SMALL SUSTAINABLE STEPS.

Well, we did it. We survived the hot mess that was 2020. Honestly, I don’t even want to talk about it. I want to talk about what’s next, what we’re in for once that clock hits midnight on New Year’s Eve.

I think we all have lots of hopes for 2021: namely, that it would be better than 2020. I can only think of a few areas in which improvement would actually be a challenge, given the catastrophic 365 days we just went through. One of those areas, surprisingly enough, is carbon emissions, and more broadly, movements toward sustainability.

It’s no secret to anyone at all that coronavirus changed much of our lives. Those changes were devastating in too many ways to count, and I can’t address the blessings in disguise without first acknowledging the family members and friends we’ve lost, the financial uncertainty, the stress, anxiety, and depression, difficulties of isolation, and vast pain that has come from this pandemic.

Throughout the pain, though, there are some shimmering lights, just cracking through the black cloud that covered most of this year. One of the biggest lights for me is this: We altered our activity, and carbon emissions dropped.

We were staying home, not driving to work or flying across the world (well, for the most part. I somehow managed to fly across the world, but pretty sure I’m the exception, not the rule). We were planting vegetable gardens in our backyards, instead of going out for a nice steak dinner. Obviously, in many cases, these changes cannot continue long-term. But there’s a broader takeaway, that when we were living differently, the environment was better for it. It is possible for collective human action to dig us out of the grave that we’ve dug for ourselves and our planet.

The online discourse around climate change increasingly brings up this statistic, that 100 companies are responsible for 71% of carbon emissions. And yeah, that’s really bad. Duh.

But it doesn’t mean we’re powerless.

It is smart and right and fair to use our energies on holding mega-polluters accountable. We need to come together and demand action from those with the means to make real, substantive change. My theory for today, though, is that any change, big or small, matters.

The average American adult has a carbon footprint of about 16 tons annually. I’m vegan, but I did fly back and forth to Lebanon in 2020, so we can just call it even and consider me average. Let’s say I reduce my carbon footprint by 10% with common sustainability hacks (public transportation, composting, recycling, and things like that). That’s not much, but it’s still *checks calculator* 3200 pounds of carbon dioxide not going into the atmosphere because of conscious choices I made! And imagine if every adult in Atlanta, about 500,000 people, reduced their carbon footprints by 10%. That’s *big numbers from calculator* 800,000 TONS of carbon dioxide emissions avoided.

We need policy from governments and responsibility from major corporations.

And

We can take action as individuals, that will multiply the more we act and the more we encourage others to act.

I know that my emissions, my contributions to the planet’s decline and destruction, are just a drop in the ocean. But oceans are made of drops, people! For too long, sustainability solutions were too individually focused. Now they’re bouncing back the other way, with outrage directed toward the biggest polluters. We need to balance both: we can demand accountability from those with more power than us, and we can use the power we do have to make small changes that, added together, will actually make a difference.

Honestly, I need to do this for my own sanity just as much as for the planet’s sake. I learned about the importance of small acts of love and resistance during my time in Lebanon. While there, I was on the humanitarian frontlines of one of the largest forced migration crises in history. Despite my unique position, there were still millions of Syrians I never got to meet. I didn’t take down the Assad regime. The scale of enormous catastrophes, like the Syrian refugee crisis, like climate change, can paralyze you. But when I got to teach English to the refugees, to sit with them and communicate care and compassion, I knew I was making a difference. To only a handful of Syrian refugees, in only one region of one country in the world. But it mattered to them, and that’s enough for it to matter to me. When it comes to gigantic global issues, the best way to overcome the overwhelm is to just. do. something.

With that in mind, I want to encourage you to join me in taking three simple, sustainable steps in 2021. Here are my steps and why I chose them:

  1. Bike: Given corona, I don’t have a lot of places to go now that I’m back in the States. I need to get my hair cut, I’m itching to get my hands on some public library books, and maybe someone? somewhere? will give me a job? But in the meantime, most places I want to go, at least by myself, are within biking distance! I’m also hoping to start law school in the fall and bike to campus.
  2. Compost: We composted diligently at the Peace Center in Akkar, and y’all, it was so easy. Because I’m vegan, I don’t eat most non-easily-compostable (e.g., meat, dairy) foods, so composting is the next step to decreasing my food waste.
  3. Advocate: In keeping with the theme of this post, my third step is to really get involved in environmental activism. I hope to write my representatives, donate to organizations, and maybe even go to a (masked-up, socially distant) protest. And of course, part of this is encouraging those around me to live more sustainably. Which is why I’m inviting you to join me in taking small sustainable steps in 2021!

