THE ASYLUM RACE: MY FIRST SHORT STORY.

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Hey everyone,

I wanted to make quick post to let all my blog readers know that I recently finished my first short story. It’s called The Asylum Race, and it flips the border crisis on its head to show how racism is embedded in our immigration system. You can read it here.

(Seriously. Please read it. Here is the link. And one more time: it’s here.)

Let me know what you think, and consider sharing the story if you found it meaningful. Most importantly, remember to choose love over fear. Everyone, everywhere, every time.

Thanks for reading.

THE SUMMER I LOST SOME SWEETNESS, BUT FOUND MYSELF.

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“‘Fight back but don’t burn it down’ is my middle name,” I texted my boss the other day. This statement pulled me into a moment of reflection. I thought about Haley of a few years ago, and even Haley before this internship, and realized how much I’ve changed. And I’m really excited about that.

For as long as I can remember, sweet has been one of the main adjectives others use to describe me. At a retreat for a student organization I was a new member of, we wrote notes on posters for our fellow members; my poster had “sweet” on it at least fifteen times. Friends try not to cuss or talk about their wild weekends around me. I’ll smile if I make eye contact with you. I like herbal tea, floral patterns, and Jane Austen novels. The other day, someone legitimately referred to me as “the purest noodle.” It’s pretty easy to see why sweet is one of my most common descriptors.

That’s not a bad thing, for sure. I find a lot of strength in my gentleness. People can be so quick to judge and attack; I want to challenge the world’s harshness and hatred with trust and kindness.

But as others have continued to call me sweet, it’s become more and more important to me as a piece of my identity. I clung to this word and let it define me. I put on fake smiles when I wasn’t feeling it, to keep up the persona. I held back from sharing my authentic thoughts and emotions. I ran from conflict the way birds run from the water in this vine. The whole time, I thought I was doing the Right Thing, because people kept calling me sweet, and that’s what I’m supposed to be, right? I was being sweet for sure, but not my full self.

And then this summer I interned at a refugee resettlement agency. (Read more about how much I love refugees here and here.) I was put in situations where people I cared about, our refugee clients, weren’t getting what they needed or deserved. Being denied interpretation services, barely given the time of day at a doctor’s office, told that an appointment must have been canceled when I know it wasn’t. In those moments, I had a choice: lie down and let myself and my client get walked all over, or fight back.

So I learned to fight back.

With kindness and respect, always. With humility, acknowledging that I certainly don’t do everything right either, always. With compassion and concern, always. But still fighting back. And it wasn’t easy, but that fighting spirit within me pushed up through the weeds of my desire to be liked by everyone everywhere all the time. There was certainly a learning curve, but at the end of the day, I’m walking away from this summer knowing how to fight back.

Conflict doesn’t scare me anymore. I’m no longer prioritizing my sweet reputation above all else. When I need to stand up for something I believe in, advocate for people I care about, or raise a personal concern, my heart pounds a little faster but I still speak. I’ve realized that this world needs me to be my true self, nothing less. Sweet is part of my story, but not the whole one.

I’d say I’m a sweet fighter, a love warrior, to borrow from Glennon Doyle. I value kindness, I’ll give you a warm smile, I’ll express sincere gratitude—but I’ll also insist on rights being respected, ask for what’s needed even if it’s inconvenient, and hold people accountable for doing their jobs. That’s my authentic self, and it’s who I’m committed to being.

Kindness goes so far in this world that sometimes seems overrun by bitterness and hatred. I truly value that. But where there is injustice, just being sweet does not go far enough. Where there is injustice, to love is to fight. To fight kindly, respectfully, patiently, but also to fight hard, well, and persistently. Friends, let us always be kind—and, let us never back down from a fight when it is needed for love’s sake.

CALL TO ACTION: SPEAK UP FOR REFUGEES.

Yazidi Refugees In Syria Celebrate Liberation Of Sinjar From ISIL

I didn’t even know how to describe my feelings when I saw the news today: The current administration might lower the refugee admissions ceiling to zero. The presidential determination process allows the President and their administration to determine the maximum number of refugees allowed in the country per year. In 2016, the ceiling was 85,000, and the number of refugees resettled was 89,994. In 2018, the ceiling was 45,000, and the number of refugees resettled was 22,491. This year, the ceiling is 30,000, and so far the number of refugees resettled is 21,260.

