So what can you do next? From one white person to another

The last week has been a heavy one. It’s one thing to hear of a murder — it’s another thing to actually watch it. And it’s yet another thing to get smacked back to the reality of the fear black people in this country must live through each day.

There is a place for protest, and there is a place for social media posts, and there is a place for outward displays of solidarity. We need that, now more than ever.

Yet many of you like me have often been left wondering, “What next can I do?” I want to make several suggestions of some thoughtful and practical next steps.

Who is this for

While I’m sure anyone could read this post, mainly I’m writing from my own perspective as a 30-something, white, middle-class, Christian, college-educated, working mother. I’m writing to my friends, those I went to high school and college with, those who look like me and we generally have similar values. We grew up ignorant about the Black American struggle (an entirely different post to write about), yet we’ve come face to face with it in the past 10 years and had to grapple with it’s reality, the duplicity of our faith, and the pain our silence has caused. We know more than we’ve ever known, but we’re unsure where the next step should be.

If that sounds like you, then this post may be one you should read.

Step 1: Look around

Pre-COVID-19 we all often were in groups, in conferences, at events, at church, getting together at gatherings. Think about those gatherings, and observe even now the groups you virtually meet in.

Ask yourself: is there a black person present here?

Why or why not? If your church meets in a neighborhood that is 50% white, 50% black, why are there only white people present?

If you’re at work, observe how many people of color are there. At a favorite music concert or special conference, as you scan the audience, do you see other colors?

Then give yourself some space to think through why the racial makeup is what it is. Talk about it with someone else in your group.

Think about where you live, where you eat, all the activities you do. Who are your friends? Are any of them black?

I made a presumption about those that read this that you are able to not be afraid or offended by these questions. There’s nothing to be afraid of. The worst thing that can could come as a conclusion is that a group you’re emotionally invested and connected to is explicitly prejudiced. And there are solutions to that.

But before you come to any conclusions, just look around and observe the realities of your life.

Step 2: Ask questions at the leadership table

Many of us are now sitting in places of leadership, or at least have a seat at the table. We spent our 20’s being told to not speak or think and just do what we were told. Now we have work and life experience, and we are either managers or creating some businesses, programs or systems. The leaders are starting to listen to our ideas and giving us departments to manage.

So now that you are at the Leadership Table, look around. Are there any black people? Usually we give a sigh of relief that we are emphatically not racist or prejudice because we have people of color in our workforce, or at our church, or apart of the ministry, or in our friend group, or in the student body.

However, the only real test of an organization or system is whether or not they give black people a seat at the leadership table, hands untied.

You get the opportunity now to bring up that question in your next leadership meeting. “Why are there no black people on leadership here?” And see what kind of response you get. I’ve asked this question often. I don’t do it to bring shame or judge. I try very hard to simply be curious, knowing that the response I get will reveal truth.

But don’t stop with that first curious question. If they say, “Well, no black person has ever approached us about being on the leadership team.” Follow up with, “Well, why is that?” “Um, maybe because we don’t know any black people.” “Oh, well, why is that?” “I think they just don’t want to be here.” “Why is that?”

You just opened up some real conversations now. It will be uncomfortable, and the conversation may go differently than above, but just keep asking, “Why?” until you get some real answers, and hopefully some way forward. Because until black people have places of leadership in civil, community, and business organizations, there simply cannot be realistic change.

If we want less of George Floyd stories, we have to let black people have positions of leadership. And that won’t happen until we start pressing the current leadership for change since we already have a spot at the table.

Step 3: Listen quietly

We love to have something to say in any conversation. If someone shares a story, we want to share a similar one. If someone has a struggle, we want to show we too have struggled in some way. I think it’s just the human condition. We want to be accepted and to find common group with whoever we are talking to. I think it’s also just a social expectation.

But there are many situations where it’s not necessary to talk. I learned this during a one-month service trip in Spain and England right after grad school. I was serving and working alongside recovering drug addicts who worked in the businesses the organization had set up for them to recover and build skillsets. I’ll never forget the stern lecture the director gave us when we arrived. “You are here to learn and your mindset should be ‘I am a person of no importance,’ and so you can ask questions and serve the people here. That’s it.”

Little did I know how that “training” would prepare me for understanding and listening to my black friends and community in Chicago. Generally, it’s something I’ve had to practice when talking to anyone who has experienced trauma and distressing experiences. You ask questions, and then you listen, and then you say, “I’m so sorry.” Repeat, repeat, repeat. You don’t explain your past, you don’t share a similar experience you’ve had, you don’t try to make them feel better. You sit there and share in solidarity.

Depending on your relationship and how long you’ve had these talks and discussions, you may feel the place to ask what they think you could do better in your place in life with the connections you have.

Another place to listen is in a group of black people. Have you ever been in a group where you were the only white person, or at least in the minority? Oh, and let me add, *in America* (cause I know lots of you have gone on missions trips overseas). If you haven’t, try to find a situation where you are. Church is a great place, because you already know you have a common faith and it’s a natural place to show up as a visitor. Be present, listen, and listen more. Observe how it feels to be the minority. Remind yourself how comfortable you feel when you are the majority, yet there are always those in the minority.

Just keep listening. And learning. Quietly.

Step 4: Start with you

We each have a range of impact in our own life. We also have the privilege to make decisions for our lives and our families. We’re not victims to the busyness our life leads us. You can make changes.

Take inventory of all the things you do. Work, church, home, community, recreation, fitness, friends.

In which area can you start making long-term adjustments to have more color? Perhaps there’s a black woman at work you have become friends with but don’t know her family. Maybe you can invite them over and begin regular family hang-out times with them at each other’s houses? Maybe you have a YMCA membership and you always go to the one in town that has predominately white people — but you could start going to the one on the other side of town that has predominately a black clientele?

Another way to start with you — do you currently or have you ever had someone in authority over you that was black? Anybody? Go find yourself a black business or spiritual mentor. Join a church with a black pastor. Take a job under a black executive team. It matters, it all really does.

Now go ahead

That’s all I’ve got for now. I think it’s a good starting place for all of us. I’ve worked on these for years and I have quite a ways to go. We all have quite a ways to go. But to move forward, it starts with us. It starts with you. You do have a voice, and you need to start using it.