Your sustainable steps can be anything from the environmentally friendly lightbulbs hack, to going full vegan hippie. Here‘s a post with over 100 easy sustainability steps if you need a place to start. You may not be able to do much, but what you can do, matters. It’s important. And even better, if you also encourage your friends to take sustainable steps, and they encourage their friends, then all of a sudden, we’ve got smaller carbon footprints all around us. And together, we’re on our way to a better future, living on a thriving earth.

So here’s to 2021. May it be healthier for the people and the planet.

LIFE IN LEBANON :: III.

(Written on December 19, 2020)

I’m somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean right now, 10 hours in to a 22-ish hour journey home. I sprinted through Heathrow Airport to make it on this connecting flight, guilty with a vegan smoothie in hand. (It was worth it.) Earlier today, my feet were touching Lebanese soil for the last time in who knows how long. I’m in that weird space of traveling where nothing feels real; my time in Lebanon seems like a dream and Atlanta might as well be a lifetime away.

How can I possibly put this experience into words?

The final few months of my volunteer service with Relief & Reconciliation were rewarding, challenging, amazing, and certainly life-changing. I continued to teaching English to Arabic-speaking children and youth in our Kousha camp school and up in Mishmish. I also got to help out with a women’s sewing workshop, teaching them how to knit, which was pretty much everything I’ve ever wanted. The team and I did outreach with local Syrian families, drinking lots of chai with lots of sugar. Despite more coronavirus lockdowns, we continued activities as fully, but also as safely, as possible. I even got to see some of the famous cedar trees, harvest more olives, make friends with some local Lebanese shebab, and explore a place called Fnaidek. Fnaidek! What a fun name! But Fnaidek and all the other fun had to come to a close, with a few tearful goodbyes, trying to get rid of my last Lebanese liras, and saying peace out to the Peace Center.

Now, as I pause to reflect on the past six months and all they’ve meant to me, the first feeling that comes up is gratitude. Who am I to promote and provide education for Syrian refugee children? To implement peace-building programs between groups of diverse religions and nationalities? To practice my Arabic in the most authentic way possible, while using my growing language skills to help those in need? To play even the tiniest, most minuscule role in the lives of these beautiful, resilient people? I am thankful, so thankful, for this opportunity that only God could have provided. I am grateful, so grateful, for each and every student who trusted me, laughed with me, built Lego houses with me. I’ve kept a gratitude journal beside my bed throughout this whole journey, writing down at least three things I’m grateful for every night. I can’t wait to read through it and see the faithfulness of God in each day, and then thank Him all over again.

Other than gratitude, one of my biggest takeaways is hospitality. You pass by a family’s tent and they invite you in; you sit inside and they instantly offer coffee or tea; they make you feel like family before you’ve taken your first sip. We talk a big game about Southern hospitality, but y’all, we’ve got nothing on Arabs.

I want to live my life with this radical hospitality. It’s not just quick visits over chai; it’s a spirit of welcome toward everyone you encounter. It’s prioritizing community and relationships more than anything else. Sure, sometimes you need to finish projects, meet deadlines, go on a business trip. But when those times are more the rule than the exception, we’ve got to reevaluate. I think that reevaluation needs to happen on a cultural level, not just an individual or family one. But by our little choices—by making the extra effort to visit or call a family member, by organizing dinners with old groups of friends, by actually FaceTiming instead of saying “we should FaceTime soon!”—we can start treating people like they are the most important thing in our lives. Like when they walk into the room, they have our attention, loyalty, and of course, a good cup of coffee or tea.

There’s so much more I’ve learned, gained, and grown in throughout my time in Lebanon: the meaning and importance of spiritual solidarity, what Christians can learn from Muslims, values in international humanitarian work, ideas and opportunities for my future career advancing global justice—the list goes on. I’m sure I’ll be unpacking everything, both literally and figuratively, for a while. Until then, I’m excited to get home, hug my family, pet my dog, and eat a good sweet potato. I want to invite you, whoever you are reading this, to add a little extra dose of gratitude or hospitality into your day today. I hope that, in doing so, you’ll experience the same spark of joy that I’ve come to know amidst the olive groves and northern hills of Lebanon.

ELECTION REFLECTIONS FROM 6,000 MILES AWAY.

small wooden cross over the entrance to a stone chapel

I want to start off with a simple truth: I don’t know everything.

It sounds pretty obvious, right? I’m only twenty-two; I’ve never owned a home or raised a child or even worked in a big girl job. But somehow, the lie that I am the all-knowing, wisest person in every room sneaks up on me and subtly takes root. Maybe it’s because of my lifelong reputation as the smart kid, maybe it’s because of my high grades and test scores, but maybe it’s more than that. Maybe we all need to wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and repeat to ourselves: I don’t know everything. Maybe then we can go into the world as the learners we’re meant to be, instead of the know-it-all’s we pretend to be.

