What if a refugee asks, “Who did you vote for?”

Photo generously provided here.

I’ve been asked a couple times over the last few weeks, “Who did you vote for?”

Not by my American friends. No, they’ve probably already assumed who I voted for. Most would choose the thrill of speculation over just asking the question.

My refugee students are different though. They’re not afraid to ask.

They’ve not asked with any hint of malice, judgement, or anger in their tones. I can’t hear a single tone of offense or unkindness in their voice. They’re just genuinely curious.

Americans know this question is personal – impolite even. Our reserved and individualized culture is so deeply woven within us, this question might surprise us coming from the wrong person. Our default answer to that big question might sound something like: my vote is my vote, and it’s none of your business unless I invite you into it.

Instead of getting offended by this question, I have to step into the shoes of a refugee.

This has been my first presidential election I’ve been a part of in my time working on the field with refugees and immigrants. I was surprised to learn how invested my students have been in this great, American process. This is their front row seat to democracy in action, and that’s not a thing to be taken lightly.

Refugees don’t know what it’s like to vote.

Many of the people who resettled here in the States fled broken, war-torn countries. They had no vote or say; they were forced to leave.

But here we are, a nation of free people who each have a responsibility to exercise our right to vote so that our nation doesn’t cave in. The foundational component of our nation is our human right to vote. Though we have not always exercised that well, we’re trying. America might not be perfect, but at least our citizens have a right to speak up. We get a say in the direction we want our country to go in.

Have you ever considered how incredible that thought is?

This is very different than other nations across the world. Take the refugee friends in our communities, for example. They’ve never had a say. No one has ever asked their opinion about who should be in office. In fact, they’ve been forced to leave their heart land because of corrupt government and powerful people who said they didn’t belong. Basic human rights are stripped from the refugee, including their voice and vote to create a safe, flourishing nation.

Our right to elect arguably the most powerful position in the world is a privilege. It’s a wonder to those who can’t participate.

They can’t vote, but they can care.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve seen my formers students from Hong Kong sharing articles on social media about the U.S. election. This is mind-blowing to me – to realize that an entire world is watching how this pans out. It so happens that some of our friends of other cultures are here on American soil, unable to vote but still fully invested in the election.

I can’t speak for my friends overseas, but I know one thing for certain: our refugee and immigrant friends on American soil care how this turns out. I’m going to state this bluntly –

They love this country.

Refugees who were resettled in the States are so grateful to be here. They wish no harm to come upon our nation, this place that we both call home. They hope for freedom, peace, and opportunity just as much as much as any natural-born citizen.

They’re here for the long run. They’re impacted by our vote just as much, if not more, than we are.  What happens in this election might affect the world, but it affects us here on American soil first and foremost. And no one hopes for a safe place to build a life in more than those who have made the long, dangerous, tiring trek to be here.

The people asking these hard questions are filling in the cultural gaps and making our country richer.

Our friends from other countries might not get how impolite it is to ask someone who got their vote simply because their culture is different from American culture.

Our American hearts shrink up and lock up at a bold question from a stranger. But our refugee friends’ hearts might say, “I’m unashamed to ask and share because I belong to my community, and my community belongs to me too. We’re in this together.”

That doesn’t make them wrong. It doesn’t make us right either. It does make American soil all the richer, deeper for making space for differing opinions and perspectives.

I’m grateful for the courage of my refugee students to ask the awkward questions.

What an honor it is to be a part of a decision that will affect people for generations to come, including my refugee friends. I must not ever forget that most people in this world don’t get a voice; I’ll strive to do well with the one I’ve been given. It truly is a gift.

English learners asked me a hard question, and they might have given the most helpful perspective this entire election season.

I hope one day I get the privilege to ask, “Student, who did you vote for?” I hope they don’t take offense to the question. I’m sure they won’t think I’m rude for asking. In fact, I bet they’ll beam with pride at the opportunity to speak up and mark their vote on a ballot.

Church, even if you lose, you’re still on the winning side.

Tuesday is coming.

Americans sprawled from the east to the west coasts will watch as ballots are counted. State by state, county by county, polling location by polling location, one by one. I imagine there will be an array of feelings sweep across the nation as the numbers inch higher and higher.

Some will celebrate at the end of the night, beaming with pride, “Yeah, that was my vote. The right vote.” There may be applause, or there might be a quiet sigh of relief in homes across the nation.

Some will be on the winning side and might wonder how anyone could have voted for that one.

Others will be disappointed, maybe even outraged. Heads will shake, “How are we going to get through these 4 years?” Surely there will be angry Facebooks posts, and maybe even tears shed for the loss.

Some will be on the losing side and might wonder how anyone could have voted for that one.

This Tuesday could be a Tuesday we always remember. We don’t know how it’s going to shake out, or what’s going to happen in the wake of the results. As we prepare for it, let us remember:

The sovereignty of God is not threatened,

the Kingdom is not in trouble,

and even if you “lose,” you’re still on the winning side.

There’s not a perfect savior on this earth, unless His name is Jesus from Nazareth, the Christ. That name was 100% not found on my ballot last week. And according to my Bible, He isn’t confined to one political system. In fact, He disrupted the political system of His time.