If you have any other suggestions, please leave them in the comments.

How to make it when all goes wrong: a Thanksgiving reflection.

Everyone has their own journey, their own winding path. Some difficulties are wide open for all to see, and then some are quiet and secret, hidden away from the obvious conversations of life.

The journey of me and my husband this year has definitely been the former — the journey that was filled with so many clear, out-in-the-open struggles that it was impossible to keep it out of conversations.

As a recap…

Last year on December 15, 2018 we got married on a wondrous, whirlwind, adventurous day.

And the adventure was only about to get more adventurous.

Because… at the end of January we found out we were pregnant.

Our already-begun future plans about potential visas to visit the US, job opportunities near or far, and ideas of where to plant our lives now included carrying a pregnancy, giving birth, and all the intricate details that come along with that.

For those that were closest to us during that time, you’ll know how difficult things quickly got. 2 more tourist visa applications got denied, we struggled with figuring out timing of eventually seeing each other (which we hoped would happen during the pregnancy), navigating jobs and finances and maternity leave, and me ending my lease and having to move and store all my belongings without knowledge if they should stay there short or long term. Then struggling with deciding if I needed to plan to save and prepare to travel back to Tanzania if his spousal visa took as long as it could possibly take (1-2 years), figuring out how I’d get a passport for our son if that happened, and what I’d have to do for a job if I did have to go back. Then the other option if I stayed and waited for Peter, what I’d do if I had to single parent for an undetermined amount of time, and how I could juggle work and a newborn. Then the hardest scenario, working through if Peter didn’t make it for the birth, how I would handle that alone, what would I do if something went wrong, how sad it would be to experience that alone, how afraid I was to do all of it alone…

People, the list could go on and on with the continual stresses and potential stresses that we dealt with every day while separated. The daily unknown was hard, and then slowly watching hopes die of being together at all during the pregnancy. I don’t have really have space to explain the emotional toll that took on both of us.

So how did we get through it?

How did we bear every single disappointment, one after another, including Peter not being there in time and being present for my labor signs, admittance to the hospital, natural induction methods, unmedicated labor, baby stress signs, emergent C-section as I neared pushing, our baby Jackson being immediately admitted to NICU due to meconium aspiration, the uncertainty of waiting several days to see if there was an damage due to potential lack of oxygen, 24 longs days in the NICU while I lived on the hospital site in their Ronald McDonald House before finally going home– how did we bear it all?

How could we possible not be angry and bitter, disconnected in bearing our own sadness and emotions, and spiring out due to the continual anxiety?

How could our marriage thrive, our individual selfs feeling more close and known to the other, our bitterness wane away, and our trust in God grow?

One word.


We talked and Skyped anywhere between 2-3 times a day, and I cannot remember a single day, especially in the 2-3 months prior to birth, where at some point in the conversation we didn’t express something we were thankful for in our situation.

There was a lot to be angry and bitter and frustrated and sad about. There really was. And we talked about those things too.

But oh there was so much to be thankful for.

Thankful for my parents who took me back in to live with them.

Thankful that I didn’t have to stress about paying rent or other general living expenses.

Thankful that our family’s church in Indiana was so kind and supportive and giving, always praying all the time for us.

Thankful for all the friends who continually reached out and prayed for us and really cared about everything.

Thankful for the several work opportunities and clients I was able to get that allowed me to work from home and do only virtual work.

Thankful for my above and beyond health during my pregnancy, to the point where I actually even liked it at times.

Thankful for our baby’s health during the whole pregnancy.

Thankful for the great healthcare insurance I had.

Thankful for the total of 3 baby showers we were thrown and how we hardly had to spend any money on buying baby supplies.

Thankful for the midwife group who really cared about us and took such good care of me.

Thankful for the doulas who so fully loved us and looked out for me during my whole pregnancy and birth.

Thankful for Peter’s job that allowed him the flexibility to travel to Dar Es Salaam (very far away from his city) several times in order to take care of business at the embassy there.

Thankful for friends who graciously gave us their car shortly before our baby arrived.

Thankful that although it felt like an eternity for Peter to get his approvals for the spousal visa and Green Card, in total from beginning to end it was 5 1/2 months, and most cases are taking easily 1.5 – 2 years.

Thankful that we got pregnancy so fast because that ended up being the linchpin to Peter getting his visa so quickly and giving additional proof to the validity of our marriage.

Thankful for Kathie, and immigration specialist at a Congressional office in our town, who personally advocated for our case, getting us expedited several times along the way. Near the end she was calling the office every day to help Peter get his final interview scheduled in hopes he’d be home before the baby arrived.

Thankful that by time Peter did get all his approvals, we had enough money to cover all the crazy amounts of immigration fees and travel costs to move to the US.

Thankful that God gave me so much grace during my labor and delivery, that I didn’t really experience any anxiety and fear, which really was a complete miracle given everything that happened.

Thankful that our marriage was built on friendship, love and commitment, and that we were able to thrive on those non-superficial things even though separated for 7 1/2 months.

Thankful that we practiced self control and willingness to not give into our physical and sexual desires during our dating and engagement, which gave us so much trust in each other during our separation.

Thankful we both loved God and were mature in our faith so that this trial didn’t tear apart something weak, but rather bonded a strength even stronger.

Thankful for our journey and the stories it would bring to our children and their children one day.

Thankful we could be thankful, and that we had the gift of life.

Just… thankful.

People always said to me during that time, “Wow, you are so strong,” and I know that is what it came across as on the outside. And at first it bothered me because, you know, don’t you know how much I have suffered?!

But now I realize something.

Being thankful does make you strong. And it is possible to be strong and suffering at the same time. In fact, maybe that’s how it should be. It’s our time of both weakness and strong, because at that point God can work in us and through us, and we become most like Him and who he created us to be in the first place. Our full humanity is on display, and our full Image of God.

So be thankful today. It’s not pretending. You aren’t lying when you are going through a tough time and people ask, “How are you,” and you say, “You know, I’m really thankful for…” It broadens your perspective and thickens your emotional muscle.

You are most real when you are most honest with your weaknesses, and at the same time can speak over them about what you have to be thankful for.