So I approach this post as someone whose knowledge is imperfect, whose understanding is incomplete. I’m speaking (well, writing) now, but I’m also listening and learning. I will make mistakes and say wrong things, because I don’t know everything. I guess I just hope that maybe someone can learn from me, maybe I can learn from them, and maybe we can all learn from each other.


Election week was a doozy; I think that’s true for just about everyone in the U.S., no matter where you fall on the political spectrum. It was weird (and honestly, kind of nice) to watch it all go down from Lebanon. I’m grateful that I was able to vote from here, and that I was able to stay informed about what was happening without being sucked into a whole lot of drama.

My unique vantage point from Lebanon, my October journey through 31 Days of Power by Ruth Myers, and my experiences working with people who are different from me over the past four months here, have made me reflect on this election in new ways. And I just have to say: we have forgotten who the enemy is.

Conservatives and Republicans: liberals, Democrats, immigrants, Muslims, social justice warriors, gay people, and people of color are not the enemy.

Liberals and Democrats: conservatives, Republicans, President Trump, rich people, white people, evangelical Christians, and gun-owners are not the enemy.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Ephesians 6:12

Our enemy is the devil himself, the ruler of all evil—not each other. We blame and accuse people who vote differently, instead of owning our own slice of the responsibility pie for this mess we’re in. This isn’t to say that some people or groups don’t have bigger slices of the responsibility pie, believing and doing some pretty evil stuff. But each and every person, including those we disagree with—each white supremacist, each woman getting an abortion, each Muslim going to Friday prayer, each vehement denier of climate change, each immigrant locked up at the U.S./Mexico border—they all have their own experiences, relationships, values, beliefs, and emotions that have led them to where they are today. And each of them is someone for whom Jesus died. How deeply sad Christ must be, looking down from the throne at God’s right hand, to see us treating other people like the enemy, when He was thinking of them on the cross, too.

God does have a heart for justice and peace, and I think some political movements and decisions advance that agenda more than others. But the best way to find this path to a brighter future is together, fighting for each other, not against. Again, some people may have a bigger slice of the responsibility pie than others for the many messes of the United States. News flash: force-feeding them their pie will not create accountability, responsibility, better decisions, or a perfect country.

I have never changed my mind because someone yelled at me, repeatedly told me how wrong I am, refused to listen, or wrote me off as the enemy. I have, however, changed my mind in the context of loving relationships with people who think, look, and vote differently from me. I’ve changed my mind in response to kind communication, education, thoughtfully created pieces of media, and compassionate conversations. I’m not talking “right” and “wrong” here; I’m talking about effectiveness.

We cannot love by hating people we deem evil. The only enemy of love is the devil himself. We can hate and oppose evil thoughts, words, and actions that the devil causes and manifests in other people. But if we lose our empathy for those who are thinking, saying, and doing those evil things, then we’re just trying to fix something with broken tools. It’s not going to work. And we must carefully remember that we don’t know everything; the people we’re quick to characterize as enemies may prove to be our greatest teachers.

I’m speaking from personal experience here. I’ve opened my mouth too much to share my opinion too loudly, in real life and on this blog, and not listened enough to different perspectives—and I’m sorry for that. I get so frustrated when people don’t see things the way I do. But I’m learning that, while my anger may be justified, it will not ultimately create peace and justice. Anger and fear are great weapons if your enemy is other people, but if you’re fighting against evil itself, they’ll fail you every time. Love is a much sharper sword.

We must carefully walk this path of compassion. Some things are just evil, and we can’t let ourselves be tricked into thinking they could maybe, possibly, under just the right set of circumstances, be acceptable. But in reality, there’s a lot more gray area than black and white. The world is messy, and we can meet others in the mess with clean washcloths and open hearts, or we can make the mess bigger. It’s possible to use sound judgment without being mega-judgy.

Burning down others’ opinions doesn’t make us right. It makes us arsonists.

Bob Goff, Everybody Always

We were not made to be arsonists; we were made to be love. We cannot hate some people in the name of loving others. Love doesn’t work that way. Love extends to everyone, everywhere, all the time, even and especially when it’s difficult. In this election, your candidate might win, but you don’t, as long as you view the other side as the enemy. Love only has one enemy, and his defeat has already been written. Let’s start working together to create the collective victory that Jesus died and rose for. Let’s love each other, y’all. Let’s just love and then see where we go from there.


Now… how do we do this?

The short answer is: I don’t know. One of the reasons why I’m writing this post is that I really struggle with these things myself. Plus, the next steps will be very different for every person. I don’t know where you’re coming from or what you need to do to put love in action. But I’m pretty sure you have at least one person in your life whom you strongly disagree with politically. Chances are, it’s probably more like several people whom you dread being stuck in an elevator with, because if they use the phrase “illegal immigrant” or “pro-choice” one more time you just might punch them in the throat.

