Hair, trauma, and rumors that my husband looks like Jesus.

IMG_8771All student names have been changed in order to protect their safety. 


Middle Schoolers Say the Darndest Things

My husband has a pretty righteous beard. And there are two things none of my middle school students have: a husband or a beard. And for whatever reason, the trend this week was to talk about my husband and his beard.

I pulled my phone out at one point during class to text my supervisor a question. Two of the students I was helping were quick to notice the lock-screen photo of my husband and me at are wedding.

One pointed, and said, “Teacher, is that Jesus?” I chuckled and told her no, that it’s my husband. She simply said, “Oh,” as if she was disappointed and truly expected a different response.

The next day, I sat in the gym when a student from another class came to me. She said, “Miss, can I see a picture of your boyfriend?”

“Sure, but he’s not my boyfriend. He’s my husband,” I told her.

She paused and just stared at me for a moment before saying, “……Jesus…. Christ.”

I opened my mouth to respond to her, but she seemed less interested once I told her he wasn’t my boyfriend. That’s still a mystery to me.

And finally, when we got on the bus later, little Tim asked me about my husband too.

What color hair does he have?” Tim asked, and I told him brown.

What about the hair on his face?” he continued, and I told him like black.

What about his eyes?” he asked once more, and I told him blue-green.

I KNEW IT! He’s been at my school before! I saw him before,” little Tim stated so matter-of-factly.

And honestly, I just didn’t have the heart to tell him he was probably thinking of a different guy. So I just kept driving.


– – –

Chesa and Ming

This time 5 years ago, I was preparing to cut off 19 inches of my hair. I spent months in prayer over the event, and I wholeheartedly expected God to transform my heart in the process. Back then, cutting off my hair was a symbol of dying to self. It forced me to do something uncomfortable to help strangers, and manifested a spirit of eagerness to give everything within my grasp for the sake of growing in the Gospel and mirroring it.

My hair has grown out significantly since then. And these days, I often find myself sitting in a gym with middle schoolers as students play with my hair. This wasn’t part of my job description when I began working with the after school program, but I’ve gladly taken it. They braid it, take it down, and then French-braid it again. They put it in sleek buns and tie it on top of my hair. They brush it out, and chuckle as they tell their friends in their native language that I have some grays.

And all the while, we just sit and talk. I ask them about school and their families, and they ask about mine too. I ask them about their dreams, and pray for them every second they tell me more.

These are some Burmese girls I’ve really connected with this semester, Chesa and Ming. Our friendship started during my second week of class, when we sat outside and they played with my hair. This week, I learned that they want to live in Florida one day and that one of them wants to be a cosmetologist and the other says her parents want her to be a doctor. As we sat this week, the thought came to my mind: God knows what He’s doing even when I don’t. 

He gives us what we need at the right time. He teaches us the lessons we need and gives us the resources we need when we need it all. 5 years ago, as a new believer, I needed every hands-on lesson I could grasp in order to understand the magnitude of this life I had agreed to live for. I had to learn to not want to hold onto the things I loved, and I had to be willing to die to myself. I needed to cut my hair.

But now, to be honest, I don’t find identity in my physical appearance like I did in my early Christian days. Having long, silky hair isn’t a distraction or something I value as much now as I did then. Actually, I considered cutting it off again a couple months ago just because it gets in my way and causes a headache. As I sat with Chesa and Ming this night though, I realized that most of our friendship centers on our conversation that happens when they play with my hair nearly every week.

I thought cutting off my hair was a ministry some 5 years ago, but now I think it’s a ministry to keep it. Just to give me an easy reason to continue building relationships with my new middle school friends—it’s worth it to keep, despite all its headaches and annoyances.

We kept talking as they kept working, and I told Chesa and Ming, “You know, everyone has been saying my husband looks like Jesus.” I showed them a picture, and they doubled over laughing.

Yes, as annoying as it is, I think I’ll hold onto my hair a little longer.


– – –


Notes about Trauma

Although I interact everyday with people who have undergone immense trauma, let me be the first to say with complete confidence: I do not fully understand it. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a psychologist. I’m not an immigration expert. I read and studied literary works in college, and wrote way too many papers about it. That’s the extent of my formal education. Everything else I have learned, I have witnessed on the field or in a few hours of job training.

While I’m not degrading my education or work experience, I do need to make it clear that there are a lot of days when the field I’m working in reflects a side of humanity that I didn’t realize I’d need to be prepared to deal with. There are damages to the human mind and soul that I don’t always know how to respond to.

What I know about trauma is that is completely rewires a person’s brain. The ideal environment for these people is shattered. The chemicals and big words I don’t understand within their body are restructured. It causes them to put up walls, build forts, and hide away in places. The only encouragement trauma offers the human body is the empty promise that all people are bad, every situation you’re in is evil, and you must always protect yourself.

