The stories of my friends, neighbors, and students.


I’ve introduced myself to a lot of new people lately– the hiring manager I never heard back from in December, the Senator I contacted this morning, the Asian doctor who prescribed me antibiotics last week.

Hi, my name is Brianna Persinger and I’m an ESL teacher in Nashville,” I tell them, give or a take a different word or two.

It’s a pretty simple greeting, but it usually sparks a further conversation. I’m finding that people usually have a lot of questions about my job. Especially when I tell them I teach English to adult refugees and immigrants from 9 different countries.

Here’s the rundown:

My students cannot afford English class because the vast majority of them came to the States as refugees. Some have been here for a few years, but many of them have been here around 12 months. I’m employed through the same institute I received my TESL certification from last summer, and my entire paycheck comes out of grant and donor support. The branch I teach in is the only entirely nonprofit branch of the institute.

I teach one large group class that usually sees 8-12, depending on the day, at a local apartment complex. However, most of my teaching is in small groups. I go to 4 different homes in Southeast Nashville, where I meet with couples, sisters, and cousins. They invite me to their living room, offer me coffee and water, and we practice English.

It’s hard work, honestly. I have to keep up with a timesheet in order to get paid, and I have to work untraditional hours. Sometimes I leave class smelling like food I can’t even pronounce, and I have to carry my entire classroom around in the same Patagonia backpack I carried to Hong Kong. Even beyond that, a lot of unpaid studying and planning goes into this field. Sometimes I have to brush up on my own grammar or study out the reasons why we Americans say some of the stuff we do. Other times I need to learn more about the countries my students are from and the difficulties they’ve faced.

And all of the time, it’s a process of learning how to be a more effective teacher for my students and a more compassionate friend. There’s no way a teacher ends up in the line of work without a deep passion for people and a willingness to die to self in order to serve others.

Last week, I started a new job with a local agency that helps refugees and immigrants become generationally self-sufficient. When it’s time for the resettlement agency to step away from a newly arrived refugee, this agency steps in to continue the work of building a life of sustainability. A lot of the work of this group centers on adults.

However, there is one program for middle schoolers. And for whatever reason of my Father’s leading, that is where I have landed. Now, I have a class of 12 6th-8th grade refugees. One of them is from Sudan, and the rest are from Tanzania or Democratic Republic of Congo. They have all been here for around a year. Although they’ve quickly picked up English in their schools, they still have a long way to go. On top of learning a new culture, country, and language, these students also are dealing with the effects of trauma. You know, because a child doesn’t spend their life living in “temporary” tents and camps, with no definite end in sight and true protection from war, without leaving unscarred.

And as if that wasn’t enough, they still have to endure the painful awkwardness of growing into an adult body.

And for whatever reason, I found myself meeting these students for the first time this week at an after-school program designed to help them with homework, literacy skills, and community building. Half of my job is to simply drive a mini bus to and from their school in order to get to our program, and to and from their home when it’s over every night. The other half of my job is to serve as a lead Youth Success Coach, our fancy word for teacher, and lead them in classroom activities. And every part of this job deals with classroom management and proving to the kids that I am on their side, eager to see them thrive in this city they had probably never heard of until they learned they were being given a chance to move to America.


– – –   


The idea:

I’m leading a life I never dreamt of leading.

I never thought I’d be bold enough to step into the home of a stranger—not just one time, but day after day.

I never thought I’d be thoughtful enough to take my shoes off at the door of my host, and I never thought I’d be humble enough to accept gifts and meals I didn’t ask for.

I never thought I could love a person I had never met or care about wars in places I’ve barely even seen picture of.

I never thought there was more to learning and teaching English than just a few words.

I never thought I could hear the word “refugee” and feel a deep need to stand up in defense.

But I do now. For the past year a half, my heart has been broken and restored. Every. Single. Day. The things my students do and the conversations we share leave me in awe. I get to witness details about humanity. And every day, I grow in love for the people I work with, the stories they bear, and the God who brought us together.

Let me be quick to say that I’m not bragging. I don’t believe I’m in some higher position than you. Honestly, my position is low. If we’re talking about the wealth, power, and prestige our culture craves, I’m very low. Refugee and immigrant advocates don’t get that kind of money. ESL teachers don’t get that kind of fame.

Even so, there’s a passion moving in my heart, and I’ve never felt compassion and unconditional love the way I am learning today. Most assuredly, these are the plans of a God who knows the name of every student and knows every step they’ve taken on this earth. Undoubtedly, if I care for them a lot, He cares for them infinitely more.

Although I’m speaking from a place that is aware of my lowly title, it is also unique. It is counter-cultural, working against much of what our nation desires and confusing many people who don’t understand.  And I have never felt more eager to tell you the stories of my students.

I want to start a conversation. Too much is at stake in millions of refugee and immigrant lives around the world—thousands of which live in my sweet city of Nashville—to remain silent. The problem is I haven’t found a good way to do it. Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook are tools, but they’re not enough. These stories deserve something bigger.

Here’s my promise: I’m going to turn my field notes into short stories to post on this blog. Every. Single. Week.

Some will be only a few sentences, other might be paragraphs. Whatever is in the store for the weeks ahead, I’m open to it. I’m eager to share it. I’m willing to put in the work to do it. And I’m hopeful that you’ll join the journey with us.

Even if you say, “No. I don’t care what you have to say about refugees.” That’s fine. It sucks, but I get it. This is a hard topic that has caused a lot of division.

However, I would implore you to step into the divide alone and seek out the truth of these people in other reliable places. Find the real stories. Listen to the truthful voices, not the loud ones. Find conversations that are uncomfortable. Let them stretch you. Don’t be afraid of the unknown. Go into a new place with an open heart. Consider the way of Jesus. I dare you to try and make your life fit with the words He gave us.

Even if it’s not on my blog, I pray you would do something good and loving that matters in the world.

For me, I have found the most reliable and good work has been in my neighborhood of Southeast Nashville where I make a living and meet awesome people. I spend hours a day pouring into their lives, and leave fulfilled because they pour kindness and hope right back to me.

These are the stories of my friends, neighbors, and students. I believe in them, and I hope you will too.





We were made to be storytellers.


There’s something woven in each and every one of us that makes humanity purposeful. We’re made for so much more than waking up, clocking in, clocking out, sending a few Tweets, using a few filters, and going to bed just to wake up and do it all again.


We’re made to tell a story, and we’re made to live in every line of it.


It’s easy to pass over. The cover looks plain, battered. Like it’s been read thousands of times and passed along thousands of people. But on the pages, nestled between the well-worn pages, is a story about love. Hope. Grace. Relent pursuit. Forgiveness. And more love—so much more than we can imagine.


So what is the story?


It’s about people who were created to live in a relationship centered on love—but not just any love. It was the kind of love that didn’t hurt or abandon. It didn’t run out or embarrass. It was perfect. It was everything we’ve ever desired.


But, the people weren’t content. They became insecure and doubted their story. In some ways, I can’t blame them. It must have felt too good to be true. In their unhappiness, they strayed far from the One who loved them most.


They hurt the One that gave them protection.

They left the One who gave them the love they needed.

They ran out on the One who wanted to be close.

They willingly handed over everything you and I were made to desire.


And then they wandered off into a cold world alone.


Along the way, many brave men and women spoke up. Many of them did courageous things because they missed what they had lost. They hungered for protection and love. But, many, many more spoke up in a different way; they did everything to keep their distance. I wonder if they ever thought about that initial decision to run away from Him. Like, if they blamed their parents for creating such a mess. I want to sometimes—but then I remember I’m just like them. I struggle with doubt and wondering what’s better on the other side too. And to be honest, I probably would have ended up doing the same thing. Our story is the same.


