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.”

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A fake mustache, jumping rope, and some figs.

IMG_8602.jpg

Shelby

One of the greatest positive reinforcement tools in the after-school program is the use of tickets. Lots and lots of tickets. We love to reward good behavior, no matter how small or big the steps are. And when a student gets 30 tickets, they get to pick a prize out of the prize box.

My students have two modes: work hard and quietly and get all the tickets. Or run around and get none. Most days there is no in between. We’re working on that.

One of the girls in my class is a small Tanzanian girl named Shelby. She’s so tiny that she’ll fit in a large tote (I know because I’ve watched her do it), but she has one of those kinds of smiles that’ll leave wrinkles around her eyes one day and makes you want to smile too. She’s just adorable. There’s no other way to describe her. She adds so much to our class, and I’m glad to be her teacher.

Well, my sweet student Shelby earned a peek in the prize box on Thursday. She turned in her tickets with pride, and began rummaging through the box. She flipped through Skittles, Frozen notebooks, knitted winter hats, a box of Christmas lights. She passed chocolate and headphones. She thought quietly, and I was beginning to think she didn’t see anything she wanted.

“These,” she said suddenly. And in her hand—of all the things in that small treasure box—was an 8 pack of stick-on mustaches.

“Those?” I asked, a little surprised. She nodded, and walked away. And that was that. I erased her name off the prize list on the board, and turned to finish gathering up the rest of class to go home.

As the rest of the class continued to finish cleaning up and packing up, I heard Shelby’s little voice. “Teacher, why won’t these work? Why are they broken?” I glanced over to see her standing with a mustache in hand, the backing still attached. “Take the white piece off,” I said to her, motioning over the heads of half a dozen students moving and cleaning around me. I felt bad that I couldn’t show her how the white paper protects the sticky part, and I hoped she could figure it out on her own.

In some ways, cleaning and packing up is the hardest part of the day. Don’t ask me how that works. All I know is it’s usually chaotic and loud and still messy after they leave. I’m realizing the hardest balance in this job is giving each student the undivided attention they need from me as a teacher, while also keeping enough focus on the whole class so it doesn’t blow up.

Within a few minutes, it was as good as it was going to get. I had the van key in hand and was heading toward the door as I corralled all the students to get in the line, ready to take them home.

I turned around just in time to see sweet Shelby walking toward the line. I did a double take. I realized that a large, black, handlebar mustache was nestled under her nose. Seriously. Home girl was walking around with a fake mustache on her face and so much chill. It was way too big for her face, and nearly blended in with her skin, but she didn’t even seem to notice. She didn’t have a care in the world, and I smiled because she had figured out how to “fix” it on her own. And also because she’s still adorable.

I hope that I still know her when she’s older. I want her to know that when she was in middle school, she won a pack of stick-on mustaches and wore one home.

I hope she never changes.

 

– – –

 

Darcy

During our time in the gym this week, I played a couple games of soccer-ish/volleyball-ish/football-ish with my friend Millie. But one night, I somehow got roped into… jumping rope.

I saw one of my Muslim students, Darcy, and a friend tossing the rope in the air. I don’t know much about this game, but I do know that with such a long rope, it works best with at least 3 people: two to toss the rope, and one to jump it. So, I ran over to them hoping to be that third person.

“Want some help?” I asked. They smiled and nodded excitedly. I took the rope from Darcy’s hand, and encouraged her to jump. I was surprised by how many times she jumped and how quickly she could. Actually, I was amazed. Jumping rope is not my talent, and I love that there are people in the world who can do it, do it well, and enjoy it.

Some other girls came and left, and I remained at my post, tossing the rope and clapping for each girl that finished.

Darcy, in all her kindness and helpfulness, yelled to me as another girl stepped away from the rope, “You try!” She pointed at me, and I laughed, trying to convince her that I was only there to help. Not to take away from their game.

“I want you to play!” I told her.

“Awh, Teacher, come on. We want you to jump!” she said.

And that was it. I had to open up about my embarrassing confession.

“Well, actually, Darcy… I’m not good at jumping rope. That’s why I want you to play. I’m no good,” I told her.

“Awwwwwh, just try! I’ll teach you!” she smiled, totally unmoved by this confession that I assumed would be the epitome of embarrassment in middle school circles.

What else was I to do? So I tried.