I see the effects of trauma daily. This is why I work with the after-school program to teach our middle school refugees what is right and wrong, and that our team can be trusted. However, this week, I saw it in ways that startled me.

In our little circles, we call it shut-down. It’s when a student loses all self-regulation, and stops responding to reason, kind words, affirmation. It’s when they become seemingly empty. And at that point, teaching is impossible. The only thing you can do is help bring them back to their senses.

I’ve seen it in the Somali sisters I work with, even though I didn’t realize it until I went through training for my newest job at the start of the new year. For months, they have shown up late to class. They tell me they’re tired and busy. They tell me the work is hard, although according to the institution tests, their ability is far greater than they let on during class. They blatantly answer questions wrong and don’t listen. And they’ll wind up sitting in class, gazing off into space. Even as I say their name, there’s a blankness in their eyes. They don’t look up immediately.

And then there’s times when they come to class focus and full of energy. They’re on time, and far surpass my expectations with their reading and writing. They are engaged, and I believe them when they tell me they’re happy about English class.

I, like you’re probably thinking now, have wondered before if they are just lazy students and I’m a bad teacher. I’ve wondered if they just need more rest and easier work. But to be honest, I believe I’m dealing with deeply traumatized sisters who don’t always know how to process what they’ve been through or what they’re going through now. Call it a lie, but I truly believe they “shut-down” in class. I think the broken make-up of their brains makes them give up, stop, and completely stop responding to all reason or affirmation. I have no other reasonable explanation for the depths of sorrow and void I see on their faces in these moments.

I saw it in my middle schooler Maddie this week. When she put her head on the table, and when she lifted her head up long enough to let me talk to her, her expression was empty. Her eyes were blank. She didn’t want to hear or respond to a single thing I said.

When I asked her later if she wanted to choose her prize from the prize box for the week she shook her head no, and when I offered her prize tickets she had worked hard to earn, she turned away. Usually, no matter how upset a student is with me, there is no debate about whether or not they will choose their prize. They always, always do.

But Maddie didn’t.

Later, when I finally convinced her to stand up and walk over to the prize box, I wanted to celebrate. I felt like we were finally taking a successful step in the right direction. Literally and figuratively. And for a few seconds, she looked through the box. But almost suddenly, less than 30-seconds, the blank expression returned. I watched the transformation happen right before my eyes, and it shook me.

Here, on the cold tile of a brightly lit room in a church, sat Maddie. At some point in the past, she sat for days at a refugee camp in Tanzania, but today, she sat in a safe place with a box of candy, toys, makeup, and other gadgets in front of her. The only response she could do muster was to sit motionless and expressionless.

Friends, I don’t know how to explain it. My words fall short, but the image of her sitting there remains in my mind and it breaks my heart. Everything I’ll never understand as she does was there in her eyes. There was sorrow, isolation, painful memories, a confusing present. There was an emptiness that, for a second, made me feel hopeless.

The next day, Maddie told me at the end of class, “Miss, I didn’t get to pick my prize yet. Can I choose now?”

I was taken aback. It was like she had forgotten about the entire incident. It was like she didn’t even remember sitting in front of the box yesterday, after denying nearly a dozen offers of me encouraging her to choose her prize.

Honestly, it scared me. It scared me to see how a person—endowed with a soul and purpose made special in the hands of an Almighty God—could sit with so much void and darkness hiding within them. Not that she is evil, but the things that have been done to her are. I could call it nothing but the evil work of the enemy, and I hated him for that in that moment.


– – –


Sara and Milad

As usual, Sara greeted me early on Monday morning with a smile. Her nearly 2-year old, Helen, smiled bashfully before running to the other room. Helen has gotten used to me. In the past she would run in the other direction without even waving hi or bye. But now, she will stay. And if she doesn’t stay, she is quick to come back. She looks at me with an expression that I can only explain as a shy fascination. She doesn’t bolt away from me anymore than any other toddler I’ve ever met would. And sometimes, she even shakes my hand. Her eyes never leave me and neither does her smile.

Although building a relationship with my students is my first priority, it means so much if I can learn about their families too. Each and every person I interact with is uniquely different—different ethnicity, different story, different family– and it is a huge expression of trust that my students will let me greet their little ones and hold their babies.

The more I learn about the families of my students, the more that I realize: there are so many people to meet. There are friends to be made and strangers to greet—so many of which live in my neighborhood and community.