The problem is, we couldn’t find our way back home. As we wandered and attempted our own plans, none of it could measure up. We wrote a story where every page desperately cried out for love and grace—but it fell silent. As we rummaged for our maps and books and tools, we tried halfheartedly to find that way back home.


It was like being on the opposite cliff. You can hear Him. You can see Him, a little speck on the other side of the massive gorge separating you two. He feels close, but still far. As He shouts your name across the expanse, fear sets in because you realize you’re alone– but this isn’t something you can do alone. You need help. You need a miracle. You feel hopeful yet hopeless all at once. You pace back and forth, thinking, “There must be a way, there must be a way.”


No bridge could be built to cross. There’s not enough nails, wood, time. You’d splinter and tear your hands for naught.


What you didn’t realize is that He, still standing across the canyon shouting your name, is relentless. As we wrote the chapters to a story that led us to stand alone on a cliff, He was editing behind us every step of the way. He was at work in our story. He told us that too—uncountable times. We’re just too stubborn to listen. He showed His power to redeem the bad situations we found ourselves in. He used our bad decisions to pen something more beautiful.


“Hm. Let’s change this sentence to this. No period here, semicolon. This one is just bad altogether, let’s fix it. Oh, but this one… this is one we can use,” he muttered. Sometimes we understood what He was up to, but most times, we didn’t. But that’s okay. He was working things out and that’s where we found our hope.


The story was leading to the climax—the part that everything centered on. Instead of only hearing His shouting from across the valley, we would feel Him take us into His arms as he whispered, “Welcome home.” That’s what He was working too. That’s what all the editing and rewriting was about.


And sure enough, just as He had promised, our help came. On a night that we call silent and holy, when a star shone brighter than any other, He came. Lying in a feeding trough for animals, a newborn baby was nestled in swaddling cloths. His teenage mother and unmarried father gazed upon Him with adoration. Kings looked for Him and people hated him.


Something in the world changed that night. And this was the beginning of our “Welcome home.”


This baby grew. He grew to become a carpenter and miracle-worker. He was wise and thought-provoking. He unashamedly lived out the purpose He was sent for. And He changed everything about that story.


The beautiful thing is He came in grace. Love. Forgiveness. Hope. Relentless pursuit. And more love. This wasn’t a contract we’d sign, promising to never mess up again. This wasn’t a guilt-trip over the silly, embarrassing places we’d landed in. This wasn’t a pay-to-receive type of thing. He didn’t want anything from us. Because the reality is His love for us was deeper and wider and fuller than the valley that had separated us.


He simply wanted to welcome us home.


And this was what every line in the story led to: the receiving of a gift. Not broken bridges or splintered hands. We were finished with proving ourselves. In its place landed a gift, without conditions or guilt, handed to us from the hand of the One who loves us most.


He poured everything He had into this gift. He had been so excited to give us this gift. Actually, He had told us about this uncountable time before this. Like a kid keeping a secret, He was giddy to tell us. And He had hinted at it for centuries. But we were busy and didn’t hear it.


Finally, the moment came when He handed this long-awaited gift to us in plain, brown paper and told us, “It might not look like much, but I’ve waited years to give this to you. It’s the most precious thing I have, and I want you to have it because I love you. I love you so much, that it is worth giving up my entire treasure.”


And all he wants is for us to accept it. No payment. No rehashing of all our embarrassing stories. No explanation of why we ran. Only yes.




My brothers and my sisters, this is the what the songs are about. When we sing this week, and when we pass gifts, and when we exchange a smile with a stranger—this is why. We are celebrating that the plans of Love were accomplished. We are celebrating our “Welcome home!” We are praising the Author who crafts stories that change the world.


And to those who carry this plain, brown paper gift daily: our songs are being sung. Our stars and angels are being placed on the tops of trees. Generous, kind gifts are being given, but none can compare to the endless love of the baby in the manger that would grow into the man who would walk to His death in order to restore humanity back to the One who loved us most.


This is our week.


This is the week of our Savior, church.


This is the week, more than any other week in the year, when a lost nation utters the name of Jesus while singing about joy and peace.


I’m not sure that I can rightfully say that this week centers on us. But, I can say it centers on Christ. And if He is all that we claim Him to be, then it is an honor to tell His story of relentless, unstopping love this week. After all, we were made to be storytellers.



“Light of Life dispel my darkness

let Your frailty strengthen me

let Your meekness give me boldness

let Your burden set me free

oh, Immanuel, my Savior

let Your death be life for me”

Change: part 3


I stood in Dillard’s on November 8th, 2017. I perused through the sale jewelry, scanning for rose gold ear rings. The final days of wedding planning were coming to an end quickly, and I was in full-speed to keep up. As popular as the rose gold trend is, finding a pair I liked was surprisingly hard. And when I did find a pair, I’d pick them up, hold them to my ear, and stare at my reflection, pretending I was already standing in that lace, ivory dress.


None of them worked. They were too dangly, too casual, too fancy. None of them worked.


I was looking through a small, rotating rack when an older, shorter woman came beside me. I couldn’t quite pinpoint where she was from, but as we talked, I could tell English wasn’t her first language. She was looking for Kate Spade, and when she realized I had already found it, she told me to take my time.


“Oh, I’m looking for my wedding jewelry. You don’t want me to take my time,” I told her, grinning and stepping away.


Her face lit up. “When is your wedding?”


“It’s next week. Friday, actually,” I told her. She raised her eyebrows and I could only imagine what she must be thinking: “Who waits until the week before their wedding to find jewelry????”


I continued, “Honestly, I’m getting married with or without these ear rings. No matter what, there will be a wedding, and it will be awesome,” I told her.


She laughed, doubled over and told me I was the funniest person she had ever met.


“You’re like my daughter,” she said. “My daughter said the same thing. She told me, ‘Mom, the wedding is one day only. After the wedding is forever. That is what matters most. That is most important. Our love and promise are most important,’” the woman explained in her accented English.


We shopped beside each other for a few minutes. She’d offer a suggestion, and I’d get her opinion on another set- although, it didn’t take us long to realize we had exhausted the options. She wished me the best of luck and happiness, and then we turned our separate ways as I left the store, deciding I’d worry with it the next day.


:: :: ::


That was one month ago. I was in the final days of wedding planning, and could go from feeling like everything was finished to nothing at all within seconds. I was exhausted, I was excited, I was anxious, and I was ready. The waiting was nearly over as the celebration and tasting of the fruits of my labor neared.


Two months ago I was in the thick of a workload that was too heavy to carry. I’d spend an hour commuting into Nashville, lesson plan and teach all morning into the afternoon, and then go to work at Gap all afternoon into the night. I’d get in my car to make that 45 minute drive back home at 10 PM, knowing that my bedtime app was set to wake me up just after 5 AM. There was no time with friends, and barely time to sit and eat full meals. I snapped at coworkers, and yawned throughout my entire shift. I felt distant and tired at home. I missed reading and writing. And somehow, I still found the time to tie up the loose ends on the lessons and wedding I hadn’t quite finished.


Four months ago I helped Travis move to Nashville. I cried when we left his parents’ home in the Midwest, because I realized how much they must trust me to let him leave. Watching your son leave for a girl over 300 miles away has never been an easy task, and I felt selfish asking them to do that. But, we did it. We made the trek down I-65 on the day of the Eclipse and made it to the parking lot at our apartment one minute before totality. And then we talked about perfect timing every second after that.


