peacemaking

Hello. It’s me.

I’m doing this again.

Mostly because I’m tired. In a lot of ways. I’m physically tired, which leads to extra thinking and less filtering. Emotionally tired of waking up or going to bed to tragedy. Mentally tired of figuring out my thought processes while weaving through webs of everyone else’s already publicized thought processes. Spiritually tired of darkness that seems to grow larger every day.

And now, after so many repeated tragedies, I’m tired of being a peacekeeper.

I’m tired of being the middle child who’s learned to skillfully dance on eggshells so everyone feels supported and comfortable at the same time.

I’m tired of being the one who’s always grabbing the pot off the burner before it boils over and makes a huge mess.

I’m willing to make a mess. I’m willing to get it wrong or crush a few eggshells…because honestly, maybe my silence and apathy and ignorance is getting it more wrong than anything I may actually say.

Jesus never told me to be a peacekeeper.

Maybe I thought he did, but in reality, he talks way more about the peacemakers.

We’re meant to make peace…and that is a hell of a lot different from keeping it. Namely because peacemaking recognizes something peacekeeping refuses to: a lack of peace.

I’m still learning what being a peacemaker looks like. But here are some places I think we could all start.

Step One: Recognize the lack of peace and your own role in that.

For a lot of my life, I’ve been blind to my privilege and because of that, have dismissed other people’s experiences and realities. I’m a privileged white girl and I’m still learning how to see. And learning how to see means getting new perspectives. Perspectives that aren’t other privileged white girls.

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There’s a serious lack of peace in the world today. How are you responding to it? Are you walking away in fear and creating a greater void, or are we stepping into that void to listen, grow, and see the gap close a bit more?

Step Two: Pray for peace, but also recognize that you yourself are a big part of the answer to that prayer.

Seriously, sometimes I feel like people pray for peace (including myself) and expect God to drop some holy peace vibes from the sky that will shock us into living out of love and singing around campfires together. Spoiler alert, he’s not sending holy peace vibes. He’s sending you.

Yes, you there, calling yourself a Christian, you have the spirit of God in you and that spirit of God is a spirit of Peace.

When we are desperately crying out for peace, I sometimes wonder if God’s whispering back to us “I’ve already given it to you, you’re just not doing anything with it.”

So, you know, pray for peace. Hashtag that ish for all I care. But also remember to get off your ass and take that spirit of Peace that’s living in you to the places and people you tend to avoid.

Step Three: Have some real conversations, and listen for the sake of listening

Look, I’m not a fan of hard conversations, and I don’t like people feeling uncomfortable, and honestly – more than 50% of the time I’m listening to you, I’m listening simply to have a chance to respond. I have an inkling that the same’s true for at least a few of you reading this.

So, let’s all take a deep breath and get the hell over it.

Peacekeeping looks like dancing around the hard stuff to keep it cozy. Peacemaking means letting some things get broken and messy before they get put back together.

Some of the hardest conversations I’ve had are the ones where someone calls out my blind spots. None of us want to know we’re blind. One I will always remember took place in an after school program. I was talking to a student about what he wanted to be when he grew up and he was having a hard time thinking of things. I started listing off the things I dreamed of being when I was his age. And then, this 7-year-old precious little one said to me, “Well, that’s because you’re white.” I tried to tell him that it didn’t matter, but he just shook his head and said “Yeah it does.”

From then on, I started trying to listen more purely.

Not listening so that I could form my opinion and share it.
Not listening so that I could argue back.
Not listening where I was just waiting my turn to speak.

Really, honestly, listening and letting it resonate within me.

There’s not much I claim to know, but I do know this: I follow a God who crossed and continues crossing boundaries to show His undying love for His creation, and who asks me to do the same. I follow a God who breaks down walls and creates unity instead of putting them up, and again asks me to do the same.

 I’m still learning. We all are, really.
And while I’m learning, I am grieving with those who are grieving.
I am weeping with those who are weeping.
And I am listening. And I am with you. And I am sorry.

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turning on the light.

I’ve always had a rule about my blog, and it’s that I’d keep it quiet when something happens in the world that sends the Internet into a commentary overload…no matter how I felt on the incident. I’ve never felt like my voice needed to be added to the countless others.

Something’s different this time.

I still don’t feel like my voice needs to be added to the countless voices speaking on the events in Orlando…but, I don’t know.