Right now, write down their names. (Yes, now. Right now.) Then, for the next few moments, ask yourself: How can I love them? And I’m not talking a random bouquet of flowers, or a sweet note with a coffeeshop gift card, or a day trip to the zoo. Small acts of kindness are wonderful, but I’m talking about deep kindness here, the sort that makes you ridiculously uncomfortable. For me and my people, I think I need to listen more. Just listen to their point of view, even and especially when I disagree about important political and social topics. Just listen, without arguing, or pushing back, or rolling my eyes. Listening to understand, not to prove them wrong. Because I love them, and love listens.

Who is hardest for you to love? And how can you love them so hard it maybe hurts a little? Write it down, right now, and then do it, as soon as possible. We are not each other’s enemies; we’re each other’s only chance at finding light and spreading goodness in a world of darkness and evil. Let’s start living like it. Let’s love like it.

LIFE IN LEBANON :: II.

Yep, I’m still in Lebanon. And still loving it!

I can’t believe I’ve been here for four months. It simultaneously feels like I just stepped off the plane yesterday, and like I’ve lived at the R&R Peace Center forever. There have been highs and lows, smooth sailing and rough waters, but I’m continually grateful for the simple opportunity to be here.

Since my last post, I’ve transitioned from one volunteer term to the next. At the end of last term, we took a break from normal activities, like language and music classes. I took advantage of the time off to spend a week in Mishmish, one of the towns that the organization works in. Up in the mountains, surrounded by beautiful nature and a whole lot of Arabic, it was an immersion experience for sure! I learned so much about Lebanese culture, practiced my Arabic, and grew closer to some Lebanese and Syrian friends. My week in Mishmish was certainly outside my comfort zone in many ways—as evidenced by the difficulty of politely refusing to eat meat or drink coffee, over and over and over again—but it just goes to show how the best experiences often happen outside your comfort zone. The confidence and spirit of adventure I gained from that week in Mishmish, as well as from my entire time in Lebanon, are some of the greatest gifts.

After I returned from Mishmish, we jumped pretty quickly into the next volunteer term! We have two additional volunteers: Mathilde, 24, from Belgium, and Janusz, 37, from Poland. Mathilde has previous experience in social work, and Janusz used to own a restaurant in the UK, so they both bring immensely valuable gifts to the table (figuratively and literally!). We’ve become fast friends and are supporting one another through all the stresses and victories of daily activities with R&R.

And wow, how many activities there are! The Lebanese school year has officially started, though it’s still a bit crazy because of corona. With that, R&R has ramped up its programming, especially in Bkarzla and Kousha. Our local teachers offer homework help for students in the morning and afternoon. We’re continuing Basic Literacy and Numeracy classes in Bkarzla for kids who have been out of school for a long time, and we’ve also resumed conversational language classes in Mishmish. I absolutely love the opportunity to help with educational activities. I believe so strongly that education is vital for a brighter future, especially for children and youth who have been affected by violence, displacement, and trauma. To hold this belief, and then have the opportunity to put it into action, is such an honor. The fall brings along non-educational events as well, like the Solidarity Olive Harvest, which is coming up soon. Needless to say, the Peace Center may be peaceful, but it certainly is full, loud, and busy these days!

To find some rest and relaxation, the other volunteers and I have gone several times to the nearby river, and last weekend, we took a trip to Tyre (which is pronounced Sur in Arabic, for some reason). It was amazing! We walked around the ruins, swam in the Mediterranean, and the best part: I FINALLY FOUND SWEET POTATOES! I’m glad we got to explore somewhere new, while also getting some space from the hard work at the Center.

I’ll keep working hard, especially now that the school year is in full swing and I’m the education coordinator for the volunteers. Alongside staff, local teachers, and other volunteers, I’ve been able to meet public school directors, host families for teacher-parent meetings, keep track of attendance, and teach my own English classes. Like I said before, it’s a lot, but it’s also only for eight more weeks. I can’t decide what’s crazier: that I’ve already been here for four months, or that I only have two months left. I keep a daily countdown on my mirror for three reasons:

  1. To practice my Arabic numbers (which are surprisingly quite different from what we English speakers call Arabic numerals)
  2. To encourage me on days when I feel extra homesick
  3. To remind me to make the most of my time left here—to give it my all, because when I get home, I’ll be glad I did

I’m so thankful for the opportunity to serve with R&R here in Lebanon, and also for the prayers, support, and encouragement from family and friends back home. I miss y’all (even more than I miss hearing the word y’all)! I’m excited to be home for Christmas, but until then, I’ll be savoring every drop of olive oil, every morning run in the mountains, and every person I get to interact with. All these things, but most importantly the people, are such a blessing to me, and I just hope I’m a blessing back.

LIFE IN LEBANON :: I.

“Give them a book and they will hold books; give them a weapon and they will hold weapons.”