I traded off the rope to another girl, and took my stand in the center of it. Darcy yelled, “Go!” and I began jumping. I made it around one full time before getting my feet in a tangle.

“See? I’m not good at this. Here, you try again,” I told her, trying to give my position away.

“Come on, you can do it. Try it like this,” she said, showing me the perfect jumping height. I tried the jump, and we laughed because I realized how high my knees came in the air and how heavy my feet hit every time. Anyone who has ever called me graceful, has never seen me jumping rope with middle schoolers. My jumps looked goofy compared to Darcy’s quiet, small jumps.

So, I tried again with the rope. My knees were still too high and my feet still landed too heavy. But this time, I made it around 2 or 3 times. As soon as the rope stopped, I tried to get away from it. I gave Darcy every excuse why I wasn’t good enough for it.

“You can do it, teacher. Just try it again. I know you can do it!” Darcy said, smiling. I believed her, so I gave it a couple more tries. And every single time, she encouraged me to keep going because she believed I could do it. She told me so.

At some point, I looked to her and said, “Darcy, you’re my teacher now! Teacher, student,” I said, pointing at her and then to myself. She smiled from ear to ear and giggled, and I knew that there was no way I could ever explain to her how true that really was.

I have learned, and continue to learn, so much from my students—even the littlest of things like learning to jump rope. And I don’t take a single moment for granted.

 

– – –

 

The Big Class

One of my favorite questions to ask my students is this, “What are your dreams?”

It’s a question of reflection and hope. It’s a question of safety that mirrors the face of this nation we live in together. When I ask this question, every few months or so, I do it to remind my students that they’re worthy of hopes, they’re capable of seemingly impossible tasks, and they’re no longer bound to survival mode only. I don’t believe America is the saving grace every person in humanity needs; however, I will recognize that the questions we ask about our future here reflect our liberty and luxury.

My students come from places where their hopes for the future were safety, food, and shelter. They lived to survive; there was not an option to thrive. And for most in America, we don’t have to hope for those things. We assume we have them, and then hope for luxuries. We have what we need to survive, and then we focus on thriving.

When I asked this question this time, they paused. Linda said wants to drive a car one day, and Lucy said that she wants to buy a house.

A Sudanese woman, named Stephanie, looked surprised. She said–

“Teacher, I’m in America. This is my dream.”

Although I’m an advocate for hopes, visions, and dreams for a better future, I’m also learning to be content. My students live with a quiet hope and a genuine contentment. They humble me and remind me that things and accomplishments are not the definitions of our lives.

I will be learning and re-learning this lesson far past my teaching days. I have no doubt.

 

– – –

 

Charity

The youngest Somali sister I teach, Charity, is only 19 years old. She works in a factory every day, and is one of my most faithful students. She’s never cancelled class, and she’s always on time.

I have been teaching her and her sister, Farhia, about jobs. We learned job titles last week, and began looking at job ads this week. The sisters are young, and I can’t see them wanting to stay in their factory job, knowing little English, for their entire lives. I know they want so much more, and in their position, the process of wanting more begins with knowing the opportunities and how to get there.

On Monday, only Charity came to class. I’m always so impressed by how quickly she can learn and use information, and Monday was no exception. At the end of class, she told me so simply, “Teacher, I want to go to college. Next year, I want to go.”

We talked for a few minutes about it. She told me that she wants to be a nurse, and that’s why she wants to learn English. I was honest with her—I told her she has to work hard. I explained that she knows small words, but we want her to learn big words and sentences. I explained that college is a lot of reading and writing in English, and being a nurse is a lot of speaking in English. She’s smart, but there’s still more to learn.

But, I immediately told her that I believe in her too.

“You can do it. I want to help you do it,” I told her. And now, I’m wondering what this task looks like of getting a refugee student’s English to the point of being ready for the university level in the relatively near future. I don’t want to let her down. I believe in her too much to let her down.

 

– – –

 

Sara & Milad

Sara and Milad—my Monday morning class—told me last week they had a food stamp interview, and needed to reschedule the next week’s class. We made plans to meet on Tuesday instead. I’m used to rescheduling for appointments like this, so it was no problem. Just a few days later though over last weekend though, Sara texted to tell me the appointment was delayed. “My dear teacher…” she began the message, just to tell me we could in fact meet at our usual time on Monday. Again, I’m used to changing plans on a whim. It was no problem.