Five months ago I picked up my first teaching job. I met a class of 3 students in a small, outdated classroom in the lower level of an apartment complex. This was my first class on the field. I was bright eyed and bushy-tailed. I felt dreams coming true, and if this was the only class I ever got to teach, I wanted to know I had given them my all.


That class and I met daily for a few weeks, with the hopes of continuing to meet a couple days a week after that. I knew the class would only get to continue on grant-support if students continued showing interest. I also knew that at the end of the initial 4 weeks—if the class did continue– my paid 18 hours of the class would drop drastically and be replaced with only 6 because of the change in the schedule. The amount of worry and uncertainty woven in that was difficult to accept, but I did it with as much grace as I could because I had been called.


And you can’t argue with a calling if you want to get somewhere.


:: :: ::


At some point in my Christian walk, I learned that faithfulness isn’t always a big, grand step leading to an earth-shaking decision. More often than not, it’s small. Quiet. And it leads to other small, quiet steps.


I’m a dreamer– an impatient, eager, anxious dreamer at that. Woven in my core are big hopes, and world-changing desires that I want today. Waiting until tomorrow or the next day isn’t an option. I’m the one who wants faithfulness to look like that big, grand, earth-shaking step. I want to see it right now.


But God is wiser than that. Faithfulness would be too easy if we only had to take one big step and finish. We would glory in the work of our hands, and create messes even bigger and grander than the ones we already do.


It’s the small, quiet steps that require us to continue coming back day after day. Those are the difficult ones, because they’re the ones that require us to move slower than we want. But, it’s in those little steps that we’re transformed. It’s here—as we put one foot in front of the other, day after day– that our strength learns to depend on Him and our desires rooted in faithfulness are conformed to His. And boy, does He move and work. His plans move thick, sweet, and slow like honey from the comb. I bet I could find a Bible verse about that too.


That’s what faithfulness actually looks like: a continuation of focused, intentional decisions followed through with action. This the transforming, difficult task of showing up day in and day out.


:: :: ::


God, in His kindness that transcends my understanding, has allowed me to live in a season of faithfulness even when I felt unfaithful and worn thin.


Six months ago, I published my last blog post. It was about change and not knowing what’s coming next. Since we’re being transparent here, I’ll admit to you that post will remain in every season for the rest of my life. Now that I realize faithfulness comes in small, quiet, and quite frankly, often unexciting steps, I can accept change in the same way.


The last season has been busy and stressful, but still woven with a confidence that the right, good things were happening. Day after day, I looked at what had been placed in my hands and decided to do something with it. And my God, did He do miraculous things with it.


Since then, that first class I took on has grown. What started as 3 now averages at 10-12 students every class, simply because they told their friends about English class. What’s more, I’ve been offered numerous opportunities to take on tutoring-like classes that meet with students in their home. Now, I meet with 4 different families to teach them English at their kitchen table. My students are from Myanmar, Sudan, Cuba, Iraq, Nepal, Somalia, and even on the most difficult days, they are worth it. We show each other grace and fight to learn an entirely new culture, language, and land.


And wouldn’t you know, I have more paid teaching hours now than what I began with 5 months ago. Teaching has never been about the money, but realistically speaking, paid work is necessary. And I’m grateful to have been provided for. What’s sweeter is the collection of conversations and memories I have with my students, when I learned about their life as refugees and about the homes they left behind. Worry number one. Gone.


Since then I’ve also moved my entire life to center on the most kind, loving guy I’ve ever met. Travis and I spent the fall scrambling to begin paying bills, while also working to pay for a wedding. The numbers were scary, but it happened. And on November 17th, in a pair of pearl earrings my mother had given me years ago, we promised to love each other first for the rest of our days on this earth. We watched as friends and family both near and far traveled to celebrate with us at a lodge in the woods. We drank coffee together, and we worshipped with the entire congregation, giving praise to God for all He had done.


We celebrated our first week of married life hiking mountains and following trails, and when we came back home to Nashville, we were thrilled to remember we have an entire life ahead of us to build. My commutes to work and classes are about 10 minutes now, and we have an adorable Christmas tree in our home. Although we’re now in the middle of learning our routine together, we’re grateful that we have a collection of memories of our perfect wedding day in place of the planning that once overtook us.


And just like that, all the other worries subsided too.


:: :: ::


That lady in Dillard’s was right. The wedding day was important, but the marriage after that continues far past one day.


Taking on that first class was important, but desiring to serve my students months later continues.


Moving to Nashville was important, but building a home and building a relationship with this community continues.


Making one decision to follow that sweet, heavenly Voice was important, but walking more of these quiet, baby steps continues. Faithfulness would be cheap if it were anything less than those quiet, baby steps.

Change: part 2

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Last August I admitted the words I’ve denied all throughout college: I want to be a teacher. And just two weeks after graduating college, I began training to become a teacher of English as a second language.


I began a summer intensive course at the beginning of June. During the last year, the possibility of this course has entered my circles during the most unexpected moments. I’ve gotten connected with the friend of a friend who went through this same course. I’ve met the friend of the mom I babysit for when she arrived unplanned at the front door on a night when I normally don’t babysit. There have been undeniable moments of affirmation. I knew it was where I needed to go—my calling, if you will—but I had a hard time stomaching that.


Seriously, God? You want me to give up an entire month of full time work? And you want me to pay the money I won’t be earning in order to take a class? Even though I just finished college? And you still want me to marry Travis, because you know that requires lots of money, right? Can you even do math? Are you sure this is it? 


I argued. Not because I didn’t want to do it, but because it made no sense. By the standards of the world and the math equations, it made no sense for me to commit to it.


They asked me,

So you just finished school, and you’re going back? 

And you’re planning a wedding and aren’t even working right now? 

But wait, you seriously just graduated college and don’t have a real job?  

I bet you have a lot of debt though, huh? 


“Yup, that’s it. You got it,” I’d respond in a poetic, long-winded way. The longer my rambling responses became the weaker my confidence became and the louder my doubt spoke. I grew frustrated at my inability to predict my future and discouraged by the feeling that everyone was disappointed in me because of that.  


I’ve come away from those conversations a little bruised and a little timid at the magnitude of everything I’m getting myself into. Something about 22 makes everyone think you’re supposed to have your life figured out. They assume you’re young and invincible. You’re bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. You don’t have kids or a mortgage yet. But, you do have that college degree on your résumé and the engagement ring on your finger. Surely that means you have it figured out, right?


My future sister-in-law asked me, “Did you ask them if they had it figured out at your age? You’re in a different place and that’s fine. You do you. You know what you want and you are working to get there. Whether it’s a year from now or 10 years from now when you arrive at that place, it’ll be worth it.” 


:: :: ::


I’ve found there are many things I don’t have—a specific plan that leads me to six-figures, a job opportunity that will land me full-time and benefits immediately, enough money to pay off all my student loan debt and pay for a wedding in the next 5 months. I’m lacking and in some spheres, I’m just plain empty.


But the things I do have far outweigh what I don’t have. Things like faith in a God who calls, leads, and sustains. I have a collection of moments that look something like miracles. I have faith in a God who sees the big picture, and reminds me that my perspective is not His.  


He’s in the business of taking us to places during seasons that don’t make sense. They can’t be explained by worldly standards. No matter how many times you work that math problem, you still come up short. He doesn’t stop though—instead, He boldly calls the weak to places that require us to lean on His strength.


“You can’t fathom the countless ways I’ve guarded you when you didn’t even realize it. Your very breath is sustained by Me,” He promises.