It’s a bitter life to only be thankful when everything is going your perfect way. Because that will never ever happen.

So be thankful and let your real strength be strengthened, and your real Godlikeness to shine brightest.


And Just Like That, She Bloomed

Earlier this summer I bought a hanging plant.

There were no blooms on it yet. Just a bunch of dirt it seemed, but the price was right and I thought for sure it held some promise.

So I hung it on my balcony in a prominent place.

And waited.

And watered.

And waited.

And watered.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

But for a long time, perhaps several weeks, nothing happened. I couldn’t figure it out — was I destroying it up with too much water, or was it a dud plant, or did it get too much sun exposure?

It seemed odd. And slightly disappointing.

Maybe . . . there wasn’t even a plant there after all.

But I kept up the process, nevertheless.

Because for some stubborn notion giving up is never an option. Especially when I dropped a whole two dollars for it.

And so continued the daily drudgery of watering, waiting, watching.

Eventually, I’m a little sad to say, I stopped expecting anything. I was sure then that if it ever did bloom, it would most likely be sad, pathetic flowers that made even itself cry.

From the externals, there was no hint of anything good coming out of this plant. Even when I poured water on the plant, it seemed to go straight through and drop out of the bottom. Did it even retain anything?

But then, a day before I left for Africa, I walked out the back door, as always each morning, and about fell over myself.

It was a massive, gorgeous, stunning display of the richest purple flowers. Covering the plant, overflowing the sides. And with purple, my favorite color.

It took my breath away, because I had been inwardly longing for so long, and it happened so suddenly. And the first thought that came to my mind was,

And just like *that*, it bloomed.

What immediately followed next was a prophetic message that went deeper and struck my soul as God whispered to me,

And just like *that*, she bloomed.

And I knew at that point my life would be completely different.

The seasons were changing. The past was behind. Breakthrough had arrived.

It was as if my life flashed before my eyes and I knew one hand was releasing the past, and the other was grabbing ahold of the future. I had been dry for so long. Now is was time to bloom.

And I thought on it all, on the a story behind this — this long, suffering, blooming process.

You see, for oh-so-many years I thought there was promise, I had so much hope

That this plant of mine would come alive,

Soaking and waiting, and watering and hoping.

Living on hope until the last drop gave out.

And it seemed as if water poured endlessly into the drought.

So disappointed in how it only seemed to die

Time and time and time again.

Dripping through, no soaking up,

Bleeding out, no living out.

Depression and fear my nearest friends,

A future blurred out by a pain that never ends.

But I failed to see the journey in full

Must pass through death on its way to life,

That the driest spell is a burial ground

For the bitter wounds of shame and lies.

Dripping through – pain, betrayal, unforgiveness

Bleeding out – lust, self-loathing, pride

Day after day, dry after dry, pouring after pouring

Not giving up, not giving in — just giving, strong and weak.

The process – oh so long

The change and promise – oh so slow.

Sometimes staring too long at a thing

Develops a loss of perspective,

A resentment towards the loss of time and investment.

But then it came — like a night time firework,

A bursting fall tree, a surprise party.

And I could hardly believe it,

I — the most shocked of all.

You see, just like *that*

She bloomed

The most radiant of colors, the brilliance of form

Just — absolutely radiating, a wedding day bride

She was hiding no longer, entering into public eye

So proud, so self-respectful, so free

Not a whisper, but shouting with blossoms

All may see, all may talk, all may wonder

But to her nothing matters

Because the shackles of drought are gone

The time of truth has come

And truth has never been so lovely, so becoming

I can never go back

Blooming has changed me forever.

I’m glad that nature tells us a story that reflects the hope of life and future. Even when life dies and we want the world around us to reflect the death we feel inside, somehow Spring always comes around. Nature keeps following it’s created course.

Death, seed, water, growth, bloom.

Around and around the circle it goes.

And similarly, we get the same path in life.

Seasons. Change. Motion.

And life wouldn’t really be all that wonderful if it were always Spring, right?

Those flowers that bloomed — they really meant something to me because I poured so much time and expectation into them. The waiting can be a painful experience, but it can also be more like the waiting and anticipation of watching the fuse burn towards an exploding firework. Perhaps we have a choice in how we wait.

Dryness and death and cold and bare only make Spring that much more brilliant and wonderful.

So hold on to your dry, bedraggled plant. Water it with your tears. Sleep with it by your side.

Because you never know when the blooming day is coming.

And it’s coming. Oh yes it is!

“Weren’t you afraid to travel to Africa?”

“It turns out that the more you watch TV, the more you believe that the world is dangerous. It turns out TV watchers believe that an astonishing 5% (!) of the population works in law enforcement. And it turns out that the more you watch TV the less optimistic you become. Cultivation theory helps us understand the enormous power that TV immersion has.” – Seth Godin

I took a trip to East Africa this summer

It wasn’t all that surprising, I guess, for those that know me. Last year I went to India and China, and you can often find me exploring big cities in America’s sea to shining sea, and taste-testing every ethnic restaurant that catches my fancy. My friend group in Chicago includes a wide range of color, culture, and country of origin.

And I love it.

I love it because there’s no structure or paternalism. There isn’t one side of giving, and one side of receiving. It’s mutual. It’s authentic.

It is always easy? Not really. Sometimes I’m embarrassed I forget basic things — like how to pronounce the name of my friend from Iran who I met for the 2nd or 3rd time, or have to ask my friend why African Americans never learned to swim, or ask the girl with Indian heritage if she was a vegetarian (yes, oh yes, that did happen).

It’s hard because you want to be a part of the group, to be included, but the lack of knowledge exposes the breach of integration and your often complete ignorance.

I’m used to it now, used to the tension and the vulnerability of outsider-ness.

I even lean into it all. You see, it was really through that bumpy path that I found a lot of meaningful relationships, understanding of how people relate to each other, and what’s actually most important in this world.

Which leads me to the topic at hand:

Why were Americans concerned for me when I traveled to Africa?

I mean, did you forget that I live in Chicago? The city ravaged by gun violence like that of a war-torn country?

But let’s talk about that as it illustrates a similar vein: people across the country are scared of Chicago . . . until they really get to know me. They see how interesting my life is, all the fun places I visit and bike by on a daily basis, the generous and smart friends I have, the ground-breaking anti-trafficking work the city is nationally known for, and the beautiful gems in parks all around the city.