This week, during out short break during class, Sara served me chocolate cake, lemon cake, and a single strawberry paired with a cup of coffee. As Milad and I waited for Sara to return to the classroom we had spread across the coffee table, we began to talk. In nearly all of our conversations, there is something to be learned, even when it’s communicated in a somewhat broken, mispronounced, incorrect English. Honestly, this is usually the motivation I need to continue going because I’m so eager for the day when we can communicate in full, complete English sentences.

As Milad and I talked, we got on the subject of phones. I always love to hear my students reactions to American culture and lifestyle. Although they speak with the highest respect and kindness toward this new land they are in, I hear it in their voice: this place is different and unlike the home they once knew.

That’s not necessarily good or bad. But it is true.

This time, Milad described to me the people he sees always on their phone. He told me about the people he sees in public, and how their phones never leave their hands. They stare at it, and forget that there are real people standing around them. They choose the photos and typed words on a phone screen before they choose to look up and see the image before the photo is taken and the story in the flesh before its words are typed.

“Their phone is their friend. All the time on it. Too much no good, huh?” he said.

I simply nodded and, against all my training on speaking in complete sentences, agreed, “Too much no good.”


What it looks like to stand for the vulnerable.


These first few weeks of interning with World Relief have been nothing short of life-changing. I’ve gone to international markets, cried during apartment lease signings, clapped for joy after a client learned how to use a gift card for the first time. My job looks different every day, and it’s not for the ones who aren’t willing to be rejected. To get looks from strangers. To run so hard and forget to eat lunch once or twice. To serve without any monetary or worldly compensation.

I love it. Even on the hard days and when answers seem unclear, I wouldn’t trade this path for anything. I’ll tell you that with a heavy heart and teary eyed: I love it so much that I want to share the stories with you too.

:: :: ::

Wednesday, January 25th

We had an airport arrival schedule for 4:44 PM. Our preparation began hours earlier though as we followed the World Relief and government guidelines for welcoming new families—

home set up with complete with hygiene items

appropriate carseat(s) fastened in the van

groceries for at least one day bought and delivered

a hot, culturally appropriate meal ordered for the family to eat after landing

translator over the age of 18 contacted

Check, check, and check, we had it all. My supervisor and I loaded up, and prepared for the honor of welcoming a Tanzanian family of 7 at the airport as they arrived to their new home in the States for the first time. We headed into the airport, and found the flight on the screen in the mix of dozens of columns. The flight had landed a few minutes earlier and was already in gate. We headed toward the cafe that has a glass wall to watch the arrivals, assuming it wouldn’t be a long wait.

Rule number one to this line of work: always be prepared for plans to change.

Our translator, my supervisor, and I waited for about 45 minutes. I looked at every bag people carried to see if they had that all-important International Organization of Migration bag. I watched every face that walked by, hoping I’d see the ones I was looking for and just know it was them.

I looked, but I never saw the bag or the family.

My supervisor got up to see if we had bypassed them. She’d been gone for a few minutes, and I felt something wasn’t right. We walked the airport for about 30 minutes. and went to a service desk so that our interpreter could make an announcement in the family’s language on the the speaker beckoning them to come meet us. But they didn’t come and we never passed them— and trust me, you don’t just miss a family like that easily. Especially in a place as small as BNA. As I made another round, my supervisor talked to the information desk at baggage claim and came back with nothing helpful.

“You try,” my supervisor, sweet Eden, said. I pushed my doubts to the back of my mind, took a breath, and headed toward the desk.

I walked into the small office, and was asked how I could be helped. “Here it goes,” I thought. I told the lady that I was looking for a family that hadn’t arrived yet, and asked if she could help. And she immediately respon—

“It’s against the law for me to give you any information. I’ve already told your friend that,” she said with frustration.

Okay. Here’s the thing— you don’t wander an airport for over an hour searching for a family that is your responsibility to find and just stop at someone else’s inconvenience to help.

“I’m not asking for you to do anything illegal. I’m concerned that this family is still in the gate, and didn’t come all the way to the exit so we could meet them. I can’t find that out though, because I haven’t just come off a plane. I’m just the pick-up on this side of the line. I’m asking if you can page a coworker to help me find this family to see if they’re still in the airport in a place where I don’t have access to and cannot see,” I said.

“No, I can’t. Sorry,” she responded shortly.

That’s it. I was gone. Nearly two hours of worrying about this family became real. Another deep breath and—

“Ma’am, it’s a refugee family of 7– including a baby. They’ve never been in the States before. They don’t speak English. And it’s my responsibility to make sure they are here safe. We’ve already sent two messages over the speaker, using our translator, and they have not come to meet us. I’m concerned they are either behind the gate, assuming I’m not here for them. Or, they are still at another airport waiting for a connecting flight they’ve already missed. I don’t know where they are, and neither do they. I don’t know how they are communicating or finding their way around, and I can’t imagine many people being able to find a Kiswahili interpreter easily. I’m worried and I don’t know how else to find them. So, yes, I am a little anxious and would greatly appreciate anything you can do to help. How can I find them?”

