A Lesson Learned: volume 4

You’ll never stop having conversations with strangers.

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June 2016

Just a couple weeks before I left, I posted on Facebook: what advice would you give a girl who’s never flown before, but is about to spend a day and a half getting from Tennessee to the other side of the Pacific?

The results were great. I had multiple book suggestions. Neck pillow links. One friend even went so far as to tell me about the best colored pencils to use for coloring books. I sifted through and found these suggestions helpful— honestly, I had more than I needed to keep me occupied for the several days of combined travel throughout the summer. People really pulled through to answer that one little question.

One comment that really resonated with me sounded something like this: talk to people. Talk to people in the airport, on the plane, in your city. Don’t be afraid to speak up and to listen to the responses.

That one was different from the rest. There was no way to add that to a shopping cart or worry about whether or not it was going to fit into my carry-on. All it carried was a wrecking ball that tore through my comforts and challenged me do well with what every possibility I had to speak Truth and Grace into all people in all nations.

I kept that advice in my backpack pocket the entire summer. And for the first real, tangible time in my life I knew: I want to talk to them. Lord, give me any reason to talk to them.

:: :: ::

August 2016

Getting back to work is difficult. You know— you get a taste of the world and what you want to do. You meet people who change your mind about the things you thought you believed by just the things they say. You look down at the sky as you fly and gaze up at skyscrapers above. You live from a suitcase and wear the same 5 outfits. You navigate subways and you pray for the students you’ll see every morning. And you realize: this is what I want. This life brim-full of love and purpose. This. All of this.

And when you get back home, you get back to just living. To working. To going to school. To putting gas in your car and walking through your oversized closet. You get to these things, and you realize you don’t want them. You want nonstop love for others and curious conversation.

My fear was this: that my life would go back to just feeling like I was doing just enough to get by. It was crippling to think that I could possibly miss every lesson from the summer because I would soon grow too accustomed to my routine again.

The only way I knew to reconcile it was to speak up and listen. Repeating the advice I had carried in that backpack all summer, I began talking to people. Strangers. Anyone who looked like they would listen, and even those who looked they wouldn’t.

The first time I remember speaking up in the States, it was a dad who had come into my store to shop for his little ones. As his wife did the shopping, he sat in the window. He looked bored, and I did what I had learned to desire: talk. At first, I think he was taken aback by my talking to him. But we realized we had both been in Hong Kong around the same time, and our conversation kept going— 10, 15, 20 minutes? Who was counting? By the time his wife came around, his tone had changed and his smile was warmer. He didn’t say it, but I could tell we both were glad to have gotten to talk about the things of Asia for a few minutes.

He waved as he walked away. And that was the first time I realized the possibility there was to learn about strangers, even in my most routine and mundane places.

:: :: ::

Worship services were also different coming back. In such a short time, I had learned to crave the smallness of worshipping in that little room on the outskirts of the city, and rejoicing as a brother brought the Word in Cantonese. Often times, I had no clue what was being said— but my Spirit worshipped. Those were some of the most intimate moments of rest and wrestling I have ever experienced.

Sometime in later August, my best friend and my boyfriend— Amy and Travis, for those who don’t know my story— drove me to a worship service in Nashville called Kairos. Although we normally sit in the bleachers up top, this time we decided to sit at the circle tables on the floor.

The thing about these seats is they expose you. Put you in the front, in direct line of sight for all the eyes peering from the bleachers behind. Only the brave sit here, it feels like.

And as good Christian fashion follows, we chose the empty seats at a too-large table where a couple of guys sat. We were strangers, but they welcomed us, learned our names, and wanted to hear about us. And as we sat waiting eagerly for just that one hour of worship and talking across the table, I learned they had been in Hong Kong the same week Amy and I had been— Tsim Sha Tsui, to be exact. I lit up, as the road and skyline and buses came to my mind. I remembered coming to this place numerous times to visit and meet with new friends, and I wondered how many times I could have passed the guy told us about a girl in the church we sat in who works within the teaching English community in Nashville. He gave me her name and encouraged me to reach out to her.

Amy and I looked at each other, and I know what we were both thinking: what?

As we moved into worship, my heart was so moved to praise, praise, praise. What are the odds that of all the places in the world, we would all wind up in Hong Kong? And what were the odds that as we came back to our “normal lives,” we would both be led to a worship on the outskirts of the city on a Tuesday night in August? That we would find a table to share, and be bold enough to speak up and listen? That I would know the street name and have this crazy little dream on my heart to teach with my life? How could those guys possibly know that?

:: :: ::

November 2016

I met an Asian couple at work. I tried to mark what language tumbled off their lips, but I couldn’t tell— Cantonese? Mandarin? It’s been so long since I’ve even heard a hello. When the couple got to register, I asked them. And admitted that I couldn’t tell.