Maybe it’s in light of some of the responses I’ve seen to Orlando spewed across social media. Maybe it’s in light of the questions I’ve had to answer to precious Thai children who are trying to wrap their heads around evil as much as I am. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent the past three years of my life seeing my worldview change and feeling more solidified in my faith and in the Jesus I follow, yet realizing that it’s led to more questions and conflicting views than true solid answers.

Whatever the reason, I’m breaking my own rules today and adding my voice to the Internet.

On Sunday, while a man was opening fire on innocent people in Orlando, I was sitting in a coffee shop in Bangkok, writing and blissfully unaware of the evil on the other side of the globe.

24 hours later, I was sitting in front of a group of teenagers who were asking me why people hate people. Why people can take guns into concerts and nightclubs and churches and hospitals and schools…places where you’re not supposed to worry about your safety. I was choking down emotions to try to offer some kind of answer to kids who shouldn’t have to ask these kinds of questions yet.

There’s a lot of darkness in the world, and I don’t deny it. I feel it deeply, maybe even more deeply than before because it dawns on me more every day that one day, it could be me caught in a crossfire of hatred and fear. Or worse, it could be someone I love.

The world may be dark, but every day we each have a choice to look at that darkness and turn on a light. We have the choice every day to live from a place of love or a place of fear. And hatred, hatred like we’ve seen recently, is an ugly byproduct of living from places of fear.

We can all turn on the light. We can all see fear and stress and pain and choose to sit down next to it with a simple “Hey, I’m here. This is evil. This hurts. I don’t know what to do or say, but I’m here and I’m with you and I support you.”

Hiding in the darkness, not saying something that matters because we’re scared of what happens when it’s finally out there – that does nothing but breed more fear. It perpetuates the darkness that’s already weighing heavy on the world.

So, this is me attempting to turn on a light, and hoping you’re doing the same.

To my brothers and sisters in the LGBT community:

I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. My words may fall short and my attempts to show support may seem feeble. But I love you. I’m standing in solidarity with you today and every day. Because human is human. Love is love. And I love you. And regardless of what others may say, I believe the God I follow loves you. Your life matters. Your love matters. Your stories matter. You matter.

I don’t know how to answer the questions some of my students ask or the questions I’m asking myself, but I do know one thing:

Faith, hope and love endure. And the greatest of these is love.

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on being called “brave.”

Brave is not a word I’d use to describe myself, yet it’s one I hear quite often.

Maybe it’s because the past few years of my life have been less than typical and have involved lots of airplanes and foreign countries and eating grasshoppers and running through Dubai alone in the middle of the night because I had an 8 hour layover and I could. Maybe because it’s involved living in places that people tend to assume the worst of. Whatever it is that leads people to stamping that word on my life, I’ve stopped trying to figure it out.

Because I don’t feel brave. I’ve never felt brave.

If I’m being honest, I’ve been afraid more times in my life than I’ve felt brave. Most things I’ve walked into doing, I’ve been trembling. Pictures where I’m laughing hysterically are covering up the fact that my legs were shaking and my mind was racing (especially when those pictures were taken on raised surfaces because my fear of heights is so real).

For a long time, I took everything fear said as truth.

Fear told me to stay inside. It told me to hide my heart. Not to trust other people. Not to let too much of myself be seen or known. Fear told me the world was a dangerous place and people were going to let me down. It told me I was a risk that wasn’t worth taking, so I shouldn’t even put myself out there.

And you know what, maybe some things fear told me were true. Maybe there’s a gift hiding in fear that protects us. But at what cost?

I didn’t wake up one morning and decide to be brave. I just stopped letting the fear tell me what to do.

And I don’t know, maybe that’s what actually makes us brave.

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I started writing. I started telling my life’s story to people who became fortresses of safety and peace in my life, and it made me braver. I decided that, while the world may be dangerous and full of darkness, there’s also light that exists that will always overcome the dark.

I realized that no matter what happens to me on this earth, my soul has found the safest resting place in the God that created it. Fear tends to pale in comparison to that.

I’ll never stop being afraid of things.

I’ll never stop my legs from shaking when I’m standing on the edge of something risky and beautiful.

I’ll never stop my heart from racing when I’m about to expose part of it to another person.

But I’ll never again let it keep me from doing it anyway.

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To be continued.