The drastic proposed cuts down to 10,000, 3,000, or even zero are honestly devastating. For one thing, while refugees are not our fellow Americans, they are our fellow human beings. As such, we have a moral obligation to offer refuge through the resettlement process to as many as we safely, practically can. Beyond that, resettled refugees are vital contributors to their communities. They pay taxesjoin the workforce, start businesses, show hospitality, and create an atmosphere of cultural diversity. If we don’t want to admit refugees for humanitarian reasons, then we have plenty of selfish reasons, too.

The administration may cite national security as the rationale for lowering the refugee admissions ceiling, but fears about refugees are unfounded. UNHCR emphatically states that “persons who have committed serious crimes or who might pose a security threat are not eligible for refugee status or resettlement.” The Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies (CRSA) in Georgia explains that “refugees undergo a rigorous background, security, and medical screening process involving eight U.S. federal agencies, six security databases, five background checks and three separate in-person interviews, among other things.” According to the New American Economy Research Fund, crime rates are more likely to considerably decline, not increase, in cities with influxes of refugee resettlement. According to the Cato Institute, you’re significantly more likely to be murdered by a native-born terrorist than in a terror attack by a refugee (1 in 28 million vs. 1 in 3.86 billion).

All the data I’ve seen point to one thing in this case: the refugee admissions ceiling cannot be cut down to zero. And all the personal experiences I’ve had with refugees point to one thing as well: the refugee admissions ceiling cannot be cut down to zero. This summer, I’ve met refugees who are resilient, and hospitable, and generous, and so so kind. They are hardworking, motivated self-advocates; loving fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons, and daughters; and people who absolutely deserve whatever second chance we can give them for a life free from persecution.

I’m asking you to contact your representatives so we can protect the refugee resettlement program and actually increase the refugee admissions ceiling for fiscal year 2020.

It’s simple, but if we’re all in this together, it can make a huge difference for thousands of people around the world. If you’re with me, then just follow these steps:

  1. Find out who your representatives are at whoaremyrepresentatives.org
  2. Call them or write them an email or letter. Here’s a script to start off with: Hello, my name is [NAME], and I am a constituent from [CITY/TOWN] in zip code [ZIP CODE]. I’m calling/writing to urge you to protect the U.S. refugee resettlement program and support a refugee admissions ceiling of 95,000 for fiscal year 2020. Refugees make many meaningful contributions to our country through workforce participation, new businesses, taxes, and cultural diversity. Please make your voice heard for a higher refugee admissions ceiling before the presidential determination is set in September.
  3. Share about the cause with your friends and family and on social media. I’ve attached some graphics you can use if you’d like.

Thank you so much for reading and for speaking up. As always, I have one final ask: let’s choose love over fear, everyone. Everywhere. Every time.

WORLD REFUGEE DAY 2019.

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(This is an updated version. The original post appears below.)

My heart is really heavy this morning. I saw on the news that the FBI had arrested a 21-year-old Syrian man, who entered the United States as a refugee, for an ISIS-supporting bomb plot against a church in Pittsburgh. A flood of emotions, thoughts, questions overwhelmed me.

Today is World Refugee Day, a day for standing in solidarity with people around the world who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence and persecution. But the headline I saw wasn’t about how refugees pay taxes, start businesses, or create jobs. It wasn’t about how communities with an influx of refugee resettlement in the years 2006-2015 saw decreases in violent crime rates. It wasn’t about how refugee families on the way home from the airport are already asking when they will learn English or when their kids will start school. It wasn’t about how refugee families invite caseworkers into their homes for tea, demonstrating the utmost hospitality even when they have few financial or material resources.

It was about a Syrian refugee with a bomb plot.

Of course, I condemn ISIS and any terror plot, including this one. Of course.

But the thing is, I know that so many other refugees do, too. Refugees have often experienced terrorism firsthand. They have been persecuted for their religion, race, nationality, political opinion, membership in a particular social group, or any combination of these. Many of them would be disgusted if you asked them whether they ever considered joining the violent group that caused them to flee their homes. The vast majority of refugees, including those from Muslim-majority countries, do not want to create more violence—they only want to live in peace.

