buy my EP in the Fall – these are the songs I wrote in that boat. Mostly.

These songs are filled with my prayers to God, my calling out to anyone who would listen, my heart ache, my loss. But also, more than all of that combined, these songs are filled with something more wild than desperation, more unruly than fear, and more final than death.

These songs are filled with hope.



Hope in the middle of the ocean at night? Hope in the loneliness of the sea when all seems lost? Hope in the middle of waters so deep that you can’t see the bottom, or even half-way to the top (if you’re an optimist, that is). Hope in a leaky, creaky, wooden boat seemingly so unfit for the sea that you figure you might as well just abandon ship altogether?

But aren’t I unfit for the sea too?

After I saw the finished painting I was in awe. It was more beautiful on paper than in my head and I loved everything about it. But I couldn’t help but wonder, “Where is the person? You can’t have a boat in the middle of the sea without a person in it.”

One day not too long ago, I found the person in the painting. That is to say, I found myself in the painting…

I am not in the boat because I am swimming!

That’s right, I finally abandoned ship and jumped into the water. I jumped into the middle of my fear and my loss and my heartache and I called out, with water in my mouth and salt in my hair, “I WILL LIVE!”

Sometimes to live, we have to face our fears dead-on.

What used to scare me more than almost anything – that deep, dark mystery holding up my leaky boat, became my home. I lived there, in the sea – drowning, thrashing, floating, swimming – and it’s mystery became my mystery. It’s darkness became my darkness. It’s song became my song. And in all of that, I found life. I found life in the loneliness of the night, in the solitude of the sea, in the vast depth of the mystery of something too big for me to comprehend. The unanswered questions and the questioned answers became a part of me, and I finally discovered peace. I discovered resurrection. I discovered life in Jesus, all over again. But, in some ways, for the first time.

I had to let go of everything, even my leaky wooden boat, but once I did, let me tell you what happened! Well, actually, how about I tell you through some music? Because there’s no other way for me to express it, and even music pales in comparison to what and Who I know deep down. But for me music comes the closest.

And so my songs were written in a boat but also in the ocean itself. And that’s why, in the end, they are songs of hope.

We spend our lives making art, taking in art, hearing art, seeing art, touching art, talking about art, and being art. In all of that we somehow express this beautiful collision of boat and water, of human being and Yahweh.

Through art, we say to each other, “I see a glimpse of this and I want you to see it too…”

The songs I will be singing on July 12th and then recording in the Fall are an accumulation of all of this, and more, and I am incredibly excited to share each of them with you! They are my expression of the sometimes fearful human experience entangled in the always extravagant love of a Creator God.

Perhaps it is the culmination of all art – visual, musical, written, spoken and sung – that gives us the best expression of this experience but, of course, not even that is complete. We live by expressing and we express by living. These songs (and hopefully many more in the future) are a part of my single note in the Song of all songs that rings out from before time began to long after it ends – the Song that echoes now in the mountains and in the valleys and, yes, even and especially in the oceans and in our hearts, too.

“Blessing and honour and glory and dominion to the One seated on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!” Revelation 5:13b

Concert details:
Date: July 12, 2014
Doors: 7:30pm
Cover: $10
Address: 335 Princess Avenue, Vancouver

To see and hear more beautiful Bre McDaniel art, click here.


© Stephanie Ratcliff and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Stephanie Ratcliff and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

the moon

This song came about because of a miracle.

I initially wrote “the moon” at the beginning of April on my guitar. I wrote it knowing that it was actually a song for a piano but since I didn’t have a piano, the guitar would have to do.

Two weeks later, a friend of mine offered me his Roland electric piano FOR FREE and suddenly, there in my living room, in all it’s glory, was a full-sized piano to play!

I should back up even further and tell you that for over a year prior I had been asking God for a free piano. Not consistently, but every so often as I would think of it, I would say to Him, “Father, I really want a piano so I can write more music. But I can’t afford one. If you think it’s a good idea, can You give one to me? Amen. Oh, also, thank you so much for cheddar cheese! Amen.”

I’m not saying we should be like Janis Joplin asking for a Mercedes Benz – we all know God isn’t Santa Claus – but I really do believe that God wants to hear about all the little and big things on our heart and He tells us to ask Him so… I did. I do. The reality is, He knows all our needs and wants and little whims and destructive demands and heart desires, and He sorts through them all and knows exactly what’s best for us with His love-saturated wisdom (or is it wisdom-saturated love?), and then provides accordingly, at exactly the right time, in exactly the right way. It’s why I just got given a piano for free and it’s also why I’m not yet married. This trust thing is sometimes a difficult adventure!