And, wouldn’t you know it, by the end of our conversation it seems like the narrative in their mind has changed a bit. “Hm, maybe Chicago isn’t that bad . . . I think I want to visit someday.”

Amazing how getting to know someone is so completely transformative.

So how do people get scared of places like Chicago? like Africa?

At some point information was passed on. And it was communicated in a way that best benefited the sender of the information.

Because those in power get to tell the stories they way they want to.

If money and ratings are the top motivator, then the human instinct to tap into is obvious:


It pays. And it pays well.

Biologically, our minds and bodies respond much more strongly to fear because fear helps motivate us to protect ourselves in dangerous situations. We are conditioned to react intensely, fight or flight. We literally stop thinking with any sense or logic. The current situation triggers the mind to do one thing at the expense of all others in order to keep ourselves alive.

Are you afraid of the Boogie Monster?

We feed ourselves a constant flow of fear, which rarely depicts the reality of the world. We power up the computer and switch on the television, and then sit back for our daily dose of a hot cup of fear.

Television and internet articles bait us into fear, paralyzing fear. And we eat it up — it tastes so good, and so bad. All senses are heightened and triggered. Over time it becomes an addiction. Like a battered woman tied to her abusive husband, the trauma bonds entangle her in ways so deep it seems impossible to escape.

It’s hard to get used to normal when you’re always high on afraid.

I find it fascinating that so many people are afraid of something or someone they’ve never even seen or experienced. 

Like the Boogie Monster hiding under the bed. Your 6-year old self has never seen it or experienced it, but your older brother has fed you terrifying stories for months and now you live in it’s reality.

The invisible Boogie Monster now controls you. And it’s not even real.

Do you think Africa is the Boogie Monster?

When you talk about Africa as an American, are your illustrations and references all about war and killings and terrorism and violence?

And maybe that really is all you know about Africa. Not all of us get the opportunity to live next door to foreigners or travel internationally in a culturally engaging way. But at least preface your perspective by saying, “But you know, the only source I’ve gotten my information from is television, popular media, and American missionaries– I’ve never actually visited or talked to Africans about this. And I could be wrong, but this is my perspective from where I stand.”

Television and articles gives us the illusion that we experienced something firsthand . . . when in reality we really haven’t. Yes, I know research is good and important and it’s often combined with “eye witnesses.”

But seriously take the time to read sources that are African-led and narrated, and then make some personal relationships that are mutual.

If you can’t do any of those things, I understand. We’re all busy. But don’t control and direct the conversation. You are more than welcome to listen and observe.

Let’s be friends

I’ve been on my own journey through this fear mindset. At one point I really did believe what everyone was telling me on television and articles and platforms.

And then I traveled. And was positioned in a place of non-authority where all I could do was listen, observe, and serve.

And I was shocked by how still and quiet it was.

There was no lizard-brain, fear-controlled actions. It was peaceful, and enjoyable, and full of connection.

That’s when I realized that media outlets and popular speakers and religion can heartily take advantage of your ignorance to keep you tied up and coming back for more. More television, more clickbait, more crazy headlines, more one-sided stories.

That’s when I decided to learn this for myself, to see the real story as much as I could.

Are there dangerous, evil things happening around the world and in Africa?

Absolutely. I just wrote about the tragic and rampant problem of child sex trafficking in Mombasa, Kenya; I visited the brothel districts in India that are trapping girls and women for generations and it’s backed by both culture and police; I see Chicago’s gun death tolls continue to rise at record lengths.

Yes, we acknowledge the danger. Yet refuse to be controlled by it. Once we welcome fear, then we have no option but to obey it.

And once we obey fear, we can never impact our environments. Because it’s already impacting us.

So the greatest lesson here? It’s not just that we shouldn’t be afraid of places like Africa due to emotionally-triggered news. It’s also not simply just that we should expose ourselves to more people and relationships outside our own culture.

It’s that fear has got to go so that we can impact our cities, and countries, and the world.

Because I bet you never read a world-changer’s autobiography that concluded with, “And then I cozied up in my overstuffed chair, turned on the television, and posted articles about the unbelievably terrible things happening in the world.”


New friends I met during tea time in downtown Nairobi

Staff from Christ Hope International making chapati for lunch in Kampala, Uganda

Mothers of the some of the children at Christ’s Hope International sharing their stories in Mwanza, Tanzania

My new friend Lucy showing me around her family’s tea farm and property in Kenya

The vast, beautiful tea farms in Limuru, Kenya

Talking with women from the brothel districts in India

Hanging out with children at a daycare in Nairobi

Exploring the streets of Hong Kong

The Most Imperfect Triathlon

I think a lot when I swim.

I think a lot about not drowning.

With this triathlon journey, I could’ve made a movie called, “Finding Myself,” and subtitled it, “Just keep swimming.

Let’s start at the beginning . . .

The Inspiration

While in Hawaii this past February, I finally got the opportunity to get destroyed by the ocean like I’ve always wanted. This is called surfing, I suppose.


I always wanted to try my hand at it, but I realized that you had to have proper gear.

Like a swim shirt.

Because of the endless paddling on top of the board to catch waves, you need to cover your arms with a good swim shirt to save yourself from some serious chaffing.

So I found a purple one I really liked. I figured I’d rock my favorite color AND look like a pro.



Hello, I never spend $50 on a shirt. Much less for a shirt that I would wear once while on an island I will visit rarely in my lifetime.

I was devastated.

Because of my chagrin, my sister-in-law Kristin recommended other ways I could use the shirt again, perhaps a sport or activity that included water.

So I signed up for the Chicago Triathlon.

Well that escalated quickly.

I have a relatively athletic history. It includes sports like volleyball, basketball, softball, and kickboxing.

You know what activities I have shown the least amount of athleticism in my lifetime?

Swimming. Biking. Running.

I thought, “Ooh, I have a great idea — why don’t I do all of those . . . AT ONCE??”