More Than a Hashtag #EndItMovement

Today my Instagram feed and Facebook scroll was filled with pictures of red x’s on hands. The captions  all said something along these lines: “Shine a light on slavery. Raise your voice for the 27 million enslaved today. #EndItMovement”

I’m all about it, I am. Human trafficking is a heartbreaking, despicable thing that we can’t ignore. We should raise awareness everyday because EVERY DAY human beings (just like you, me, your best friend and your little brother) are trafficked for all kinds of reasons: sex, forced labor, forced marriage, child labor, international adoption (yes, really), organ harvesting, and more.

But today, perhaps for the very first time since this whole #EndItMovement began, today I wept as I scrolled past all the marked hands on Instagram and Facebook. Because it’s not that easy anymore. It used to be easy to do my part, to post my picture and to tell people about it who asked…but everything has changed.

Because it’s not just a red X on my hand anymore. That red X was given a face this year, the hashtag replaced by names and stories of harsh realities my red X used to make so easy.

I can’t look at a red X without seeing Geralyn on the streets in Dublin.

I can’t see “#EndItMovement” without hearing the voices of the Jaz home girls.

I can’t scroll through my feed today without scrolling through the memories of girls being sold to Western tourists for the night right in front of my eyes.

I can’t watch video montages of statistics without remembering the pain & desperation in the eyes of the children we sent away from our tables multiple times a night without money to take back to their boss.

And they are why this has to be more than writing on your hand, more than a hashtag.

A hashtag in itself is not a movement. A movement has to move, to live & breathe outside of your instagram and twitter posts. A hashtag promotes a movement, a hashtag gets people talking, but that talking HAS to get us moving. For Geralyn. For the girls in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. For the children in Cambodia and Vietnam. For the coffee bean harvesters “working off a loan” that has plagued their family for generations. For the men and women in sweatshops making the clothing you’re currently lounging around the house in.

So how do you make it more than a hashtag? How do you make that red X on your hand sink into a permanent red X on your heart? Not everyone can go and stare it in the face to confront it. So what do we do? How are we to live? Here’s a few ideas.

1. Educate yourself.

Most of you who posted pictures today have at least a general idea of the issue of modern day slavery. That’s super & it’s important to keep sharing it. Skip down a few lines if you’d like. For those of you reading this who are saying “modern day slavery, say what?” here are just a few resources.

The A21 Campaign Website
Not For Sale
Nefarious Documentary

Those of you who know stats, educate yourself more. 
Go here to find out how many slaves work for you. The survey takes you through your home, your food consumption, your jewelry and your clothing to come up with the number.

45 is my number by the way. It makes me want to throw up.

2. Change the way you shop.

Check out free2work.org to see how your favorite brands relate to trafficking and other labor abuses. You might be surprised. Do some research into fair trade & ethical shopping – here’s a great blog to get you started. Commit to a lifestyle of less. Every time you buy something, you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want to live in. “If we continue to spend money on things that are produced by forced labor, we are devaluing our brothers and sisters and saying that our saved pennies are more important than their spent lives.” ~ Elizabeth Bricknell

3. Put your money where your hashtag is.

There are organizations who literally rescue people every day from trafficking, counsel and rehabilitate them. There are organizations who provide a way out to girls who see no way out, giving them a job and a safe place to live. You know what they need on top of your hashtag? Your dollars. Rescue operations and rehabilitation programs are expensive. Here are just a few organizations I love. Check these out or do some searching on your own to find something you connect with.

Lighthouse in Action- Thailand
Wellspring Living – Atlanta, GA
A21 Campaign – Worldwide

Modern day slavery isn’t something you can remember for a day and then choose to be ignorant of for the other 364 days of your life. Scripture compels us to educate ourselves and to do something. God’s heart is breaking at the thought of His children, those he made in His image, living in bondage.

And last but certainly, certainly not least – 100,000 years from now it will not matter if a woman running a sewing machine in Phnom Penh, Cambodia is rescued if she is not offered the spiritual freedom only Jesus can give. Jesus is the only one who can set them truly free, and He has set us apart to deliver this message of hope.

So as you shine a light on slavery, don’t forget that what these precious souls – from your neighbor enslaved to her insecurity to the teenager in a foreign country enslaved to a pimp – need deepest is the light of Jesus, the light that you carry inside of you.

the thing about not blogging

For three months, every time I have opened up Chrome on my computer, WordPress has automatically launched and stared me in the face, laughing and pointing at how long it had been since I’d written anything.