For me, as I prayed for this election, I thought foremost of my refugee friends and students. I considered how to make my vote count for them. Their faces came to mind every time I prayed for this election. I felt a deep conviction, as I have for a few years now, to speak up on their behalf.

I’m guessing you probably had other people and ideas engraved on your heart when you considered who to vote for. Someone came to mind. Something stirred you. It may not have been my refugee friends, but someone compelled you to vote for them.

Your and my convictions might have led us to vote for different people, but neither of us are more loved by God. Neither are we more approved. Let’s boldly believe that His hand of guidance was on me just as much as it was on you too.

It’s amazing to me how a church spread across a continent can pray about who to vote for. And still, there will not be one consensus. There’s room for people representing ideas on both sides of the aisle.

God will not send down an angel to command each of us who to vote for. He did not write that verse in the Bible. No, that is not His way. Why? Because He is not a dictator, tyrant, or bully. Our hope is not in the most powerful person in the world – not even the President of the United States.

Our hope is better; it’s in Christ.

As believers step into voting booths, we’ll find there will not be only one answer to prayers. I really believe that God, in His sovereignty, will lead his church to vote for more than one person. The church will represent every name on the ballot. The church will identify with more than one candidate’s story and heart.

You know, maybe even Kanye’s.

Friends, that is the sovereignty of God. The indescribable, unknowable plans of the master craftsman. I can barely comprehend it. He is not put into a single checked box. He is not a simple answer. The sovereignty of God leads a nation of believers to vote for different people, and still accomplish His plans. The systems and politics of this world don’t perfectly align with His heart.

Our hope for something better cannot be satisfied in one vote for a political leader; the hope He offers is far greater. We don’t hope in man to work things out for us. We hope in a God who is so intimately at work in the very minds, hearts, and souls of humanity that we can’t even begin to unravel His plans.

Your vote matters, and your voice needs to be heard. But you can’t mess this up. God is still here, fighting on behalf of His church in ways that we can’t even explain.

So what do we do on an election day?

We go to God. We pray. We definitely vote. We love our neighbors, brothers, and sisters despite their vote. And we stand with an unwavering resolved to seek His glorious face, knowing that His embrace will never be loosened. We might even remind ourselves  –  

The sovereignty of God is not threatened,

the Kingdom is not in trouble,

and even if you “lose,” you’re still on the winning side.

A kids book and a man I didn’t know to say thank you to.

March: Book One | Authors: John Lewis and Andrew Aydin | Illustrator: Nate Powell

My students and I have been engaging in conversations about civil rights this summer.

It’s no coincidence that right now, during a wave of civil rights movements and a stronger push for equality, that all my students are African kids.

We’ve been reading a lot of books inspired by civil rights activists and leaders to guide our discussion. Several weeks ago, some of them and I read this one together – an illustrated graphic memoir about the early life of John Lewis.

This book left me in awe.

It’s set in Representative John Lewis’s office in Washington DC. It’s the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration, and as Lewis meets a couple of kids. The boys are intrigued by his story, and Lewis shares his journey through flashbacks to his own childhood.

In these flashbacks, I learned of his earliest days in rural Alabama. I scoffed at the school situation he grew up in as a black boy, especially compared to white students.

I read about his first road trip to the north, and how strange he felt to have a white neighbor for a summer. I felt his hurt when his parents urged him to stay home, keep quiet, and not to cause a trouble.

I heard his retelling a meeting with Martin Luther King Jr. that would set him on a life-changing trajectory to fight for civil rights. I read and really understood the challenges he was faced as a black man. I celebrated with him at the victories he and his colleagues made for equality.

As we read some of the injustices he faced, my kids asked – genuinely confused –

“What? Why? But that’s not fair.”

And how do you really answer when they ask why black kids couldn’t buy ice cream that was as good as the white kids’?

How do you explain to them why black schools were smaller and older, with broken playgrounds – if they were even lucky enough to have one in the first place? How do you tell them that black people weren’t treated fairly just because of the color of their skin?

It struck a chord in me because I learned that much of Senator Lewis’ activism was birthed in Nashville. It’s here, in my city, that he sparked a movement as a college student decades ago. He collaborated with other students to form the Nashville Student Movement, a battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins.

The book mentions roads and places, universities and landmarks, that I’ve been near my whole life. These places I’ve seen and where John Lewis participated in change all those years ago are one and the same. I marveled at the courage it took for people to stand up to make lasting change in our community.

It sounds crazy, but these little photo boxes and word bubbles shook me up.

John Lewis was on the front lines courageously facilitating change.

He played an integral part in changing my city for the better, and I had no clue until just a few weeks ago. I’m grateful for his courage to not only stand up decades ago, but to continue working for justice until his last day.

You probably know how this story turns out. Lewis’ work doesn’t stop in Nashville. It continues on, eventually leading him to seat in Congress.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but this graphic novel was my first time really hearing the story of John Lewis.

Although I’m disappointed to only now begin to understand it, I’m grateful that his legacy will continue on. So this weekend, as we mourn the loss of this leader, I can’t help but whisper a word of thanks for his work.

He stood up in adversity. He cast vision when he was told it was impossible. He believed in the possibility that every person, regardless of skin color, can be equally loved and treated.

This particular page I photographed weeks ago is of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s address to Nashville. I’ve read this inspiring quote before and nearly bought the t-shirt to prove it. What I didn’t know prior to reading this story is that this “great movement” that took place in the community was worked by John Lewis. This was the movement that Dr. King drew inspiration from and had to see for himself.