And that is how I got a piano!

Shortly after this beauty landed in my apartment, I sat down at it and “the moon” became my first piano piece. First of many, I hope.

Finally, last week I put a call out to my Facebook friends, asking them to send me photographs of the moon and other night-scene wonders. The photos you see in the slideshow are photos friends sent in. That makes this song extra extra special for me, and hopefully for you too because, after all, we’re all just people under the moon, writing songs and taking photographs and painting pictures, trying our utmost to somehow capture and communicate the beauty around us in whatever ways we can. What a privilege it is to collaborate with my fellow human beings as we all look up at the night sky, from different places on planet earth, and marvel together at the breath-taking beauty that is before and beyond us.

We weep and laugh and die and live under this night sky and, sometimes, we even fall in love.

Here are the lyrics in case you want to sing along:

the moon

we’re finding ways to catch the nighttime air
you feel like weightless breath running through my hair

let’s make our own net and climb on in
you light the fuse, i’ll wait for you

don’t go shooting stars with empties, no
just go light up ours, then come on home

we’ll fill up all our jars with fireflies
and open skies and answered why’s


we landed on the moon
star-struck hearts beating, beating two by two
we landed far too soon to say goodbye
don’t say goodbye

the sky is watching worlds run and play
and the fall and rise of suns marking yesterday

but time is without scars when i’m held by you
by you


© Stephanie Ratcliff and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Stephanie Ratcliff and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Running Against Depression | Running For Life


I hate running with a passion. I love sports, I love sweating, I love competition, but I hate running.

I actually used to hate walking as well, but I’ve matured and now I love walking. My mom tells me that when I was young and we’d go for a family walk, I’d cry all the way. Sometimes I’d even stop to cry, as in I’d just stop walking, sit down on the sidewalk, and cry myself silly. That’s how much I hated walking. But I guess teenagers can be like that. It was a mystery to my parents why I hated walking so much because in general I was a pretty active kid – I was always outside playing with my friends, skipping rope, biking, and building dams with the puddles and sand in the roadway. And in the winter, like a typical northern Ontario kid, I was outside building snow forts, skating on the lake and playing road hockey. I loved being active, but I hated walking.

My parents eventually figured out a solution to the problem of my lazy walking though, smart as they were. 


They gave me a ball. Yup, that’s all it took. If while I walked I had a ball to bounce, I was completely fine. Happy even. And then I started learning to walk without a ball in my hand, and then eventually I started enjoying walking for the sake of walking. I think I consider that to be the moment I emerged from adolescence into adulthood. That, or when I started liking horseradish sauce.

I started playing basketball when I was 12, and the same thing happened when I was forced to start running as a result of training for this sport. Give me a basketball to bounce, and I didn’t even notice I was running and could play basketball forever. But during long runs or those drills where all you do is run back and forth, back and forth… I was miserable. Despite this, my love for sports grew and, thankfully, most of the time I had a basket ball or a hockey stick in my hand and running was just a necessary evil on the way to sheer and utter athletic joy!

In my late twenties, when there was little-to-no opportunities for me to play sports but because I was still in need of a healthy heart, I decided to start running. Like, only run. Actually, the real reason is that a co-worker roped me into a 10K race and because our whole office was participating, my pride over-ruled my hatred and I agreed to do it. Oh, the misery! Oh, the pain! Oh, the sheer boredom! But I knew the positive effects of exercise and after the race was over I decided to keep running, now and then, on and off, wanting and willing it to become a way of life. But it never happened. I would run consistently for a couple of months and then I would stop for a year. And then I would start again and… the cycle (and battle) continued. Running was 99% grin-and-bear-it and 1% enjoyment. But I kept trying, hoping that running would eventually become like walking – something I hated becoming something I loved.

When I went to India I stopped running altogether. I think I would have started again eventually (well, probably not), but living in a new country with certain gender role and cultural expectations, I was unsure of how and where to begin. I also had so much culture shock and homesickness to deal with that the last thing I wanted to do was something that was so hard. Life was already hard enough. Whatever the case, after six months in India I got so sick that I had to leave and return home. 

I was severely depressed.There are many things people can do to help themselves out of depression and exercise is certainly one of them. The problem was I didn’t have any motivation to exercise. I didn’t have motivation to do much of anything. It’s the nature of depression – the very things you need to do to get better, you have no drive or desire to do. On one level, you can’t. You’re stuck in a hole and you can’t get out, no matter how much you want to. I don’t know about you, but for me it took utter and complete desperation to finally start climbing out.