Please, I’m begging you, please don’t let Mustafa Mousab Alowemer become the story of refugees in America. To my knowledge, he is only one of fewer than ten refugees who have been arrested in the past several years for ISIS-related activity, while thousands upon thousands of refugees have been resettled peacefully. Refugees have built vibrant lives and become vital contributors to their communities. How come white Americans can shoot children at school and it’s not the story of all white Americans? How come people are already generalizing one incident related to refugees to argue that all refugees are terrorists? (Just look at twitter: you’ll see it.) This claim is just not true. I know firsthand.

The refugees I’ve met and worked with this summer have faced immense hardship. They fiercely love their children. They want to work and support themselves and their families. They have invited me into their homes to serve me tea and snacks after I do something as simple as picking them up from the grocery store. One refugee I’ve worked with this summer didn’t speak a lick of English six weeks ago, and has now learned to say hello, how are you, I am good, thank you, and goodbye. I met a refugee from Syria at a World Refugee Day event this past weekend; she said that I had touched her heart by speaking with her in the few Arabic phrases I know. Yesterday, one family taught me how to say “I love you very much” in their native language so that they could say it to me and I could say it back. Then they tried to guess in the car which way we’d turn to go to their house, and cheered and laughed when we went left and their sister was correct. As I dropped them off, they hustled inside their house to get me a bottle of water before I drove away. The refugees I’ve met this summer are peaceful, strong, kind, and brave. Please, think of them, these beautiful people—not one person with a plot to bomb a church—when you think of refugees.

Today, I will wear my GA Loves Refugees shirt. I will serve my refugee clients as best I can. I will walk away from the temptation to see hate and respond by spewing more hate; I won’t even get into arguments with people doing that on the Internet. I will raise my voice to share the stories of the thousands, the millions of refugees who only want peace. I will choose love over fear. Please, join me.

(Original post below.)


It’s World Refugee Day! World Refugee Day, held annually on June 20, commemorates refugees’ resilience, resourcefulness, and contributions to their communities; gives us an opportunity to stand in solidarity and support with forcibly displaced people; and reminds us that millions (yes, literal millions, 25.4 to be exact) of people have no home right now (yes, right now, as you read this) because they have been forced to flee.

I’ve been interning at a refugee resettlement agency this summer and loving every second of it. It’s allowed me to discover a deep passion for the forcibly displaced and to learn about the global migration crisis and the refugee resettlement process. For World Refugee Day, I’m sharing some of the things I’ve learned and ways you can get involved in helping refugees around the world or in your own backyard.

I hope that you will learn something from this blog post. I hope that your heart will break a little for the plight of millions who have been forced to flee their homes. I hope that you will find empathy and compassion for their struggle. I hope that this empathy and compassion will drive you to get involved, in some big or small way, to help refugees. More than anything, I hope that this post honors the refugees I have the undeniable privilege of serving this summer. They are some of the most generous, hospitable, grateful, hard-working, incredible people I have ever known. They deserve any and all respect and dignity I can show them with my words.

LEARN SOMETHING.

There’s so much to learn about the global migration crisis that it can feel overwhelming. Here are a few pieces of information that I think are the best starting point:

  • One of the most important things to understand about refugees is the difference between a migrant, refugee, asylum-seeker, and internally displaced person (IDP). This one-pager explains the definitions. The main differences are in reason for flight and process of seeking safety. Migrants leave their homes voluntarily. By contrast, refugees, asylum-seekers, and IDPs (collectively referred to as forcibly displaced) are forced to flee their homes owing to a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. To seek safety, refugees cross an international border and receive refugee status from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). UNHCR provides refugees with (limited) food, water, shelter, and health care, and may consider them for resettlement to a third country, such as the United States. Asylum-seekers seek safety by presenting themselves at a port of entry to a country like the United States, where they are interviewed (or wait for an interview, or are detained while waiting for an interview) to see if they qualify for asylee status, which allows them to stay in that country for their safety. IDPs seek safety by leaving their home, but not crossing an international border. (They may be on their way to an international border, or unable or unwilling to cross an international border.) Understanding these terms is key to understanding the global migration crisis as a whole. The global migration crisis refers to the unprecedented numbers and extremely difficult conditions of forcibly displaced people around the world. Which brings me to my next point…
  • Stats. Overview figures from UNHCR show these unprecedented numbers, as well as where refugees come from and where they’re being hosted. A lot (and I mean a lot) more information can be found in their 2017 Global Report.
  • The resettlement process, which is how refugees come to a third country like the United States, is also important to understand. UNHCR has a good overview of resettlement. It’s crucial to note that people who have committed serious crimes or may pose a security threat are not eligible for resettlement. Once a refugee goes through the long, long, long process of resettlement, they face additional hardships in a third country, including limited language proficiency, seeking employment, difficulty navigating the health care system, prejudice, cultural adjustment, and more. Resettlement agencies, like the one I’m working with this summer, try to help refugees integrate into their new community.
  • Beyond the numbers, the definitions, the legal jargon, and the generalizations about refugees’ plights, it’s vital to understand refugees’ stories. Refugees are so often lumped into just one category—refugees—that we forget they’re also people, who have incredible strengths, talents, senses of humor, friends, family members, aspirations, favorite foods. Refugees are human, just like you and me. We absolutely must remember that. A great book about refugees’ stories is City of Thorns by Ben Rawlence. Women of the World Refugee Podcast and Refugee Stories: In Their Own Voices are two great podcasts to learn more about individual refugees. Compelling videos include a twenty minute documentary from Refuge Project and this shorter one focusing on refugee children.

DO SOMETHING.

As you learn the stories of individual refugees, you will be filled with deep sorrow for all they’ve endured. For many, that heartbreak, empathy, and compassion leads them to action. There are so many ways to get involved in alleviating the pain and suffering caused by the global migration crisis. Here are just a few:

  • Give your time. Volunteer at a resettlement agency in your area. You could take refugees to doctor’s appointments until they learn to use public transit, serve as an interpreter if you speak another language, or just be a source of social support while refugees adjust. You never know how valuable a first friend in America could be! You also never know how you could use your unique gifts: Luma used her soccer skills to start Fugees Family, a soccer team now supplemented with academic programs, which has made a difference for young refugees on her team, their families, and the larger community in Clarkston, GA.
  • Give your money. You can donate financially to a resettlement agency in your area. UNHCR also accepts donations.
  • Give your time and money: Knit! There are several ways to knit or crochet for refugees. I just finished my first blanket for Welcome Blanket, and Knit Aid (currently on hiatus) accepts knitted donations for refugees. This is a great way to communicate to refugees that they are loved. You go out, buy the yarn, spend hours knitting something together, and send it off with the hope that it will keep someone warm. That handmade item isn’t just practical and useful; it’s a beautiful reminder to a refugee that someone, somewhere, cares about them.
  • Support refugee-owned or -supporting businesses. Refuge Coffee in Clarkston is definitely a fan favorite, but there are so many more in the Atlanta area and throughout the United States, from auto repair shops to restaurants to clothing stores. Do a little Googling and find a business that helps refugees near you.
  • Learn a few words in another language. Refugees may speak one or a few of many different languages, from Swahili to Arabic to Urdu to Burmese. Learning “hello,” “how are you?,” and “goodbye” is an easy way to create an instant connection with a refugee and help them feel less alone.
  • Ask who they are, not what happened to them. I received this instruction in our intern training and thought it was so valuable. It’s natural to wonder why a refugee has come to the United States, but to ask is requesting that they recount what’s likely the worst thing to ever happen to them. How would you feel if a complete stranger asked about the worst thing to ever happen to you? I’m guessing not so good. Instead, ask about who they are. What are their dreams in the United States? What do they enjoy about life in the United States? What makes them happy? I know I said earlier that you need to understand refugees’ stories, and I absolutely believe that, but you need to earn the right to that story through relationship. A one-time encounter at a World Refugee Day event, or even a few weeks volunteering with a refugee family isn’t enough to justify invading their most private memories. Respect who they are as people by respecting their right to tell their refugee story to whomever they choose, whenever they choose to do so.
  • Share this post with a friend. If you’ve learned anything here or you’ve been inspired to get involved, consider sharing this post or some of its resources with a friend. I can only reach my own circle of influence with my words, but if you reach your circle and they reach their circles? The ripple effect can help so many people learn about a largely misunderstood issue and the people it affects.