She paused and then asked for their last name. I replied, but knowing she wouldn’t know how to spell it, I slid the paper with all the family’s name on it to her. She typed for a moment before looking up, “Where they even booked for this flight?”

That was probably the most unhelpful question I had heard all night. “Yes, they were. I have this flight number coming from this place. We checked our system just a couple days ago, and the flight was still a go—

“Because I’m not even seeing that they were on this flight,” she said.

My heart sank. She kept talking, but I knew there was nothing else she could do. I shrunk away, defeated that nothing had been accomplished. Walking briskly back to the baggage claim, Eden, Asifiwa, and I came up with a game plan. Heading back upstairs to the Delta desk, we made another speaker announcement in Kiswahili.

“What kind of language do they speak? This is Tennessee!” the guy at the desk chuckled. He meant well, and I know he was just trying to lighten the mood. But, I don’t think realized how little his words were.

“Oh, it’s Kiswahili, brother!” I chuckled back, gracefully continuing, “You’d be surprised to know what languages are spoken here in Nashville.”

I didn’t mean anything by it, I just wondered how often people think English— maybe Spanish too— are the only languages in the world. I grew up in Cheatham County, Tennessee, and I can admit to you: I had no idea there were more than two languages until I left my sweet, small town.

We hung around the desk for a few minutes before Eden received a pass behind the gate, and I walked every level in the waiting and pick-up area outside to find this family. Finally, we surrendered our flags and left. We knew they weren’t coming.

We went briefly to the apartment to drop off the groceries and make sure the set-up was prepared—

the hygiene items were in the bathroom

the sheets and mattresses were in the bedrooms

the carseats were still fastened in the van

groceries were tucked into the cabinets and fridge

the hot meal for the arrival was put away in the fridge

the translator over the age of 18 walked the apartment with us

And then we prayed that they’d arrive soon.

:: :: ::

It was nearly 8 o’clock by the time I got back to the World Relief office, and began the long drive back home. I left with a heavy heart, and shoulders that slumped in exhaustion and defeat.

Selfishly, I looked at my clock and realized we had spent 8 hours preparing for this family’s arrival. It was a lot of time and energy, and I was completely spent. Not only had my plans deviated, but theirs had too. I spent a lot of time thinking about their reality that night—

They traveled across the ocean, and then across the States to be here. They’ve spent years fleeing from home, and keeping 5 little ones safe. And now, they’re so close to being here in a place with beds. A pantry full of food. A working lock on the door, and every other basic necessity that I forget isn’t as easy as a trip to Dollar General. They’re so close to being in a place of safety to call home again. They’re so close to seeking refuge. I’m spent tonight, but they must be too.

As I wondered where they were and prayed they weren’t scared anymore, I decided all I could do was trust they were going to be taken care of and be patient until my next shift to find out.

:: :: ::

Friday, January 27th

Two days later, the president issued the travel ban, suspending tens-of-thousands of vulnerable people from seeking refuge for a time. I got to the World Relief office, and although the outer circumstances were chaotic, we moved with a peace and grace. Regardless of the things attempting to steal our joy and purpose around us, we knew our work was far from over and we were prepared to fight this war. We began in office-wide prayer, before heading into another day of unceasing work.

I learned quickly that my assignment was to visit the Tanzanian family of 7 and take them to buy a cellphone. It sounds mundane, but I was thrilled to learn they had arrived safely and without additional complications. They were here, they were safe, and they were in their home— there was much to rejoice over.

Turning the ignition in the large van, I drove to pick up my friend Asifiwe to help me translate, and we headed toward that apartment closer to the airport. I had barely parked and walked toward the door, and I could see little faces watching me through the window. I could only make out the whites of their eyes and their white teeth revealed through a goofy grin, and I waved and smiled back at them. Raising my hand to knock on the door, and to say my usual greeting and the only Kiswahili I know “Me-me Brianna, World Relief!”, it opened before I could make a sound.

And there at the door stood the most beautiful family I’ve ever seen. The littles stood smiling at me, and their mother and father greeted us. In typical African fashion, we grabbed hands signifying our friendship and welcome. Immediately, through the smiles on their faces they began speaking excitedly and Asifiwe translated, “They are very happy and thankful that you are here.”

All I could respond was, “Beautiful, beautiful family. Thank you, I’m so happy to be here too.”