The guy chuckled and said, “Oh, they’re very, very different!”

I responded, “I know, but I can’t hear it! I try so hard, but I cannot. You all are much more talented than me!”

He chuckled again and nudged the girl beside him, “Neither can she.”

We laughed, I told them to have a good night, and they walked out still laughing.

Just a few weeks later, another Asian family came in. Again: I tried to listen and answer whether it was Cantonese or Mandarin coming off their lips. And again, I couldn’t tell. I helped the mom and the boys to a fitting room. While I meandered around the store, waiting for another task, I noticed the oldest girl also waiting for her mom and brothers to finish in the fitting room. So, I did my usual and started a conversation.

I don’t remember what I asked. I probably defaulted to my usual, “where are you originally from?” And from there, we just talked.

I learned she’s 18 and has lived in America since she was 3. She doesn’t remember China, but hopes she can go back one day. Honestly, she spent more time asking me questions that I did. She asked what I thought about Hong Kong, and what I did there. She just smiled, and nodded. “That’s so cool,” she kept saying.

How long did we stand there? 10, 15, 20 minutes? Customers milled around us, but I wasn’t there. I was so present in talking with her as we dreamed about Asia together. It felt so close and in reach. And as she talked, I heard it in her voice: she so wanted to be there too.

When her mom and brothers finally emerged from the fitting room, she told me she was glad she met me. And before she turned to walk away, I told her, “Yeah, I loved talking to you. Thanks so much for that. And hey— maybe we’ll run into each other on the streets of Hong Kong one day. Who knows, right?”

She smiled, and agreed, “Yeah, who knows.”

I’m sure she thought I was joking, and maybe I thought so too. But honestly, after all the uncanny coincidences and people I’ve met the last several months, I’m not so sure anymore. Who says that’s impossible?

:: :: ::

January 2017

I’m driving to Indiana for a week with Travis with his family. I’m so eager to get there, because this place has become a home away from home. Not to mention, the drive up I-65 is much easier today than it used to be, and I’m glad for that because at the end of it are days of rest, catching up, and gearing up for the work waiting in Tennessee.

As usual, I stop in Elizabethtown somewhere just south of Louisville. I head toward the bathroom, shoot my mom a text, and pay for just a few bucks of gas. Once I get back outside, I hear the man beside me singing. Not loudly or obnoxiously— but I certainly know he’s there.

As I throw away the trash in my cup holders and begin pumping gas, the singing stops. In its place comes the question, “Is that your Young Life sticker?”

I peer around the pump to see the singing-man pointing to my back windshield, and looking to me for an answer. “Yeah, it is! Do you lead?” I respond.

He stammers and tells me no, not quite. But, he knows people, and knows the ministry. As he continues talking, he tells me that he’s on his way to Nashville to play a show. “No way— that’s where I’m coming from now!” I smile, pointing the the tri-star on my shirt.

His face lights up as he asks what school I serve as a Young Life leader at, and then moves to ask me if I’m going to school to do full-time ministry. I tell him I’m at a Bible college, and he finishes my sentence— “Oh yeah, what is it called— Free Will Baptist Bible College, right? I know people from there.”

I nod, and for just a couple minutes, we chatted. We talked about our city and the ministry we’re at work in. And as I’m hoping this conversation won’t end so soon, we pull the receipt tape from our pumps. Still several feet away from each other, we move toward our car doors. He blesses me. He tells me, “God bless your ministry and your work in school. I know it’s gotta be hard, but keep at it. God bless you, because you’re doing a good thing. It was so nice meeting you.”

Now, it’s my turn to stammer. I thank him for the encouragement, and hope that he enjoys his singing gig at Puckett’s that night. And within just a couple minutes, he is heading toward I-65 South to Nashville while I’m on I-65 North to Louisville completely floored by what’s just happened.

What are the odds that I would meet a stranger who knows my city and my ministry? What are the odds we would meet at a gas station in the middle of Kentucky? What are the odds that our worlds could cross like that?

And it took me about 10 miles before I realized: I hadn’t even caught his name.

:: :: ::

This has become a regular thing for me— you know, talking to strangers. That thing all our parents taught us not to do as children.

It began with Asia, but moved toward Muslims and Americans and Australians. Usually, I start conversations by asking the simple question: what language are you speaking? or where are you from? From there, our talk moves and I usually have no hesitation in asking questions for as long as they’ll let me–

Where are you from? How long have you lived here? Do you think you’ll go back home soon? Do you have family and friends there? Do you miss it?

And other times, people reach out to me first. And again: I have no hesitation in sharing stories with them for as long as they’ll let me. I’m open to hearing people. Honestly, even more than just being open to the idea, I’m so hungry for it— to ask, to hear, to grow, to find those uncanny coincidences woven in our lives. I’m so, so hungry for those moments of complete recognition that this world is so much closer than I ever believed.