Over a year into my battle with depression I finally hit rock bottom. I came to a place where my questions and feelings and thoughts went far beyond my experience in India or how I got there in the first place. I began to question God and life. It had been coming for awhile, small hints of my eventual crash showing up here and there, but especially in my mind. I began entertaining thoughts of hopelessness and Godlessness long before I started believing them. The constant pummelling of doubt and fear eventually wore me out. 

Truth was becoming slippery in my hands. I couldn’t hold onto it anymore and then, one day, not only was I not holding onto it, I didn’t even recognize it. It was lost. I was lost.

I remember that day clearly. I had gotten home from church and was tired, again, and so I lay down to sleep but instead my mind began wandering. It wandered through the day, past the present, past India, past the steps that led me there, and all the way back to the beginning. And I fell. It wasn’t gradual or graceful, it was an immediate drop off the cliff I had been standing next to for a long time. Was I pushed? Did I jump? I don’t know. But whatever the case, I was falling into hopelessness. Is God good? Can I trust Him? Is my whole life a sham? Is everything I thought I was and He was just a cruel, deceptive joke? Is God even real? Do I want to keep living? I fell not because I asked these questions; I fell because, on that day, I chose to answer them with the wrong kind of evidence.

(In the end, it doesn’t really matter if you fall. It just matters where you land.)

But no. Wait. There was some small hope left after all. I know this because after lying in this terrifying state of being for awhile, I did what only someone with hope would do. I reached out. I texted two friends and asked them to pray. It was the smallest of gestures and the tiniest act of rebellion against the night that I could muster. Small and tiny to me that is. To my Father in Heaven, it was a loud, resounding battle cry!

Hope can easily look like desperation, but it is still hope.

It was all I had left – faith the size of a mustard seed. One of these friends ended up calling me and I sobbed on the phone with her until I was a blubbering, beautiful mess. She made me say out loud what I was thinking; what I was believing. I refused at first because I was incredibly embarrassed and ashamed but then eventually I decided that I had nothing to lose anymore, not even my pride. And so I spoke into the light what I believed in the darkness. And as those ugly words sputtered from my broken heart, they were disarmed. 

And then I did something completely uncharacteristic, something I hadn’t done in a long, long time.

I pealed myself off the carpet, changed my clothes, and went for a run. 

And did I run! I ran like a mad woman! I ran and I cried and I ran some more. I yelled at God as I ran up hills and I cried at Him as I ran down. Let me tell you – it’s hard to breathe when your crying and running at the same time! I told God what I thought about… everything and everyone, including Him, including me. Somehow I was able to turn my hatred for running into a cry from the depths of my heart. I needed to run.

It was symbolic, mostly. The very thing that was so hard for me to do for so many years, that took so much motivation, determination and endurance was now a symbol of hope, freedom, defiance, and life. In the past, running beat me. I often gave up and just wouldn’t do it at all. But now, if I could make it through a run without giving up – something that was so hard for me to do – maybe I could make it through depression, too? Maybe I would come out alive? I hated both, but it was clear to me that day that I hated depression so much more.

I was running against depression.

I was running against the night and the darkness and the enemy and everything that held me down, stripped me bare and sold me into slavery. I was running with anger; I was running with fight. I was done with just lying there and taking a beating, I was done with believing lies, and I was done with living in the valley of the shadow of death.

For the first time since that crazy depression began, my soul got off the floor, stood up, put on its shoes, tied up its laces, and went for a run. 

It was no longer just my family and friends fighting for me – I was fighting for me!

On that day, I planted my little mustard seed of faith in the barren ground before me and asked God to move a mountain. I would not turn away but instead I would follow Him to the end. Even if this was all a big cosmic trick, even if I was being completely deceived by God, I would still follow. And so with nothing before me but some promises I read in an ancient living book, I once again chose Jesus. 

(That’s where I landed.)

The next morning I got up and went running again. The morning after that I did the same thing. And I started fighting in all different kinds of ways. 

I’ve been fighting ever since.

I have to tell you, I still hate running! But it’s is one of the ways I tell depression it doesn’t get to win. It’s also really healthy for me, of course, and it helps build strength in my whole being. Some days it is anger that fuels my run. Anger against an enemy who has tried so hard to destroy the plans God has for me but who has not and will not succeed. Anger against the ways in which our world remains in darkness, the many people around me still suffering depression and hopelessness. I run for me and for them. Maybe I run for you, too.