Let me know if you want to chat more about refugees, the global migration crisis, or another related topic; I’ll gladly talk more about it. I hope that, wherever you are, you feel safe in your own skin. And I hope that you’ve learned something and been inspired to do something for those who don’t feel safe, all around the world.

PHONES & CONS.

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(Yes, I fully realize the irony of using technology to talk about the downsides of technology. Let’s continue.)

There’s a life I want to live.

It involves lots of books. Quiet times with God, as the sun rises, curled up in my armchair with a mug of tea. Visiting all the National Parks. Deeply investing in people; going the extra mile for them. Learning new languages. Sharing—the material blessings I’ve been given, the real and raw parts of my story, my faith. Running lots of miles. Being part of something bigger than myself.

There’s a life I’ve been called to live.

It is full (John 10:10). It is wise, making the most of every opportunity (Ephesians 5:15-16). It is clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Colossians 3:12). It is free (2 Corinthians 3:17). It clings to what is good (Romans 12:9). Its center is this: to love other people (John 13:34).

And isn’t it interesting that on the lists of things that give my life meaning and things that I am called to, my phone doesn’t make the cut?

Seriously. You would think that, given the amount of time I spend on my phone, it must add some pretty substantial value to my life. And it does add value: it’s one way I connect to people I love, especially the ones who live far away; I enjoy listening to music or podcasts while I run or drive; I’m able to snap pictures of gorgeous sunsets. But mostly, my phone doesn’t add much value. It adds ease. It’s easy to use an app for everything from language learning to Bible reading to email checking. It’s easy to kill time waiting for the bus by checking twitter or Instagram. It’s easy to text words that would be scary or uncomfortable to say aloud. It’s easy to hit the “next video” button, over and over.

Funny how ease wasn’t on my desirable life qualities lists, either.

Added value (albeit limited) and ease are good things, certainly. But I’m coming to realize that, in many ways, my phone actually takes more from me than it gives.

According to my screen time stats, I pick up my phone 99 times per day and receive 119 notifications per day; disregarding sleeping hours, that’s an average of about one pick-up every 10 or so minutes and one notification every 9 minutes. I spent more than 26 hours on my phone last week; that’s more than a whole day. No one would think it’s unreasonable to say: that’s way too much.

And this problem is a lot bigger than me. Several studies link excessive phone use, as well as excessive social media use, to a rise in mental health problems for teenagers. (This is not to say that mental health disorders like anxiety and depression aren’t real or serious and should just be solved by getting rid of smartphones; reducing smartphone use may just be one tool in the toolbox for coping with mental illnesses.) Excessive phone use can also be related to sleeping less, damage to romantic relationships, chemical imbalances in the brain (this one got me y’all), and over-reliance on the Internet with so-called “lazy thinking.” I mean, what?! These little boxes in our pockets are way more powerful than they seem, and they don’t always work their magic in our favor.

Despite these downsides, I’ve resisted getting serious about some sort of digital detox. I always remind myself of the myriad benefits of my phone generally and social media in particular. But the positives don’t erase the negatives, and in this case, they don’t outweigh them.

So I’m getting a flip phone. Yes, I’ll still have my laptop, and yes, I’ll still be texting and calling. But kicking it back about ten years to when I didn’t have a smartphone is still a big move. It’s one I’m so ridiculously excited for, and that I’ll definitely be writing more about on this space. It’s the right move for me right now, because it’s moving me toward the life I crave and the life I am called to.

I am not imploring everyone reading this to follow suit, go to the AT&T store, and buy a flip phone. Please know that is not what I’m doing. I just want us all to think—really think, with our minds, not our machines—about the pros and cons of our phone use. My guess is that most of us need to make lists of the things that matter most and seriously consider how our phones help or hurt our pursuits of those things. The benefits don’t mean that the costs aren’t real and serious. If we don’t take action steps, as drastic as going off the grid or as small as setting a daily social media time limit, those drawbacks will steal our true connection, authentic presence, and joy.

We were not created to live behind a screen. Let’s start living like it.

THE FINAL WORD.

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There’s a song I don’t like very much.