As I’ve noticed this the last few months, I’ve been reminded of that advice given me so long ago by a friend: talk to people. Talk to people.

This is probably the most honest Truth my Father has ever defined in my life: I’m an introvert that loves people. I won’t compete for attention in a crowd, and I won’t pretend like somedays it isn’t difficult work to speak up and hear. But today, more than I was ever told I could, I relish any opportunity to hear a person’s story and get to know them. I might need to take time to myself later, but I could never stay there alone.

For a long time I let people tell me I was shy and afraid to talk to people, but through my Father’s persistent whispering, I have come to realize that I love people. I love talking. I love hearing. I love every little interaction that happens me between me and another thinking, feeling, breathing human being that leaves me in a deeper wonder of the work we were made to be. And that began in Asia.

Whether that’s in a gas station in Kentucky, at the mall in Nashville, at a church on Tuesday night— I’m eagerly waiting for these uncanny coincidences that can only be explained by a God who does a good work. Friends, I wish I could share every story of every person I’ve happened to run into the last several months. If I knew it would give you even an ounce of encouragement those moments gave me, I would have painted them all on canvas and put them on the wall to display.

Because here’s the thing: I thought traveling would make my world feel bigger. In some ways, it has. But more than anything, this world feels so much more in reach. Tangible. Small. Full of uncanny coincidences and people who have walked the same streets as me.

The trip is over, but the talks are not. I’ve met too many strangers who are doing the same things and searching for the same purposes as me to not believe that we are all in this life thing together—

And I can’t shake it out of my bones: there are still some 7 billion strangers to run into.

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A Lesson Learned: volume 3

You’ll miss a place isn’t called home.

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August 1, 2016

The signature drink of Hong Kong is milk tea. It’s on every restaurant menu and the go-to drink for the natives. I tried it during one of my first nights in the city, and paired it with a cheesy Ramen-style noodle. The noodles were a 10/10. But as for the drink… I’ll put it this way: I took small sips the entire dinner, and left a nearly full cup on the table when we left.

I told my native friend, Kori, about the disappointing experience later. She assured me the restaurant I had first tried it was no good. I believed her, and with hesitance, I tried it again at another restaurant. And then another. And then before I knew it, I’d ask my friends how to say “milk tea” in Cantonese and practice muttering it under my breath nearly every time we sat at a restaurant.

After trying it several times both piping hot in a white mug and ice cold in a clear glass, I finally admitted that my friend was right. This stuff was good.

Just at the end of my time in Asia, I asked Kori about the process of making milk tea. She giggled and told me how it involves, of all things, a stocking. As she explained, I listened in wonder and knew then this couldn’t come back to the States with me. My heart sank a little, because this was my first taste of goodbye.

So, the last day I was in the city — just an hour before I was leaving for the airport and as a coming typhoon approached — I was weaving through aisles and people in the grocery store. I looked high and low, scouring the shelves for a packaged form of this milk tea drink. And finally, sitting in a purple box with individualized packets, was Lipton’s version of the drink. Willing to hold on to any fragments of this place I could, I picked up the box and wondered, “Which luggage can this fit in?”

:: :: ::

September 27, 2016

That purple box I bought during that coming typhoon has been sitting on my shelf for nearly two months now. I glance at it daily, but haven’t opened it. If I can be honest with you, I’ve been scared to. Trying it means being disappointed that it doesn’t taste like it does in Hong Kong and knowing that I won’t be able to try the good stuff for a long, long time.

But today, from my dorm room in Nashville, I opened that purple box with Cantonese symbols all over it for the first time. And sure enough, as I stirred the powdery mixture in the hot water and slowly sipped the drink, I knew it wasn’t the same.

Even after two, three, and four sips, I couldn’t shake it: It wasn’t the same.

I reached for my closest connection to the other side of the world, and texted Kori.

“Do you remember that milk tea I bought just before I left? The stuff in the purple box?” I asked.

“I think I remember,” she responded.

“Well, it’s not as good as it is in Hong Kong and I’m so sad. Haha.”

That’s why you should come again.”

And just like the first time when she told me I should give milk tea another chance, I knew she was right this time too.

:: :: ::

I believe in the power of a story. And I’ve spent years smiling in wonder when my friends’ faces light up as they remember their own stories from around the world—

I’ve held their pictures of stories across the sky and sea, and I’ve watched their fingers point to put names to the faces on their screens. I’ve heard about their hellos and goodbyes, and everything in between. I’ve heard about their moments of laughter, and the ones that brought their hands up to praise.

But, I’ve also heard their voices shake when they get to the part where their heart had to shatter. When the goodbyes sunk in too deep, and the story had to write the closing lines on the chapter before turning the page and starting anew.