I showed up bright and early on Monday morning, and we began our lesson. I had just finished presenting the new material, part 1 of the 3 part lesson, when the phone rang. Sara answered, put it on speaker phone, and then handed the phone to me.

“Hello, I’m calling from DHS to do the interview,” the voice said.

“Do you have an interpreter?” I immediately asked.

“Can’t you do it?” she responded.

Interpreters get paid upwards of $50 an hour, and for an interview like this, I couldn’t risk my limited ability to communicate in complex thoughts and sentences to hinder the process. I told the woman no. “I’m only the English teacher, and we’re learning how to say the months today,” I told her simply. She got the point. She asked what language interpreter we needed and I told her 3 times: Arabic or Kurdish Badini. Arabic or Kurdish Badini. Arabic or Kurdish Badini.

And just like that, she hung up. We were all confused, because we had understood that the interview would be delayed. We also didn’t know when she would call back. So, we continued on with our lesson the best we could, knowing it could be interrupted at any moment.

Fifteen minutes later, the woman called back again. She asked for the language, and I told her for the fourth time: Arabic or Kurdish Badini. “Okay, hang on,” she said, putting us on hold. We continued our lesson for another 10 minutes to the sound of hold-music playing over the speaker phone. I already knew I’d have to reteach everything we were learning today, because our focus was not on the class. Our focus was on that phone and that somewhat unexpected interview.

The music stopped, and the woman immediately called back. For a third time. This time, she had an interpreter. And I can’t even adequately put into words the chaos that followed in the couple minutes following.

In case it’s been a few years (or since middle school) since you were in a three-way call, it’s overwhelming enough with only 3 native speakers casually talking. And I realized I was about to witness a three-way phone call between a DHS representative, an interpreter, and 2 nonnative people in a formal interview. I honestly just wanted to pack up and leave then.

The woman asked about Sara and Milad’s family—number of kids, etc. She asked about Milad’s job, and he explained that he’s a school custodian. Everything was going as well as it could—until she asked about Sara’s job.

“She doesn’t work,” the interpreter communicated.

“Why not?” the woman said.

“Her language is not good. She studies. We have a baby at home,” they explained.

Well, that’s not enough. She has to have 30 hours of activity a week,” the woman said, her tone changing.

“Oh, English class. She goes to class. She studies,” they responded.

“We need verification of that,” the woman said shortly.

Sara is in two classes: mine and another offered through another organization. They tried to give the DHS representative the address of the other class, and she simply said it wasn’t in their system. At this point, not even the interpreter was helping.

I grabbed the phone, and gave her the address of the other class. The tone changed again, and it became quieter. I wondered why I hadn’t spoken up sooner and why I didn’t even want to speak up now. They probably didn’t even realize I was still there.

“I need the verification forms signed and faxed. Here’s my fax number,” she said. There was a mumbling of thanks and goodbyes exchanged, and the call ended.

And just like that, it was silent in the room. I was already 15 minutes past our class’ end time, but I could tell by the look on Sara and Milad’s face that they knew the call hadn’t gone well. Milad simply said, “We tried.”

I left quietly, ashamed that I hadn’t helped them more and sad that their chances for help from other places weren’t looking good. I didn’t know what to say, other than to encourage them to keep trying and to not give up.

I don’t want to turn this post into an argument about politics, nor is that ever my intention in this field. Certainly, there are political and legal aspects of this line of work, but above that, there are people involved. And that’s what I want to talk about. People and their stories and their feelings and the very things that are woven into each and every human that make us mirror the Image of a God bigger than we are.

However, I can’t help but wonder: what does that phone call say about our system and what does it say about my advocacy?

Sara and Milad obviously can’t afford childcare, nor do they know people nearby who can watch the baby for little to no money. Sara’s language skills might be struggling, but she is taking 2 classes a week to practice. And even though 2 times a week isn’t much, they’re free classes and could be the only ones she’s able to go to with Milad’s work schedule and the 5 children they have.

My students are the most hardworking people; Sara and Milad are no exception. They are working hard in their parent roles, their English student roles. They are working hard to learn a language, learn a culture, build a safe life abundant with opportunity for their children. They’re working without the luxuries of having been born or placed in a place of opportunity; they’re working after they have already worked hard to come to this place of opportunity. They’re doing so much more than a signed verification paper can show.