Off To A Rough Start

Biking – Of the three, this is probably the one I enjoy the most. However, in my mind I feel like I can defy the laws of bike shorts, to my tail bone’s demise. Sure, riding around town a few miles at a time isn’t too bad. But when you ride longer distances without proper gear or hydration, it’s an equation for a perfect (painful) storm.

Running – I don’t know if you can interpret my form as “running.” Probably more like, “Creative trotting.” For example, during my last 5k race, I was feeling really proud of my run when I was halfway through– my best one yet! And then at mile 3 I caught up to this 67 year old man. I proudly paced with him through the rest of the race (I mean, who doesn’t need a little motivation?).

Swimming – I love swimming. It’s a blast. I grew up in a pool my whole life and our family frequented the beach. However, my version of swimming includes doggie paddling, inner-tube waves, and Marco Polo, of which things I am the real MVP. But real lap swimming? I think my first time in the big kids pool I embarrassed the entire YMCA.

Those first few swims I learned a lot, like . . .

  1. Real sports bathing suits are a necessity (semi-strapless is a semi-terrible idea)
  2. You’re supposed to breathe
  3. You’re not supposed to breathe under the water
  4. Kicking is supposed to work in conjunction with stroking
  5. Breathing is supposed to work in conjunction with kicking AND stroking
  6. I always knew where the lifeguard and defibrillator were located

I had a little bit of an episode the first time I went all in. I finally had goggles and tried the whole head-in-water-while-stroking deal, but couldn’t figure out when to breathe. I may have flailed and spewed, causing the lifeguard area to think they may actually have to do work during their shift.

Guys, this is serious. Especially when you start crazy things like training in Lake Michigan and you can’t see the bottom. It get’s pretty scary. And you realize, you can’t stop. You have to keep going. Or you will sink and die.

Fear of the unknown

That was my start.

Impulsive. Rough. Unprepared. Unprofessional.

And my finish?

The day of the triathlon came and I still didn’t have any real triathlon gear, I was one of the few without a wet suit, I nearly started going backwards at one point during the swim because of disorientation, I had to rent a bike because my own weighed more than a large dog, I didn’t have bike shorts, I had to Gorilla Glue pieces of my shoe to the bottoms to keep from flapping, there was a hole in one of my socks which made my foot burn, and I had no watch to keep track of my time (phones were not allowed).

I was completely under-invested and totally not prepared.

But get this.

I finished.


I started this whole thing with a pretty wild, uninspiring, and even bad, reason: a purple swim shirt!

To top it off, I hadn’t thought through the future. I wasn’t prepared for the struggle, for the near drowning experiences. I didn’t know that the investment never ends. I wasn’t ready for the sacrifice and commitment, of early mornings, long weekend trainings, and freezing Lake Michigan swims. I didn’t know how bad I was at swimming and how humbling it was to ask for tips and help. I didn’t know I would be out of country on a missions trip for half the month of August and would miss 2 important weeks of preparation and training.

I felt weak often, and sometimes wanted to just skip the swims, or not run as far.

And I had bad training days, when I felt like my lungs would burst, when my feet were burning from worn shoes, when the wind along Lake Michigan made my biking dreadful, when I skipped a workout because I didn’t feel like it, when I ate the wrong foods because I lost self-control.

I wouldn’t consider myself a role model.

But honestly, who is?

When we miss perfection

I think we have this idea of what kind of “role model” we should be, or how our situations should develop. It involves the unlikely word: perfection.

As an idealist, I have an idea in mind that makes me and my life work really well, it’s pain-free, and I always come out on top. And if I could control it that way every time, it would.

But then . . . Life. People. Situations. Crossroads. Hurts. Disappointments. They all happen, and it makes for perfectly imperfect journeys.

And that scares me. Why would I do something when I know that down the road I’m eventually going to lose control and I’m at the mercy of a situation or another person?

I think about my friend Emily, who moved to Chicago with a little bit of money and a dream — to bring economic development to her neighborhood by employing the people. So she started a business with no idea what she was doing and no textbook. There were many what we call “throw up in your mouth” moments, when the step was too big and the fear outweighed everything in sight.

But I am so inspired that she never quit, never lost sight of the goal, even though it seemed to get delayed all the time.

I’m in my own start-up and I’m like, “Really? 5 years and we’re still trying to go this launched? This is not the MBA-method.” It always takes too long, costs too much, and, on top of all that, each of us 3 founders live in different states. Very unideal. But, we’re launching it soon. These messy 5 years produced something.

With my first townhouse out of college I had a huge heart for hospitality and hosting people, but I came to find myself in an empty, cockroach-interested house with a couch affectionately called The Rock and 10 plastic Starbucks cups. I collapsed into tears. It didn’t get better anytime soon. And just this month I look at my home and see some sort of decency, the picture I had in mind 5 years ago. But I also look back and count the number of people who I’ve hosted when they needed a place to stay, somewhere around 10.

Maybe . . . maybe you can make it when you seem to have the worst end of the stick and it seems there’s no improvement in sight.

I can’t think of any significant accomplishment in my life where I didn’t have “throw up in your mouth” moments, unreal anxiety, troubling depression, and massive heartache.

Sometimes all we get in life is what we have, the falling-apart shoe, the sock with a hole in it, the bulky bike– or even more difficult, the missing arm, the crippled legs, the damaged eye.

And we starting hating our life because of the hand we’ve been dealt. It’s so unfair.

But it’s never fair.

We never get fair.

But we get life. We get a Life-Giver.

Is it worth it?

At one point during training I really wondered if it was worth it. This seemed like an awful amount of work and training for one day.

I’m not ready enough, I’m too tired, I have all the wrong clothes, I’m not fit enough, I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m not good enough.

But I kept repeating something during the race . . .

“I’m a triathlete, I’m a triathlete, I’m a triathlete.”

I kept imagining crossing the finish line and saying those words.


Yes, it was inspiring and awesome and exciting . . . and worth it. But sometimes you have to imagine the “worth it” before you cross the finish line, or you’ll never get there.

Our endeavors, our dreams, our hopes? Worth the time, worth the sacrifice, worth the love, worth the pain, worth the obstacles.

It’s those wide open spaces, the “great unknown where feet may fail,” where you find something worth living for, worth giving your all, and, at times, worth losing it all for the gain and the promise.