Lost in Lebanon

Lebanon. People with heartbreaking stories, living in places with breathtaking views. Sunni, Alawite, Orthodox, Maronite villages scattered across Akkar. A country in mourning following a catastrophic explosion, a revolution ongoing to demand a functioning democracy. French, the language of the colonizer, spoken in public schools; Arabic, the language of home, in more dialects than you could count, spoken everywhere else. Students and teachers, refugees and Lebanese, homes in houses, apartments, garages, tents.

This has been life for the past month and a half.

And I absolutely love it.

In case you didn’t know, I’m currently living and working in Akkar, Lebanon, as a volunteer assistant with Relief & Reconciliation for Syria. This organization combines peace-building and humanitarian aid in response to the Syrian crisis. I’ve gotten to help with educational, psychosocial, and emergency assistance programs for both Syrian refugees and Lebanese host communities in Akkar, the poorest region of Lebanon. I’ve been living at the Peace Center in Bkarzla since early July, and now, I want to share a little bit about what I’ve been up to!

We started off with two weeks of training/quarantine for the newly arrived volunteers. There are four of us, all in our twenties: Lea from Switzerland, Livia from Italy, Clément from France, and me. R&R staff members Friedrich and Mohamad taught us about various topics, such as the work of R&R, orientalism, the conflicts of the Levantine coast, decolonizing humanitarian aid, and education in emergencies—just to name a few! It was definitely information overload, but I’m immensely grateful to serve with an organization that really tries to get it right, not just show up with good intentions and hope everything goes well.

After training, we had two main projects: a music workshop and a summer camp. The music workshop brought together musicians from around north Lebanon to learn from each other, jam together, and compose pieces for the summer camp. Then, we put on the fifth annual summer mountain camp for kids from all four communities we serve. Although corona threw some wrenches in our plans, we were able to have four summer camp days, one for each community. I was unfortunately sick for most of the summer camp, but I did get to participate in the last day. We played games, danced and sang, swam, and went on a scavenger hunt themed after the four elements and saving the environment. The kids really enjoyed it, and I’d say the volunteers did, too!

Once summer camp was over, we jumped right in to classes and educational activities. Right now, I’m teaching one beginner’s English class to adult women from one of the camps, and one conversational English class to young adults, mostly from Mishmish, Akkar. I adore teaching! The students are resilient, determined, and enthusiastic about learning. The women in the beginner class truly don’t speak a word of English, so it turned out to be good Arabic practice for me, too. The Mishmish students already speak a basic level, so we can do fun activities with them, like setting up a “shop” so they can practice vocabulary and expressions related to buying and selling. We’re hoping to continue these classes for the next few weeks leading up to the school year.

The main challenge right now is adapting to ever-changing coronavirus conditions. In the time since I’ve arrived, the country has bounced back and forth twice between lockdown and open for business. I had to take a COVID test at the airport and another when I was sick; both were thankfully negative. The pandemic is being handled very differently here than in the States, with much less mask-wearing and lockdown measures that aren’t nearly as strict. R&R is trying all sorts of new things to continue classes and other activities, but safely and responsibly. I’m grateful to be here during this time and help the organization rise to the challenge.

I appreciate everyone’s support, prayers, and encouragement from back home. I definitely feel them; whether it’s a moment of peace after a stressful day, healing from whatever strange sickness I had, or daily activities running smoothly, I can absolutely tell that I am being prayed for and thought of. Thank you to everyone who’s a part of my incredible support system! I dearly miss and love you all. And thanks to everyone for reading this post! Stay tuned for more updates about life in Lebanon.

BLACK LIVES MATTER: HOW TO HELP.

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In this moment—as in every moment where there is an opportunity to move toward justice—there are only two choices:

  1. Justice.
  2. Injustice.

That’s it. End of the story, bottom line, period. There is no third middle-ground option because, as Desmond Tutu so eloquently says, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” This post is one of the ways I’m trying to choose justice.

Below is a list of resources, mostly meant for white people, to learn about racism and get involved in racial justice efforts. There are opportunities to read (both books and shorter writings), watch (both films/TV shows and shorter videos), listen, sign petitions, donate, and more. Resources with an asterisk* are ones I’ve personally read, watched, or engaged with; resources without an asterisk* are ones that have come highly recommended and that I plan to read, watch, or engage with in the near future.

If you have questions about these resources or want to talk more about racism and racial justice, you can comment on this post or contact me directly. This list is definitely not exhaustive; it comes from my limited perspective and thus contains limited resources. I encourage you to engage with other resources and participate in other conversations, especially those shared by people of color. As for this particular post, you’re more than welcome to share it if you think someone you know would find it helpful.

READ: BOOKS.

