Vocational Confusion

A year ago I was starting my final year of undergrad, and this is what I wish someone would have told me:

  1. The first year of life post-grad will be really hard, but for different reasons than you expect it to be.
  2. You’ll spend the first four months (and quite probably the remaining eight months of the year) wrestling with: your place in society, your purpose in God’s kingdom, and your ability to function as an independent adult.
  3. God will continually surprise you by being more faithful, creative, and generous than you ever could have anticipated.

When I graduated, I knew that it wouldn’t truly feel real until the rest of the world went back to school. On Monday of this week my university started classes again, and I was surprised at how deeply I miss the routine of beginning another school year. I’ve always loved school, and since this fall is the first time since I was four years old that I am not enrolled in any formal education, I feel a bit lost.

Some of the lostness I’m feeling comes from wrestling with my vocation. The way I miss school makes me wonder if I should have gone the teaching route? Up until two years ago that’s where I was headed, and as I watch a surprisingly large number of friends begin student teaching or prep their first classroom for the year I think, “Wow, that looks fun and life-giving.” But deep down I know myself better than that. I know that if I were pursuing a teaching career, a small part of me would be enjoying it, but a larger part of me would be very anxious and wondering if maybe I should have chosen a different career. I’m also fairly confident that I would get five years into teaching and be ready to move on to something else. So, appealing as it appears from where I currently sit, I don’t think teaching is the answer to my confusion.

The truth is that I have chosen the less straightforward (but neither better nor worse) path. When people ask about my career, I can talk their ear off about Kurdistan, the 10/40 Window, and Nepal; Muslims, refugees, and young women; writing, mentoring, and storytelling, but I can’t give a simple answer as to what I want to do. I know that I want to be an overseas missionary, and I have a million ideas of what that could look like, but is that a vocation, especially if it only ends up spanning one season of my life?

When I catch myself thinking thoughts like these, I’m trying to learn how to pause and remember the qualities I attributed to God above: faithful, creative, generous. Of this I am confident: God has good work for me to do in this world (Ephesians 2:10).

In his book entitled Let Your Life Speak Parker J. Palmer says, “As young people, we are surrounded by expectations that may have little to do with who we really are, expectations held by people who are not trying to discern our selfhood but to fit us into slots.”

How often am I the person not trying to discern my selfhood because I’m too busy trying to fit myself into a slot?

Maybe I won’t live a conventional life, work in a neatly-defined job, or spend my time doing activities that are easy to explain to others. I’m sure if that ends up being my reality, I’ll chafe against it quite a bit. However, this summer God has been teaching me about the sweet freedom that comes with surrendering what I think should be happening in favor of being present to whatever is actually in front of me. Because what’s in front of me is all part of the larger-than-me story God is lovingly crafting, and at the end of the day, living my life in a way that is true to who I am is worth every complex answer I must give to the question, “So what is it you want to do with your life?”

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I Want My Life to Matter

(Written on June 21st.)

One year ago today I rode an elephant.

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We awoke at dawn, sleepily dressing in big headbands or hats to keep the spiders out of our hair, and donning our comfiest pants to avoid unnecessary chafing. After a quick ride in the van with our quirky driver, Krishna, we used wooden platforms to climb onto the backs of elephants, four girls per animal. A Nepali man guided our elephant for an hour and a half through the jungle, pointing out deer, boars, storks, peacocks, monkeys, mongooses, rhinos and even a tiger footprint! It was a magical and utterly unforgettable morning.

Fast forward one year.

I yet again awoke at dawn, routinely dressing in an old t-shirt and my zip-off pants. After a ten minute walk to the heart of campus with my housemate Kaylee, I spent eight hours vacuuming hallways, scrubbing toilets, and wiping out drawers. Our custodial team was lively per usual, joking and singing, but you could tell that, just beneath the surface, many of us were either stressed by life’s conundrums, or nauseous from the smell of the new carpets in the otherwise decrepit dorm. It was just another day in the life of a summer custodial worker.

When you put June 21, 2015 side-by-side with June 21, 2016, the contrast is startling. And I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t wake up this morning and wish that the 5:00am alarm meant it was time to ride an elephant.

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I’d also be lying if I said there haven’t been days this summer when I have absolutely ached to go back to Nepal. As I watch six of my Nepal teammates travel internationally again this summer, the comparison bug bites hard.