How can a system step in to literally interrupt one of the couple hours a week that they get to practice what they’re learning—the very thing that the fuss of the phone call centered on—just to say they’re not doing enough?

This phone call hasn’t left my mind all week. For two reasons.

One,

I don’t know understand how it’s so easy to refuse help to vulnerable, trying people. No matter what language tumbles off our lips, no matter whose signature is on the paycheck, and no matter what activities fill our verification form—I don’t understand how we can boil down someone’s worthiness to receive help without considering that maybe the answer won’t fit on a single piece of paper or signature line.

And two,

I wasted an opportunity to help my students in a very real, tangible way. When I was in a moment to speak up, to be a true advocate, I sat in waiting. To be honest, I don’t even know what I had been waiting for. I knew the answer to every question DHS had asked. All I needed was to speak up. But instead, I chose to sit and wait. I regret that.

Before I left, Sara and Milad asked me to sign that verification form. I knew they were several hours short, and they did too. “It’s not enough,” Milad mumbled.

To be honest, I didn’t know how to tell them that it’s not fair. What they’ve had to endure, and what they continue to face, isn’t fair. I wanted to apologize for living in a world that is cautious of hearing a person’s plea for help. And when we do hear it, we’re still reluctant and we complicate it.  

As I looked at that messy paper with too small lines, I didn’t know how to tell them: you are worth so much more than this paper. I’m so sorry we live in a world that lets us believe otherwise.

New friends, resolutions, and simply okay.

FullSizeRender 2All student names in this post have been changed in order to protect their safety and identity.

 

Sara & Milad

After a too-short Christmas break, I came back hitting the ground running on a Monday morning. My first students of the week are an Iraqi couple named Sara and Milad. Usually, any hard feelings I have toward Monday mornings dissipate once I step in this couple’s home. They have become friends to me, and I’m so eager for the day when we can share more in-depth conversations.

I still remember our first class together. I told the couple we would only be meeting once a week, and their faces dropped. “Only Monday?” they asked. I explained that many people want English class, but there’s only a little money to pay good teachers. So yes, only Monday. They were disappointed, but still thankful for any chance to practice with a native speaker.

We began our lesson, and stopped halfway through to take our short break. As usual, Sara left the room to prepare a small breakfast in the kitchen. While Milad and I waited in the living room, he shared how badly his head and eyes continued to hurt.

“The air here is no good. Allergies,” he explained. I nodded my head in total understanding.

“Many people have allergies here. I’m sorry you do too,” I told him. He showed me the medicine he has been using, and I recommended some others, saddened by his eagerness to continue coming to class despite how badly his head hurt.

I wondered if the stress of resettling here in Tennessee caused him to feel sick also. There’s a lot of stress in moving, but especially in moving to another country with 4 children. There are bills to pay. Jobs to work. Roads to learn. Schools to enroll in. A language to learn. A new culture to adapt to. That gives me a headache just thinking about it.

I showed him the word “stress” on Google Translate, and he said, “Yes! Stress!” I suggested he get more sleep and encouraged him not to worry, knowing that would be easier said than done.

We were quiet for a moment. The TV on the other side of the room was muted, but I watched the video and studied the Arabic scrolling across the screen. Other than kids’ shows to keep the toddler entertained during class, I had never seen anything other than Iraqi news played on that TV.

“What’s happening?” I asked, motioning to the TV. I ask this every week, curious to see how Milad will fight to explain it in my language. He always tries, but some stories are easier to describe than others. This week, he couldn’t communicate it well enough. I’m not surprised—it looked pretty messy.

He was able to share with me about the war. He told me that everyone is fighting, and it’s not good. I asked him about his country specifically, and he reached for his pencil and paper to draw a picture for me. This is the second Iraqi person to do this for me. The Kurdish (or Iraqi) people I know take a great deal of pride in their heritage.

He drew an oval, calling it Kurdistan. His country. He explained that there was war and fighting, and everyone got a piece of his country. On top of the large oval representing Kurdistan, he drew 4 smaller ovals. He pointed to each one, “Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria,” he said. His family was from the Kurdish region in northern Iraq. I understood that Kurdistan is no longer a nation, but an ethnic group of people displaced across a region because their nationality—at some point in history—was changed.