Those years of listening to others share their stories abroad prepared me to admit to you: I miss a place that isn’t called home. What used to feel comfortable and make me giddy now makes me feel like home is an entire world to know. And it’s full of people to be heard, stories to be told, and words to be written.

This is the part in my own story when my voice shakes and my heart shatters because the world is so much more beautiful than any word my weak hands could pen. This is the part where my own goodbyes have sunk too deep, and the story I lived and loved feels some 8,000 miles away.

:: :: ::

This isn’t about milk tea.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s good. And I implore you to try it if you are ever in a place that enjoys it too. But at the core of these words is something so much bigger than the taste of a drink; it’s a reminder of the place that loved me well in such a short time–

It’s a reminder of that first night in the city, when I gazed at the beautiful lights up ahead and overhead, and I couldn’t shake the words from out of my bones: I’m in Hong Kong. Of all the things I could be doing, this is where You’ve called me. Oh, let me know this place.

It’s a reminder of my friend Kori’s voice, as we shared story after story on a ferry ride to Macau and when she held my hand as we navigated through the city. She was so eager to show me the city every weekend after that, and I know I couldn’t have had as much fun without her.

It’s a reminder of the English lessons I prepared nightly. The endless questions I answered daily. The constant hope that a student would invite me to lunch. The joy when they did.

It’s a reminder of the trains we travelled on, the strangers we passed, and the dreams that took shape as we watched this world around us and knew that there were far bigger things coming ahead than anything we left behind.

It’s a reminder of that day when our students waved goodbye and we turned to board the train, and I heard their voices until I lost them in the crowd. I cried on the train and turned to my roommate, “This is hard, and I’m not ready for this.”

And in the days that followed until that final flight out of Hong Kong, when I hoped I had lived it and known it well.

:: :: ::

October 9, 2016

There’s a Tennessee state flag hanging beside the Hong Kong flag in my room, and there are lights stranded lights behind them both. I spend a lot of nights talking to Jesus about them, because I am honestly still trying to figure out how my heart can be here and there at the same time.

I always come back to Hong Kong during these quiet moments. The smell of the mini-bus we took to school, the road signs pointing to familiar places, the language I couldn’t understand, the students that followed me in class everyday— I miss it. My own voice sounded different when I was there, and I can’t stop thinking about the faces of my friends as we shared these moments together. Every color and sound in their world resonate in vivid, vivid memory, and I can’t shake it.

I won’t write it pretty when I tell you that there are many nights when my heart aches at the realization that I don’t know when I’ll live it again. It’s the kind of ache that gets you deep in your heart, and reminds you of a goodness that you’ve lived and the hurt that came when it was taken away. It’s like forgetting about your favorite song, or missing that boy that never gave you a goodbye. Every day that passes takes the memories further away, and it makes me want to weep because I want to hold those memories forever. And by the end of it, the heaviness makes you believe that the only way to satisfy it is to go back.

And you know, I could go back, right? I know how to navigate airports a little better. I can talk the man into giving me my visa at the border without flenching anymore. I remember what to expect during landing and take off. I know how to speak with more clarity and patience so I can be understood, and they can be heard. I could do it. Now that I’ve done it once, it doesn’t feel so impossible and far now.

Yet somehow, I know I can’t. Not right now anyways. And that makes the desire to go even wilder— to know you could go, but can’t.

Hong Kong became more than a star on a map back in June. It became a wide place of people with real, vivid dreams and needs. It’s the place where my Father taught me about His plans, His people, and His daughter, me; my world grew bigger because His work absolutely destroyed every plan I thought I had.

And honestly, it is the most heart-wrenching, yet beautiful thing that He could have given me. He gave me a place to show me how to dream a big reality, and a people to quickly learn how to love with abandon and sacrifice. Even though I’m on this side of it, I can’t be upset at Him. No matter how much it hurts to be on this side of the give-and-take- away, I can’t be upset. Because now, the sweetest thing I can do is thank Him unceasingly for a trip that made saying goodbye so difficult and made moving on break my heart. Hong Kong broke my heart.

I should have known this was coming, but honestly, no story could have prepared me to step here myself. I didn’t know I came back to Tennessee to reread journals, print pictures, and think often about a place that invited me in on a little work visa. I didn’t know I came back to dream about the people I saw, and to want so badly to share a cup of milk tea with them one more time.

Until then, I’ll continue checking my clock and adding 13 hours just so I can remember what it’s like to be on the other side of the world again. I’ll see my friends’ pictures on Instagram, tagged in places throughout that massive city, and smile, “I can’t wait to be there again.” I’ll remember when my tourist visa was renewed to November, and I’ll dream up what it would have been like to take them up on that offer…

And I’ll settle for that milk tea in the purple box while hoping Kori is awake to respond to my texts.

A Lesson Learned: volume 2

Being at the heart of a Good and Perfect will doesn’t mean you won’t miss the things you know most.