However, in my moments of discontentment, God is always faithful to remind me what I most need to hear. A few days ago I was wrestling with not being back in Nepal, so I decided to look at my journal from last summer to see what I had been doing on this day one year ago. I flipped through the travel-worn pages to find the right entry, and when I did, this is what I read:

“Today was a hard day. I spent most of it in bed with a  fever. I’m fighting to give myself grace, still feeling some numbness, not wanting to eat ever, and am so overwhelmed.”

Hmm, on the day when I’m feeling most discontent, God chooses to remind me that Nepal was not all roses and sunshine or peaches and cream. I tend to romanticize travel, I know I do. But in recalling that day in Nepal when I was so dehydrated that I couldn’t even get out of bed, I also remembered a fundamental lesson that I far too often overlook.

In the words of Ben Rector “life is not the mountaintops – it’s the walking in between.”

Every life has big days – the day you graduate from college, get married, run your first marathon, have a baby, or move across the country. However, in between these big days are hundreds of seemingly insignificant little days. Days when the most exciting event is receiving a letter from a faraway friend; days when you wake up running, and don’t stop until you fall into bed; and days when life feels like an endless cycle of go to work, do the laundry, prep food, take a shower, repeat.

And yet, in the midst of the mundane, life is bursting with purpose and beauty, if only we have eyes to see it. Learning to cook alongside my roommates, having vulnerable conversations with my custodial teammates, singing as I clean, helping a new housemate feel welcome in our home, praying for my missionary friends – all of these things feel so small in the moment, and yet, when I step back and view them together, these are the patches of fabric that piece together to make the beautifully rich tapestry that is my life.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Shauna Niequist, an author who has taught me so much about celebration in the midst of the nitty-gritty of everyday life.

“This is it. This is life in all its glory, swirling and unfolding around us, disguised as pedantic, pedestrian non-events. But pull of the mask and you will find your life, waiting to be made, chosen, woven, crafted.

Your life, right now, today, is exploding with energy and power and detail and dimension, better than the best movie you have ever seen. You and your family and your friends and your house and your dinner table and your garage have all the makings of a life of epic proportions, a story for the ages. Because they all are. Every life is.

You have stories worth telling, memories worth remembering, dreams worth working toward, a body worth feeding, a soul worth tending, and beyond that, the God of the universe dwells within you, the true culmination of super and natural.

You are more than dust and bones.
You are spirit and power and image of God.
And you have been given today.”

For Such A Time As This

For the past few months the six word phrase “for such a time as this” has been rattling around in my brain. It is a phrase that is originally found in the book of Esther. Esther 4:14 says,

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.”

In the story of Esther, an edict is issued in Persia stating that all the Jews are to be killed. Esther is a Jew who is married to the king of Persia. This particular verse refers to the fact that Esther has potentially been placed in a position of power for the purpose of saving her people, but she has to choose if she will step up and live into the reality of being the queen for such a time as this.


On April 25th, a meager six weeks before I was scheduled to fly to Nepal, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake rocked the nation.

nepal_mapFor an agonizing week and a half, I had no way of knowing if I my trip to Nepal would still happen. Leading up to the trip I felt incredibly confident that Nepal was where God was leading me to spend my summer, but finding out I would still be able to go in spite of the earthquake further heightened my awareness of God’s timing in sending me there. I was going to Nepal for such a time as this.

Within a few hours of meeting my teammates in the Chicago airport, we had discussed our suspicion that God was doing something extraordinary in and through our team, and a few of my teammates had already spoken the exact phrase “for such a time as this.”

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We all had a sense of God’s divine purpose in bringing us to Nepal, and for six beautiful weeks we got to live into that purpose. We had SO many moments, both individually and collectively when we could see exactly why God had us in Nepal. Eventually, however, as all things do, our time in Nepal ended.

Upon returning to the US, my sense of purpose changed dramatically. After six weeks on top of the world (literally) my regular life felt discouragingly aimless. I joked that after such a crazy summer I was ready for a few months of boring, but deep down I wasn’t so sure that was true.

Part of what helped me through the messy season of reentry was obsessively listening to music that had shaped me during our time in Nepal. One song I played on repeat was The Anthem by Jesus Culture. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIoZNqUQAGE) The chorus says “wake up child/it’s your time to shine/you were born for such a time as this.” The more I listened to the song, the more I got this nagging thought in the back of my mind – what if every day of my life is meant to be lived for such a time as this?

There are seasons of my life when I can clearly see why God has brought me to where I am. But there are other seasons of life where my purpose is far muddier. However, my inability to see the why of where I am does not change the fact that God has brought me here.