I don’t think I would have felt the same elation if had decided to skip the training altogether, and just walked up to the start line, lifted a 5lb weight over my head, and said, “IT’S WORTH IT!”

Sorry, you need to go through it, the long training and the struggle.

Otherwise, you’re never grateful.

Or strong.

Or real.


And hey, if I can decide to do a triathlon because of a purple swim shirt, please, tell me your excuses.

(and by the way, that $50 for the shirt I was trying to justify? Turned into $120 for the race registration, $15 for the goggles, $10 for the swim cap, $45 for the bathing suit, $50 for the bike rental . . . )


What Are We So Afraid Of?

The Strength Of Safety

I’ve been learning a lot about being safe. Inside safe. Emotionally safe. Only allowing influencers in my life who don’t emotionally use me and take advantage of my weaknesses. Sometimes it may even come down to, “I care about you, but I’m not safe around you. I need to leave.”

I’ve realized how very important it is to set up boundaries, to decide who is allowed to have access to my heart and who isn’t. There’s a sense of purpose and power in that, that I have a say and have control over my spirit.

I have the ability to make decisions about who speaks into my spirit.

Here is the irony though about this kind of safety–

When I am the most emotionally safe, I can walk into the most unsafe circumstances and be secure. and strong. and untouched. Because the circumstances around me don’t affect my sense of security. Even the people around me don’t have power to determine my safety.

I have one heart and one spirit that God has given it to me to steward. In deciding who gets to be close to me, it allows me to grow in love, and thus grow in safety. The more love I have capacity for, the more safe I am. The more safe I am internally, the more I am able to live freely externally without fear. This is because someone’s treatment of me in response to my open life doesn’t determine my sense of security, for good or bad.

Those who are most loved are most safe. They are the ones that help others become safe and loved.

Love and safe

The Dark Side Of Fear

On the flip side, those who are the most in fear are the ones who feel the most unsafe. They are always on the lookout to protect their own safety.

I know this all too well. The amount of fear I battle seems unreal. Many times I’ve been crushed under the weight of feeling unsafe. In those moments I have to step back and consider, “Why am I afraid? What is causing me to be unsafe and feel like I have to protect myself?”

Sometimes it’s been a relationship. It’s someone who I allowed to speak into me who I didn’t have any boundaries with that expressed verbal or emotional misbehavior towards me. In the fear cycle, I often look inward and take the blame, afraid to lose the relationship, and then I become very powerless and try to find a way to protect myself, which normally means trying to control that person or the atmosphere.

Sometimes it’s been in the work place. I’m afraid of someone finding out my mistakes, so I try to hide while I make everything perfect and presentable. Because if someone finds out I don’t have it all together then they will think less of me and I’m not valuable.

Sometimes it’s been in the community. I drive through the “rough” part of town and see lots of homeless people and drug use around. I’m afraid of feeling emotional for these people or getting taken advantage of, so I avoid even eye-contact with them.

Sometimes it’s been a national threat. After 911 my fear was controlled by whether or not there was a mosque in my town or by being in a plane with someone with tanner skin than I.

You see, if I’m afraid of something, I become powerless and lose control over myself, feeling the need to fight for the safety I feel threatened that I may lose. Because I have no internal safety keeping me steady.

The Source Of Security and Insecurity

But where does internal safety come from?


Where does internal unsafety come from?


You know how powerful love is? Those who are the most steeped in love have the ability to live in the most unsafe, hazardous places. Not that they all do, but the power that makes it possible lives within them.

Because those external circumstances have no access to their heart, their source.

So if love rules our souls, if God (who is love inherently) is ruling, and the people we let speak into our souls are also reinforcing that same love, I dare say, what can we not do?

We can be powerful. We can reach further out. We can do seemingly scary things.

Because love leads us, not fear.

Since when were we promised external safety?


We ought to be the first to love when we have the most to lose. Because we count everything as loss compared to living in love like Christ and knowing him.


It’s hard, because usually we’re afraid of what we don’t understand. Like those of a different religion. Or those of a different sexual lifestyle. Or those of different economic circumstances. Or those of a different color. Of those of a different culture.

I’m in the business world. I work with business owners and get to watch their fears play out. Why is it that the owners are typically afraid of the measly lower level employees?

Because when employees make suggestions for change, it means that the owner may lose something. Change isn’t good. When you’re in a place of privilege, change is threatening. Change causes fear, afraid that your position will be removed, that the safety net of money, power, and control will crumble around you.

This is normal for those who have lived in privilege, which, compared to the rest of the world, would be middle class Americans. Change is always threatening when you’re at the top and have nowhere to go but down.

Why is it that the under-privileged are the most open to change? Because they have something to gain from it. Because when you’re at the bottom you have nowhere to go but up.

So what’s the point?

When we look to our circumstances, and laws, and nations, and officials to set our compass for safety, we will always be afraid. Because we’re not ever in complete control of them.

However, when we live in a place of love, there cannot be fear. And we can accept an unsafe world. We can walk into an unsafe atmosphere knowing that we have a power residing within us that cannot be shaken.

So that’s why I ask,

What are we so afraid of?

You know what tempts me to be afraid?

Not Muslims. Not refugees. Not mass shootings. Not pro-abortion laws. Not marriage redefinition laws. Not pimps. Not Ebola.

What I’m afraid of is spending my whole life creating a paper mâché fortress around me so that I can be protected against the external evils of this world, living internally in bondage, chained to my own fear.

I’m afraid of not ever loving.

I’m afraid of not ever risking.

I’m afraid of not ever once looking like the real Jesus.

Lord, this Christmas give me the heart that would have been one of the shepherds that received you into this world. You were not just not from this country; you were not even from this world. 

Why in the world would I jubilantly sing about accepting a helpless baby in a manger with one hand raised, while pushing away a vulnerable refugee with the other hand?

Maybe we haven’t really received the vulnerable child in the manger yet? Maybe we only want the Jesus who reigns in power and judgment over the evil in this world and not the Jesus who was a meek, helpless baby?

Would we be the Herods of this generation that destroy all that threaten our outward sense of safety, position and control?

Or would we be the ones that welcome, yet even prize, the weak and vulnerable? and accept even the miraculous— because, seriously, a virgin having a baby is seriously threatening to my religious sense of right, wrong and possible.