This was a movement that changed Nashville forever. I’m forever grateful for it and for Senator John Lewis’ vision to lead.

I’m patiently waiting to pick up the next books in the series from the library. I’m learning a lot this summer. I hope you are too.

Only Jesus can uplift us from across a room, encouraging and teaching us without a word.

The church is meeting again, but the sanctuary feels more empty now. Our chairs are carefully measured 6 feet away from the next family’s, and we’re told to leave the room quickly after service ends so the room can be properly sanitized before the next service.

It’s different from the church I’m used to – the one where we’re packed closely together on long pews, the church where we look for those to wrap our arms around as soon as the music stops. It’s different from the days when we slowly watched others leave as we stood around talking, and looked for people to connect with.

Church may look different during this season, but one thing I am certain of: our gathering is not in vain.

Last week, I stood in that big sanctuary, swaying along to music. Under my mask, my face felt warm as I sang along to words I know by heart. My arms hung loosely by my side.

Out of the corner of my eye, movement caught my eye. I looked across the sanctuary to see a mom clapping with her young son. He was maybe 6 or 7. The lyrics continued spilling from my lips as I watched her carefully. This momma was clapping, swaying, air drumming along to the music with her little guy.

But not just her. Next to her, who I assume to be, her husband had a toddler on his hip. He wasn’t air drumming, but he was swaying and swinging her around. He was looking right at her, and he smiled broadly as their lips moved with the words of the music.

And together, this small family worshipped Jesus.

Even from across the room, their joy was evident. Each one of them were loving this moment together. They looked like they were having the time of their lives while worshiping Jesus, and I immediately thought: I hope I can be a mom like that one day.

The stream of hopes for the future came –

I hope I can teach the next generation the joy of singing to Jesus. I want to be bold enough to move for Him. I want to be that mom that sways and dances and smiles for Him too. I want my little ones to look at me as the momma who makes loving Jesus exciting, joyful, full of life. I hope, I hope, I hope. One day.

This family looked like there was nowhere else they’d rather be in the world than in this mask-filled, socially distanced sanctuary praising the Lord. And yet, here I was in awe of them, waiting for some distant day to suddenly worship in a way that reflects the true joy in my heart.

I was loving this family’s joy and counting myself out of it. My own arms suddenly felt stiff, hanging heavily by my side.

But a strange thing happened. I realized that joy is promised to all believers. No conditions or prerequisites, other than loving Him first.  

I continued singing, and I felt a smile draw on my face – I realized that I don’t have to wait for that joy. I have full permission in my Savior to celebrate Him joyously now. I don’t have to be a mom to let my happiness in Him be evident, or to encourage others. I get to live that now. I get to sway, sing, dance, air drum – if I so please – even now.

I get to enjoy worshipping Him today.

I looked around the sanctuary and saw other dads holding their daughters, sons standing on their seat with an arm around their momma’s neck – so many sweet pictures of gospel love. Our voices were lifted up to our King, and my arms raised in obedient joy. I didn’t air drum that morning, but I was refreshed in the Lord by this family’s simple desire to worship happily.

So to the moms and dads worried about making it to church during this season, I am watching from you and am learning so much from you right now. Children’s classes may be cancelled, but there is truly no need to worry what the rest of us think of your kids in the sanctuary. Your leading them in worship is leading me too. Your joy is filling the space; you’re setting an example for so many of us.

By the way, this is why we’re going to church right now. Only Jesus can uplift us from across a room, encouraging and teaching us without a word. There are challenges to meeting together, and it may feel strange to wear a mask while singing, but the joy of lifting our voices to the Lord together is incomparable.

I’m really grateful for family worship this COVID-19 season has unexpectedly lavished upon us, because we get to see love in new ways. The discomforts of the season are worth the opportunity to even be nearer to other believers, and to witness firsthand accounts of loving well.

Friend, whether you’re the mom air drumming or the shy girl just faithfully singing along, I bet your worship is encouraging others from across the room in more ways than you can see. Don’t shy away. Someone (me) draws so much strength from your love for Jesus.

It’s good to be back.

Hang On, Heaven is Coming

We are told to be alone right now, and I keep thinking about heaven.

We are hunkered down at home. Some of us have finally gotten around to, and even finished, those projects we never thought we’d start. Others of us have given an embarrassing amount of time to Words With Friends; I somehow land in both categories.

We can’t go anywhere, and it’s not normal. Well, I suppose it’s our “new normal.”

The loss still feels strange. All the coffee dates that never happened, and the concerts and weddings that were cancelled. Everything we used to do and not think twice about is gone for now. Every plan we dragged our feet about making was postponed before it even made it on the calendar.

Perhaps for the first time in our Westernized lives, we are experiencing what it means to have our wants, comforts, and everyday routines removed from us. We’ve never really treaded these waters before. In our culture that prizes comfort, where even our poorest live in luxury compared to others in the world and throughout history, having anything taken from us is hard.

But it’s not just our favorite coffee houses or local shops that have been taken. Our entire sense of normalcy has been uprooted. And as we get honest with ourselves in these quiet moments, we’re realizing how people – friends, family, coworkers, strangers at the grocery store – play a vital role in our daily rhythm.