Even though I’ve seen this map drawn out a few times, it still makes me pause every time. Even though I’ve attempted to read about the history several times, it still makes my head spin.

They used to have clear-cut lines to prove they were a people standing together as a nation. And at some point, that all changed. Those lines were erased as others where they would go. Now they’re a group of people carrying the name of the heritage proudly, no matter where they live. My students are Iraqi. But they were Kurdish first.

I’m hopeful that one day Milad and I can have a more in-depth conversation about this. I have many questions to ask him. But there was no time, as Sara arrived at the table with hot coffee and a spread of wonderful snacks—lemon cake, chocolate cake, vanilla wafers, and Doritos.

 

The Sisters

There are 4 adult sisters who live at an apartment complex down the road. Three of them live together with their aunt, grandmother, and father. The other one lives at another unit with her husband and 5 children. The two sisters with the higher-level English skills, Charity and Farhia, are the ones that come to class regularly, although I desperately wish the other two would come too. One must work during our class hours, and I think the other one gets overwhelmed easily at her lack of skill. Even so, I know the names of all of them and try to never miss an opportunity to encourage them, whether or not they come to class.

The sisters’ grandmother lives with them. I don’t know how old she is—maybe I’ll ask during class tomorrow. At any rate, she’s very, very, very, very old. Deep wrinkles cover her skin, and although she usually wears a hijab, I’ve seen her on days when it’s taken off and revealing wiry, aged hair. I’ve never seen her eyes before. They’re always closed. I’ve also never seen her standing or walking on her feet.

I see the old woman at every class. When it’s warm outside, the grandmother is sitting under the tree in her wheelchair. Sometimes the aunt is sitting with her. The aunt’s face will brighten, “Hello, Teacher!” she’ll shout, waving from across the lawn.

It’s winter now though, and the grandmother is always on a pallet in the dining room. In place of the wooden table most would expect to see, there is a thick pile of pillows and blankets. And when the grandmother isn’t in the wheelchair, she’s on the pallet. Oftentimes she’s sleeping. But other times, she’s awake. I can’t tell by her eyes, but I can hear her the sounds she makes. They’re pained moans and a strained voice. I’ve never seen the aunt sitting because she is always caring for the grandmother.

Sometimes when the grandmother is having a hard time, Charity or Farhia will stand up to help move the aunt move her to a more comfortable position. Other times they giggle at her from across the room. I’ve never been able to understand the situation the grandmother is in, but I gather it’s not good. But maybe it’s not so bad—especially on the days when Charity or Farhia chuckle.

Almost every time one of these spells happen, I’ll ask one of the sisters, “Is she okay?”

“Not okay, teacher. She’s very sick. No good,” the say.

And I never know what else to say, so I usually just say, “I’m sorry.”

 

 

Abana

One of the spunkiest middle school students I teach is a Tanzanian girl named Abana. Her English is great, and she’s unafraid to ask questions.

“Miss, do you live in an apartment or a house?” she asked I drove the mini bus carrying her and 13 classmates home.

“Apartment,” I said.

“Really? Do you live in an apartment because it’s cheap and you don’t have enough money to live in a house?” she implored.

“Yes. That’s exactly it,” I stated.

“Oh. Okay,” she said, turning to another conversation.

In her language, “okay” feels more sincere. Meaningful. I’m never offended when I hear a person of her language simply say “okay.” It feels like enough, which is interesting since it feels like the most common, overused word in the English language.

One day at the end of class, our class had been granted the highly esteemed “YouTube Time” as we waited for the bus to pick us up. I walked past the dozen screens in my room, and mostly saw African songs and dances playing. As I glanced at Abana’s computer, I stopped.

She was listening to the song “Testify” by Needtobreathe.

I knelt down beside her. I wanted to instantly believe she was a Christian, but I didn’t want to jump to conclusions. In work like this, you can never jump to conclusions. I told her I liked that song, and when she didn’t believe that I knew it, I sang the words. She smiled, probably unsure how to respond. I asked her why she liked this song.

“I’m a Christian. Why shouldn’t I like this song?” she said so boldly and quickly. I admired her faith immediately.

“Oh, Abana. Wanna know something? I am too. That means we’re sisters,” I told her.

She smiled, and told me to prove it. She started a new search for another song. Typing capital G, she was offended by the lowercase g’s in the search bar.