I talk about leaning into His grace as if it’s easy for me. But this is the dirt on leaning: it’s about trusting, obeying, and following. Even when it looks impossible.  



:: :: ::


Two weeks ago:

I observed an ESL classroom. The teacher gave me the names of 6 students before the class began, and only 3 of them showed up. I watched. Observed. Made notes. Prayed I’d be prepared to do this in a just a few days, and wondered if it’ll be too late to jump ship if I’m not.


Last week:

I taught the class for the first time. I gathered materials for 5 students, which felt like a hopeful number, and worried that no one would come. Imagine my disbelief when 10 students showed up. My partner teacher and I rearranged the table and chairs, and quickly made extra copies. I observed his teaching before delivering my own 1.5 hour planned lesson to the class. After the students left the classroom later, our trainer immediately applauded us.


“Well done. You’re naturals. You got through that first class well. I’m very impressed,” she said.


I couldn’t shake the thought: we’re meant to be here. My like-minded partner teacher and I were called by God to be here, and it is by His grace that we not only survived this first class, but even thrived. That was the first day my prayer was genuine when I said, “Give me more. So much more.” 



I planned for 10 students to come, but thought that surely no more than 8 would return this week. As always, I was wrong. All 10 students returned to class. And this week, we laughed a little more. I learned a few more things about them. I asked a few more intentional questions. I delivered a lesson that was way more fun to prepare for and plan. Afterwards, I watched my partner teacher deliver his half of the lesson. And again, at the end of it, our trainer applauded our work.


We talked about the nit-picky things we need to fix, and she commended us again, “You’re naturals. I don’t say that lightly.” I had that same thought again—the one about grace, and God calling the unlikely. Before she left, she sent my A+ lesson plan with her remarks back to me, and commented, “This is your beautiful lesson. I’m so proud of your work.” 


Left alone to my thoughts, I texted Travis, “This is such a fulfilling work. This is what I want to do.” Something deeper worked in me as I typed that text.


He replied, “I’m so happy you found your place, Bri.”


I rested in that. And then I grabbed a cold brew and showed up to this Word Document to testify, just because I like the way it sounds: this is fulfilling work. This is what I want to do.  


:: :: ::


I believe that the English Second Language classroom is worth it because the students I work with are worth it.


They represent Ukraine, Mexico, China, El Salvador, Venezuela, Sri Lanka. They are mothers to small toddlers and middle schoolers, they are high schoolers with dreams to attend private university, they are 20-somethings just trying to put it all together. They volunteer at hospitals, drive to Mississippi during the middle of the work week for a funeral, give me advice on how to get over a cold, wake up at 5:30 just to play with their little ones. They get nervous about flying on airplanes because they hear the news and worry about their plane falling out of the sky. But, they also love the window seats in an airplane because they love to see the clouds from the sky, and to look down at the beautiful world below.


They come to a 3 hour English class on Saturday mornings, where I encourage them but also correct them. I’ll call them out in front of the whole class because I’m so eager to hear them pronounce the word correctly. And then I’ll do the same with their neighbor just so I can show them that we’re all in this together.  


I believe in them. I know they have lives outside of English class. Some work full-time jobs, some are full-time students. They have families to care for, and dreams for their life. And somewhere in the middle of it all, they found a desire to show up for an English class on a weekend morning—whether it’s their one day off work, or they’re going to work right after. They came and I got to meet them there.


That’s worth it. That level of dedication and commitment is worth it. I advocate for this diversity because it is the closest earthly image I can grasp of my Heavenly Father. And I prayed again, with so much more certainty than last week, “Give me more, so much more of this.”


:: :: ::


I received a beautiful, colorful mug that reads, “Oh, the places you’ll go!” at my graduation party last month. My coffee is black, and I spend many mornings over that mug quietly asking God to show me those places. Because I, like you, believe that dream. I believe that dream that we are going to places far beyond our wildest imagination. I believe we’re made to go places we never thought we’d reach, and live a life straight out of a novel.  


I also believe those places are so big and transformational. And, it’s of God’s grace that He takes us there one season at a time. If He showed every idea for us all at once, we’d back out and count every inadequacy solidifying our decision to stay put in the safe zone. Like, if we sat down and He read the story of my life to me in His beautiful, holy God voice, I’d lose it. I’d lose every ounce of courage at the magnitude of what I knew He was asking me to do. 


You want me to go there? Do that? Invest in those people? You really think I’m designed to do that? No way, God. I’m not that girl. There’s someone else who can play that better than me. Choose her. Not me. I’m out.  


I get so caught up in the plan and the end of it, that I miss out on the sheer joy of the discovery during its unfolding. I expect to understand all the little workings of His plans, and when my small humanness can only live a day of it at a time, I’m tempted to look at Him and tell Him I don’t believe Him—as if my inadequacies are His too.


:: :: ::


I babysat last night after I finished teaching. I hung out with these boys every Tuesday and Thursday last semester, and it was so good to see them for the first time in a couple weeks. Afterwards, I talked with their mom– as we have so many times before– and she promised me there is always a place for me to come back to their home. Since I haven’t been able to do more than 8 hours of weekly paid work this month, you can imagine the awe I felt toward God’s provisions at that offer.

These are His provisions. This is Him taking care of me– taking care of the very breath in my lungs.

She was one of my biggest encouragers to take this step, and is continuing to encourage me as any good, good mother does. It’s no coincidence that I’ve crossed path with people like this. Driving home, I reveled in the awesome opportunities He’s handing me. I came to two thoughts.


First thing: I don’t know where I’m going. 


A weight is coming off my shoulders just typing that. I don’t know what’s coming next. I’m catching glimpses of what I could do—drive a mobile classroom to teach refugees, take on some classes at the Institute in Metro Center, start my own teaching groups. I think I have some job opportunities ahead, but who can really know until I’m there? The possibilities are endless. And thank God it’s not up to me to know the end of them right now. Thank God all I have to do is be faithful to show up, and He will lead me to the places I don’t even know are an option right now.


Second thing: I’m finally getting comfortable with that. 


A World Relief coworker prayed over me back in April. He asked God to help me discover His plans with joy and wonder. I smiled when he said it and wrote that prayer down in my notebook. That prayer means so much more to me now than it did even just a few months ago. I hope my friend believed that prayer when he spoke it, because I am clinging to it daily in a season that is full of change, change, change.


This story was never mine to write from cover to cover. I only have enough in my pockets to know about today. The first part of change was knowing when to say goodbye, even when it hurts. And the second part of change is having the courage to keep walking to new places, even when it doesn’t make sense.


No, I don’t have the answers. No, I’m not wealthy. No, I can’t tell you what life will look like when I graduate with my TESL Certificate in 2 weeks. But to realize that the shackles of authoring my life and perfecting every line have been ruined, I can honestly tell you without doubt or shame: I don’t know what’s coming next and I’m okay with that.


I’m free, I’m free.

Change: part 1

An Open Letter to the Places I’m Leaving Behind


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May 16, 2017

This week feels like a line in a song. I’m saying my goodbyes as doors that have remained open suddenly close. These are weeks are transition and at the end of it all, everything changes. It’s the part in the song where the soft music builds up all at once as the instruments come in to meet the voice. At the top of it, we bellow out, “Been talking ‘bout the way. Things. Chaaaange!”

