The Beauty of Community.

I was fortunate enough to spend last weekend in Michigan with some of my favorite people. The beginning of the trip was with family and the end of the trip with friends. It was refreshing and exhausting all at the same time, but overall, it was just what I needed. No matter where I live or where I go, Michigan will always be home. Staring out the big window in my parent's living room and looking out to the backyard, sitting on the beach, playing in the waves at Lake Michigan and soaking in the sunsets are where I find peace.

That weekend I didn't even spend much time at my actual house, but I was with people in lots of different places. It made me realize home isn't always a place, but it can be who you're with too.

My friends and I rented a house for the weekend. We've been planning this trip for almost a year and we managed to find a time where all eleven people could come from five different states to one of our favorite places, Lake Michigan. When everyone arrived, my heart felt like it would burst because it was so full.

Some of these friends I have known since I was a baby, some of them elementary school, some high school and some have "married into" the group, but regardless of the length of time each person has been in my life, they each mean so much to me and have a piece of my heart.

The weekend was a healing balm and jumpstart to my heart, all at the same time. One group got dinner ready, while others played cornhole and others talked on the porch. We played game after game after game. We sprinted across the sand to meet the sunset. We talked life plans and caught up in ways that can only happen in person. We settled into each other's presence and picked up where we left off. We jabbed and joked with each other and went back and forth, where others may look in and wonder if we're more like siblings than friends. But that's the beauty in community, just because we don't share blood, doesn't mean we can't be our own kind of family.

With each burst of laughter, each heart shared, each question asked, every joke made and every smile exchanged, I just saw beauty. Beauty in friendship, beauty in bonds that last through change, through moves, through life transitions, beauty in new friends and marriages and babies and life milestones celebrated, beauty in community and beauty in the ability to sit down, pick up where you left off and really be together. States, time and life might separate us, but that doesn't mean the beauty is gone. It just means we have to hang on to it when we can and know it'll be there the next time we're together.

We are meant for community. This weekend was a testament of that truth for me. We are meant to open ourselves up to each other and do life together. We are meant to encourage, comfort and listen to each other. We are meant to enjoy, laugh and have fun together. We are meant to be a part of each other's story.

I am so thankful for the community I have and that through the people who exist within my different communities and "families" that I am able to see and experience so much love and so much beauty.


Lessons from my Thesis

I submitted my thesis last night...all 100 pages! (I was excited that it ended up being such a great, round and even number). I can't believe it's done. I'm not sure if I've ever worked so hard on something in my life. I was trying to think of all the hours it took up and I really don't think I can count them. Let's just say, I'm not gonna know what it's like to not have work to do before I go to work in the morning or as soon as I get off at night and I won't be spending all weekend at my computer. I'm not going to miss scheduling interviews at lunchtime, dreaming about coding data or spending 12 hours a day looking at a screen. I feel like I'm about to re-enter society! I'm currently laying in my bed as I type this on my phone because my body and mind vetoed my attempt to actually sleep in until 8 today. I let it sink in that I was done with my thesis and naturally, because I think too much, I started thinking about all I learned this semester through this process. So, naturally, I made a top ten list.

1. Things that are worth it are hard. I could have taken a lot of shortcuts through this process, but I didn't. I actually really do care about what I researched and I wanted to produce a thesis done with excellence. Producing this was really hard, but worth it.

2. I have the best community ever. I wouldn't have made it the last couple months if it wasn't for my family and friends. When I think about how great everyone is I get emotional because I'm just so fortunate to know such awesome people and that I get to have them in my life (I'm allowed to be emotional aboht these things...I just completed a milestone). I actually could really feel the prayers of so many people and the texts, calls and gifts kept me going. The fact that I have friends and family who would transcribe interviews, edit chapter after chapter, let me cry and assure me it'll be okay and make sure we celebrate even the little victories is amazing. My people y'all are the best kind of people.

3. It's okay to say no. I became very familiar with the phrase, "I just don't have the capacity for that." I've learned that sometimes you just have to say no and everything will still be okay. Not gonna lie, still not great at this and am not always good at doing this without pounds of guilt accompanying it, but I'm working on it.

4. Even when you don't think you have time to take care of yourself, you have time to take care of yourself. I'm not just mentioning this because my whole thesis is about self-care, but because it's actually true. Through this whole process (full disclosure: at least up until the last two weeks or so) I have tried to make a conscious effort to still love and take care of myself through the crazy. Not only was I working on my thesis and had another class, but this is one of the busiest times for work too and there was always something that needed to be done. But sometimes, I just took a nap or watched an episode of Parks and Rec (I mean they're only 20 minutes and it's the best show ever...) I also tried to get 8 hours of sleep most nights, I truly think being proactive in caring for ourselves results in more productivity and helps you keep your sanity. I wasn't always great at this in all aspects (don't even ask me the last time I worked out) but I could tell a notable difference from when I felt like I was consciously choosing to care for myself and my soul.

5. Good music matters. Pandora was my BFF for this process, also my "Grad School motivation playlist." The Explosions in the Sky, John Legend and Ingrid Michaelson stations were in heavy rotation. I love music and listening to it while I work makes me feel like I'm not alone in it...(as I typed that I realized that may be weird but it's true)

6. I am highly motivated by rewards and incentives. Yes, call me a child or a puppy, but the range of incentives I made for myself during this process were sometimes ridiculous and comical but effective.

7. The mountains help me think and give me life. I was fortunate enough to get away for a weekend to Gatlinburg to work on the bulk of my research and it was awesome. I had a clear mind, got to be creative and was surrounded by mountains. Even though I barely left the hotel room and I worked 15 hour days, it was life-giving.