Jesus went through the whole process. He came from a different culture, he was a newborn exposed to animal mess in a barn, he with his parents were vulnerable refugees, he was a child, a student, an apprentice, a laborer, a leader, a sufferer, a convicted criminal, a dead man, a resurrected King.

He can relate with he most powerless and with the most powerful in this world.

He is our only model. His humility is the only way for us to live. His safety is our only confidence. His love is the only thing that empowers us to love.

And his truth trumps every other opinion.

Let’s not react in fear. Let’s not be like Peter. When he saw that Jesus was threatened in the garden (and actually, Jesus was going to be killed. Seriously. He ended up dying), Peter took out his sword and tried to kill the threat. If we Christians were Peter, we probably would have pull out our concealed weapon and defended Jesus, killing as many threats around us as possible. Because this life is all about being safe and saving our lives, right?

Jesus would be like, “What in the world do you think you’re doing? If you live by killing threats, you’ll die in the same way. If you want to gain your life, you’re going to have to lose it. Hey hey hey, Peter, you realize I’m here? You’re safe. You don’t need to be afraid and react. Stop trying to save me. You need to let me go die. Oh, and just as a heads up, one day when you are most loving me and most safe in my will, you’re going to die by crucifixion.”

This totally blows my mind. The Gospel life is so full of paradoxes that it can only be believed by faith. It’s not natural. But in the kingdom, it’s totally normal.

Is our safety determined by our circumstances? Or is our safety from within, untouched, strong and unmovable?

Maybe we can be the ones who set the standard of love, who live in soul-safety, and who walk into unsafe places and welcome the unsafe ones, loving them into the kingdom.

I Can’t Seem To Find An Ideal Church

I’ve had this angst now for a while.

It’s just… this unsettled feeling when it came to church.

I knew I wanted something, or was looking for something, but I wasn’t really sure what it was.

To give you a little transparent background, I have to admit I had become pretty disenchanted with church, observing a lack of the intentional and humble pursuit of unity, diversity, and act-what-you-preach living.

The more I learned of God through the church, the more I learned his heart for all peoples and cultures and genders and races. And so I slowly began changing. While it was a very real and organic change, it was also intentional.

Yet that’s when I started observing something. The kind of life I was starting to live began to stand out.

As… exceptional.

But I thought this was normal? I thought this is what the church stood for, preached and worshipped about? Why would moving into a life that reflected that outside of the church walls be so abnormal?

Why did we gush about how amazing the sermon was about welcoming all people with open arms, no barriers, just as Christ has welcomed us, and then debate about withholding mission support from a Gospel-focused agency due to their different style of worship music? Or have a church gathering that was all the same color, intellect level, economic state and activities when the surrounding community and city did not reflect that ratio? Or preach and condemn sensual clothing and porn but then pass by the prostitute and doing nothing to care for her state of exploitation?

It had all been very confusing to me. I was learning one thing about the heart of God, and seeing another.

So I was trying to figure out this alignment of what I say and how I live

But even more than that, I was learning of God’s heart for his people to be unified, that we’d be known for love not fractions. 

So deep down I wanted that: a gathering of people that was unified and diverse; a place where the unity makes us attractive, but the diversity makes us beautiful.

But I just couldn’t find it. Why wasn’t there one group where all that was present?

Where was the unified, diverse, faith-in-action church?

And I thought the problem was that somewhere there was this ideal church where all these great, amazing beliefs collided together.

I thought it was hidden somewhere, out of sight, that perhaps every other church needed to find this one church and start acting like that one.

I wandered for a while, moving from church to church, staying long enough to partake, but not long enough to commit.

I kept searching for that one.

Praying, considering, waiting, Repeat.

Then tonight happened.


The Pray Chicago gathering and movement. Where churches from all over Chicago came to pray for the peace and hope and Gospel-advance in the city.

It was some of the most normal, extra-ordinary moments I’ve ever had.

The guy next to me was an immigrant from Morocco. The couple in front of me was from South Side. We sang worships songs in several different languages. Leaders from the city read Scripture reading through John 17 in their native tongue: Romanian, Arabic, Spanish, Hindi, Mandarin, Tagalog, Hausa, to name a few.

Worship was extravagant and awe-some.

And I looked around me and literally saw the world.

Nations. Cultures. Races. Together and one. 

And we were not fragmenting. And we were real. Really caring and really acting and really believing.

And that’s when I realized it.

That I found it.


 This is what I always wanted.

And this?

This is The Church.

This beautiful, mis-matched, imperfect, oh-so-glorious group.

Nothing matched, but we blended.

The unfamiliar languages were stark, but at the same time harmonious.

What typically are known as cultural barriers were points of celebration.

And it wasn’t just about the individuals. It was the collective parts of the city coming together as one to intercede to The One.

As the service ended, I sighed.

I just had a taste of heaven. 

And that’s what we’re here to do: pursue on earth as it is in heaven.

In Chicago as it is in heaven.

Yes. Yes I found it here.

But if it’s here in Chicago, then it’s in Greenville South Carolina. And it’s in Fort Wayne Indiana. And it’s in Madrid Spain. And it’s in Venice Italy.

So, I had some things to deal with personally.

You see, here’s what I realized that night:

There is no ideal local church.

There is only a Church.

It’s diverse. And it’s unified. And it’s full of good works.

And maybe when I commit to be a part of a really imperfect, un-ideal local church, that I’m committing to the worldwide Church of Jesus and participating in the Big Team’s wholeness.

I used to think that committing to one was saying no to others.

Now I know that saying yes to one is saying yes to all.

To make the macro-Church more unified and diverse, I must participate and struggle forward in the micro-church, no matter how un-unified and un-diverse it is.

And that’s winning.

Because if I don’t show up in this church relationship, then I’m creating a fraction and there’s a diverse spot missing. Just because I didn’t show up.

And when I say “show up,” I mean “give my heart into and commit.”

I don’t think I’m the first person in the world to ever seriously struggle through this. For those of you wanderers out there, I get it. You’ve seen some very real concerns and have probably faced some serious hurt from inside the church.

Yeah, me too.