I can’t say that I didn’t know this was coming. In fact, I’ve been doing a lot of countdowns the last few months. They’ve been the best of days and the worst of days, and I’ve been so eager to get to the part where everything changes—

Get me closer to saying my vows to Travis. Get me closer to working for a full-time paycheck. Get me closer to reading, journaling, painting, and blogging again. Get me closer to the friends in my corner. Get me closer to the places I’ve been led to so that these wonderful plans can finally come to fruition. Get me to the part where all these dreams come to life.

Finally, those days have come, and honestly: I didn’t know it would feel like this. Somewhere in the midst of all my eager planning, I forgot that I would say goodbye. Like, somehow I failed to realize what those prayers would look like once they were answers.

There would be last times. There would be final moments with people who have walked alongside me for years, and the final moments with those I’ve only known for a short time would be just as difficult. The season of change would come to change my world just like it did when it arrived.

I’ve grown these last four years. And it’s because of the uncountable ways that God has revealed Himself to me through these unique people, places, and moments. I stand in awe at the plots He’s woven.

These are the letters addressed to those places that sat at root of my prayers and countdowns. They each hold a deeper significance in my heart than I could ever pen, but they made goodbye both beautiful and difficult. And aren’t those the best goodbyes?

:: :: ::

To Wyldlife:

I landed in your path and drove the other direction. Literally, I came to meet you and then turned around because of the number of people who I saw also standing in your path. I was so scared and listed every reason why I wasn’t good enough to be in that number too. But, the Lord beckoned me to come back. It took me a few days, but I did come back. The Lord was relentless— goodness, He wouldn’t let me forget it— and I’m so glad for that now. I summoned what little courage I had at the time, and came back to you.

That was 3 years and 9 months ago.

Since then, you have led me to a small group that spoke life into me every week. You led me to rooms of strangers, teaching me to call them sisters and brothers. You led me to early morning ice skating lessons, spontaneous coffee dates, dance parties in the gym. You led me to love the middle schoolers at FRA. You led me to have the courage to show up for them. No matter how tired or worried I was, you were always there to remind me: the fight is worth it.

You’ve pushed me out of my comfort zone. I was a timid, fearful person before I met you. But, you built my confidence so that I could make friends like Jesus did. Every early morning and late night was worth it because of the moments when you taught me what it looks like to live a life of abandon for the sake of others.

You taught me that God doesn’t make junk. In a time when I believed I was “too quiet,” “too awkward,” or “not enough” for this life of ministry, you whispered the truth in my ear: you are who you are because God made it so. He ordained it, and because of you, I have the confidence to rise when He calls.

Thank you for making the Bible come to life. Somewhere along the way, during the long, long time with you, I realized that this life of loving others isn’t meant to be left on the pages. It’s meant to be lived out with sacrifice, grace, trust, and passion to be like Jesus and tell others about Him too. This story is a moving, living, breathing, feeling one, and because of you, I know that now.

No one with a willing heart is too awkward, quiet, or inadequate for the plans of God. And, Wyldlife, you have proven that me and saved me a lifetime of feeling guilty for falling short. Thank you for proving to me my humanity, and walking with me every step of the way. You’ve shown me what it means to show up for someone despite the fear lurking in my heart, and I’ll always remember you as the one who changed me first.

:: :: ::

To World Relief Nashville:

You were not in my plans, but I’m so glad you bravely stepped in anyway. I remember when I heard your name for the first time 3 years ago, but it didn’t work out and my heart wasn’t in it. Honestly, I just didn’t get you and I don’t think I had the compassion to care then either.

This year though, my heart was in a better place to understand. I was opened in so many ways to you, and I’m grateful for that. You taught me to always lean on God’s timing— both in the mundane, everyday routine and in the big-picture dreams.

You worked me to the bone many days. My 5 hour shifts often turned into 7, 8, or 11 hours. But, I stayed faithful to the race because you showed me there was a need to be met and a fruit in the work. I’ve lived in the same 25 mile radius for most of my life, and I never knew how many international communities are represented in sweet Nashville. And how could I have known that many of these people come from war? They’ve spent their lives running and fleeing, and most of them only know what it means to live life by merely trying to survive. You opened my eyes to this: the world is bigger than just me and that begins in this city.

I know why I turned away from you 3 years ago: I wouldn’t have stayed. If you had told me then that I would be walking into the homes of strangers, showing them how to buy groceries in Walmart, attempting to communicate through translators, spending all morning just driving people to and from the doctor’s office… I would have backed away then.

But, you showed me grace in every hard situation. I’ll never forget the way my supervisor ended every text message with, “God bless you, my sister”— even on the days I was late to work or didn’t understand an assignment. Even when I had numerous questions and sometimes took a little longer on an assignment than planned, you still invited me to continue walking alongside you. Those moments spoke life into my heart because you exemplified the meaning of grace on this earth, which is something I’ve struggled with for years.

You broke my heart in the best ways. As I watched the hurt of others and the struggle to learn how to make a life in America out of nothing, my compassion grew. You taught me truth in the midst of innumerable lies, as if you took my hand gently and explained all the things I was wrong about. In hindsight, I’m so glad I was wrong.

And as I watched you close your doors forever, my heart broke more. The news came in February— I had only been with you for a little over a month— that your ministry was nearing its final days. That day, we cried in the office. Every day after that, we prayed together. At first I was mad, but it dissolved as I watched your response. You acted with such grace as you trusted the plans of God first and foremost. I heard you pray for your enemies to be changed and for the friends that you were already missing. I listened closely as you continued to work relentlessly with every last moment offered to you. The desks and cubicles were cleared and by the time I said my goodbye, there were only a handful left. Your trust, maturity, kindness, grace, and leaning on the Lord was awe-inspiring and moving.

You taught me to accept change. You taught me to extend grace in every situation. You taught me to run a race faithfully to the finish. You taught me to lean into the plans of God, not sparing a single

It was never easy but it was always worth. Thank you, WRN, for proving to me the fight is always worth it and that the plans of God are so much more wild than my I could pen on my own. 

:: :: ::

To the Brontës:

You loved me from the beginning of this college journey. As soon as I came to Welch, you saw me and pursued me. And even after I chose to join your number, you continued to love me. That spoke louder to me than you’ll ever know.

You included me when I needed community and invited me when I felt inadequate. I have loved watching your personality shift and shape during our time at Welch. Truly, you have grown into a group of girls that serves eagerly, loves fiercely, and walks alongside each other passionately. You have been an anchor for me during my time at our small Bible college, and a safe place I can go to without fail.

You gave me three incredible gifts. First, you showed me that everything can be done with excellence to the glory of God. Even though our group is a mandatory presence on campus, you showed me how to do that with eager, genuine passion. I have seen that innumerable times— especially this year— and it fills me with pride to see such an active faith lived out in you. We might be a small number, but we have done a mighty work together simply because you chose to show up. Thank you for showing me how to do things with zeal and not just to mark it off the list. Life on campus has been more fun with you.

Second, thank you for trusting me to lead you this year. I couldn’t believe it when you nominated me to be your face and voice last year, but in hindsight, I’m so thankful I chose to believe you as much as you were believing in me. Every good idea I had this year came to life because of you. You took what I gave you with grace and kindness, and you crafted it all into something so much more than I could have done with my own hands. It has been an honor to be your president. My pride and joy for you is unreal— I can’t help but brag on you everywhere I go.

Thirdly, you have taught me that good leaders care about the future of their people. Truthfully, I care more about you all today than I did when I arrived. And that is a testament to the beautiful, beautiful friendship we have created in our sisterhood. I’m so sad to leave you during such a great time during our history, but I have complete confidence in the work that is coming ahead. The best days are just ahead and I am so proud to have stood among your ranks. I truly believe with all my heart that these days coming will be the mountaintops for our society.