Soon, the father, Asifiwe and I left for Cricket and Walmart. I introduced myself at the Cricket store, explained my work and purpose. Because this family lives outside of Nashville— away from the places World Relief Nashville has built connections with— I was eager to share our mission and begin another relationship here. I talked with the sales associates as I watched my friends choose and purchase a phone. Finally, he chose the cheapest, $20 one.

“What language does he speak?” the lady asked, beginning to set up the phone.

“Kiswahili,” I replied as Asifiwe wrote it on a paper for her to see.

“Oh. Uhm, that’s not available on this phone…” she mentioned somewhat awkwardly.

I looked to Asifiwe as he translated and spoke in sounds I only wish I could understand.

He said that’s okay— he wants his phone in English so he can practice and learn,” Asifiwe spoke on our friend’s behalf.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting that. I can’t imagine my phone being in a language I don’t know. But then I stood with a man that knows no English and just purchased a phone entirely in this foreign language simply for the sole purpose of learning— that’s not a thing for the weak-hearted or complacent to do.

Afterwards, we went to Walmart across the street and bought a week’s worth of groceries for both of my friends. By the time we got back to the apartment, the little ones made a game of putting their groceries away. Then, momma asked me how to use the washing machine, and asked how to keep the floor clean. Asifiwe and I imitated using a mop and broom, and laundry detergent too.

As Asifiwe continued to answer questions for momma and dad, I knelt down on the floor to play peek-a-boo with the littles ones. They smiled and giggled at me, and by the time we left, my heart broke—

My heart broke at the deep beauty of this family,

my heart broke at the things that no one noticed about them,

my heart broke for the life they once had,

and my heart broke for the ways that was being threatened even here in their place of safety and refuge.

:: :: ::

When I reflect on that day, two things come to mind: the beanie and the strangers.

I think of the Stars and Stripes beanie that dad of the family wore the entire time I was with him. Donning the letters U.S.A. and the bright red, white, and blue, the hat never left his head throughout our errands for the day. As I met his family— saw their smiles, heard their words of thanks, watched their willingness to learn— I knew that beanie was more than just warming his ears. Call me crazy, and maybe I am, but I couldn’t get the idea off my heart that he was wearing that hat because he was proud to be here and eager to make a life with his family.

That beanie was on my mind for the rest of the day. And as I came home that night to reflect on that day, I also had the implications of the day’s announced travel ban to process. As I continued to read and learn about the ban, as well as other reactions to it, I kept thinking about that beanie—

and it was that beanie that left me sobbing late, late that night as I remembered the faces of the strangers we passed in Walmart.

I saw the way they looked at us— a small white girl with two dark-skinned guys wearing flip flops and hoodies. They heard they way I explained to them how Walmart is different from the markets they are used to, how to buy yogurt, where to find soap, how to use a gift card. And the strangers we passed look at us differently than they would have if I were alone.

For a moment, I chuckled to myself and thought, “What I would give to know what they’re thinking.”

As soon as I thought it, I was met with another thought: no, I don’t want to know.

I don’t want to know what they assume about my friends and their story. I don’t want to know that they feel threatened by these vulnerable people. I don’t want to know they are glad to meet a brother who is eager to contribute to society in America. I don’t want to know that there is no compassion for people whose stories have had little to no self-choice. I don’t want to know what they’re thinking.

Those strangers didn’t see them the way I do. They didn’t hear the way they said “thank you.” They didn’t watch momma imitate me as I showed her how to clean her floors and wash her laundry. They didn’t shake the hands of the littles ones as they giggled. They didn’t look at dad’s English phone. They didn’t even notice the Stars and Stripes beanie on his head.

They didn’t wait for hours in airport for this family, fight for them when help seemed distant, and exclaim “Beautiful, beautiful family,” when the long-awaited greeting finally came.

World Relief’s motto is “Stand for the vulnerable.” Although my heart began to hurt for strangers some time ago, this was the day that my heart shattered for friends as their stories became more than words. The deeper I go into meeting them and interacting with culture about refugee work, the more attached I become. The physical act of standing on their behalf, and fighting for the least of these— whether at Walmart or the airport— became a tangible act that I have found myself boldly asking for more opportunity ever since I met that sweet, Tanzanian family of 7.

It’s the kind of passion that promises me that this work is worth it because they are worth it. And at the end of it, my prayer is this: God, give me grace, give them understanding, and give us the grace to do the work of standing for the vulnerable.

a story written in the light of the sun

Like all good mornings marking the goodness of autumn, today began with a flannel and a cup of coffee.

I carried these things with me as I led an early meeting with a team of heart-moving, world changers. We lifted complaints, sought resolutions, and wrote dates in our calendars. We laughed when one of the guys carried an Oreo ice cream cake to our circle of chairs, and exchanged good hugs when an old friend came to visit and introduce her place as a sort of “team parent.”