We are a people who are learning to look ahead to the right things now, and the more I think on this, the closer it brings me to heaven.

Of all the losses, not being at church has been the hardest.

We can’t gather in the sanctuary to worship God. No one is crowding in living rooms with Bibles open. There’s not a host welcoming you in for dinner right now. This isn’t time to pull a friend into a hug as you pray grace over her, or look into someone’s eyes to ask, and wait for the response, “How are you doing?”

In its place is a schedule of Zoom calls and livestreams, a never-ending stream of Marco Polos and text messages.

At first it was exciting. Oh, let’s gather in our neighbor’s home to watch the church service. We’ll cook breakfast, and it’ll be fun.

Then we said, Let’s watch the church service in our living room, snuggled with the cats with a cup of coffee in hand, fresh cinnamon rolls in front of me. We can get through this. This isn’t so bad.

Weeks in and the coffee seems to get cold a little faster. And the cinnamon rolls? Not as fresh.

This seeps into every aspect of community. I usually share an office space with some of the God-loving women I most admire, but for 5 weeks now, my “office space” has been a blue plastic tote next to my dining room table and my “work attire” has been chinos and house shoes.

The coffee just gets colder when we’re alone.

Even the most introverted, home-bodied of us all need to be near others.

As I’ve settled into self-isolation, there is an aching growing at the center of me. It’s this humble confession: I long to be in community again.

I’m restless to raise my hands in worship with the congregation, and to be with my brothers and sisters again. I want to hear a whole body of believers lifting their voices in adoration to the Lord, and to feel the friend beside me scripting notes as the pastor leads us through a passage.

There has to be something, someone, some group you miss too? Not one of us has walked this season without giving up something.

We were not meant to be alone. I am understanding that now – in these wild days of global pandemic – more than ever. As I look ahead to the day when I can be in community again, away from this exile on the Persinger’s carpeted island with the olive wreath on the door, it’s all I can do to think how tightly I’m going to hug some people.

I have a feeling that when we go back to church, when everything gets back to normal, we will love the people when we walk through the doors more honestly and openly than we ever have before.

Can you imagine how amazing those greetings are going to be?

Friends, we are getting ready for a glimpse of heaven.

I know we feel alone and disconnected right now. Even the most introverted of us; I know because I’m one of them. We long for hugs and to lock eyes with another person. My soul feels it – that need to pull another person in close, to hear the voice of a brother singing, to see a sister’s face light up and hands raised in worship.

At the end of these days await once-in-a-lifetime reunions. And these will be glimpses of heaven we’ve not ever seen before. I really believe this.

Because at the end of this isolation are restored greetings with brothers and sisters, people we have missed. And not just any reunion; it’s going to be a reunion of tears. Tight hugs. Laughter and wide smiles. Waiting for us around this corner is a renewed love for the gifts we have, starting with the congregation of God.

I don’t have answers for most things in this life, including the whys and hows of this pandemic we are living in. But if there is one thing I am certain of in this life it’s that God doesn’t waste. He’s going to use this, and is already, to tell us something.

I’m not the first person to think this. I’ve heard other believers, both friends and leaders alike, voice this too. But, what if just one way that God is speaking to us right now is by giving us a unique opportunity to savor this moment of looking forward to being with brothers and sisters again?

What if He’s allowing us to truly miss and appreciate the gift of friendship and camaraderie that we take for granted every week? What if we are being beckoned into a deeper love for the community He has given us?

So this is how, as I sit in the quiet of my home, busying myself with tasks and spending extra time FaceTiming, I can’t help but feel drawn toward heaven.

We are looking ahead to the most rich, genuine earthly reunions we’ve ever been a part of. Our arms will be stretched wider than ever before, and our joy will run in tears down our faces as we finally feel together again. Sometimes when I imagine that first Sunday back at church, in some future day, that hope is enough for the moment; it’s only a snapshot compared to the glorious reunions we’ll experience in heaven, and yet, it’s enough.

They say we’re living in unprecedented times, but I think the remarkable thing about it all is that when these days of heaviness are lifted, the joy and gratefulness to follow will be unlike anything we’ve experienced here before.

So when this is over, when we’re a little wiser and patient and quicker to show our love to others, just remember that this is our glimpse into the heavenlies.

We’re eager to greet one another at the end of this season. There’s another day we’re eager for: it’s the day when our mourning and sojourning on earth will finally be brought to an end, and we’ll make it the glory of heaven we were created for. We’ll see our beloved brothers and sisters in restored bodies, and meet our Savior face to face. There will no tears or fear, but we will only know how to love and live in community without any disease or fear; there will be no comparison to that joy.

But hang on, because pretty soon, we’ll return to the sanctuary on earth and we’ll get to peer into the heavenlies disguised as long-missed earthly gatherings.

Let’s sit in the presence of this season, yes, but let’s also look ahead. Let’s not miss the opportunity to catch a glimpse of glory, even here.

That’s a Wrap


An Ode to the Wins and Setbacks of 2019

If you know me, you know I love tradition and can tie sentiment to anything. But this winter, we gave up some things – traditions, expectations, rituals, shopping adventures.

This season, working to get out of student loan debt has made a tremendous impact on our lifestyle; I especially felt it this season. The way we shopped, wrapped, and participated in the whole season is changing. Has changed.