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Leaving home is always hard for me. Something about saying goodbye, and leaving my place of comfort and safety hits me in the feels. And when I left for Hong Kong back in June, I did so knowing I would miss out on weeks of life at home.

It’s not that Joelton, Tennessee is anything the significant, but the people there are the ones who have rooted me and helped me grow. And I left knowing that I wouldn’t be there to grow with them in those few weeks. I wouldn’t be able to laugh with them. Swap the stories over coffee. Wrap my arms around their necks when I missed them.

Leaving Joelton meant leaving all of that, and trading it for some 8,000 miles and limited phone service. This probably should have been hard lesson number one.

:: :: ::

On my second morning of teaching in Hong Kong, I woke up before my alarm rang and saw a text from Kay announcing the birth of Han’s baby.

With crusty eyes and a sleepy hand, I turned the screen away from me and said, “What?” before rolling over and falling back asleep. When I woke up again later, this time in tune with my alarm, my first thought ran through my head like a dream I had almost forgotten: Han had her baby. Han had her baby. Baby Rhonan is finally, finally here.

The thought repeated as I got dressed, washed my face, and brushed my teeth. And as I began my routine commute on the MTR toward Tai Wai, and then to Kowloon Tong and Choi Hung where we left to get on the mini bus, the thought ran relentlessly through my head.

While I had been sleeping in the night, my best friend had welcomed a new piece of life— created for wonderful and mighty purposes— into the world, knowing that he would impact every life around him and change the world in his own ways. Although I knew he would come while I was overseas and far from home, it hadn’t quite hit me that I would miss it.

But, they sent me pictures. Gave me a brief summary of the labor story. Told me how much he weighed. Assured me he was a cute baby. As I read and tried to piece it together as best I could, I came back to this thought: I wasn’t there. I missed it.

And when all I wanted to do was wrap my arms around my sweet Han and her baby boy, my heart hurt, knowing it would be another 4 weeks before our triumphal greeting.

:: :: ::

Just a couple days later, and it was our first Friday of teaching. This meant I had survived 5 full days in a foreign classroom, and my journal pages had lines of written memories and prayers to prove it.

After the first part of our lesson, during our brief mid-morning break, I reached for my phone hidden in my desk to check the time. Before my eyes even saw the clock, I saw the missed FaceTime calls from Kay. “Wow, she must really want to say hey,” I thought. I looked at the phone for a few seconds before I knew how, or if, I should respond during the class day.

I had a few more minutes of break, and although long phone calls from Kay are expected, several in a row are not. Hoping everything was okay, I told myself, “Just 5 minutes. Just a 5 minute call.” I stood by the window, listened for those high pitched FaceTime beeps, and waited for the call to connect. When it finally did, I saw my best friend’s smiling face for the first time in two weeks. We said hey and hi, and some of my students gathered around to wave hey and hi too.

As sweet as this moment was, it was short lived. We couldn’t see a thing past the “Low Connection” message and a black screen. I had forgotten to warn her that my service in Hong Kong was not what it is back home. Even if I couldn’t see her moving in perfect time, it was so good to hear her voice in a place so far from home and my familiar places.

In the midst of the chaos of pleading with the service to pick up our call, I turned around in time to see my team leader walking in the room. Just when I thought the timing for everything happening in those few moments couldn’t be worse, the girl who is responsible for my actions in the school and for my place on the team walked in to hear my students loudly enjoying their break time, their teacher trying to pick up a phone call, and absolutely no order or structure to hold it all together.

As Kay continued to get my attention and sync up our words, I quickly told her, “I can’t talk, gotta go, bye, love you!” and hung up. I can’t say that went in the journals as my most graceful moment.

As we left break time and moved into our second portion of teaching for the morning, I checked the time once more on my phone. And again, I didn’t see the clock. Instead, I saw the notifications from Kay and this time, she had sent me pictures.

I didn’t even open them. It dawned on me what the purpose of our call had been. Even though my heart stopped and every thought in my head froze, I knew I needed to keep going. There was a classroom of 23 students looking to me for the next hour and 40 minutes. I couldn’t think about or look at the photos that waited for me on the other side of that lock screen.

But as soon as class was over, I reached for my phone. And sure enough, my predictions proved correct.

Kay was engaged to marry the man of her dreams. With a ring on her finger and a smile on her face, this was my announcement to the moment that we had dreamt up for years now. My head raced around and around.

Yes!

It finally happened!

How! Is this real life!

What!

I’m so happy!

She has a ring!

We can wedding plan!

Oh, I know she’s so happy!

Jordan did real good!

How did I not guess this?!

AHHHH!