Just at the meeting’s end, we introduced one last bullet point from our agenda: life stories. Two of us were chosen to boldly speak up about all the dirt and glory in our life– both now and then.

I listened to the girl on my right share her life with us. She told us about the old boyfriend, and the first knee surgery, and her fears, her hopes. And, being in the seat of vulnerability, she told us: it all fit together in the hands of a mighty God. She didn’t stammer or stutter. She spoke calmly and with grace as our eyes followed her words. I sat, somewhat nervously, fingering the red ribbon marking the page in my notebook.

On the page beneath my nearly-sweating hands stood an outline of my life. From the place I was born into, to the doubts and guilt that began to define my life in the 8th grade, I held nothing back in outlining the dark, gritty places of my life. Although in the silence of my room my messy outline seemed to be a good idea, suddenly in this circle I didn’t want to be so vulnerable. I continued counting the lines on the red ribbon beneath my fingers.

Silently, I knew I couldn’t miss it. Even as I tried to use the red ribbon as a cover-sheet, I couldn’t hide it. Under the second Roman numeral glared the names of the boys that had acted as seasons of my life, bringing me closer to who I couldn’t be and the life I didn’t want.

But– right when the ink looked blacker than midnight on this outline of my life– there came the change. Crammed in messy ink beneath the third Roman numeral began a new chapter, standing as a bold bullet point that noted the day my world shifted; it was the day my night turned into a morning.

My friend finished her story, and my heart filled with adoration as I thought about the bold way she could retell her story and simply know: I love God. Following her lead, I inhaled and looked around at the very different faces watching me within the circle of chairs. I did what I hadn’t planned and I closed my notebook. I closed the sloppy scribbles I had inked on the too-small lines of the page, and I promised instead to make the Roman numerals and bullet points come to life with my words. I spoke. I timed myself for 5 minutes and made another glance of the world-changers that sat around me, as I inhaled and spoke.

:: :: ::

Afterwards I helped fold the metal chairs and milled around the lobby for too long. I drove with the window down as crappy music blared out of my speakers. I prayed that my stuttering car wouldn’t stop and praised that the traffic kept moving. When I showed up to class just a couple of hours later, I listened for nearly an hour as a man told me all the reasons why I should use my language and beliefs in a classroom on the other side of the ocean in a country I probably couldn’t find on a map. He recounted faces and moments in time that had impacted him, and asked me to join in on this mission too.

Up until this point, I had focused on the screen and voice at the front of the room. I don’t know why, but something made me want to listen. But at the end, I sat chipping away the dark gray nail polish on my fingernails. As dark flecks fell on my desk, walls built of brick and mortar shook in my heart.

The presentation ended with the quote of an overseas student who had given her life to the cause of Christianity. Her white words stayed on the black screen for too long–

“It was like midnight until the window was opened and it was like sunshine came in my heart.”

I scanned the words, reading each one more slowly than before. In my head, I thought of the darkness of the night sky. The ways I’m too scared to stand under it for too long. The ways it haunts me. And then I thought of the way the morning broke– I remembered the first ray of sun that began to peak over the trees. I remembered the first morning that I awoke and knew, “This is the first day of my life,” and vowed to always live in the beautiful dawn. Tears gathered at the brim of my eyes and I blinked them away, never letting my gaze leave the screen.

“What a beautiful thought,” was all I could mutter. What a beautiful thought.

:: :: ::

Today I saw Grace in the power of a story. As I listened to my own story for the umpteenth time, heard a friend’s for the first time, and read one sentence written by a stranger I’ll probably never meet, I didn’t just hear beautiful words. I didn’t just hear beautiful, well-crafted words that moved me to another place.

I heard stories of a wonderful Sun shining in a dark places. I saw the way the rays shone in unexplainable ways, and I pictured what He might have looked like with a watering can as He sought to make His beloved grow, grow, grow into a work of nothing less than immense transformation. 

At one time, I struggled to pen the words beneath the pale moon in the midnight sky. But one day– when the sun was shining at the right angle and the trees were the perfect shade of autumn– I walked to that window. I fingered the dirty, off-white cords that hung down. And I pulled. And as I pulled, the blinds rose higher, higher, and higher until they nearly met the ceiling. And immediately, I felt the warm October sun blaze through the window as I saw the hues of olive greens and deep blues. The light filled the room and replaced the shadows with a bright, golden light. In silence, I closed my eyes and I knew I had never seen the sun before this moment.

My overseas sister words filled my head once more. It was like midnight until the window was opened and it was like sunshine came in my heart–

And now I know: today my story is written in the sunshine.

When holding the cold coffee gets tiresome.

He tells me I need rest. And I usually try to disprove Him.