“Why are these little? God is a big G,” she mumbled. I chuckled, but she didn’t notice.

She played “The Creed” by Hillsong. I told her I knew the song, and prayed I could remember the lyrics. I sang the words to her as she covered the screen.

Smiling, but still not satisfied, she searched for “Who Am I?” by Casting Crowns. I told her I enjoyed that song too. She covered the screen once more, and I used my hands as blinders around my eyes. I sang the song.

She smiled, and simply said, “Okay.”

 

 

The Big Class

The largest class I teach meets in a classroom at an apartment complex. Our Christmas break was the longest I’ve gone without seeing them. It was a long, yet much-needed 3.5 week break for us.

As we got back into class, I showed them the weather forecast for the weekend. I showed them the snowflake on my screen, and they were eager to know what time the winter weather was predicted to come that weekend.

“I want to see snow,” Lwin smiled. I hadn’t thought about it, but yeah. I guess most of them have probably never seen snow before. And boy, even though I knew much wasn’t predicted to fall, I was so excited for them. Whether it was 10 inches or half an inch, they would be equally grateful. That’s the beautiful thing about them.

We meet twice a week, and I took both days as an opportunity to learn about a cultural aspect of America: New Year’s Resolutions. Not only did they learn some great vocabulary and another funny thing about the way we celebrate holidays, it also gave us a chance to think about what resolutions look like for not only ourselves, but other people too.

For homework, I challenged them to write resolutions for their spouse, their best friend, their teacher, and the president.

This is what they shared:

 

  • Your Teacher
    • She is going to giveing us lesons.
    • She will teach us today.
    • She’s going to explain a leson. (Yes to all of that.)
    • She’s going to help other people.
    • She’s going to travel to another country. (I’m praying about that!)
    • She is going to sleep early. (Oh, I really really really hope so.)
    • My teacher will teach me clearly.
    • She is going to make us perfect in English. (crying)
    • She will give us good knowledge. (still crying)
    • She teacher has virtue in the life of every student. (STILL CRYING)
  • The President of the United States
    • He’s going to visite TN.
    • He going to stop war in the world.
    • He will be nice to other people. (Praying for that.)
    • He is going to donate.
    • He is going to make peace in the world.
    • He will be the good lawyer. (I think we wanted to use a different word here??)
    • He is going to stop war.
    • He will develop USA country.
    • He’s going to make America great again. (LOL)

 

I teach the most hopeful, gracious, forgiving students in the whole world. I don’t think they would dare think an evil thought about me or the president, despite our flaws and imperfections. They literally love America and the people here.

I just pray they never watch the news to hear the highlight reels of the President’s conferences or learn what Twitter is.

 

 

Chesa, Ming, and Nyan

The hardest part of middle school ministry? Making friends.

My first week on the job has been difficult, and the kids are really testing my patience. When our last day of the program for the week neared, I was ready to rest. Thankfully, we were able let the kids burn a lot of energy off outside. Although tossing balls and running looked like fun, I noticed a girl by herself on the side. I walked to her, and began talking. I was surprised by how easy she responded and how she asked me questions too.

It was like she wanted to have a conversation too. A middle schooler who wants to be my friend? An old married lady? It was a God moment.

We talked for several minutes as we watched her friends toss a ball in the distance. I was enjoying the quiet conversation as we talked about our 9-year old sisters, talked about school and college, talked about English classes. Her friends barreled to us just a few minutes later, and I began repeating their names over and over: Chesa, Ming, and Nyan.

We all talked and laughed together. Nyan began to braid my hair and Chesa wrapped her arm around mine. I showed them a picture of the scarves, hair bows, and necklace some of my Burmese students gave me a while back. In unison, all three girls gasped.

They began talking excitedly and we looked at pictures online. They told me about the Zomi festival, and told me exactly how to wear the gifts I had been given. They told me about the food at the upcoming festival and the dances the people do. I asked them if I was allowed to come, and they told me yes without hesitation. I continued asking them questions about their culture, just because I could tell they were really enjoying teaching me.

Later that evening, they went out of their way to find me and give me a hug. And just like that, I had 3 new friends.

 

 

 

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.

Junior year was made for more than completing classes.

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I’m listening to myself begin more and more conversations with two words: I’m learning.