  • *The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: Starr, a 16-year-old black teen, witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend by a police officer. If she speaks up for justice, she risks upending her life and endangering her community. This book was also made into a movie directed by George Tillman, Jr., and starring Amandla Stenberg.
  • Just Mercy by Bryan StevensonStevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, shares the true story of his defense of Walter McMillian and calls us all to pursue true justice. The book was adapted into a movie directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and starring Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, and Brie Larson. In response to current conversations about racial injustice, Warner Bros. has made the movie available to rent for free on digital platforms in the U.S.
  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngeloWhen white people’s assumptions about race are challenged, their reactions are often counterproductive and perpetuate racial inequality.
  • Any book from this list of Books White People Need to Read.

READ: ARTICLES & OTHER WRITINGS.

  • *Letter from a Birmingham jail: This famous writing by Martin Luther King, Jr., responds to clergy who criticized his tactics of direct action in the civil rights movement. It explores many important ideas related to racial justice and remains incredibly relevant today.
  • *Things to stop being distracted by when a black person gets murdered by police: This article by Mia McKenzie reminds us to focus on the actual issue of police murdering black people. It was written in 2014.
  • *White privilege: This article by Peggy McIntosh lists 50 examples of white privilege and explains why it’s important to recognize it.

WATCH: MOVIES & TV SHOWS.

  • *When They See Us: Directed by Ava DuVernay, this Netflix miniseries shares the story of the Central Park Five. These five teenagers of color were convicted of a rape that they did not commit. The series follows them over a 25-year span, including their imprisonment and exoneration.
  • *Slavery by Another NameThis PBS documentary explores how, following the abolishment of slavery in the U.S., the criminal justice system was used to keep black people enslaved and profit off their exploited labor.
  • 13th: Also directed by Ava DuVernay, this award-winning documentary examines the U.S. prison system and how the country’s history of inequality drives mass incarceration. The entire film is available for free on YouTube.
  • Teach Us All: This documentary explores past and present racial inequality in the education system. It’s available on Netflix.

WATCH: TED TALKS & SHORTER VIDEOS.

  • *We need to talk about an injustice: In this TED talk, Bryan Stevenson, the author of Just Mercy (discussed above) and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, discusses racial inequality in the U.S. criminal justice system.
  • *Color blind or color brave?: This TED talk by Mellody Hobson encourages us to talk about race, even and especially when it’s uncomfortable.
  • *After the tears have dried up: Terrence Smith, student pastor at Buckhead Church and personal friend, shares some of his thoughts, feelings, and examples of ways to help.
  • *Buckhead Church conversation: Terrence and Clay Scroggins, lead pastor at Buckhead Church, discuss how the big-C Church can move toward racial justice. They share a four-part framework—learn, listen, lament, leverage—that I found super helpful.
  • *What is intersectionality?: In this brief video, Kimberlé Crenshaw explains the concept of intersectionality and applies it to educational settings. She also has a TED talk on intersectionality.

LISTEN.

  • *Is all history white history?: This podcast episode from The Liturgists discusses how racism affects our perception of history and how we can use empathy to better understand different perspectives.
  • How to be an anti-racist: In this podcast episode, Brené Brown and Ibram X. Kendi explore how to uproot racism in society and in ourselves.

SIGN.

  • *This list includes petitions for justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and many more.
  • *For my fellow Auburn fans, this is a petition for Auburn University to rename Wallace Hall. George Wallace is a former governor of Alabama who promoted segregation and vehemently opposed school integration.

DONATE.

  • This website is dividing donations between 70+ bail funds, mutual aid funds, and racial justice organizations. You can choose to have your donation divided equally, or allocate different amounts to different groups.
  • The Loveland Foundation brings opportunities and healing to communities of color. Their therapy fund provides free therapy sessions for black women and girls.
  • *If you’re strapped for cash, you can watch YouTube videos (list in this twitter thread) whose ad revenues will be donated to the Black Lives Matter movement. Don’t skip the ads!!!! I have them playing in the background as I write this post.

ENGAGE.

  • *Check out the Racial Dot Map, compiled by the Cooper Center with 2010 Census data. It shows geographic segregation, the separation of people of different races into different geographical areas, in the United States. This video and this video help explain geographic segregation.
  • *Visit the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, AL. The museum mostly focuses on racial inequality in the U.S. justice system, while the memorial is dedicated to victims of lynching. Although these sites are currently closed due to COVID-19, when they reopen, it’s definitely worth your time. The museum and memorial were created by the Equal Justice Initiative.
  • Connect with Campaign Zero and their new 8 can’t wait initiative to decrease and ultimately end police violence.
  • *If you’re a college student, take classes in African studies, sociology, social work, or other fields, related to racism and racial justice. I give credit to my social work and sociology classes for educating me about these issues and connecting me with many of the above resources.
  • *If you’re a student at Auburn, attend meetings and events with the Black Student Union. Auburn’s BSU is welcoming and open to people of all races who want to learn and engage with the black community. I grew so much and honestly had a lot of fun going to meetings this past year. If you go to another school, check with your school’s BSU to see if you can get involved.
  • Schedule a meeting with your local police or sheriff department and ask about what they’re doing to decrease police violence against people of color. How are they training their officers to de-escalate? Are they practicing community policing? Asking these kinds of questions will urge your local police to do their part to end police brutality.
  • Engage with other opportunities from this list.