As I’m hustling to clock in at work, visit my middle school friends, and show up to class on time in just one morning, I’ll lift my stale coffee in the air and say, “Do you see? I’m okay.” And I’ll keep going on to the next place without allowing a single thought of stopping be made known to anyone.

It hits me at some point though. Sometime when I’m sitting in traffic or attempting to write 8, 476, 500 in Spanish, I’ll want to stop. I’ll glance down at the coffee sitting in the bottom of the cup and realize: I don’t want it anymore.

When I moved my stuff into room 314 of Polston Hall just over a month ago, I had dreams in my head of what I wanted this year to look like. I wanted blankets under shaded trees, new pictures pinned to twine, artfully crafted coffee in cozy nooks, textbooks filled with notes and ink, a bedroom rug that stayed cleaned– I wanted those things. I wanted days full of enough time to seek new people, new places, and new ways to see God. Tying it all together with a perfect bow and sturdy knot, was a desire to live in days that breathed grace and wisdom.

Call me bold, but that’s what I asked for.

I clutched the pew in front of my as I ignored the piano and said in my heart, “Take the victories and take the defeats. Take them. Take them before I can even get a hold on them. Take them, and I’ll take Your peace. I just want to live and love and know you better today. You are my purpose. Please, make Your peace the song of my year.”

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At some point in September, I ached for a chance to read. To paint. To wash my dishes. To watch Serendipity. To drink my coffee slowly as the twinkle lights beside me shed a glow on my jersey sheets and me. At some point in September, I ached for a chance to simply rest.

There it is. There’s my confession that the dynamic duo, composed of my faithful coffee mug and me, truly are weaker than we pretend.

I heard my roommate talk about a “Sabbath Hour” an old friend of hers would take daily. She described this time as a chance to wind down after classes by spending an hour doing little things that would revamp her. I hadn’t thought about rest that way before. Rest is napping, right? Sure, I hear very clearly when He reminds me, slow down, slow down, slow down, but could that really mean every day?

Despite my doubts, I told myself I’d try it. No planning, no thinking about, no overreacting. I just wanted to spend a pocket of time doing quiet good for myself every day.

It started off as scrolling through my newsfeed. It grew into reading more Scripture. And every day it grows into new things. Things like reading Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Getting rid of clothes in my closet that either don’t fit or don’t look good. Leaving pop-tarts on my shirt. I’ve even found time for a nap. Whatever comes to my resting mind, I do it during my time of daily rest. Sometimes I’ll spend an 45 minutes doing these small things, and other days it’s a goal to make it to 20. Can I be real with you? It isn’t as scary as it sounds.

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I thought I was giving up my alone-time today. As I looked at my calendar, noting my classes and the time my best friend would visit in between, I wondered how I could find a minute to sit still today. And honestly, I thought shooting a text and canceling those plans. But that familiar voice of Grace reminded me that we do things around here and show up for others. And, because I like the sound of His voice, I trusted Him. So at 3:30, I slid on my Mary Janes and walked down three flights of steps to meet my friend.

For an hour and a half, we shared our stories of inspiration from the week. I showed her the pages and pages of notes I took on a webinar dedicated to writing, and I told her about the little things I had thought about since those notes were written. We laughed off campus happenings, talked about weddings, and at some point our conversation shifted. She told me about a woman she bought a short story from just earlier that day. As she described her newest blogging project, which highlights fruits of the Spirit as noticed in strangers, she said something that resonated with me. Something along the lines of,

“I just see how things work out. I don’t want to force these stories, and it’s just amazing how things worked out today and gave me a story.”

We dreamt of doughnuts, sitting in airports, and walks beneath Autumn leaves, and can I tell you? I forgot about the work that sat on the desk just behind me. The hardback, mosaic planner on the floor beside me sat mute. We didn’t even notice when the flame from the wax-warmer fell silent. Never once did I consider that I should be doing something other than sharing space on my paisley printed comforter with a friend who fills my head with dreams and my heart with inspiration for a beautiful, grace-filled life.

When she left, I felt ready to face the night and speak those numbers in Spanish. My heart chuckled and I thought to myself, “That was rest. That was worthwhile, rejuvenating rest.” And I realized that sometimes seeing Grace in your own life is seeing it in the life of someone else, and asking for a life brim-full of grace and wisdom means longing for rest. Every single day.

Because at the end of this day, I know: rest is not a time of boredom but a type to wake up and keep going– and sometimes that means allowing your best friend from high school show up and simply be there with you.

More than the waters.