From dressing like tacky tourists for a trunk-or-treat. To going camping in my backyard for a night. To passing out popsicles to every person at lunch on our emphasis day during Rush Week. To showing up to serve at a church on Saturday morning— you have been so faithful, and I can only say this: this year couldn’t have happened without you.

Thank you for being the fighters. The adventurers. The peace-keepers. The supporters. The athletes. The encouragers. The joy-givers. The gentle warriors. The angels. The motivators. The sass factors. The ones who love and show up as faithfully as a mother.

You are all the things I aspire to be, and I commend you for living them so well. You are worthy of all the recognition I can offer, and I will always speak of you with grace and love because that is what you have spoken to me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

:: :: ::

To the Second Floor in the Girls Dorm:

You are precious. And my only regret from this experience is that I didn’t get to be with you longer. You’ll never know how many nights I came to my room after I checked yours just to snuggle up to my pig stuffed animal and thank God for you.

Because here’s the thing: you made this RA job worth it. Like, this wasn’t just about getting a paycheck or forcing myself to live on campus longer than I actually needed to. This was all about the ways I wanted to love and serve you. Even though there were so many nights that I just wanted to go to sleep before 11:30, you made the job worth it.

When we stopped and talked for over an hour during room checks, whenever you came to my room looking for answers and trusting me to have them, when you texted me just to encourage me in my position— you made the job worth it.

You might have noticed by now, but I am not always eager to go out of my way to approach others. But, you gave me a reason to break out of that mold. Because of your place in God’s plans, my desire to talk to people I wouldn’t normally cross paths with grew. That is a lesson I’ve wanted to learn for years, and you gave me the tools to do it.

Honestly, you all probably taught me far more than I ever could have taught you. Sometimes I still think the school is crazy for allowing me to lead in such a precious position, but I’m immensely grateful it happened. Although I undeniably am eager to get out of dorm life, I am often reminded that these days have been so significant because it means I have gotten to live under the same roof as some of the best girls in the world.

Thank you for teaching me about serving even when it’s uncomfortable. And as you continue to share this roof with some of the best girls in the world, I hope you’ll remember: it won’t always be like this, so make the most of every late night conversation and room check you can get. The Lord bless you and keep you, my friends. Thank you for being my home away from home and a place of refuge.

P.S. thank you for being good sports when I took the trashcan away.

:: :: ::

To the College Lifestyle:

Bye. Bye, bye, bye.

There is no doubt: you came to me at a time when I needed to prove to myself that I could do this. You know— that I could live on my own, find my way around, feed myself, make decisions constantly. I needed to know that I could do those things.

I think my heart for you changed when I realized I could. All the things that once felt impossible became possible because of you.

You were not easy though. It has been a journey of mountains and valleys as I have worked my fingers to the bone to do the things you asked of me. Work, class, ministry, internship, writing— there was never a dull moment with you. Sometimes I hated you. Sometimes I already missed you before you left. But every day, you were creating a person out of me that I wouldn’t have had the courage to be 4 years ago.

All these letters and sentiments have been made possible because of you, and my heart is broken at the weight of the fullness of that realization of that tonight. You have given me an experience that I know the vast majority of the world will never see. I am privileged and gifted beyond measure, and you are only one facet of it. I’ve read wonderful poetry, I’ve studied the Truth of the Bible, and I’ve learned how to be faithful to the hustle because of you.

Every hard day was worth it because of the bigger picture you had in mind. Thank you for giving me a spark to stay, even when it got hard.

:: :: ::

May 18, 2017

I started The Office during the spring of my freshman year. And wouldn’t you know, it’s graduation week and I’ve only made it halfway through season 5. It’s the only show I’ve gotten into during college, and the one thing I never quite learned how to be faithful to during the last 4 years. What a shame.

I just watched the episode where Michael leaves Dundler Mifflin to create Michael Scott Paper Company. After Dwight turns his back on Michael, the pair begin to prank each other and outsmart one another. The thing is, Dwight is just upset that Michael is stealing all his clients and Dundler Mifflin is just upset that Michael’s company is actually succeeding.

Honestly, it made me proud of the guy. Bless him.

The thing gets so out of hand that Dundler Mifflin makes an offer to Michael for his paper company. They make a low offer first, and Michael’s going to take it, and then…. he doesn’t. He declines. And then, Dundler Mifflin comes back with a much nicer counteroffer. It makes his jaw drop, but again, he declines. He tells them, “What we need are jobs to sustain us. We need insurance, benefits, a place to work. Not this money.”

Seriously, bless Michael Scott. As crazy as he is, it works.

At the close of the show, Michael tells the camera: “There are certain defining moments in a person’s life. The day he’s born, the day he grows hair, the day he starts a business, and the day he sells that business back to Dundler Mifflin. What have I learned from all this? It is far too early to tell. All I know is I am flying high and I don’t even want to think about it. I just want to enjoy it.”

I paused when he said it. I replayed it a couple times, and then I wrote it down so I could share it with you too. Because I think he’s on to something—

there’s something really significant about being in the middle of a huge life moment. It’s a moment that you’ve only heard about or read about, and when you’re finally there you just want to experience it for yourself. So when you finally do get there, you just want to soak it in like a sponge.

In just over 24 hours, I’ll say my final remarks to the Welch community. I’ll slide on that black gown and hang that tassel from my cap. They’ll call my name as I walk across that stage and receive the diploma I have worked for these last 4 years. And after that, everything will change.

Everything will change, and praise God for a bittersweet goodbye as it tumbles off my lips. It’s a blessing to know when it’s time to say goodbye, and when that goodbye is difficult because of the fullness of the moments that made it so.

Don’t overanalyze it. Don’t over plan it. Don’t worry about it so much that you forget to just pause and be present.  All the learnings and lessons will fall into place when it’s time, and will likely continue doing so in more ways than you can count.

Don’t miss it— be here. Be present. Enjoy it. And praise God for every good, good goodbye.

It’s just like God to make a simple moment something extraordinary.

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On Monday, I was assigned to take a dad and 4 of his children to register for school. Like most of my work with World Relief, I had never done this before. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I figured every other parent in Nashville can do it so I can too.

Also like most of my work with World Relief, even the most mundane, ordinary tasks become exciting when I’m on the clock. Working directly with refugees to help them become self-sustainable is exciting, and fills me with a deep sense of pride and hope for them. It’s so special to walk alongside with them, even on these “boring” assignments, I’ll gladly drive across to town if that’s what it takes to show them we care.   

But, that doesn’t mean I always know what I’m doing. Actually, most times I don’t. And the most valuable lesson my sweet Ethiopian supervisor has taught me is that it’s okay. Have grace for yourself, learn as you go, and pray every single step of the way.

Those reminders are etched in my mind every time I set out, and this time was no different. I stopped at an apartment I’ve visited numerous times— it’s a Congolese family of 8 that traveled through Tanzania to get here. In fact, this was the first and last family I ever had the honor of picking up from the airport. They’ll probably never understand the significance that holds in my heart, but I treasure any chance when my roads lead back to them.

Today, they looked happy. Glowing. Well-rested. Like they finally are growing to love this new place called home. It was a far cry from the tired, jet-lagged eyes I first met back in January. This time, they are able to greet me in my language. It’s like hearing a baby say your name for the first time, and I’m encouraged by the sound of their voices and the smiles on their faces. And just like every other time I see them, I find myself wanting so desperately to hear them speak English or to hear myself speak Kiswahili just so I can talk to them and hear their story.