You see, the deeper we go into this journey, the more I realized it’s not about the debt. It’s about my love for “stuff.” It’s our society’s constant message: you don’t have enough and you need this to be happy. It’s the constant, tortuous game of comparison and discontentment.

We blocked out that message of comparison shouted to our society. It might sound silly, but we made a choice to have a smaller Christmas to stay in budget. What we didn’t anticipate is that by choosing to engage in smaller ways, we would actually open a wider breadth in which to celebrate and be present with others.

We would actually prove to ourselves that we can love and serve well with little; we can live big moments with little things. But, it required some sacrifice. (Albeit little things to you, but these were initially hard for me to release):

  • We gave up matching Christmas PJs and got matching socks instead.

  • We chose 1 gift for each of our people because 2 would be out of budget (even though we really wanted to do more and look ahead to the day when we can be outrageously generous).

  • We made coffee at home before hitting the road, instead of buying Starbucks. We packed snacks instead of hitting a drive thru.

  • We received and displayed Christmas cards with joy instead of sending them (I LOVE snail mail!).

  • We shared presents in gift exchange games, and had to learn how to agree on gifts to contribute together.

  • We said NO to cat stockings (even though I love them so much).

  • We reused the same wonky tree, whose branches are still bent from the cat’s last year and only got more out of shape this year.

  • We only used decorations we had from previous years; absolutely zero new decor was purchased.

  • We sought ethical and local gifts, and chose to be okay with the small stack under the tree.

  • We made a choice to look at our Christmas, and enjoy it, even though it was small.

I should rewind. This theme of minimizing and simplifying, this mantra of defying the rules of American consumerism and consumption, has really been in the works this entire year. It’s not a switch I turned on December 1. Actually, these ideas began rooting within me before we ever flipped the calendar to 2019.

But I owe it to 2019 for all she’s done to serve this desire well. All she’s taught me. This year was simple and peaceful in our home. It was calm. It was small. It was decluttered.

The biggest decision we made this year was this: to stay.

We renewed the lease on our apartment for a second year. We hosted friends for dinner, and became members at a church we’ve fallen in love with over the last year and a half. We set our alarms every morning and showed up to the same office and workshop every day. We continued praying for family and friends, students and ministries. We had monthly supper clubs with our old college friends. We set goals every month to pay down that student loan bill.

We were just… here. Nothing big or mighty, special or particularly impressive. We were here, doing the faithful and often monotonous work of living the faith in the places we’ve been called.

And it is because of our commitment to small living this year, that I can say with total confidence that what has happened this year has been from the hand of God. We’ve done next to nothing, and certainly nothing of extreme impressiveness with own hands.

The wins of 2019, y’all. Wonderful wins.

After years of endless prayers and tears, my father came to Christ. Just weeks later, I witnessed he and my mom finally exchange hands in marriage. These are gifts I’ll treasure in my heart forever; these are gifts that most kids don’t get to witness – the choice of their father to follow his Heavenly Father and their parents’ wedding. Two marriages I will never forget. But God did it. What a win.

We watched healing and restoration ripple in relationships in my life. Obstacles and hurts, frustrations and burdens that once overtook my heart were stilled. Honestly, I can’t explain it. Forgiveness and love swept through our souls in ways I can’t make up.

I set a reading goal for the first time in my life, and not only met it, but surpassed it – 25/24 books read!

Travis and I both found wonderful favor with our bosses. He received bonuses and pay raises, and my position became a full-time gig.

I wrote more than I ever have. I started and continued a book, and set up this blog. When a friend found it, she said, “Wow, you’re so consistent.” I’m no where near where I want to be, but I’m practicing and I’m getting there; that’s a win.

Travis and I dove deeper into community with a small group of friends. We began serving at our church. Transitioning to a new church home is daunting work. I say this from a believer who actually wants it, and I can’t imagine how hard it is for people who are skeptical of church. But our roots grow deeper every day.

I prayed more than I have in my entire Christian walk. Even when I didn’t feel like it, I did it because I knew my soul needed it. I learned new tools and practices to prayer, and they helped me tremendously. Discipline is hard, but 2019 is the year I began deciding what I want to be disciplined in- something I want to do even when I don’t want to, you know? And prayer was on the list.

Travis and I made honest, tight monthly budgets. We made some cuts and sacrifices, but also gave grace, and we doubled our student loan repayment in this second year of marriage. We are now past the halfway mark of paying down our student loan debt, and are determined to be at $0 by the end of 2020.

I shouldn’t just give you the wins; 2019 certainly had setbacks too.

Not including the condition of politics in America, Twitter explosions, and outrageous headlines, some of my every days were hard too.

I lost friendships – as in, cut out, don’t-want-to-talk-to-ya-again, completely erased from memory. And I deeply feared losing others; I missed home and people. I struggled with comparson and the heavy weight that I never meet expectations. I felt anxious when the Lord was quiet because our lives were quiet. I feared that Travis and I are rats in a wheel, doing the same things in the same places we’ll be doing for the rest of our lives. I dealt with other fears. I often didn’t feel like praying or reading.

2019 handed me some difficult challenges and losses, some of which I’m still recovering from. But woven intricately in it all, and above all, in 2019 I saw the kindness of God.