It’s got some good lyrics, but the main one (and the one I have an issue with) is: “The cross has the final word.”

The cross, where Jesus was put to death instead of us. He was mocked, beaten, spit on, brutally crucified. He breathed His last on a piece of wood in the shape of a t, nails in His hands and feet. His body was broken, His blood poured out—for us.

And this means that the cross, this horrific and terrible thing, is actually great news for us, a tremendous work of God on our behalf. It canceled our debt to God (Colossians 2:14). It put to death our sinful selves (Galatians 2:20). It removed the barrier between us and God and gave us access to a relationship with Him (Matthew 27:51). It made He who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). It created peace and reconciliation between us and God (Colossians 1:20). It set us free from accusation, making us holy in the sight of the Holiest God (Colossians 1:22). It healed us (1 Peter 2:24). It is the perfect picture of God’s love (Romans 5:8).

But with just the cross, Jesus stays dead.

With just the cross, God is not greater than death.

With just the cross, I am free, holy, righteous, and reconciled to God—and what a wonderful gift that is.

But with just the cross, God’s glory is incomplete.


The story does not end there.

Graciously, blessedly, the story does not end there.

Because Jesus’ buried body breathed again. His heart started pumping again, He left that tomb, He walked among His disciples—He was raised from the dead.

And the cross may be great news for us, but even greater news is that of Jesus’ resurrection. In the resurrection, Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). In the resurrection, Jesus took back the keys to death and hell (Revelation 1:18). In the resurrection, God has given us a living hope (1 Peter 1:3). In the resurrection, God has won the victory (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). In the resurrection, we are made alive to God (Romans 6:11).

And let’s be clear, we were dead (Ephesians 2:1). Although we were breathing with our human lungs and walking around with our human legs, our spirits were separate from God, rotting in hell for eternity. Our sin was a death sentence (Romans 6:23).

But God raised Jesus from the dead. And with Him, us. Our puny, tiny, little human selves were resurrected alongside the Lord Jesus Christ. And because He is alive, we are alive. Alive, alive, alive, in Him, through Him, for Him.

So the cross does not get the final word. The instrument of torture that put the only perfect Man to death, the symbol of God’s sacrifice, the suffering of Jesus: it does not get the final word.

No, the empty grave gets the final word. And what a word it is: the word of eternal life (John 10:28, 1 John 5:13).

Happy Easter, friends. Let us thank God today for the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ.

WORDS THAT STICK: II.

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Safety, for me, is love.

I’ve been a big fan of So Worth Loving for the past several years. They’re a clothing brand/social movement centered around the message that you are worthy of love. God used this company to shine some serious light in my life in high school, and SWL has meant so much to me ever since. Last week, So Worth Loving released their very first short film! To say I was pumped is a major understatement. What Does It Mean Part I touched me in so many beautiful, meaningful ways. One of my favorite lines came from Emily:

Safety, for me, is love.


This world is overflowing with unsafe places and people. Online anonymity spurs hateful comments toward real humans on the other side of the screen. Students wonder if today is the day the gun violence epidemic arrives in their classroom. Sexual violence is way more prevalent than we’d like to believe. Bullies say and do some seriously horrific things. LGBTQ+ adolescents are kicked out of their homes and forced to live on the streets.

And on top of that, we face dangers that don’t necessarily activate our fight or flight response, but are nonetheless so toxic. Judgment, rejection, gossip, a decision from a person or group that we are too much or not enough. How often do we honestly feel physically, emotionally, and relationally safe to be our complete, authentic selves?

I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit feeling unsafe in my shoes. My best guess is that it’s a product of both my own faulty thinking and the harsh, judgmental times we live in. There have been too many moments when I’ve berated myself for speaking up or kept parts of my story hidden away. I think we’ve all had experiences of “unsafety” with certain people or in certain spaces.

Safety of any kind is such a rarity in this world of tweets and terrorism. And that’s why I think it’s one of the greatest forms of love we can give one another.

To sit across from a hurting friend and assure him that he hasn’t scared us off? To admire how loudly someone laughs when all she usually hears is criticism and harsh jokes? To create spaces where people feel seen, known, accepted, and valued, exactly as they are? To share our own imperfections so others know they can show us theirs? What a breath of fresh air this kind of love can be!