There is always hope.

And then I have days when I am not angry. Instead I am simply filled with awe that I am running at all, that I am no longer lying on a couch in a pit but instead I’m sweating outside in the fresh air, feeling the exhilaration of God’s love fill my lungs and heart. As I run, I run towards Him. It is as if I can see Him in the distance and with depression behind me, I run to Him with my worshipping legs. In this way, running has become both an act of rebellion against depression and a declaration of freedom and life in Christ. LIFE! I experience Christ’s defeat over the enemy, sin and death when I’m out pounding the pavement and not lying on my floor or in a grave. 

I guess you could say, I run against depression and I run for life.

At the end of the day, I hate depression, oppression and death so much more than I hate running. So I’ll keep running, until I run all the way home. 

** Postscript: I wrote these reflections in November 2012, seven months after returning home from India, still in a dark season of life. Running, of course, was not the cure of depression nor can I mark this time as the end of depression. There were more dark days ahead, more battles, and more healing to be had. But the truth found in these reflections remains and I believe this truth today as much as I did then. Though I am only human, with ups and downs along the narrow path of faith paved through wide open spaces, I am coming to understand and accept the things I can and can’t control.

The “cure” for depression is a recipe of simple and purposeful acts mixed with deep and complex mysteries – acts we choose to live out every day and mysteries that hold onto us with faithful, timeless love. But this not a recipe that will make us completely full and satisfied in the here and now. It is only an imperfect appetizer we eat until that day we finally feast in heaven with Jesus. On that day, all things will be made right and brought to wholeness, including us. On that day, we will not have to run anymore.

Running continues to be a mental battle for me. I sat in my workout clothes for over three hours this past Saturday before I went for a run! I still don’t run a lot. I believe exercise should also be enjoyable, and so I’ve found other enjoyable ways to stay in shape. But because running is such a huge mental battle for me, when I do it, once a week or so, it is also a huge victory! It’s a helpful indicator of my mental health. I will not let running defeat me. I will run! That is to say, I will not let depression defeat me. I will live!

There’s no ball in my hand when I run now – no distractions. I look at running square in the eye and I do it. It is no longer just about running.

We are not children anymore, pacified by distraction and humoured by false realities. When it comes to choosing between death and life, these are the tricks and the deceptors; these are the numbing agents that keep us lying on the floor; these are the short-lived bandage solutions that only cover up the long-lived wounds of our hearts. Friends, as the author of Hebrews reminds us, let us strip ourselves of these things, lay ourselves before the only One who can ever truly heal us, and then… let’s go for a run!


© Stephanie Ratcliff and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Stephanie Ratcliff and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Image courtesy of

What Do You Need?


I worked at a retirement home last year. It was the kind of retirement home in line with the Canadian Dream (aka The American Dream, but Canadian-style, with hockey talk and lots of dry wit) and was affectionately called, “a cruise ship that doesn’t go anywhere”. This retirement home had it all – beautiful suites, three prepared meals a day, planned activities and outings, building security and emergency help with just the push of a button. The irony of my employment there didn’t hit me until I was a few weeks into the job. But when it hit, it hit me square in the heart.

You see, exactly a year before, I was living in New Delhi, India, befriending slum children. I was no longer reading about them or studying them from a distance – I was talking to them and hugging them and thinking and praying intently about how I could help them. These ragamuffin children and their families captured my heart from the beginning. They were poor, hungry, cold (December and January in North India is freezing!) and many were abused and neglected. Their immediate needs were obvious – a growling stomach speaks louder than words – and I was there to help meet their needs, on a variety of different levels, in a variety of different ways. As I walked the streets of New Delhi and even now as I think about it, I knew exactly what I wanted to do and the person I wanted to be. I wanted to serve the orphans and the widows, the “poorest of the poor”, and I was ready to give all I could, to be, as we say, “the hands and feet of Jesus”.  I wanted to be that person.

Then life and illness happened and I found myself not in India, but back in Canada where the landscape of people and social problems looked completely different.  After an eight-month recovery, there I found myself, working at retirement home in Vancouver, answering questions about what was on the dinner menu or what time the Rummikub tournament started. I was serving people who paid more money for a month of rent than some people in India would have in their entire lifetime. I quickly realized – this was not the person I wanted to be; these were not the people I wanted to serve. I began to resent contributing to a system of so much waste and “first-world problems” when there were people dying on the streets of New Delhi. 