I saw his faithfulness. I saw him supply more when I lacked. He set a Spirit of empowerment and joy in me, refusing to be swayed by the craziness of our culture. He began working a boldness to live… differently.

It was in the works all year. But my simple, sweet, little Tennessee Christmas was pure evidence of all this work.

He beckoned me into his quiet presence and peace, assuring me that he is at work even when I’m not. Perhaps that is why I’m seeking a simple, quiet life right now. Maybe that’s why contentment and minimalism are tiny anthems plastered over my heart – because God knows that he is enough for me. And 2019 was a launching pad; how much more I have to go.

One day, older and wiser me is going to thank this younger me that we began this process of simplifying and allowing ourselves space to be present, while unashamedly combatting consumerism and comparison.

I’m still learning how to live “weird” unapologetically, but this season – this whole year – was a big step. It was simple and calm, and I’m beginning to think that sustainable and content living is truly possible. It’s not glamorous, but it’s beautiful.

So, if you had a small Christmas too, and gave up things you wanted for better fruit, welcome to the club. If you’re walking away from 2019 feeling like you accomplished absolutely nothing of extraordinary impressiveness, I’m walking with you.

I’m still here, relishing in it too.


Two Weeks of Gratefulness [A Series]

“We will feast in the house of Zion

we will sing with our hearts restored

‘He has done great things’ we will say together

we will feast, and weep no more.”

Sandra McCracken, “We Will Feast in the House of Zion”

I’m wrapping up the second week of writing down all the things to be grateful for, and writing a novel.

I have to say: this entire journey has been much more difficult than I anticipated. I, nearly daily, have to grab myself by the scruff of the neck and say, “Alright, I’m going to sit down. I’m going to write another paragraph. I’m going to pause long enough to consider what all I have to be grateful for.”

And honestly, some days I have not shown up to write the manuscript or in my little gratefulness notebook.

Isn’t being a human crazy? That I have to pick myself up to do the things I most want to do? That it’s a practice to follow a dream? And to even pause? The things that bring us the most joy can often require the most convincing, and that’s really frustrating to me.

But this week, this truth was spoken over me: I don’t have to wait until I’m in the mood to live with purpose. Actually, I can live by a firm commitment to go after it now, regardless of what I’m feeling.

Friend, we are not victims. If we’ve made the decision to live for Christ, then we are empowered and cherished by a God who has crafted stories we’ve yet to unfold. Let’s not be enslaved to what we do or don’t feel like doing. Instead, let’s press into the desires and dreams he’s placed in our hearts. And let’s go after them. We get to live by a commitment to the purposes set before us. We get to say, “Hey, I’m not going to be tossed about today. I know my purpose. And I’m going to keep stepping into it.”

Don’t give up. Keep pressing on. This is worth it. You might be tempted to think it’s not worth it; don’t believe it. You are sustained by the Sustainer himself. He’s got you. Even in the waves and tosses of the day, he’s got you.

And with that, here are only a few things I penned in the gratefulness notebook over the last several days.

  • singing with the church
  • the last few autumn trees that are still full and vibrant
  • snowfall and 2 hour delays
  • the satisfaction of meeting – and far passing – a goal
  • fleece blankets under the sheets
  • the warmth of the sun on a cold day
  • hearing a child say they want it to be Christmas every day so they can celebrate God every day, and getting to say, “But you can!”
  • going back to the place we got married just to reflect and say thanks

By the way, here’s a link to the song we sang in church on Sunday. It always breaks my heart. I mean this in the kindest way possible: I hope it breaks yours too.:

One Week of Gratefulness [A Series]

As I shared in last week’s story, I am participating in NaNoWriMo. I also shared that I am keeping track of little moments I’m grateful for in a small composition book I’m carrying with me this month. Both have been surprisingly challenging. More on that to come.

Before I get back to writing the manuscript this morning, I wanted to share a few things I wrote in the gratefulness notebook over the last few days. They’re small, but seeing them as precious gifts this week was good for my soul. I hope you feel them too.

  • fuzzy socks
  • the comfort of curling up in a warm blankets on a cold night
  • winning an Instagram book giveaway
  • winning anything, really
  • Travis driving my broken car all week, even though he hates it, so that I can drive our reliable vehicle
  • solving problems
  • the fuzzy, velvety feel of a horse’s snout
  • the kid who came to me just to say, “Ms.Brianna! Friend!”
  • a friend empathizing with your crappy week and then asking what they can do to help
  • pricey dresses that fit like a glove
  • cheap electric bills
  • when the cat walks on my back
  • Travis talking to me early in the morning, because I know he’d rather be sleeping
  • Paul’s longing to go to Rome

One Final (Random?) Thought

I spent last night and this morning just looking at Romans 1:1-15. It is literally just the introduction to Paul’s letter to the Roman church, but it’s plenty full of love and encouragement.

The Apostle’s love for Rome, for people, and ultimately, for the message of Christ, encouraged me. I pored over it for a couple hours, just sitting in Paul’s gratefulness for this church, his gratefulness to God for alotting a time for him to visit, and his gratefulness to God himself for the story he’s worked and invited us into.

We are tremendously loved and cared for, friends. It’s only because of Christ that I can show any thanks whatsoever. And being able to express my gratitude has filled a void I didn’t know I needed before I met him.