Creating safety doesn’t mean we never have hard conversations or that we don’t screw up and hurt some feelings. It does mean that we let people be vulnerable and share all the ugly parts of their stories and selves that they didn’t want anyone to see. And when they do, we don’t judge or criticize or blame or run away or betray trust. We sit. We stay. We say, “Thank you for telling me.” We affirm that their feelings and failings do not define them; we point out the light in them, we use mirrors to reflect it back. We remind them that they are not alone. We tell them that we love them; and by making them feel safe, we prove that we do.

Safety isn’t always easy or even comfortable, but love isn’t meant to be those things. It’s meant to be brave. It’s meant to be radical. And one of the bravest, most radical charges we can take up in this hurting, broken world is to be safe people for others.

HELLO FROM THE OTHER SIDE.

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Yes, add me to the long list of cliché bloggers who’ve written “hey again” posts titled after Adele lyrics.

It’s been over a year since I wrote on this space, and what a year it’s been. I served my beloved university this past summer as a parent counselor for Camp War Eagle, our orientation program. I traveled to Colorado, Germany, Austria, and India (not all at once). I very randomly made the switch to a plant-based diet. At my mom’s insistence, I finally invested in some curtains for my bedroom.

But most importantly, I hiked to the other side.

Many of you may know how hard my freshman year of college hit me. I didn’t just get knocked down, I was pushed off a cliff and beaten with a baseball bat once I fell to the bottom. For almost all of 2017 and 2018, I was fighting tooth and nail to escape that pit. I was crying and questioning and some days barely breathing. It was slowwwwww, sometimes steady and sure, sometimes not, progress. Then, as 2018 drew to a close and 2019 came closer, there was a change. Something clicked, and I realized: I had made it to the other side of this struggle. After two years of really, really hard work, I could finally wake up and say, “If this is how I feel every day for the rest of my life, I’ll be OK.”

I wish I had the words to express what a precious, precious gift it is to be here. For the first time in two years, I can truthfully say I’m in a good place. The only way I can think of to describe it is to say glory to God and leave it at that.

I all but stopped writing for the past couple years because the Internet just wasn’t a safe or healthy place for me to be authentic. I needed to process things away from the comparison, perfectionism, and vitriol of the screen. But now that I’m in a healthy place of growth and not a panicked one of drowning, the words are flowing again. Ooh man, am I excited about them. I can’t wait to share all I’ve learned in the year since I blogged last. For now, though, I’m going to say goodbye with a hello. Hello from the other side, everyone—there sure is a lot of light over here.

BSTUD :: ECCLESIASTES 3:9-11.

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What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 

Ecclesiastes 3:9-11

Bet you didn’t think I’d be doing one of these posts on a passage from Ecclesiastes.

I sat down with these verses the other day, asking God to help me understand how they fit together. As He answered that prayer, I began to see just how much they show God’s character and our identity relative to Him.

The first verse, verse 9, says: “What do workers gain from their toil?” A common theme in Ecclesiastes is wondering about meaning and meaninglessness. This question considers why the heck we work so hard all day long. It’s only gained more relevance as time has gone on and culture has progressed to turn us all into little worker bees.

Verse 10 continues: “I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.” Following verse 9, it seems like that burden is hard work with little to no reward. But verse 11 changes the game.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” God is the One who makes all things new and beautiful in His timing. He is before the beginning and after the end; He has put longing for eternity in our hearts, but not understanding for it in our minds.

How do a question about the worth of work, a statement about God’s burden for us, and a declaration of what God has done fit together?

As I sat with Him, God helped me make sense of it: The writer questions the meaning of work because He sees that so much of our work is futile, without God, striving for nothing that really matters. We work to achieve, when God has not placed an expectation for achievement on us. His burden for us is trusting who He is and what He is capable of. That’s why the writer switches pace to talk about how God has made everything beautiful in its time and no one can fathom His deeds. This passage shows that work outside God’s mission is worthless, because God has not placed a burden of work on us,  but of faith. His only requirement is that we trust Him, the One who makes everything beautiful in His timing, the One whose forever we long for but cannot comprehend. God’s gift of an eternal heart leads us to trust Him, because we have forever desires with worldly, transitory minds. We need to trust Him, because we can’t understand. We can trust Him, because He is who He is. Trusting Him is the “burden” He places on humanity, and that is why it makes absolutely no sense for us to slave away at work by ourselves, for ourselves.