Even though these thoughts, and so many more took over every thought I had, at the center was that raw feeling of knowing I missed it. I missed probably the sweetest day of my best friend’s life. And again: my heart hurt knowing that all I wanted was to squeal and hear the entire story, but it would be another 4 weeks until I could be there to rejoice with her.

:: :: ::

One day this all hit me. Somewhere under the sky of Hong Kong, it hit me. I don’t think it was that day, or even the next day. But at some point, I cried and confessed, “Yup, this is hard. This is the hardest thing that could be happening in my world right now, and I have no clue what to do with it.”

I wanted to believe I was rejoicing from the other side of the world — and some moments, I did believe that. But I remember much more vividly crying out and telling my Father about how unfair it felt to miss so many sweet moments from home. How crummy it felt to not sit beside Han and cradle her baby boy, or how weird it felt to not be there to high-five Jordan and gawk over Kay’s hand. Oh, how disappointed I was to not be there for the most life-transformational moments my friends had been hoping and waiting for.

But at some point during over the coming days, He reminded me: being in the heart of My good and perfect will doesn’t mean you won’t miss the things you know and love most.

It doesn’t mean you won’t ever feel like you let people down. It doesn’t mean you won’t attempt to carry that guilt. It doesn’t mean you won’t sacrifice some things. It doesn’t mean you won’t miss home. But My child, you have to make a choice: are you going to believe the enemy or Me?

I brought baby Rhonan into the world.

I allowed Kay and Jordan’s relationship to grow to this place.

I called you to be here in Hong Kong.

In My perfect and purposeful sovereignty, I crafted each of these moments for such a time as this. I’m writing every story here in Hong Kong, and every story in Tennessee too. Do you believe me when I promise to be in the middle of each and every one, even when you can’t be?

:: :: ::

I chose to believe Him. I chose to believe that He was at work in more ways that I could pen in my tattered journal, and that the moments He was asking me to give up were nothing compared to the chapters He had coming ahead of us.

Even though my homesickness was heavy those following days, His words resounded in my mind as I remembered how completely, wonderfully, unexplainably special it was that my best friends and I were all called to different places this summer. And in all of our uniqueness and different seasons, He had made these wonderful plans for us.

When I left for Hong Kong, Han was pregnant and raising a sweet girl with her husband. Kay was waiting for a ring, and preparing for her own trip to Jamaica. And I was asking for a life calling and for a greater love for the boy who holds my hand. By the time I hugged their necks in Tennessee again, 6 weeks later, Han was the mother to a sweet girl and and a sweet boy. Kay had a beautiful ring on her finger and had beautiful stories to share. And I had risen to a calling I never thought I would hear, and longed for that boy to be by my side during it all.

And when we sat in the Mexican restaurant for nearly 4 hours, catching up on everything we had experienced apart, I knew it was worth it. Every sacrifice, every tear, every time I had said, “I’m rejoicing from the other side of the world, but longing to be with you!” was worth it.

Choosing to believe it was my Heavenly Father had hand-written each story was worth it. 

A Lesson Learned: volume 1

The lesson I learned on the first flight out of Nashville: confidence is not perfection.

Written above the clouds on June 25, 2016.

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I drove home on hot, Sunday afternoon. As I heard the songs about a life spent in love, a phrase repeated within me.

Prepare my heart in the ways I can’t.

Those few words resonated, and I couldn’t shake them off of me. As I cried out into the muggy, Tennessee air, that simple phrase became my prayer in the coming days.

This meant that, whether or not I realized it, I was asking for the unknown. Prepare my heart to do the work I have not yet seen. Prepare my heart to trust this new path, even when I go back to familiar places and am tempted to long for that comfort again. Prepare my heart to find joy, even when I’m on the way to the airport and have no clue how much my checked-bag weighs. Prepare my heart to rise to the work, even as I hug one last goodbye and turn to walk toward the security line alone and behind walls I’ve never seen before.

Prepare my heart in the ways I can’t.

:: :: ::

I thought confidence was knowing how to do everything and doing it well. Over these past few months, I dreamed that I would walk through large airports and change the lives of the hundreds of people I passed along the way with a simple glance. In vain, I thought prayers of confidence meant I would be shown how to do everything and be able to do them perfectly immediately.

But, that was before I started doing the things I’ve been praying for: before checking in luggage, before hugging goodbye, before crying over a cinnamon roll while watching planes roll in, before rolling the carry-on bag behind me to gate C-11 toward Los Angeles. It was a lot more scary once those things began to happen.

Honestly, my first airport experience was very overwhelming. I was leaving my sweet Tri-Star state to go to the West Coast, and then meeting dozens of new people who would take an even longer trip with me to the other side of the world. In those moments between leaving home and finding the Tom Bradley International Terminal, I was flying solo. For the first time. No other airport experience, apart from the stories I had heard and the advice I had been given.