My prayer today is that I would show my thanks to him by showing thanks for the people, things, and moments he’s given me.

“As it is through Christ that God’s grace is conveyed to men, so it is through Christ that men’s gratitude is conveyed to God.”

F.F. Bruce, “The Epistle of paul to the romans: an introduction and commentary,” page 76

November: Writing Thanks and a Novel

That’s right,’ said Gandalf. ‘Let’s have no more argument. I have chosen Mr. Baggins and that ought to be enough for all of you. If I say he is a Burglar, a Burglar he is, or will be when the time comes. There is a lot more in him than you may guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself. You may (possibly) all live to thank me yet.’” Tolkien, The Hobbit

No one told me that adulthood would feel like a rut.

You wake up to the same alarm every day. You drive the same car to the same office. You swerve to miss the same pothole in road, and don’t even complain when you still bump over it. It’s happened before. You’re used to it.

You work the same hours. See the same people. Wrestle with the same insecurities. Come home with the same kind of tired. Then you go to sleep, hoping that same familiar pinging of your alarm doesn’t come too soon, just to do it all over again.

Okay, this sounds bad. But I’m not bitter about it. When I boldly asked the Lord to show me how to be faithful to where he’s planted me, I’m learning this is actually what that means: showing up to the sameness. It means being there for the same friends when they call, and going to the same Bible study every week. It’s working from that same office you’ve known for almost 2 years, and watching the kids you’ve taught graduate from one grade to the next.

The next step in this faithfulness journey, and the one I’m fumbling in, is learning how to show up to the sameness with the joy and passion that led me to ask him to bring me to it in the first place.

What I’m unsettled by is the belief that this is all there is. Like going to work and being tired is all adulthood will offer us, so we better settle in. Being stable and making money – this is the American dream, after all.

They might tell me to get over it. They might say that we live to work and pay bills, but I cannot stomach the thought. They’ll tell me that dreaming is for kids. They’ll say this is it. Work and routine, this is what I’ve waited my whole life for.

But I don’t believe it.

Jesus did not save me to a safe, planned, routine life. A faithful life to his reasons, yes. But a life stuck on repeat, no.

My Jesus is yours too; He didn’t save you to a life on repeat either.

November, You’re Special

This month, in this chilly November, I know that my heart needs refreshment. I know that even now – up to Thanksgiving and start of Advent – my heart needs to begin its preparation for December. I am not ready to receive the coming of Christ with joy; I need to reposition myself.

I am human enough to admit that my preparing the way for Christ in December begins with preparing the way to prepare his way in November.

Why? Because I don’t want to miss a single miracle that God can work this season.

I want all the grace and joy bestowed upon me as I look ahead to family dinners and get-togethers. I want the joy of Christ to radiate from me. Not because I’m special, but because he is and I’m in tune with his ways.

I want to feel deeply-rooted contentment when I’m eyeing gifts under the tree, or shopping for others. I want to believe at the core of my bones that I’ve already been given enough, and that I am not defined by things I don’t have.

I want to listen to what God has to speak and show. I want to believe that even in my every day, he is here, crafting glory and beauty in the mundane; let me not forget him. I want to know that I am not a slave to the rut and routine of adulthood. But actually, life is a miracle – and as a believer, I have full permission to enjoy it.

He knows every step I take and beat of my heart, and I want to praise that. I just want to increase in my gratefulness to him.

Starting today, even right now, I can number what he’s already done for me. I can ask for eyes to see the wonderful mercies he’s given me already, and tune my heart to receive it, while still showing up to my same circles of faithfulness.

Writing Thanks

God has already given us so much. Hello, have you counted your fingers or numbered your breaths today? Have you noticed the way the sun rises through the tree tops? Did you hear what your husband said of you, and did you feel your heart flutter?

Life is beautiful. And how much do I miss when I’m looking down?

I’m challenging myself to look up and number my thanks this month. I’m going to keep a mini composition book in my bag, and pull it out when I’m on my lunch break or sitting in traffic. When I see a kindness of the Lord, one that I just want to simply say thanks for, I’m going to jot it down. I’m going to remember that he is, in fact, my lovely king – at work in all things.

You can too. Maybe you prefer using your notes app. Maybe you want to reflect on your day in you journal before bed every night. It doesn’t matter how you incorporate it, but that you do. It barely takes any planning. Just a simple raising of the hands and uttering the prayer, “Lord, help me to be thankful. Let me see what I’m prone to miss.”

And a Novel

This month is also NaNoWriMo – short for National Novel Writing Month. In these few weeks, writers from all over will commit to writing a 50,000 word manuscript. For some, it will be the start of a great work. For others of us, it will be a chance to finish what’s been started. But for all, it will be an opportunity to share the stories that need to be told.

I’m joining the journey, and am hopeful that God will give me the words I’ve been looking for. Or running from. Whichever.

Welcome, November

So that’s where I am today, on this chilly first day. I’m taking a step deeper into faithfulness, although it looks different this month. In these weeks, my faithfulness will be tested on the page. It will show up to the pen, and I’ll get the wonderful opportunity to feeling its pressing on paper and learning how to simply say, “Thank you, God.”

This is a chance to show the rut that I will not be bound by its cruel restrictions, but actually, am going to live fully aware of joy and chasing dreams. I’m going to practice believing that God loves when we enjoy his gifts to us – whether it’s a spoken or written word. And today is a great place to start.