TAKE CARE.

Engaging in racial justice is hard. It’s hard for allies, and it’s infinitely harder for people of color, who must advocate for their own existence. As we do this hard work, remember to take care of yourself. Light a scented candle, meditate, take a bubble bath, exercise, play video games, whatever you do for self-care. Personally, I’ve been limiting my time on social media and doing calming crafts. True activism is a sustained effort over time to be better and do better. And it’s not going to happen if you burn out in the next week. Do the work, but remember to take care of yourself, too.

Thanks for reading.

True, we are often too weak to stop injustices; but the least we can do is to protest against them. True, we are too poor to eliminate hunger; but in feeding one child, we protest against hunger. True, we are too timid and powerless to take on all the guards of all the political prisons in the world; but in offering our solidarity to one prisoner we denounce all the tormentors. True, we are powerless against death; but as long as we help one man, one woman, one child live one hour longer in safety and dignity, we affirm man’s [woman’s] right to live.

-Elie Wiesel

GRACE VS. TRUTH.

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And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

Over the past few months, I’ve heard a couple Christian speakers mention this verse in their messages. They discuss what it looks like to fall too much on the grace side: sinning over and over again, but not really caring because you can just ask for forgiveness on Sunday morning. Then they discuss what it looks like to fall too much on the truth side: legalistically following rules and creating a checklist-driven faith. They present grace and truth as two gaping pits on opposite sides of a tightrope, with Jesus the only capable acrobat. The rest of us follow Him by teetering along, arms outstretched, always leaning one way or another and eventually falling into the merciful nets below.

I’m calling BS on that one.

I just don’t think grace and truth are polar opposite ends of a spectrum. Maybe it’s my personal inclination, but I feel like that line of logic is almost always used to intimidate into obedience. “Yes, God is endlessly merciful and abundantly gracious, BUT… do what He says or else.” That’s a little dramatic, of course, but presenting grace and truth as polar opposites automatically shames dependence on God’s mercy. You’re constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop; “yes, you’re forgiven, BUT you can’t take advantage of that forgiveness and you have to go obey right now.” The immediacy of the contrast creates a frantic pace leading toward perfectionism.

As I’ve reflected on this verse and the way speakers have taught about it, I’ve come to realize what I believe is the simple heart of the matter:

GRACE IS THE TRUTH.

It sounds so simple as to be almost unbelievable, but to me, this explanation makes the most sense. If the Word of God is true and the Word of God tells of grace, how can grace be anything but the truth? In the back of my Bible, the concordance lists 21 verses for grace and 11 for gracious. Some of those are:

  • Thus says the Lord: ‘The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.’ (Jeremiah 31:2-3)
  • Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:2)
  • For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8)
  • Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore He exalts Himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him. (Isaiah 30:18)
  • The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (Psalm 103:8)

The grace described above in the truth of Scripture is true grace. True grace is not an impossible balancing act. True grace isn’t in contrast with the Bible; rather, it’s a vital thread woven into the very heart of God’s word and the Gospel message. True grace is not a message of “God forgives you BUT…”. I am so sick of God-forgives-you-BUT Christianity. God-forgives-you-BUT Christianity stifles true affection for God by immediately following forgiveness with commands. It’s unnecessary, because if you actually take a moment to sit in the overflowing grace and love of God, you just want to lean in to Him. You don’t have to threaten people to obey; you need to give them space to let the miracle of forgiveness sink in. God-forgives-you-BUT Christianity displays the kind of Jesus who leaves breadcrumbs hoping we’ll follow Him, then exhales an annoyed sigh when we don’t get it right. That’s not the Jesus I find in the Bible, or the Christ I have come to know in a deep, personal relationship.

John 1:14 says that Jesus is “full of grace and truth.” Not “Jesus perfectly balanced grace and truth.” Not “Jesus perfectly walked the tightrope of grace and truth and never fell into either pit.” No, Jesus is full of grace and truth. How can He be full of two things that are polar opposites? Is it not actually much easier and more straightforward to believe that He is full of grace and truth because, in Christ, grace is the truth?

Let’s stop buying into the message that grace and truth are two opposite extremes. Let’s stop viewing grace and truth as Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robots, duking it out until one overcomes the other and we have to reset our footing. If that’s the case, one has to win and the other has to lose. But I believe my Jesus is victorious over all, and nothing about Him can lose. I believe in a Heavenly Father who doesn’t ask me to walk a tightrope, but to give Him a giant hug. I believe that grace is the truth—and what a beautiful, powerful truth it is. Together, may we embrace it; believe it; trust it; and live it.