If you’ve travelled to a developing country before, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

How short-sighted our hearts can be.

A few weeks after starting my job there, I had an epiphany of sorts when I was getting ready for work one day. I was angrily mulling these things over in my heart once again and telling Jesus about them – telling Him how it was because I wasn’t sure He knew – and suddenly I felt the tug of His Spirit. 

“Steph, what do they need?” 

“I don’t know what they need! They have everything! They are rich senior citizens living it up in the eleventh hour of their lives!”

“Steph, what do they need?”

“They don’t need anything! Most of them know You and follow You. They’ve got it together!”

“Steph, what do they need?” 

And then I stopped responding because suddenly I realized that I was seeing these people with my own two eyes and not the eyes of my Father. Their Father. Our Father. And then our Father graciously and gently gave me a wee peak into my heart and I saw my arrogance, self-righteousness, disappointment and compassion and love, too. It was a messy conglomeration of various parts of me swimming together, so intertwined that I could not separate the redeemed from the yet-to-be-redeemed. So I forgot about the rich and poor people of the world for a moment and instead looked inside at my own rich and poor. The poverty and opulence in my heart, living together side by side as neighbours do, just seconds away from dying of starvation and living in abundance, all at the same time, in the same yard, at the same dinner table. I realized then that my employment situation was not ironic at all – that God had very purposefully placed me at this retirement home to teach me a very important lesson: 

Every person has a need.

We’re all little creatures – little creations – who may wear different kinds of clothes and live in different kinds of buildings (or no building at all) and drive different kinds of cars (or no car at all) but, if we can be so liberated to look past the weary, one-dimensional edges of these things for just a moment, or God-willing for much longer, we can see that delicately resting underneath our skin and bones are things that we creatures all share in common – a soul, a spirit, a thirst for knowledge and adventure and wholeness, a voice, a heart, and an insatiable longing to be home – with each other and with our Creator.  We make thing too complicated sometimes, as if we need to sophisticate our lives so that we can cover up the fact that we are not sophisticated at all. The truth is, we are breathing next to each other, giving and receiving from each other and, if we so choose, seeing into each other – rich or poor or both at the same time – and reaching out to each other with whatever we can in hand and in heart, hoping desperately it all finds a place to land; we find a place to land.

If it’s true that we’re all on mission no matter where we live in the world, and I believe it is, then I needed to start listening and looking for the needs of the people that lived at the “cruise ship that doesn’t go anywhere.” I started asking Jesus to open up my eyes to see what He saw and to give me courage to act or speak or do nothing. This was my part to play in the story. My part wasn’t to direct my steps to a particular country or people or to define what “the poorest of the poor” meant from my small perspective, but rather to just be where He placed me, and in that place to ask that simple, life-changing question: 

“What do they need?”

“What do they need?” I asked while driving to work. “What do they need?” I asked as I listened intently to a woman complaining about how dry and tasteless the chicken at dinner was that evening. “What do they need?” I asked as I plunged toilets and cleaned poop out of the bird cage. “What do they need?” I asked as I listened to dear Mary* tell me the same story over and over again, her beautiful rambling slowly revealing her dementia. “What do they need?” I asked as I played Rummikub with the ladies at night and playfully accused Beverly of cheating (she didn’t, but I was losing.) “What do they need?” I asked as I sat on the floor next to Gwen, a 96 year old woman who had just fallen and broken her hip. “What do they need?” I asked as I prayed with Barbara on her way to the hospital, unsure if I would ever see her again. “What do they need?” I asked as I heard the news that Carl, a man I had finally had my first conversation with the night before, died the morning after (surely I didn’t talk him to death?). “What do they need?” I asked.

What do you need? What do I need?

Why did I listen to someone complaining about dry chicken, especially when there are people in India (and many other places around the world) dying of starvation? Because after the dry chicken complaint was given, we talked about what she used to cook for dinner when she owned her own house, and then conversation turned to stories of her husband and kids and grandkids, and ended with how much she missed her husband, who had passed away ten years prior. Her loneliness reached out to my own and, for just a little while, we became companions on the same road. I listened and hugged her and cried with her and assured her that she would see him again, someday. I told her that there was still purpose for her being here, and that she was still needed by others. She thanked me for taking the time to listen, and I thanked her for sharing her stories with me. As she wheeled her walker away, I thought:

That is what she needed.

That is what I needed, too.

And I went back to cleaning poop out of the bird cage.