So hear me out: I don’t think there’s an ideal church out there. Wherever you land, you’ll probably get hurt by someone, you won’t agree with the pastor at some point, you will be dumbfounded by some decisions, you’ll meet some hypocrites, you’ll get disheartened by your own hypocrisies, you’ll be lonely at some point, and you will begin to wonder if, geez, is this even worth it?

Yeah, sounds like work. Committing to anything is ridiculous hard work.

Let me just say that I’m learning it’s not about which building you commit to going to on Sunday morning and having the absolute ideal setting and people around you.

It’s how you interact with them every day. It’s how you serve. It’s how you lay down your life so that another may advance. It’s how you decide to show up. And keep showing up, rain or shine.

If we all did that, even in different, un-ideal settings, wouldn’t we be creating an ideal, unified, diverse Church individually together?

Here’s the thing: one day, our imperfect, struggling churches who flounder in unity and diversity and good works will come together at a really cool celebration in heaven that will look like a super-charged version of Pray Chicago.

And that’s when we will realize that what we always wanted we already had all along.

Lean In To Loneliness

DeathtoStock_NotStock10Soul, be thankful for these lonely days when you only have your heart and time to be responsible for.

Maximize the loneliness.

Go deep.

Discover yourself through God’s eyes, for the time will come when your life will be full of pouring out what you have been soaking up in the quiet days.

The amount that I am able to impact and pour into other’s lives in the future is in direct correlation to the amount and discipline that I pour into myself.

Immerse yourself in God’s word.

Think deeply. Create unbridled. Give extravagantly.

Prepare, prepare, prepare. Arm yourself for battle. Wield the weapons of warfare. They aren’t made overnight.

Remember that my strongest weapon, my character, is forged over long lengths of time and fire.

Feed richly, but only those things that promote health and energy.

Learn to listen well when no one is talking.

Discern what is God and what is noise.

Love his voice above all others so that you can love others better.

So love your loneliness, for it is a gift from God for a specific season for a specific purpose.

It is not your fault, but rather a king-sent mission.

Lean oh so strongly in to loneliness. For the longer and deeper the lean, the stronger and greater the soul muscle.

Making Judgements About The Moon


The bright moon is rising

Captivating only my quick glance

Before I move on

Because I think I understand it,

That just because I see it

Means I “get” it.

But if only I studied– if I distrusted my initial judgment–

If only I dug deeper than my first impression

I would be floored and humbled

By my arrogant assumptions.

To think I know anything about the moon

When I never heard it’s story

When I only read books about it

When I only listened to gossip about it.

It seems that my perception could be vastly different

If I changed my method of judging.

If I stopped and considered the moon’s realities, I would see that

It’s closeness is great only because of it’s sheer mass.

It’s light is not selfish, but simply reflective.

It’s marks are not defects or self-inflicted, but massive craters

That tell of depth and time and beauty and experiences.

I think I can hold it

But I cannot.

I think I can define it

But I cannot.

I’m starting to realize the uncomfortable truth that

The only way to have intimacy of the moon

Is to visit

And listen

And discover

And study

And commit

Over a long period of time.

Only then do I dare tell you

What I think the moon is like.



Sometimes I think we make experiential assumptions about people around us.

Sometimes I think we make educated guesses about cultural issues.

Sometimes I think we try to figure out someone else’s story through the lens of our own.

Maybe it’s time to meet the person behind the statistic.

Maybe it’s time I need to stop thinking my story is “best of many” and starting thinking it’s “one of many.”

Maybe it’s time I commit to one concern, one group, one person, instead of trying to be an authority on all.

I’m starting to understand that it’s vastly unfair to speak my opinion with authority when I have no intimacy with what I’m trying to speak for or represent.

I also had no idea that this internal confrontation would happen when I sat down to watch the blue moon last week.

You never know what will trigger new questions and realities.

And sometimes they happen only once in a blue moon.

Abortion: Are We Actually Pursuing Justice Or Only Condemnation?

As an open advocate of human rights, I absolutely stand in the gap for the babies that have been unjustly called fetuses when they are totally human, that some people see their organs as a means of gain when a real breathing human could have had those organs and went on to live a very productive life.

DeathtoStock_NotStock5However, to only cry out for babies rights and not for women’s rights or fight detrimental socioeconomic issues is very short-sighted.

I think it’s much easier to virtually stand against a “black and white” issue than to step into messy situations and complicated lives that set the stage for something like abortion to exist.

But let me back up first, before I throw my opinions and thoughts out there.

Because I know behind every issue is a story. A person. A face.

I want to be sensitive to friends, to women, who have had abortions.

To some, it was through a very difficult situation and to see your FB feed covered with abortion videos is to re-live terrible pain and trauma that many of your friends will never understand.

To you, friends, I have absolutely no judgement or shame to throw on you. You are, and always will be, accepted and loved.

It’s not a line that you may have heard before. Perhaps right now you only feel the weight of judgment and hurt. Perhaps you don’t know what you feel. But either way you know that to openly talk about it with your conservative friends would be to open yourself as a live target.

Let me assure you that Satan wants you to live under that lie, that you only have worth if you hide this part of your life from prying eyes.

No matter what anyone else says, you have no guilt, no fear, no shame under the blood of Jesus. He loves you no matter what you think of yourself or what other people think of you.

To everyone else, my friends, do you actually know someone who has had an abortion?

If not, that’s interesting because twenty-one percent of pregnancies in the United States end in abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute*.

Outside of what the media says, do you know what issues set the stage for women to pursue abortion as the only viable option? Or do you just assume that it’s only people who don’t like children and are irresponsible?

Have you only listened to the 5 o’clock news, or have you sat down and humbly listened to the story of someone who has had an abortion to learn about what led them to that decision?

Do you think that there has ever been oppression, abuse, or deception surrounding some women at the time of their abortion?

Have you ever considered poverty or socioeconomic issues as a potential root?

How have you been a part of the solution to help women in desperate situations?

Do you so fiercely condemn people involved with abortion that you shut a door to hear your friend’s voice who would like to have someone listen to her story?

I don’t have the answers to all these questions, but I want to be sensitive to all lives and all stories, both babies and women, doing what I can to practically pursue justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with my God.

*Here’s an interesting article– it seems to have some solid research.