PRAYING FOR THE PRESIDENT.

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(Before you start reading, can I ask you a favor? Read the whole entire post, pretty please.)

There’s been a lot of talk on twitter since this group of worship leaders visited the White House and shared about their experience on social media. From what I can tell, most people are pleased that faith leaders are praying for the president. That makes sense to me. What people aren’t pleased about it, is faith leaders also saying that so many good things are coming out of the White House and that everyone there is focused on not leaving behind the marginalized. Other Christians are calling bull, because President Trump’s words, actions, and policies have hurt many people who are marginalized.

President Trump has said lots of racist, anti-immigrant, and misogynistic things. In office, he’s followed up on many of these comments with policy decisions. His administration has torn apart immigrant families at the border and refused to let doctors give detained immigrants flu vaccines. He’s lowered the refugee admissions ceiling every year, from 45,000 to 30,000 to 18,000. Before and during his campaign, and throughout his time as president, he has consistently demeaned the marginalized with his rhetoric and harmed them with his policies.

Jesus, on the other hand, was much more interested in standing with the marginalized than pleasing the powerful. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, He challenged Jewish stereotypes about people from other races, ethnicities, and nationalities (Luke 10:25-37). He interacted with a Samaritan woman in kindness and grace (John 4:1-42). Jesus was actually a Middle Eastern refugee Himself (Matthew 2:13-15). He cleansed lepers (Mark 1:40-42), called a rejected tax collector to be his disciple (Matthew 9:9), respected the poor (Luke 21:1-4), and dined with outcasts (Mark 2:15-17, Luke 19:1-10). Rather than appealing to the powerful, he turned existing social hierarchies on their head; one of my favorite tweets from this week said that Jesus “rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to mock the entire system of empire and power.” Jesus’ pattern was making the leaders of his day mad because He loved so boundlessly.

I think these contrasting patterns are why I feel troubled by the worship leaders enthusiastically supporting President Trump. Christ deeply loves the people whose pain has been caused, amplified, or invalidated by the current president’s words and actions. And even if the president has helped some marginalized populations, like Kari Jobe says he has with fighting human trafficking, we can’t ignore the track record of bigotry. We must applaud some actions and criticize others.

I’m incredibly challenged living in that tension. I want to love all people: the religious far-right, immigrants, the Trump administration, people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities. I pray for the powerful and the powerless.

But I also feel convicted to love the powerful by standing with the powerless. Because ultimately, when one person is hurt, we all are. I believe in a common humanity such that, when an ICE or CBP agent rips children away from their immigrant mother, that border patrol officer is also losing. When we demean the inherent worth of others, we miss an opportunity to learn and grow in the wonderful presence of people who are different. As one humanity, we win together or we lose together. In this moment, love requires me to boost our chances of collective victory by supporting the marginalized, oppressed, and vulnerable. I can’t do that without calling out the powerful people who marginalize, oppress, and increase the vulnerability of those populations.

I’m not passing judgment on President Trump, anyone in his administration, Kari Jobe, Brian and Jenn Johnson from Bethel Music, or anyone else involved in the faith summit (which ironically seems to have only included Christians). I’m passing judgment on their actions, which I believe is an entirely different and incredibly healthy thing to do. If my actions hurt someone, I certainly want them to call me out. And I also want supporters of that hurting person to show their support publicly, in part by publicly criticizing my hurtful actions. It’s how I want to be treated, so it’s how I’m trying to treat the president and the religious leaders surrounding him, with this blog post.

But that’s not the only reason why I’m writing this. Another tweet inspired me by sharing a story about A.J. Muste. A reporter asked this pacifist activist if he thought his protests, standing alone outside the White House with a candle, would actually change policies. Muste responded, “I don’t do this to change the country. I do this so the country won’t change me.”

Given the dangerous political climate, where will I be in five years if I don’t actively resist white nationalism and publicly stand with the marginalized now? If I don’t shake writing this, thinking about what some of my peers who support Trump might say? If I don’t take a comparatively minuscule risk to prevent this country—the country whose Statue of Liberty boasts “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” but whose immigration policies say anything but—from changing my character?

For me, it comes down to this: Jesus cared more about standing with the marginalized than pleasing the powerful. To follow Him, I must embrace the same mentality and follow it up with actions. That’s uncomfortable. It’s countercultural. It goes against every natural inclination to shrink away from conflict and make sure everyone still likes me. But it’s the way of Love. And ultimately, it is more fulfilling and life-giving for everyone involved than the way of complacency. Let us reject the way of complacency, of enthusiastically posing for cheesy photo-ops with the president but not speaking out against some of his more destructive patterns and policies. May we walk in the way of Love by standing up for our hurting, marginalized, oppressed, vulnerable brothers and sisters.

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.