It was a very real reminder of my smallness, and my great need for others. Call it crazy, but the stranger who asked me in security, “Was I supposed to leave my purse in the tub?” changed my day because I realized I’m not the only one with questions. And the cashier who gave me a carton of orange juice with the rest of my order reminded me to accept gifts with grace. And the woman who stood outside the gate with me, telling me about her life in LA and photography, and then offered to help me find the baggage claim once we landed made me feel loved. Yup, even those strangers were vessels of hope for me in a place when I felt alone and anxious.

Even though these small acts of encouragement were sweet reminders, I doubted what I was doing. I didn’t believe those moments could be described as a walk in confidence, and it was all too easy to count the ways I was falling short.

:: :: ::

By the time I nestled into seat 15F on flight 451, and began talking to the MTSU volleyball players beside me, I needed to see the sky.

Here’s my confession: looking up at the sky always made me know there is a wonderful, powerful purpose in life that is much bigger than anything we could make of our own hands. It was actually that thought that led me to a place of curiously seeking life’s deepest longings and questions, and eventually being changed at the Answers.

In all the ways I’ve tried to steady my heart for this journey, I never once wondered what I would feel the first moments we left the ground to dive upwards into the sky that I’ve gazed at in wonder for so long. As we went further and further toward the clouds, I watched in awe at the moving world below me: the winding roads, the green lawns, the places of Nashville that I’ve driven past my entire life. 

Now that I’m 40,000 feet above it, looking down at the big world below me has made me know: they were never works of my hands, but always works of His. My first thirty minutes in the sky were spent gazing outside the window, and knowing the reality of my Heavenly Father.

The clouds look too unreal and wonderful to be anything less than the work of One who loves and gives unceasingly. Since He can make the sky that echoes in my dreams, how can I say His purposes are anything less than good and perfect?

:: :: ::

Maybe confidence isn’t about knowing everything and doing it perfectly the first time. And maybe it’s not about walking with your head high, as everything and everyone around you bends to let you pass without flaw or worry.

Even when we don’t know what it looks like on the other side of the security line, even when we don’t know the people we’re about to meet, and even when saying goodbye is so hard— confidence does it anyway. It means we trust in the work of the Hands who crafted us perfectly to experience these moments for the glory of Him. We walk behind those walls and through those terminals, maybe not changing everyone’s world with a glance, but still holding our heads high in courage because we are doing the things that we want to believe we can’t do. And we are learning every step of the way that by Grace alone, yes, we can do it.

I think my prayers have asked for my heart to be prepared for this moment– this moment of awe above the clouds and the great reality of the things my heart most wants. And I want to know what comes next because this is wonderful.

Therefore, I’m continuing to ask for my heart to be prepared from 40,000 feet above the ground today. Maybe confidence isn’t such a bad guy after all.

:: :: ::

Saturday, July 30, 2016

I reread the summer’s journals today, and I shouldn’t be surprised that this became a reoccurring theme throughout the summer. I asked for confidence nearly every day.

Eventually, I penned it like this: Confidence is about not knowing how to do everything, but still pursuing it anyway because you know you’ve been called. It’s about fiercely trusting the path cut beneath your feet, even when you don’t know where it’s taking you.

I thought getting on a plane for the first time would be the only scary thing I would do this summer. Wrong. The days that followed would throw many more new, unknown territories—

lesson planning for the first time, meeting students and remembering all their names, learning how to navigate the public train system, sometimes learning the hard way about what is culturally acceptable and what is not, wanting to grow as a teacher– all of it. It was new. And it was beyond my comfort zone.

Once I scrapped the idea on that first plane ride that everything would happen perfectly the first time, my expectations changed and confidence became a daily trust-fall into my Father’s arms, knowing that He already knew how to catch me even before I could work up the courage to fall. It began on that first flight above the clouds and continued tens of thousands of miles, because here’s the thing: the coming moments could never be predicted. Who knew what conversations would come, how I would worry, and the people I would meet? Apart from Him, who could have known those things and what I was asking when I wanted my heart to be prepared?

“Confidence is perfection on the first try.” I’m going to call a lie on that right now. That’s what you believe if you never want to meet your expectations, and feel like you’re not good enough for the journey. And we are not those things. Honestly, who could ever want that to be true, other than the crafter of falsehood– our enemy– himself?

Be confident, my friends. Be scared of the big things. And do them anyways because you know there’s a way already prepared.

 

My heart is here.

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I’m learning about what I love most in life.

I love the sound of strangers saying “hello” as you walk past them, and I love watching the locals smile as I repeat it to them in Cantonese. I love the way the mud cuts a clear path through the rainy rice fields. I love rooms with a view of the city. I love being in the experience of a moment, without wondering what it will look like with a filter on it later.

And when I find those moments, I glory in them. I scribble as many details as I can before my hand cramps up on the lines in between worn covers.