8. Sometimes knowing you're not alone is all it takes to give you the extra push to get it done. I loved the group messages between me and my classmates and knowing we were all working on this together.

9. It's okay to borrow belief from others sometimes. There were times I wasn't sure I could finish this or felt like what I was doing wasn't good enough or really valuable, but there was always someone around me reminding me those were lies and who believed I could do it. Sometimes when we don't believe a truth, we have to momentarily borrow the belief from someone we love until we believe it ourselves.

10. Every season ends. This was a season. A long, hard, emotional, rewarding, but intense season. Amidst all the work, it's also been a difficult personal time for different reasons, but knowing this was just a season kept me sane at times.

I actually cannot believe my thesis is submitted and I graduate next week! The last two and a half years have been a crazy time. I've learned more than I thought, been continuously blessed by the people I've met through this program and I've grown a lot. I am so thankful for this season, but I'm ready to move into this next season carrying all that I learned through this one with me.

(For real...a HUGE thank you to all of my family and friends and all of your love and support through this grad school season. If I could take out a billboard to brag about how awesome and wonderful you all are, I would...not to be too dramatic or anything) ;-)

Your song.


I read recently in the book, Faith-rooted Organizing, Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World by Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel, a really great story. I am privileged to have Alexia as a professor this semester and I have learned so much from her! Not just about organizing, but about faith and life and it has been one of my favorite classes.

In her book she shares this:

In several regions in Africa, when a woman is pregnant, she must gather in the forest with other mothers and members of the community to discern the song of her baby. They all sing the song while she is giving birth so that the baby will be born well. When that baby grows up and begins their education or their career, or at any other important moments of life, they remember and sing their song. When they find their life partner, they sing a duet. When they are dying, the whole community sings their song. When a person has committed a crime, they also gather the community, place the offender in the middle and sing them their song to remind them of who they are.

I just think this is one of the coolest things. My first response to this was, wow, what an illustration of community! This is what the Kingdom should be about. Not only do others prioritize helping a mother discern the song of her child, but this community remembers this specific child's song...they remember who he/she is. They call him or her back to who they are.

How affirming that must be for someone. For so many people to care for you and to sing your song in celebration and in death, to care enough that even if you commit a crime...they gather to sing it to you, as a reminder. When I first read this I thought it was going to say they bring the offender in the middle and take away their song or strip away their rights (this shows how ingrained our penal and judicial system is in my head), but rather, they gather the community, place the offender in the middle and sing them their song to remind them of who they are. WOW. What grace, what a way to approach someone with dignity even if it may not be "deserved". It's not letting the person off the hook or absolving responsibility, they're not backing away, but rather confronting and calling them back to who they know they really are. It's beautiful.

This is one of the most beautiful things I've read recently and I realized that although a literal song may not have been discerned over me when I was born, I still have a song. We all do. We all were uniquely created to be who we are, whether we're fully and wholly that person yet or not. I am so fortunate to have people in my life who sing my song with me in celebration and who remind me who I am.

My hope and prayer is that I can do that for others too...that we would all do that for each other.  That we realize the importance of knowing others' song...that we're not afraid to sing that song to them, to remind them of who they are. The world would be a better place if we all recognized that each and every person has a song. Sometimes people just need to be reminded of who they are and that everyone's lives matter and that everyone has a song.


I’ve been thinking about what makes me who I am, about why I am the way I am. When I think about where I am today and who I am, my mind goes to the people who have impacted me, who have walked alongside me, sometimes having to push me from behind and sometimes having to stand on the sideline and cheer me on. The people who have loved me and who have shaped me. The people in my life who have helped me become who I am today and continue to impact, influence and walk with me on my journey of life.

I think about the wonderful men and women who decided that middle school students were worth paying attention to and loving all the way through until they graduated high school (and that we’re still worth loving). These people who stuck with me through my teenage years, who encouraged me, who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself and helped this uncertain girl see she had potential. These people who showed up, who let crazy teenage girls meet in their home each week, who gave up their weekends to go on youth retreats, who invited me into their office to share my heart and just listen, and who flooded my life with words of encouragement. People who were mentors, confidants, counselors and friends in a time of life where having that older, wiser and steady voice does a lot of good.

I think about friends. Friends I can say I’ve known basically since day one of my life, friends who I’ve gone through Kindergarten, 5th grade, high school and college graduations with, friends who I said goodbye to for college but somehow we always find ways to be reunited, friends who I've known for a long time and some for not quite as long, but friends who have been there. Life long friends, friends who have loved me well and shown me that friends can be family.

I think about my teammates in Zambia. The three people I didn’t know one day and then the next lived with for eight weeks straight in a foreign country. People who blew me away with their acceptance, love and passion for life. People who taught me so much, who I experienced true community with and who made me feel like I belonged, in a season of life where I felt anything but, people who made me laugh until I cried, people who journeyed with me through an experience that will forever shape who I am.

The list could go on, really. So many people who are reminders that God must love me because he put so many amazing people around me. Reflecting on all of these individuals who have helped shaped who I am, I feel so much gratitude and it makes me hope and pray that I do the same for others.

And that I remember middle school girls are important to love, that making room for a high school student to be heard is so valuable, that walking with someone through the good times and the bad builds unbreakable bonds, that accepting people where they are for who they are is truly love, and that showing up is sometimes all someone needs. I can do this because others have shown me. I am who I am today, not just because of some experiences I’ve had or because I’m so great at life all by myself, but because of the beautiful, wonderful people in my life that I call mentor, family, friend, cell group leader, youth pastor and so on and so forth.  I just hope and pray that I can play a small role in "shaping" others, the way I have been so lucky to be shaped.