We walked upstream, splashing over 100 rocks with every step. I watched as we stirred the clear water, causing clouds of dirt to rise to the surface. As we continued in the creek, stopping at a deeper hole for a dunk under water and dodging cow patty after cow patty, I had a place in mind that I wanted to go. I would ask them occasionally, “Are we going or stopping?” and each time they’d reply, “Keep going.”

After we passed the bend in the creek and kept left at the fork, I knew we were nearing the memory I envisioned. I remembered the way awe had felt in my heart and on my lips that day a year ago, and I knew I had to get these girls there. This time, I didn’t ask. I just decided we were going to keep walking.

We continued, and I worried we had missed it. “Surely not. Surely it’s impossible to miss something so beautiful, right?” I thought to myself, as if I hadn’t already passed at least 100 beautiful things during our walk. Finally, we neared a fallen log in the creek. I recognized the way the sun broke the shade and onto the water just on the other side, and I said to the girls, “We need to climb.”

Jumping onto dry rocks and pushing leafy limbs to the side, we passed the log. “Keep looking to the left. It has to be on the left.” Finally, as our eyes moved from the creek bed we walked on to the trees above us, we came to it. We met the clearing of the trees that revealed a bright green, towering pasture. The sun gave a shimmer to the waters around us, and we looked up towards the hill on our left. Through a narrow clearing in the trees, we could see the rolling pasture just beside us, and the blue sky that loomed over it. Living in a world of blues and greens, I immediately heard the girls bring a voice to the awe I been hiding in my heart.

As we stood watching the motionless, unchanging hill, one of the girls said, “I don’t think anyone could look at this and not believe that God made it.” And when the mother cow just up ahead continued moo-ing, and we squealed and giggled as the baby calf galloped across the pasture, I knew then that my previous memory of this place was not enough. I knew this was the kind of moment that deserved to be remembered. On the lines of a page stacked on the shelves of my library-heart, this moment rested.

:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The next day I came to the bank of the same creek. As I read page after page about the promises of a God who loves me as much as the people in the book, I stopped. Closing the cover, I looked up at the gray sky overhead. I listened to the moving spring on my left and the trickling creek on my right. I sat and listened. And every ounce of pride I had– the same pride that claimed relentlessly the quiet doesn’t bother me– was broken. Shattering in the grass all around me, I thought, “How can You do this?

How can a God– the same one who mightily led His people to a place of restoration and security in the pages beside me– bring me here? He could throw fire on every tree and piece of dirt lining the bank. He could part every cloud in the sky and make the sun relentlessly beam down on me. He could stop the very movement of the waters, and move the same pasture I had seen only the day before. He could do anything with all He had created–

but instead, he called me here.

He called me to a place of peace when the very fibers of my heart began to strain under pressure. He called me to a place of silence after I had joked about hearing the sound of my own voice. He called me to be still after a week of pouring this big life He had given me into 60 junior high students. This God who could do anything or nothing at all had wanted me in this place.

Would you believe me if I told you this was hard for me? It’s hard for me to even reach my dirt-ridden hands out to this idea of being cared for out of choice. Passion-filled, desire-driven choice. Because here’s the thing: the spring doesn’t argue with Him. The spring doesn’t stop giving life to those who meet it. And the creek? She doesn’t stop moving. She doesn’t come to a place of complacency, but instead fearlessly moves. With the rippling of a gentle current, she does everything she was created to do without a doubt. She’s confident, she’s graceful, and she’s nothing less than what God told her to be when He spoke movement into her.

He could love this creek and spring more than me. He could look on these obeying, serving waters with more pride and awe than He looks on me. As I thought about this– I mean, as I downright arm wrestled this thought in my heart– I remembered the lilies of the field clothed in all their splendor and the birds of the air, and that resounding question, “Are you not much more valuable than they?” With all the dirt under my fingernails, the sweat on my brow, and the stubbornness in my heart, I let him win. I looked at those pieces of pride all around me, and I said over and over: He still loves me more than the graceful waters. He loves me more than the waters.

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The camp director I work for gave the staff a mid-week / mid-summer pep talk the other day. He told us to not get so caught up in sweeping that we forget to look up in awe at the fireworks just overhead. I went back to cabin and made bold the words in my journal, “Make a memory every day.” I started writing down all the big and small things I didn’t want to leave forgotten during the week. When it came to the part about meeting with God at the creek, I paused–

I left those shattered pieces of my pride beside the creek that day. I’m sure I’ll try and go back for a piece or two at some point, but for that day, it was enough to see them shimmer on the ground and know I did not need them. For that day, it was enough to know His promises. To know of His mighty strength and His infinite, unsurpassable love for my broken bones and me. It was enough to want to know that more and more everyday–

And underneath the bold words “Things I don’t want to forget,” I scribbled on the next empty line in my notebook: “The moment God promised He loves me more than the waters.