It’s 2016, I’m 21 years old, and maybe it’s old-school, but journaling is the hobby that helps me to see the days in ways I otherwise would have missed— including those moments I want to remember most.

:: :: ::

I’m noticing a trend: in between the lines of nearly all my journal entries of the year or two stand words like “presence” and “existence,” and phrases like “be here now.” But, I’m a little at war with myself because I also enjoy the “presence” of the internet, and that’s a far cry from my traditional journaling.

When I signed up to join a month-long endeavor to tribal Asia, it came with a warning: be prepared for cold showers and limited wifi use. As I continued writing those journal entries that desired full presence, my heart welcomed that warning. I know I trust in my phone and computer more than I want to, and I was excited for a break from the things that could distract me from finding those moments of glory I love to journal about.

But when the plans of my Father prevailed and my own plans fell, my month-long endeavor turned its attention to Hong Kong and Hong Kong came with another, all-too familiar warning: don’t be distracted by the materialism of the culture. An instant war within me ensued. As I thought about the beautiful sights I would see, and the places I hoped to go, I knew I would want to document and share that with my people at home. Not only that, but I would be able to.

This worried me. At the center of that worry was the realization that I could miss the wide, wide world around me because of the screen in front of me.

Because here’s the thing: we live in a time when the screens in hand illuminate the rest of the world in seconds with just a movement. The pictures of Thailand, the street food of Hong Kong, the Lao translation of “hello” and “thank you” — it’s a time when the world is available at the end of our fingertips.

It’s too easy. It’s too easy to figure out and know the things of the world. Without much thought beyond searching one phrase or word, I can resolve any questions I have about people and the world we share.

And then we add in social media. I can share my own thoughts the moment that they come to mind, and broadcast them to the digital world quickly. I can’t decide if I can call this a useful hobby, or a cheap tragedy.

That same thought continued to resonate: even on the trip of a lifetime, I could miss the beautiful world around me because the screen in front of me was too easy to reach for.

:: :: ::

I laughed at myself back in April when I Google-searched how much pizza for 100 middle schoolers would cost. I pride myself when I come up with an artfully-considered Instagram post. As “traditional” as I am, I am fully aware that my life would be much different without that access to anywhere in the world on my phone or computer screen.

And that’s why I’m glad I heard Him whisper to me, “There’s no room for that in Hong Kong. There’s no more room.” I believed Him.

So, I made a promise with myself about intentional presence, knowing my habits would be tested and refined. Instead of giving constant updates through invisible wavelengths and glowing screens that would instantly be seen on the other side of the world, I promised to fill journal pages— Hundreds and thousands of lines. I promised to walk each day so fully that the lines in the books of my life would fill up.

:: :: ::

All that to say that I have been somewhat off the grid for these last 5+ weeks, and that was the plan all along.

I know the ways my heart falls short, and I knew that if I wanted to experience my month abroad fully, I would need to build some fences in my world. And that call meant soaking in every detail and penning it to paper—

The way the waters ripple under the lights of the skyscrapers every night. The smell of the bakery that sells the pineapple buns in the outdated mall just at the bottom of the hill where we lived. The mountain’s greeting when the subway finally makes it out of the tunnel. The way the people walk past with unmoving faces, and the sound of their laughter when it does come.

These days were brim full, and every detail changed my world in ways that I am pleading will be used to change other people’s worlds too. And although it has been difficult to keep quiet from constant social media presence, I know my heart’s place in this entire experience is praising louder for it.

As promised, I’ve filled two journals cover to cover with content from the summer: tickets, thoughts, quotes, prayers, tear stains, all of it. It’s there. Crammed on those pages. Some handwriting better than others.

I so want to tell you about those pages in person— and I do hope that in good time we will. Until then though, I want to spend a little time at the screen, rereading the words penned on lines in ink and sharing the lessons that have resonated within me the most. I’m an advocate for the “traditional” way of documenting the days, but at the end of each one, I also know there is a valuable opportunity to do good with our experiences by sharing them on the light of a screen. And I hope that’s what this next project will be.

During the coming weeks, I’m going to have a “things I learned while living and loving in Hong Kong” series of sorts on the blog. We’ll keep it simple. Hopefully. One lesson learned will be one post. Maybe we’ll have 12 posts, maybe it will be 15. We’re just going to keep moving until we get bored, which could likely be never.

I hope that you’ll enjoy reading just a snippet of the things my Father has shown me throughout this time with Him and His world. Honestly, books and books could be filled.

Even more, I do hope that you and I can come back to these five weeks we spent apart, and talk about the unseen things of the world. I hope these coming works can be conversation starters. Let’s agree, disagree, encourage, “amen.” Let’s talk. Truly, I hope we can spend time remembering and sharing with each other the many, many things we both lived in throughout that time–

These are the things I learned I love most.