That phrase has been my anthem ever since I gave my heart away on that summer night four years ago. But, I don’t think I’ve listened to myself say it until this year. This last year — my junior year of college — I saw and noticed things about the world around me and my place in it. So I made a list.

 

I learning that…

We are given choices. Whether it’s a boy, a job, a plan for the weekend — we are given choices. And honestly, I don’t think there’s a way we can “mess them up,” as if we’re only allowed to live in one strict plan. That’s dictatorship, not grace and freedom crafted hand in hand. If you’re living in light and love, there’s no way you can mess it up. Sorry, I don’t think we’re that big.

Rest is just as valuable as hustling to finish that paper. We are teeny tiny creatures that have a lot of big needs. Yes, hustling to do all the things is important, because after all, our lives are meant to be spent and spent with abandon. However, we cannot run without pause. Here me, friend: take a break. Put aside that research paper. Stop studying those Spanish conjugations. Wait to check your email. It’s okay to put it aside the “important” things until you regroup and find your rest again. I promise, You’ll get to a point where your stamina is gone and then you’re just writing words that equate to nothing. And although our lives are to be spent and productive, they are not meant to do so to the point that we feel nothing. Recharge.

But at the same time, rest and sleep are not always the same thing. One of the most wise things I’ve ever heard is this idea of a sabbath hour. It’s where you come in after class or work, spend an hour devoted to absolutely nothing, and then come back to hustle again. Sometimes it looks like an episode of The Office, and other times it means tying your hammock between two trees. Whatever that thing helps you unwind and focus again, this is the time to do it. And it doesn’t have to be nap time.

Our plans change, but the Father’s do not. Good riddance because His ideas are much more fun than mine, and He’s no where near as indecisive as I am.

Everything is spiritual, but not everything is religious. I have said numerous, silent thanks for the person who learned this before I did. This means I can use every ounce of my life for my Father. The music I listen to, the things I paint, the clothes I wear— all of it. It doesn’t have to have the Good News written on it, but I can find those redeeming qualities named lovely, excellent, and altogether praiseworthy in everything. At the same time, Sunday morning can still be sacred and special. This point is too great to compress here. Let’s talk about it later.

Ministry begins when we reach the end of ourselves. I’ve also whispered many silent thanks for the person who learned this way before I did. Some of my most precious and intense moments of growth this last year happened when I knew I couldn’t do it anymore; that’s when I handed it over to the Man Himself. When I’m comfortable, it’s because I’m in control and that’s not the goal. It hurts, but recklessly giving it away is the sweetest thing you can do for that ministry.

Indecision is a decision. Time to stop running in place, because it’s tricking you to think you’re getting somewhere even though you’re actually not.

The Father knows what we need, even before we realize we need it. Like that time when class was cancelled, or when there was nothing good on the radio so I voiced the worries and joys of my heart in silence the entire drive home. Or when it rained all week, and the sun shone through just on the day I was off work. I needed those things. But I had no clue to ask for them, and my only response was to whisper my gratitude when they came.

Art is valuable because it reflects the Creator. Just like we were crafted from dust and a rib in order to live an extraordinary purpose, art is the work of its maker. I heard a classmate ask one time, “Why does it matter?” Well, it matters because someone somewhere worked to create the clothes you’re wearing, the last song you bought on iTunes, the car you’re driving, and even the mug you’ll drink your coffee from in the morning. And I can’t help but assume that there is something about each of those things that you really like. Create on, my friends, create on.

It’s okay to start matching your socks. Just because you’ve always mismatched them doesn’t mean you always should. It’s okay to wake up one day and realize your style is changing. It’s okay to change what you like, how you think about it, and what you do with it. Whether that’s your favorite color or the song that you thought would always be the soundtrack to your life, it’s okay to change your mind. So basically, this one is literal and metaphorical.

Life gets more fun when you stop canceling plans. Life is short, and people are wonderful. Let me not waste a second of it.

Guilt is not given by the Father. If there is a heaviness in your chest, that’s the Enemy. We were called to a life of love, light, and grace. Although we’re called to conviction and awareness to, it’s not the same as guilt. Conviction makes us grow, guilt glues us in place.