I can’t wait to share with you what I find on the other side of the month. Until then, let me leave you with a note from Gandalf, when the dwarves despaired that he was leaving them to their journey:

“We may meet again before all is over, and then again of course we may not. That depends on your luck and on your courage and sense; and I am sending Mr. Baggins with you. I have told you before that he has more about him than you guess, and you will find that out before long. So cheer up, Bilbo and don’t look so glum. Cheer up Thorin and Company! This is your expedition after all. Think of the treasure at the end, and forget the forest and the dragon, at any rate until tomorrow morning.”

The Enemy Didn’t Win This Round

What I Would Have Told Myself Yesterday

Sometimes your 1st graders will ask you to hang out, so you’ll say where and they’ll say CiCi’s Pizza, and you’ll say when, and they’ll say Saturday morning.

You’ll think it’s crazy, but you’ll commit to it.

So when you show up on Saturday morning – promptly at 10:30, the exact time CiCi’s opens — the girls will be waiting in their apartment complex parking lot. They’ll be wearing their African and church dresses with puffer, winter jackets to protect them from the wind and sprinkling rain, even though it’s over 70 degrees. Their faces will light up when they see you. They’ll wave and run to your car, probably because a part of them feared you wouldn’t show up.

And before you know it, after checking in with parents and exchanging phone numbers, you’ll be buckling in 3 girls in booster seats in the backseat of your car. You’ll struggle, because goodness, can a car really hold 3 booster seats side by side? You’ll struggle a little more, and the girls will clap for you when you finally hear the click of the buckles. You’ll wonder how parents do it every time.

It’s only a 2 minute drive. Close enough to walk, and you probably would have walked if it wasn’t rainy. When they ask on that short drive over if they can roll the windows down and how much pizza they can eat, you’ll be so happy to tell them, “Yes, and as much as you want!”

And as you have a contest to see who can eat the most, you’ll play iSpy and teach them the words written on media scattered around the restaurant. They’ll ask you questions about life, and you’ll hold onto this moment, already excited to share these memories with them when they’re older.

You’ll be sad when their tummies are full, and realize it’s time to go back home. When they say on the drive to their apartment, “Ms. Brianna, are you driving us to Africa?” and giggle, your heart will break a little because they’re so little and have already been through so much.

What I’m Telling Myself Now

Really? This is crazy. I can’t believe I get the privilege of walking with little ones, with the unwavering hope that they will rise with resiliency into remarkable adults one day. Going to CiCi’s Pizza is a big deal, and not something they get to do often. I really can’t believe I get to be the one to stand in the gap, and do that for them.

But to be completely honest: it’s hard. This is my calling. And yet, a lot of times I don’t feel like going. I face inwardly, struggling to look through someone else’s lens. I just don’t want to go. I didn’t work it in my budget. My to-do list is long. Looking ahead, and knowing that these little moments have the potential to love these kiddos to a stable adulthood – it can feel hopeless.

I usually have to pep talk myself, and ask the Lord to help me. He does, every time, and I’ve never left disappointed that I chose to give time to my kids.

It’s no surprise to me that I can’t love or serve well without God. That – I’ve known that for a while.

However, what I’m also learning is I can’t love or serve well without people.

Those booster seats? Given to me by mommas who didn’t need theirs anymore. When I called on help to become more accessible to my students, women stepped in and offered to literally just give me theirs. Within minutes, I had enough seats for my car and to share with coworkers striving for the accessibility.

The idea to go in the first place? God giving my girls the courage to ask to hang out. I don’t know why they want to hang out with an “old lady” like me, but I’m glad they asked. This is not my work; this is Christ at work in me and my students to help us build relationships.

Encouragement along the way? My incredible coworkers who consistently give so much of themselves to their work and our kids. They are walking testaments of the power our Father can weave through us if we show up, trusting him to provide our way. I look up to, and model much of my work after them. They are my wise counsel, and the ones I strive alongside.  

And the motivation to go when I’m tempted to stay? Certainly born out of a prayer from family and friends who have surrounded me, and shown interest in my work. Undoubtedly, this is the answer of a God who has been faithful to both hear and act.

Go, But Not Alone

Do something today. Anything. Because we know that the enemy loves to rip us from sweet moments. He knows that by tempting us to stay away from the things we love – by filling us with exhaustion, fear, worry, and honestly, lack of motivation – that he has blocks us from loving what we love to love.

It’s so stupid. Don’t fall for it. Do the thing on your heart, the same one that you are the most least-willing to do today, knowing that it has been planted for a reason. Don’t reason your way out of it. Show up. The fruit waiting for you on the other side of it is so sweet.

We won’t make memories with our fast-growing 1st graders that make us eager to tell their older selves about this time together, if we don’t commit to going to CiCi’s Pizza in the first place.

And believe this: you need people to serve people.

Don’t go at it alone. You’ll go so much farther if you choose to invite people in. Let them give you booster seats. Let them pray over you. Let them ask question, and be patient enough to answer. Stand humbled and in awe of those wiser and admirable around you.

It’s hard to serve and love well; it’s even harder to do it alone. There’s more to say. But the best, most simple thought I have for you on this rainy, cozy Saturday is to let people love you as you love people too.