Blogging’s not my favorite. Okay, I take that one back – I really love the concept of blogging – sharing a story, a struggle, whatever – it’s grand. I love writing and have for as long as I can remember…but there’s just something about telling a story and not knowing where or how they land – it keeps me writing without hitting the “publish” button.

It wasn’t until college that I realized the value of the stories we keep: the kindess of strangers, the provisions & protections of God, the meals shared and the heartbreaks endured. Even the tiniest stories of my life became something significant as they were shared – that’s when I realized that my stories are telling a much bigger story about a much better Storyteller.

So this past year of my life – it’s a pretty cool story. I got to call 50 different hostels, houses, apartments, concrete floors, buses and airports home...and I learned what family looks like in all of those places. I’ve spent time everyday since I’ve been home reading through the journals I kept throughout the Race, and I’ve laughed and cried at the stories that the pages held.

The past six months at home have been a drastically different story. I live in one home with my family in a cozy suburban neighborhood in North Carolina. I’m a nanny for a three year old who can’t talk yet. I joined a “multi-generational” Bible study full of women who I now cherish and have struggled to find a church (or to even find motivation to find a church). I’ve taken road trips and have cancelled road trips. I’ve had a lot of coffee. I’ve had even more tea.

And nothing seems worthy of writing. It all seems insignificant in comparison to what I got used to doing. A couple of months ago my squadmate Johnna wrote a really wonderful blog about this lie of insignificance that I find myself unable to shake away completely. One thing Johnna writes that I find myself constantly needing to be reminded of is this:

“Insignificance never applies as followers of Christ. Everything we are and do is seen from above as extraordinary because we are purposed by an extraordinary God, A God who has favorable and exciting plans for his children.”

For the past six months, I’ve found the same question popping up: Will my life ever again look like these stories I am sharing? Because right now, I’m not really doing anything “epic.” I’m not leaving giant footprints in the world, and right now my world is considerably smaller than it used to be. But I am leaving valuable footprints nonetheless, because they are footprints accompanied by an extraordinary God, and that’s what I have to remember.

Adventure may not always look like carrying my possessions on my back and jumping on another flight every few weeks, and that’s okay. I’m thankful that it’s what my adventure looked like at one point, and I’m thankful that God is giving me new eyes to see what adventure looks like now.

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Thanks for sticking with me in my lack of stories and musings about life and other things like that. There are new things ahead, including more blog posts and a variety of fun things, and hopefully some really exciting life updates to share. 

On Forgetting How To Actually Make Coffee

Yes.
You read that correctly.
I, self-proclaimed coffee addict, forgot how to make coffee.

In my defense, I spent the past year simply stirring instant coffee powder into a cup of hot water. I came home and freaked out about having a Keurig in my possession again…and it continues to be a joyous reunion.

Until I wanted more than just my single serve Keurig and needed to actually brew a full pot of coffee.

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I stared at the filter. I stared at the coffee pot. I stared at the coffee grounds.
I could not for the life of me figure out what to do with all the pieces…so I called my mom, naturally.

A piece of me crumpled as I finally brought that cup of coffee to my lips. Because this was about much more than me forgetting how to make coffee.

I’m in a place I don’t want to be.
I’m home under my parents’ roof after 5 years of living a completely different life quite independent from them.
I’m home in a place where my community & friendships have dwindled and weakened, and in a lot of cases – don’t even exist anymore.
I’m home in a place that feels more strange than all of those times I woke up to a half-naked stranger a few feet over from my bed in a hostel.

I have passions I want to pursue, dreams I want to see become realities, plans I’m making and ready to step into. Nearly everyday since I’ve been home, I’ve been trying to plan my great escape from home (again).

As I admitted defeat in the battle of the coffee maker, I heard it. That all too familiar voice that calls me to stop. That still, small voice that wraps it’s arms around me and says “Not yet.”

Lovely. A season of “not yet” is about as good as being stuck in the dead of winter for me. I much prefer seasons of warmth & color, seasons where things are happening. Seasons where you can sit outside and feel the sun being absorbed into your skin – where there’s football & frisbee…seasons that are active with life.

A season of not yet looked nothing like that to me. Lots of dead things covered in ice. Sitting on the couch under a blanket. It’s the last things I wanted to do, especially when I looked at it in comparison to the season I just left.