God’s call is for strivings to cease. We may perceive it as a burden, because it’s hard to put aside our confidence in our own capabilities. But once we trust Him instead of ourselves, we discover a God who is infinitely more able, making more beauty than we can dream of, outside the realm of our tiny comprehension.

Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’

John 6:29

(BSTUD is a blog series studying the Christian holy scriptures. BSTUD = B(ible) STUD(y). You can read more BSTUD posts here.)

HONEY.

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Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve become a major slight health nut in the past year or so. I plan out my meals on a spreadsheet to make sure that I’m balancing macronutrients and food groups, I roam around the Internet looking for workout tips and tricks, and I’ve been known to launch into lectures when people use blanket statements like “such and such is bad for you.” (All foods fit, people. All. Foods. Fit.) I just want my body to be able to do all the things I want to do for as long as I want to do them, so I eat the kale and do the push-ups. In some of my recent Internet health research (which has admittedly become a time-consuming hobby), I came across a series of articles from Perry’s Plate titled “Staying Whole in a Processed World.” She talks about how to best fuel our bodies in the midst of American food culture. Something in her post on sweets caught my eye.

She explained that in the olden days (like, olden olden days, as in Bible times), honey was as sweet as it got. The only other source of sugar was fruit. Wild honey was a lucky, delicious find. This got me thinking about all the times that honey is mentioned in the Bible. Here are a few examples I found:

  • “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey.” (Deuteronomy 8:7-8)
  • “He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Deuteronomy 26:9)
  • “But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” (Psalm 81:16)
  • “The decrees of the LORD are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.” (Psalm 19:9b-10)
  • “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103)
  • “Eat honey, my son, for it is good; honey from the comb is sweet to your taste. Know also that wisdom is like honey for you: If you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” (Proverbs 24:13-14)

A key feature of the Promised Land is abundant honey. God wants to satisfy His people with honey. God’s decrees and His word are called sweeter than honey, and wisdom is like honey. These verses have lost some meaning for us, because our bodies don’t get a sugar rush when we put a tablespoon of honey in our tea. But they would have signified plentiful, overwhelming sweetness for people in Bible times.

To (hopefully) give the same effect, think of your favorite dessert. Warm, homemade, chocolate chip cookies, fresh out of the oven. Your favorite flavor of ice cream. Lemonade cake. Pumpkin-flavored anything when fall rolls around. A cinnamon roll from the Bean, which you absolutely must try the next time you’re in Auburn. Maybe it’s just straight-up M&M’s. Whatever your favorite sweet treat is, God. is. sweeter. His desires for you are sweeter. His word of truth for you is sweeter. He wants to bring you into a sweet place. Who He is and what He has for you are sweeter than a cookie cake with buckets of frosting.

God is good. It’s a key feature of His identity. But oftentimes, we translate His goodness to holiness and perfection. And while that’s definitely true, it’s easy to forget how sweet His goodness is. We adopt a punitive, harsh view of God, but His discipline is only ever meant to benefit us. We fall into thinking He is good but mean, when really, His goodness is so sweet.

Imagine a father’s face lighting up when his toddler rushes to greet him after he gets home from work. A friend staying up late just to talk to you, because they know you’ve had a bad day. A husband buying his wife flowers just because. These extravagant, delighted, lavish forms of love pale in comparison to God. He is the Father who lights up when we run to Him, the Best Friend who is always there for us, the Heavenly Husband who loves us when we run. Is He not infinitely sweeter than the cheesiest movie line or your favorite candy?

The enemy often leads me away from viewing God as sweet. I fall into the trap of worrying that He’s mad at me, waiting for the shoe to drop, expecting punishment and anger. But His goodness for me isn’t just holiness; it’s also sweetness. He is sweet to me, and He is sweet to you. He desires to give you good things, even if it doesn’t always seem like it. He wants to fill you up and satisfy your every need and desire. He is sweeter than honey, and because of that, we can run to Him with everything, lay our messes at His feet, and trust Him to love us through it all.