From there, we buckled up in the large van the office has named the “band van” and set out. All I had was a pastel green business card and a confidence that this wasn’t an impossible task. That it could be done. It had to be done, actually, because getting kids into school is the most popular concern of our refugee parents. I couldn’t let them down. I placed all my faith in a card and the sound of Siri’s voice that led us to Antioch, and as we neared the destination I recognized where we were. However, it was my so-called familiarity with the area that led me to surprise at the end of our drive: an empty mall.

Hickory Hollow Mall? The old, vacant one that closed years ago? I know there’s a community college campus here, but public school registration too? No way.

I wasn’t sure why Metro Nashville Public Schools would choose to have an office in this building, but according to my card, this was it. And let me tell you: if you think finding your way to a new place is difficult, try doing it with people who are looking to you to know. That’s where the confidence to walk blindly in plans and places I can’t see is my only comfort. The only option I could see what to pretend like I knew what I was doing as my friends and I made our way inside. 

I clutched my folder with all the family’s documents and held the hand of the youngest girl. Her sister, brothers, and father followed us. I hadn’t thought about the possibility of being wrong, because there was no plan B. There was no turning back as we headed our way on the sidewalk and toward the front doors. There were no signs, or a grand welcoming party confirming we had arrived. Like most of my moments within the World Relief community, all I had was faith to accomplish what was laid before me.

What sat just beyond the front doors was a treasure. To the left was a large international market and restaurant, and just ahead of us was a large grocery. I glanced around and slowed my pace.

What is this place?

I stepped inside the grocery to ask where the suite on my business card was, and the Hispanic lady behind the counter directed me upstairs. We took the dusty, unmoving escalator upstairs only to find more shops. Most were closed, and even more vacant suites sat untouched. We didn’t pass a single person, and the entire building was quiet, but I was mesmerized—

Colorful patterns and clothes sat in window displays, and a long row of flags from all over the world hung above us. I grappled with the idea that even in our small corner called Nashville, there was a home to innumerable nations. It was remarkable—

I put my daydream on pause long enough to shift my focus back to the task at head. The only other people in this mall— a woman and a small boy— walked just ahead of us. I hoped this was a divine coincidence we were going to the same place, and decided to follow their path in the least creepy way possible. I could see no other open stores or people to ask for help, so this was going to be our way.

Sure enough, at the end of long hallway stood the doors to the enrollment office where the English Learners registration sat in the corner.

Just like my Ethiopian supervisor voices often, I said, “Thank You, Jesus.”

I signed them in and we found a corner to sit in. The office worker came over to get the necessary papers from my folder, and I set up a temporary desk on the floor as I separated and organized and made sense of the four different applications, I-94s, health records, and proof of addresses I had come with. But, by grace alone, we had everything we needed. We got all the paperwork turned in, got the necessary signatures, and then sat long enough to breathe a sigh of relief. I checked the clock, and realized I had enough time to sit for a few minutes and spend time with my friends.

They speak fluent Kiswahili. I speak English. Communication is difficult for us, and requires effort. It’s not easy, but the determination to not let a language barrier come between us is worth it. But here’s the beautiful truth about interacting with other cultures: sometimes you don’t need understood words to show someone you care about them.

I noticed the two brothers were watching everything happening on my phone screen. Like any millennial would do, I scrolled over to Instagram and thought, “Okay, what can I show them?”

First, I showed them pictures of my friends in Hong Kong. “My friends,” I told them, as I pointed to beautiful Asian faces that I think about everyday. I picked up the globe on the shelf beside us and showed them the distance between Hong Kong and America. My eyes got teary, and I had to put the globe back on the shelf.

Then, I took them to Travis’ profile. “My friend!” I told them again. They giggled at him, and I think his beard probably looked a little funny to them. When I got to the picture of a deer he had posted over a year ago, my friends said, “Ooooh!

We might speak a different language, but there some things that are understood no matter your tongue. Jackpot.

I went to the Radnor Lake location, and scrolled through the pictures of strangers just to show my friends turtles, owls, geese, birds, and more deer. They giggled as they listened to me say turtle, and when they repeated after me, it was my turn to giggle. As we repeated pictures, they’d look off in the distance trying to remember the words we had just said. I’d repeat the word, and they’d say it with me. I don’t know how long we sat there, but they moved closer to me. The oldest brother, who is 11 but small for his age, put his head on my shoulder and rested his hand on my arm. The youngest brother sat curled next to him. And for only a few minutes, we spent time together.

When I got up to leave, I shook their hands like I always do and promised I’d see them again soon. I left the pick-up case worker’s phone number with the lady in the office, and then headed back out to the band van to make the trek back to the office to drop off the keys and then back home to Joelton.

As I drove, I reflected on how it’s just like God to make a mundane experience, such as signing students up for school, something truly extraordinary. With each of these assignments, he bends my heart and shows me something new.

Take eagerness, for example. I see how eager my friends are to start school and continue their life here. I can’t imagine how proud their parents are to see their children receive an American education and have the opportunity to learn English— both of which look much different overseas for refugees. It’s amazing to consider that this family was so willing to get to school that they trusted me, someone who actually had no clue where we were going, to take them there. It seemed to be their only way, and they were glad for it.

How much more eagerness could I have in my life for the little gifts given to me, and the limitless possibility placed in my hands?

Or, what about the hidden treasures that sit in front of our blinded eyes? Even in seemingly vacant and run-down places, there are good works happening just inside. We don’t seek them or even notice they are here, but that doesn’t hinder their work. They are moving quickly under the current, and it fills me with grace and hope to know that even in quaint Nashville, Tennessee there is a corner of international culture that is fighting, surviving, and seeking to make this place home. It’s a community that proudly waves dozens of flags among the American flag, and this moves me.

It moves me to love more people who don’t look like me, and to hear their stories. It moves me to call them my neighbor. It moves me to learn more. It moves me to take more time to scroll through pictures, just to hear them speak. It moves me to see them glowing and making a home here. It moves me to see them as Jesus did.

Those flags don’t just represent places; they represent people who have come from a vast array of places. Their stories are different than mine and yours, but that’s what is so precious about the reality of it. We have a special call to love the nations, and it’s just like God in His grace to bring them to us.

Later, I learned that I had stepped inside the EL Global Mall at the Crossings. It was a manifestation of the vision that our sweet city could be home to people from all over the world. I didn’t count the number of flags hanging from the ceiling, but they were beautiful. And I can’t help but wonder how many more treasures I overlook day in and day out.

Step into a new place sometime this week, friends. I promise: even quaint Nashville isn’t so small that it can’t house innumerable treasures represented by colorful flags, international markets, and beautiful children enrolling in school.

It’s just like God to make an ordinary moment something extraordinary. What a treasure we have been given.

Kneeling in the presence of a toddler.


The last time I wrote to you, I told you about the first time I attempted an airport pick-up for new refugees. I told you about how the the family didn’t show up, but how much it lifted and broke me when they did show up the next day.

This time, I want to tell you a story about the second time I did an airport pick-up. It’s a story of how I relished every second of it because I knew it would most likely be my last. Weeks in hindsight, I can assure you: it was my last

:: :: ::

It was a Wednesday evening, and we prepared nearly all day for a Congolese family of 8 who had travelled through Tanzania to come to us. We went through the arrival routine— purchased culturally appropriate food, checked the apartment to make sure it’s clean, safe, and decent, etc. and yada yada. And then, we sat at the airport to wait. Part of me wished I had brought a book to read, but the other part of me enjoyed the sitting and people-watching. We had planned for a 30 minute wait— but remember, the greatest lesson to learn in this line of work is plans. Change. Often. We realized that the flight was running over an hour behind, so we set up camp beside the Starbucks and watched through the glass window at the gate as people from all different places, skin tones, luggage colors, and accents walked by us.

