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.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Storyteller.

FullSizeRender

 

We were made to be storytellers.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

So what is the story?

 

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

 

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

 

They hurt the One that gave them protection.

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

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

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

 

And then they wandered off into a cold world alone.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

He simply wanted to welcome us home.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

::

 

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

 

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

 

This is our week.

 

This is the week of our Savior, church.

 

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

 

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

::

 

“Light of Life dispel my darkness

let Your frailty strengthen me

let Your meekness give me boldness

let Your burden set me free

oh, Immanuel, my Savior

let Your death be life for me”

A Lesson Learned: volume 3

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

img_5418-2

August 1, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

:: :: ::

September 27, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

“I think I remember,” she responded.

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

That’s why you should come again.”

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

:: :: ::

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

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

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

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

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

:: :: ::

This isn’t about milk tea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:: :: ::

October 9, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A messy, wonderful, completely humiliating story.

 

FullSizeRender 2

 

I have been working on a fundraising letter to inspire others to partner with me on my trip to Mongolia. For weeks, the contents of this one piece of paper have been at the forefront of my mind.

And during those weeks, my mom and I have printed hundreds of pages on a printer that is honestly a miracle. Travis has begun tri-folding dozens of letters, and even worked it down to a science knowing exactly which paragraph to bring the corners of the paper to. Like a bed time story, I spend most nights typing in a few more addresses and writing a few more notes of encouragement. And when the morning comes, I put a rubber band around the few sealed and full envelopes, checkmark the name on my list, and carry them to that big blue box.

No one told me how difficult this would be. I’ll say that up front, because I love letters and I love snail mail, but this hasn’t been a stroll around a white picket fence. This has been extremely difficult to do with excellence and grace. I’m a little more brave about this now. But the night before the first bundle left my grasp, I couldn’t fall asleep and I dreamt about it when I finally did.

It was a Monday afternoon when I made that first drive with the bundle in my hand. I counted the stack at least a dozen times just as I sat in traffic. And every time, I came up with 10. Ten letters. Ten stamps. Ten addresses. Ten people– at least.

As I thumbed through these thick white envelopes, I realized that after hours of preparing to send a story of belief and humility to my best friends and family, it was finally happening. My request for advice, prayer, and financial support was finally inked to a page that would be read by hundreds of eyes; it was completely humiliating.

I made it to the post office. And again, by the grace of my Father I walked with dignity to buy the first two books of stamps and send the first bundle away. I bought the ones with the flowers on them, and then stood to the side to triple-check each envelope and seal them shut. Even though I knew they were ready to go, my mind made up every reason to check them again; I was nervous. They were both tiny and mighty, and it made me nervous to see them like that.

I remembered once more that within just a few days, people would tear through these letters and read about the things that terrify me and excite me all at once. My heart uttered a few words, and it was one of those moments where I just needed to audibly hear someone else’s voice. It was one of those moments where you call your mother just so you can hear her say hello, and feel less alone as you tell her every little detail about that moment you’re standing in. I gave her a moment by moment commentary, from the time I walked to the big blue box, to the moment I shut my letters inside.

And just like that, it was out of my control. There were no fireworks. There was no one there to pat me on the back and throw me a high five. There was just that sealed blue box, my mother’s resounding “Yay!” on the other line, and me. It was the most mundane, wonderful moment I’ve ever experienced.

That was the first moment I realized how long this process would be. I stood fully aware that the first round of support letters would made their routes to Indiana, Idaho, and all over Tennessee— from Knoxville to Dickson– and that was completely out of my hands now. Literally.

Honestly, that terrified me. But, I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop marking those envelopes. I couldn’t wait to get back to my dorm, and start bundle two. I couldn’t forget why I came to do this work in the first place. Because here’s the thing: it’s so much more than asking for things. Those letters aren’t just humiliating requests for the things I so desperately need right now. Those letters aren’t just me taking away the bricks that make up the wall of pride in my heart—

Those letters are invitations to walk into this story with me. Those letters are invitations to hear the heights and depths of my heart. Those letters are invitations to hear my voice shake when I tell you how hard it was to make this decision, and to see my smile when I tell you why I made this decision. These words are the season of life I am in and the realization that life is so much bigger than just me. 

I know there is power in a story. He tells me my times are in His hands, and I believe who my Father has said I am. Yes, there is power in a story and in those “humiliating” letters I’ve been sending.

:: :: ::

The beautiful thing is when the letters began to arrive. The people on my send-list— they got theirs and they went out of their way to tell me. In the coming days, I smiled real big when a few of those friends did tell me they were praying for me and loved the note I sent them. Their sweet, sweet encouragement meant so much and I am still carrying it with me today. If you ever wonder if you’re important, and all the kindness and encouragement that comes with you, the answer is yes. Yes. Absolutely. Without a doubt.

Today, I have sent over 40 and am still looking at at least another 75 to distribute. My passport came last week, and it was a physical realization that this is happening sooner rather than later. And tomorrow, I’ll admit that I’m still trying to learn all I can about Mongolia every day.

Especially tomorrow morning, I’ll keep pushing to get these letters in the box. That blue box, or the mailbox just outside my parents’ home in the country, is becoming a different meaning within my heart. It’s becoming a symbol of how empowered, yet totally limited I am. I can write these letters, and in my heart utter all the love and grace I can muster toward their recipients. But the truth is, once they’re sealed and put in the box, I have given away my control and have given it to the work of a Story I alone could not write. 

Throughout this entire journey, I’m still in awe that I have this chance to continue. Even now, things are coming together and working themselves out. The wonderful thing is I have no clue what’s happening and how; and yet, I am completely enjoying this. No stress. No worries. And whatever fears are attempting to creep in, I am banishing by the grace of my Father. My spirit is rejoicing and my heart is yearning to continue growing like never before.

May this truth become bigger every day.

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.