And then I got a letter in the mail.
A letter from that season I just left.
A letter that I had written to myself in Albania, knowing that this season of “not yet” was coming. And you want to know what the past “world traveling, team leading, month eleven racer” version of me said to the present day, sitting in North Carolina version of me?

I know you hate it, but it’s no excuse to cast it off. Invest somewhere. Take a risk. The Lord doesn’t waste a season, no matter how cold it may seem to you. Fight the apathy and the temptation to compare, or else you will waste a potentially wonderful season. You don’t have to live defeated just because you’re not where you thought you’d be yet.

All the truth. All the conviction. All the tears.

I sat outside the day after getting the letter, feeling the chill of the coming season brush across my face as the sun absorbed into my skin, and I simply said “okay.”

Okay to transition. Okay to not yet. Okay to calling this place home for a little while longer.

Embracing “not yet” is scary and it looks differently everywhere I turn. It looks like meeting up for coffee. It looks like reaching out to people you haven’t seen in years. It looks like walking into a brand new church. It looks like getting a job. And it looks like not letting the glory of the past rob the present of its potential.

I’ve dragged my feet long enough doing that to have learned that looking back in comparison is no excuse for not moving forward into new community, new opportunities, and discovering new truths.

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forty thousand miles later

So, here’s my question.

How does one sum up a year of life? I mean, really, when you think about all the possibility a year holds – all the lessons & beauty that leak out of everyday, all the smiles & laughter that were made stronger by tears & heartbreak- how do you put it all into words?

And even more, when all of those things play out on a backdrop of 11+ vastly different countries & cultures, how does one begin to explain it all in a way that does it justice?

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I’ve realized in the past six weeks of reunions & storytelling that you really can’t.

Because no matter how many times you ask me what my favorite country is, I’ll want to say a different one every time for different reasons. I’ll eventually settle for Vietnam, but it’s only a piece of the story. And the things that truly made Vietnam (and every other country) beautiful are things that I fear don’t quite make sense to anyone else.

How do you explain the feeling of true, deep freedom coursing through your veins as you speed through the city on the back of a motorbike? How do you detail the childlike joy on a Buddhist’s face as she hears of the unconditional love of Jesus for the first time?

You can’t. I mean, you can try, but there’s a certain depth of beauty in the small moments that can only be experienced by the ones seeing it. That whole “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” thing seems to hold some weight.

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For six weeks, I’ve tried to think up these incredibly poetic answers to the questions I expected my friends & family to ask. I tried to prepare myself with the stories that I wanted to tell and the precious friends I wanted to share, the hilarious unfortunate situations I found myself in all year, the insane ways I saw the Lord… but when questions get asked, I end up replying with an overwhelmed, “I have no idea.”

I’ve tried to figure out a way to sum it all up in writing and offer it back to you, and I’ve found myself having a hard time believing the story that I lived this year. And since being home, my heart has found it hard to adjust from a familiar state of wandering. I’ve spent no more than 5 days in the same place. I’ve jumped from apartment to restaurant to coffee shop to house to fill in the blanks left by only knowing each other through social media this year. I’ve wandered from city to city these past six weeks, and the place that I’ve found home hasn’t changed from where I found it this past year – it’s always been in the person sitting across the table from me.

So in a coffee shop – whether in Vietnam or Alabama, or wandering the streets of Dublin or hanging out in Atlanta, home is there because of who is there, even though I know now my heart will never fully be at home because she’s a forever wanderer.

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Because this world & all of its sunrises and cups of coffee, all of its dirt roads and markets of fresh fruits and veggies, – it was never meant to be home.

It took my feet touching 20 different countries on a 40,000+ mile journey to realize the beauty in that. Once you discover that this world is not our home, but rather a stopping point on our way home to Jesus, it’s a lot easier to see the blanket of stars above you as just that – a blanket, folded up nicely and waiting to welcome you home as you arrive. It’s easy to see the sunsets as the artwork decorating a forever home & the mountains and oceans serving as a backdrop to our favorite moments together.

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My heart (and yours too, Jesus-followers) will search for home until our lives end & we’re welcomed into our eternal homes. Lucky for us though, we get a glimmer of that home in each other’s hearts as we share life together here on earth. Basing it on that alone, I think there’s a lot of beauty to look forward to.

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