These moments of waiting were precious. You see, this was only days after the travel ban had been put in place. It was honestly of God’s grace that we even had this opportunity. Every day I’d ask my supervisor when arrivals were going to be finished, and she’d just say, “Just one more. Just one more.” These moments were precious because they were coming to a quick close, and I didn’t know where I’d be lost in it. Although I kept checking my watch, my mind wandered back to the same thought: what an honor it is to be here. What an honor it is to welcome them.

Finally, we saw them. Because again: you don’t sit in the heart of the heart of the Bible-reading and country-music-playing South and miss a foreign African family of 8 very easily.

“Eden, they’re here,” I said and jumped up. I ran to the opening at the gate, just before the “Do Not Enter” signs. I started waving frantically at them, and they nearly walked right past us. Thank God for our Swahili translator though— otherwise they would have no way to hear us say hello and welcome. And I think I said it to each member of the family at least twice. They had no clue what I was saying, I think my heart was just glad to voice those words. I grinned from ear to ear, as I shook their hand in sweet, sweet Congolese fashion.

We walked to the baggage claim, and grabbed just the three bags they had for the entire family of 8. As they sat, I realized how tired they looked. Their faces sat still and their eyes blinked slowly. I thought back to my summer traveling across the country, and then the ocean. My oh my, were those days wonderful and exhausting all in one. I just wanted to hug them, and tuck them into a bed. Honestly, it’d probably be the first one they’ve slept in for some time.

As we stood to make our way to the van, and then to their new home, I grabbed a little one to carry. “Hi, baby,” I smiled at her. Honestly, she smelled. She smelled of a long travel, too-few bathroom stops, and of countries much less clean than the high standard of the States. I didn’t care though. I walked and baby-talked to her in a language she doesn’t know yet. I watched her tired eyes blink, and I could tell that she felt awkward in the large puffer coat she wore. She watched the faces that walked past us, and I thought for a minute that I could count her eyelashes. “No, I cannot. But God can. He did,” I thought, blinking away tears. In my heart, I begged for every face I pass to look at the face of the baby I held and to have compassion.

As we walked to the van— a baby in my arms, her 5 brothers and sisters trailing behind, her parents carrying bags, my Ethiopian supervisor, and our recently resettled refugee translator— my heart filled with pride. So much pride for this family’s journey, and for the opportunity coming ahead of them too. I dared anyone who walked past to give a look or to say a word, because I was ready to defend this family and their story I had yet to hear.

And just as planned, we took them home, showed them how to use their dishwasher, lock the door, open the curtains, and all the other little things you and I take for granted. We gave them the first little bit of pocket money from their funding, and promised them someone would come by tomorrow to visit. We left, and just as I always do when we leave client homes, I wondered when I’d see them again and hoped this wasn’t a hello / goodbye.

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As it turns out, I’m the one who came to visit them later. I brought another resettled refugee, teenage client with me to watch the kids while I brought the parents to sign the lease at their apartment office. Something about my teenage friend is different, and I’m so eager for the day when she and I can converse. But for today, we talked about her favorite color, food, and animals in her small and broken English. It was enough. 

Once we arrived to the large family’s home, my friend stayed with the 6 little ones while the parents and I made our way to the apartment office. Honestly, you never realize how much passion you can put into such a simple thing like signing an apartment lease until you are the mediator between refugee clients and the apartment office–

I never thought I’d have to call a Swahili interpreter three times before realizing my iPhone speaker wouldn’t work for the first time in forever.

I never thought we’d get him on a speaker phone in an office, so the entire building would hear our signing process.

I also never thought the fat office cat would step right on the phone cord in the middle of the call, and disconnect the interpreter. Again, we called him back. And after 45 or so minutes, he asked how much longer it would take. I chuckled and said we were almost done, hoping that I was right.

Afterwards, I showed the parents the mailbox and drove them back to the apartment where they told me they needed baby soap. So I ran to Kroger. Bought a bottle of Johnson’s. And came back just to pick up my friend, and leave.

On our way back to my friend’s apartment on the other side of town, I gave her a chocolate bar I picked up with the baby shampoo. Her face lit up, and in her little English she said, “Oh, very good! I like chocolate!”

I tell you. You don’t go through things that like for a person you don’t love, or at least like little bit.

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Three weeks later, and things have slowed down significantly at the office. I’m sent on an assignment for another case worker that leads me back to that apartment with the family of 8. Eager to see them, I load up in the large World Relief van and turn the key. Heading to the other side of town, I walk to that door I stood at just a few weeks ago and knock.

The dad answers, and I’m grinning from ear to ear. I reach out my hand, and he invites me inside as the kids like to stare at me– like they usually do. I step in as the whole family is still scrambling to get ready. “We must hurry, hurry,” I tell them waving my arms— again, as usual. Half of this job is motivation, honestly.

While I wait just inside the doorway, I play with the kids who are ready. They keep grinning at me, and I do too as I watch them. I watched as one rolled his socks up to his knees over his pants legs, and then chuckled when his dad responded in their language and (I assume) told him to put his socks under his pants. I helped a big sister dress the baby I held that night we left the airport, as she attempted to put the pants on backwards. You think getting kids ready is difficult— imagine doing it in a place where you’re still learning how to live.

At some point, I knelt down to shake the hands of the little ones. The toddler wearing floral shoes, a denim skirt, and a boy polo, came over to me grinning from ear to ear. She just stood in front of me smiling, and I thought back to that night at the airport. Oh, how good it was to see her rested and closer to being restored.

She moved closer to me, and we were eye to eye. Her arms wrapped around my neck and I giggled as she hugged me. As she moved away, she reached her hand to the necklace that sat on my neck. Her fingers grabbed the gold, world-map donned on a chain that I almost forgot I was wearing. She gazed at it, and touched it. She pulled at it, as most toddlers would, and I wrapped my hands around hers so that she wouldn’t pull it off my neck.

As we sat like this for a few minutes— her playing with the gold, shiny world map on my neck, and me just watching her— I wondered what she was thinking. My thoughts ran poetically, as they usually do in these precious, precious moments when reality feels so vulnerable and unexplainable–

How wonderful to kneel in the presence of a toddler, and hand in hand gaze at a world map. What an act of grace that even as our stories began in different places and have taken different paths, we could still both meet in this living room in Hermitage, Tennessee on an ordinary day in February– even as innumerable others would say she belonged on the other side of the world. What a moment to live in.

Even as my legs began to feel the weight of kneeling for so long, I didn’t stand. It was a moment of victory and love that I don’t quite understand. And I knew that’s what this line of work is about: kneeling in the presence of the weak, and speaking the truth to them that these moments are no accident. I wanted to show her–

“My friend, you are from here and I am from here. We look different, we talk different, we have a different story. But we are the same. We are both made and loved by a God who cares about us so much. You’re not here by accident, little one. You are a gift and a treasure. This world is not so big and far away as we make it out to be— after all, look, you’re here.”

I watched her blink and fiddle with that map for just a few moments. And then, just like that, it was time to go and make it to Nolensville Pike for our appointment that we were already late for. We loaded up in the van– the entire family of 8 and me– and the youngest baby screamed the entire drive there. But I didn’t mind, because just sharing this presence with this family was worth it.

Oh, what an honor it is to welcome them. What an honor.