As I continue to reflect on what it would look like to continually live for such a time as this, I have found that seeing purpose in the ordinary changes everything. Suddenly I am motivated to be faithful in the small things, encouraged to look for places where God is already at work in my life, and inspired to be obedient to His promptings. I don’t know about you, but for me that sounds like a much better way to live!

Odds and Ends

Hello Readers,

I know my blog has been pretty quiet lately, and while I would love to promise you more posts soon, the reality is I have some twelve page papers staring me down that have won the first place spot on my to-do list. I guess that’s how it goes in college. In the meantime, however, I would love to share some wise and challenging words I have stumbled across in the past few weeks. I sense that I am in a season of preparation, and lately I have read some blog posts and prayers that, difficult as they are, help me to prepare for what lies ahead by defining the way I want to live my life.

The first is a blog post written by a woman named Kristen Brewster. She is on an 11 country in 11 month missions trip called the World Race, and while her current setting is completely different from mine, her words ring so true in my life. Here’s the link:

http://kristinbrewster.theworldrace.org/?filename=the-greatest-thief

The next is a Benediction of Saint Francis that a Romanian friend of mine shared on Facebook. It goes like this:

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.
– Benediction of St. Francis

I find these words both challenging, and life-giving. What would our world look like if it were filled with people who took this benediction to heart?

Next is a quote that I heard from a friend living in Moldova. It goes:

“What we choose changes us.
Who we love transforms us.
How we create remakes us.
Where we live reshapes us.
So in all our choosing,
O God, make us wise;
in all our loving,
O Christ, make us bold;
in all our creating,
O Spirit, give us courage;
in all our living
may we become whole.”
Jan L Richardson

I love how this quote reminds me that we do on this earth matters deeply.

And I’ll leave you with something a kindly old gentleman told me the other day that I can’t seem to get out of my head.

“May God bless you on your pilgrimage.”

So whether you travel by plane,

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or train,

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on paths steep

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or smooth,

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always remember there is joy in the journey!

Purpose

Pebble Steps

This weekend I experienced a taste of what living out my purpose feels like. I had a moment, standing in the middle of the woods with a group of people who understand a commonly misunderstood part of me, when I thought, “This is it. This is what life is about.” Everything, and I mean everything, felt so right. I was standing in a thin space where heaven touched earth.

Let me back up and give you some context. This summer I will be traveling to Romania and Moldova with a team from my university, and this past weekend my teammates and I, along with the team traveling to Argentina, went on a retreat. It was glorious! Twenty-four hours of unpacking baggage and deconstructing preconceived notions while building trust and making memories. I came away from the weekend glowing!

The amazing thing is that while this weekend focused on my upcoming adventure, I came away from it feeling like I learned so much about life. I have learned many valuable lessons in college, but the lessons I learned this weekend trump them all in terms of propelling me into my future.

That’s the thing – this experience is about so much more than just this trip. This opportunity I’ve been given is about learning how to better live out, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

I’ll leave you with the lyrics to a melody we sang this weekend.

The Kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Come, Lord, and open in us the gates of your kingdom.

He’s opening the gates, and I couldn’t be more excited!

Voiceless

God has given me a voice. Not a voice for a voice’s sake, but a voice with a purpose. He’s given me a powerful voice, a strong voice. As I sit here without my physical voice, I realize just how much of a gift my voice is. I also begin to understand what it is to be voiceless.

If you cannot speak, how can you even articulate your basic needs? The voiceless are exploited because they cannot speak for themselves. Other people control what happens to them. Oftentimes the people in control display the nasty side of human nature. They use their power for selfish gain. If I have both a voice and the power of Christ within me, why am I not using it?

He has given me a voice. He wants me to employ it. Proverbs 31:8-9 says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Am I doing that? Am I singing, writing, and speaking life and truth into hopeless situations and broken people? Or am I letting my voice crack from underuse?

It is humbling to lose my voice. When I can’t sing at worship night, I feel like I need to explain why I’m not singing. My pride is at stake. My voice, however, is not mine. It’s a gift. I have done nothing to deserve it. I can’t earn God’s gifts. But if I want to discover my purpose in this world, I must use God’s gifts. I would never unwrap a birthday present, and immediately put it in the back of my closet. So why do I do that with God’s gifts? It’s time for me to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves! I am ready to explore God’s dream for my voice!

He Will Fulfill His Purpose