Surrounding yourself with people who let you be unapologetically you is worth the fight. Finding a tribe of people who know you, see you, and believe in you is the most important thing you can do for yourself in this coming season. And when you do find those people that want to see you flourish and are willing to bloom with you, it will be one of the most precious gifts you will find on earth. They are worth the late night phone calls, and early morning coffee dates. Every time, they are worth it.

Black coffee is king. It takes time, but if you can stop adding sugar and creamer to your coffee, your life instantly becomes easier and cheaper.

Perfectionism is the root of my sin. Currently being refined. But I’ll say this: naming that ugly part of me has opened so many doors to knock down the other ugly parts of me that have no room in this Story. I’ve named it, claimed it, and have watched the questions and realizations in my world fall out of place. It sucks, but if you can name that “thing” about you, it makes the heartache, disappointment, and changing so much more valuable.

Yes, even introverts can love people too. I’ve always thought that because I’m introverted, I automatically have to be quiet, shy, and awkward. The culture around me handed me that title, and I believed it. But you know, I believe we’re more than that. I think we’re more than a one sentence description given to us. Sorry, I think we’re created much more intricately than that. Meaning: even people who know how to be alone can love being with others too. I love people and I love quiet. My heart is in both without a hint of compromise.

No matter how tired you are, you will never regret staying up a few extra minutes to journal. I have a shelf of packed-full journals in my room. And I cry and laugh and am encouraged every time I flip to any one of the pages because this story I’m living is crafted by the most precious Author and I see Him in every word I’ve ever written to Him. I see Him when I’m reminded of the valleys and mountains He’s carried me out of, through, and to. My second biggest fear is forgetting He is faithful, and there is no room for that fear in journaling. And at the same time…

There is no right or wrong way to make that happen. Write a bullet point list of everything he said that left your head spinning, and you wish you could pen word for word. Write a scene from the moment he told you he loved for the first time, all the way to that last line when you walked up the stairs alone and promised to come back to this page when the doubt crept in. Write a sentence to the Lover of your soul. Without fear of “getting it wrong,” just show up to the page and write it out.

Just because it feels like the end of the world, doesn’t mean it actually is. Even when you’re sprawled out on your floor crying at midnight because your 7:30 ministry plans for the next morning hiccuped, everything will be fine. These things work out. It’s not the end.

Becoming a morning person is so worth it. I don’t know how to explain it, but when you can wake up with time to read the Word and drink coffee before your day begins, everything else falls into place. And on the days when you meet with a friend and drink coffee on the other side of town, the Father will tag along too and shake up your morning with the best talks before 8 AM. It’s hard to set that alarm, but I promise, it’s so worth it.

Reading the Word for an 8-10 page research paper is just as beneficial as reading the Word and journaling 8-10 pages about it. Maybe I’m the only one who struggles with this, but a very wise person told me that it can all be devotional without a divide. Maybe it’s not as “I need to read this passage in my plan, even though my head is swimming with passage I just spent 12 hours writing about,” as I thought. And maybe this comes back to that idea that everything is spiritual. Let me not become blind to the work happening in my heart today, or overwhelm it with more than it’s ready for.

I don’t have it figured out. I have 15 hours left to complete in my college degree, and cannot tell you what I’ll be doing after I walk across that stage with my diploma in hand next May. I have visions, hopes, dreams, and ideas, and absolutely nothing absolute in any of that. But…

There is a lot to be said about not knowing what tomorrow holds, but loving every moment of today. This is what I tell people when they ask what I’m doing with my life after college. I don’t know. But, what I do know is that I’m enjoying the things I’m doing now, and I think that’s the kind of faithfulness that our Heavenly Father can work through: our absolute attention to the gifts He’s given us for the here and now.

 

So, there’s my list.

There’s just a snippet of the greatest things junior year taught me. A year of studying longer, working too many hours, probably overloading myself in ministry, coffee dates, long talks, pictures of sunsets, loving people harder, finding what I was made more, letting go of hardness in my heart, cuddling kittens, doing things I never dreamt I could, and seeking joy in every piece and realizing how small I truly am. Wonderful. Completely, absolutely wonderful. Let me live in grace, walk with wonder, and learn in a place of complete adoration for the One who crafted my world and my place in it. He is limitless, and I will keep searching deeper until I know Him face to face. And I will sing this anthem: I’m learning. 

:: :: ::

Inspiration: Another year of college and growing up. Bless it.

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.”

:: :: ::

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.

:: :: ::

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.