A Lesson Learned: volume 1

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

Written above the clouds on June 25, 2016.


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

Prepare my heart in the ways I can’t.

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

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

Prepare my heart in the ways I can’t.

:: :: ::

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

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

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

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

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

:: :: ::

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

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

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

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

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

:: :: ::

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

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

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

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

:: :: ::

Saturday, July 30, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



My heart is here.

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

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

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

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

:: :: ::

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:: :: ::

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

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

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

:: :: ::

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are the things I learned I love most.