I worked at the retirement home for only eight months, but those eight months were so rich, I really couldn’t have asked for anything more. The beautiful mystery of giving and receiving was, in those months, incredibly healing to my fragile state and to their fragile states as well. We welcomed each other in, not because we wore certain clothes or lived in certain houses, but because we all needed something, and we at least understood that much about each other. What that something was, was ours to discover…

It is wherever we are.


* All names have been changed to protect the elderly.


© Stephanie Ratcliff and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Stephanie Ratcliff and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Image courtesy of

the fisherman (demo)

One of the projects I’m working on right now is making a bunch of demos of songs I’ve written. Why? Good question!

First, they’re being sent to the band I’m playing with in July, so that everyone can learn the songs. And then, they’ll be heading over to the music studio I’ll be recording in, come early Fall. I’m so excited! Well, I don’t know if these exact demos will be used, but I’m practicing making them, which is a step in the right direction.

So, here’s the first demo I’ve made for a song I wrote last year called, “The Fisherman”. This recording was done with my acoustic guitar, my accordion, and my voice. By using the magic of Garageband, I added a couple of effects and layered my voice a bit and … well, have a listen! The final version of this song will have some sweet percussion, a bass guitar, an electric guitar, a banjo, and gang vocals. I absolutely cannot wait to play this song with the band this summer and then record it in the Fall!

More to come on all of that, but for now, keep the date “July 12th” in mind because I’ll be hosting a fundraiser that night in Vancouver (to raise money to record an EP)… and I’d love for you to be there!

Here are the lyrics, in case you want to sing along:

i am a fisherman
my calling as a child
when i heard the ocean tales
of life and death and miles
its salt is on my lips
and strewn throughout my hair
my blood runs deep with loneliness
but i had to chase you there

while i’m out at sea
my family on the shore
forgotten or just left behind
the rich became the poor
in rain or shine i cast
my skin is but a net
naked i came and so i’ll leave
i’ll leave you what i get

the laughing of the waves
against my wooden frame
tells me there’s life there way down deep
and i’ll see you again


© Stephanie Ratcliff and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Stephanie Ratcliff and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

grown up

I posted this on the youtubes awhile back, but wanted to link it to this here blog, so everything is in one place. And so you can hear it again (or maybe for the first time)! This is a “love song”, but you can probably tell that. It’s about love that waits, and sees all that is happening on the inside and outside and longs for something different – something more – and then waits again. But not with anxiety. With hope. Sometimes that’s hard, eh?

Special thanks to my friend Ian Cromwell for his stellar work on viola. The original recording of this song was using the midi strings provided on Garageband and he heard and gasped! and then offered to take out the midi strings and put in real strings. What a guy! Thank-you, Ian! You can check out his music at:

(Also, he’ll be playing a gig with me this summer that I’m VERY excited about. But more on that later…)

Here are the lyrics, in case you want to sing along:

grown up

what’s in a face
i follow the trace of a tear from a crack
in my heart to the place where we plant
to the place i call dibs on you

there’s so many ways
so many names that i could have worn
could have born could have sworn
that i lost you long ago

but as it is
and as it will be
we’re more than a means to an end
we’re an end to a start
and as it is
and as it will be
we’re all grown up now
except for the hope in our hearts

i’ve held on real tight
my knuckles are white as the flag i have flown
i have sown, i have covered the dead
and prayed for life again

but we’ve got what it takes
though i know the stakes are high and we try
and ask why as we fall but i see
it in your face


© Stephanie Ratcliff and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Stephanie Ratcliff and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

sticks and bricks and glue

I want to sing to you today. 🙂

Written in November 2013, this song was inspired by snow-capped Alps, rumbling trains, dark tunnels, flying birds, hope-filled air, glorious sunshine, and things we were never meant to hold.

(It cuts off abruptly at the end because I really had to cough. So I did. Believe me, you don’t want to see that.)

Here are the lyrics, in case you want to sing along:

sticks and bricks and glue

take note of all the courage in your heart
its not strung up with lights – but its the trickling of a start
and starting there will end for the most part
the drought that feeds you full of doubt

i can’t tell if we’re coming clean
some days it feels more like we just got pushed into the stream
but i let go of things when i see you
things of sticks and bricks and glue

‘cause you’re in the middle of my dreams at night
and you make it seem alright
and we’ll find a way to make it to some light
to be held on by light
to rest in all this light

so winding roads and crooked feet aside
we’ll find new air to breathe as we climb the mountainside
and if we lose our grip and want to hide
well, our arms were made to fly


© Stephanie Ratcliff and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Stephanie Ratcliff and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.