On Vocation

About two years ago, I stood at the edge of the biggest crossroads I’d wandered to yet in my life.  Six months left of college, and I had yet to nail down plans for after my ceremonious exit into the “real” world.  I’d narrowed down my possible trajectories to two broad paths – nursing school or going abroad – but couldn’t decide which way to go, and felt like God wasn’t giving me too many hints either.

At the time, I perceived God as having characteristics of a Puppet-Master and Treasure-Map-Maker, deciding where everyone would go and what they would do, laying out one specific “path” for each person.  I looked at much of life as a divine game, in which I needed to interpret what I observed and discover this correct path that God had laid out for me.  I hunted for “clues” from God – interpreted missed deadlines and failed opportunities as “closed doors,” and what others might deem coincidences as clear thumbs-ups from God.

I tried to make the process both spiritual and scientific, tallying these nudges from the Almighty in the hopes that the scales would tip in one direction or the other, and tell me which path to choose. Though I’ve never heard God’s voice directly (though I believe this is entirely possible), in other major crossroads and decisions that I’d come across in life I’ve felt like I’d received signs from God – through other people, timely situations, and prayer.  But at this crossroads, I seemed to feel equal “signs” from both paths.

For a while, I continued along as if both would happen, waiting for my Maker to speak-up and give me that final feather to tip the scales. I applied for nursing schools and for international service organizations, all beginning the following Fall.  Then finally, in March, within the span of a week, I got accepted to two programs – one down each path.

Before me were two open doors, both appealing with what seemed like equal amounts of pros and cons.  Both used what I had perceived as my “gifts.” Both things I felt I was passionate about.  I was praying constantly, and seeking out prayer from others. And still, I felt like I didn’t have that deciding input from God.  And that’s when I think God let me learn one of the most valuable “growing-up” lessons so far.

I decided to go to Zambia

There is weight and meaning behind those words, just the way I’ve said them: I decided

Standing at the other end of this year, looking back, I don’t think God “called” me, specifically, to Zambia;  It was a wonderful and challenging and blessed experience.  I believe God knew I would go, maybe even orchestrated several situations so that I’d be aware of the option, but I don’t believe it was God who decided it would be part of my story.  It was me who decided, by my free will – and it was God who blessed my decision.

But I think God probably would have blessed a decision to go to nursing school too.

“Free will” makes sense to me more now than it ever has – though I definitely don’t claim to understand it completely.  The way I see it, God loves me so much that God lets me make my own choices.  God desires and requires simple things from me: to love God and love people, to care for vulnerable people.  And I believe that if I prayerfully step into decisions that fit within the above parameters, God’s on-board. God will bless the work.

With this shift in perspective, God lost a lot of controlling and secretive personality traits that I had attributed to God – from Puppet-Master to Helper, from Treasure-Map-Maker to Co-Adventurer.

God became my No. 1 Fan.

God is the Storymaker, but I also believe the Author invites us to be co-writers – not just characters.

I believe God desires and requires simple things from me: love God and others.

I believe this is the extent of my vocation, but this can have hands and feet in a million different ways. 

And God leaves it up to me to decide what my hands and feet will do.


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On Privilege

Even though my “Zambian Year” is complete, I’m transitioning to new things, have new thoughts, and want to keep writing.  So I’m going to keep posting on here until I make a move to a new blog. 

Below is a journal entry I wrote as part of the requirements for my current refugee resettlement internship with World Relief, reflecting on my “royal position” in life:

I sometimes wonder if I possess natural talents that I don’t even know about.  Like maybe I have innate soccer-playing abilities that were never harnessed, or an inborn knack for speed cup stacking but an opportunity to discover this talent never presented itself when I was growing up. (Technically, the soccer one did have an opportunity to shine, but I’m told that my five-year-old-self was more interested in the food on the sidelines than the game on the field…)

I think about “what ifs” often – about how my life may have been different if I had been exposed to this or pursued that, or given that cup stacking thing a try.

But then I realize how luxurious and rare it is that wondering if I have untapped speed stacking potential has a stage and an audience in my thoughts, what a privilege it is that I can entertain such thoughts.

I recently saw this thought-provoking post by “Humans of New York” floating around Facebook, a quotation reflecting on how the lives of refugees in Iraq have been affected by recent events:

“…They have no place to be a child, so their only frame of reference is war and fighting.  And when that’s all they know, how can they grow up to be doctors and teachers?  All they can possibly know is the desire for revenge and hatred for their enemies.  I wish people would understand that Iraq is filled with intelligent, civilized people.  This was the cradle of civilization in the Ancient World.  Even the Garden of Eden was here.  These aren’t dust covered, nameless refugees being forced from their homes. The refugee camps are filled with architects, and musicians, and teachers.[1] (Emphasis added).

Growing up, my basic needs were a given.  My thoughts had room to frolic, to entertain big dreams and to get full of knock-knock jokes.  I wondered what my next meal would be, but never questioned that it would exist.  I fussed over which college I’d go to and what I’d study, but never questioned that I would be able to go.  The thought never even crossed my mind that any given grocery store might not carry a shampoo for my hair type.  And I have never feared for my safety because of my faith; no, I get to be picky about where I worship, and sip a latte while I do it.

These are new-ish realizations, though; it’s slowly-but-surely that I’m becoming aware of my own, inherent status.  The older I get, the more I read, and the more connections I have to people who’ve had very different circumstances in their lives, the more I become aware of the ways in which mine have been “royal.”

The next feeling that hits me is guilt – guilt at having life so easy, so privileged.  To say that I’m “blessed” feels awkward and wrong, as if God likes me or picked me over others with less fortunate circumstances.  And to say that it’s “luck” discredits the God I know, who I believe is intentional in writing the Story.

Two weeks ago, I had my first encounter with refugees.  In short, I’ve been humbled – and have had many of my stereotypes about this population broken down.  (Turns out not all refugees have come from situations of extreme poverty, lack hygiene, and don’t speak English).

I’m not a fan of generalizations, but perhaps a more accurate one to apply to refugees is that they all have untapped potential, staggered by anything from access to basic nutrition to personal political affiliations.

One family in particular comes to mind when I think of untapped potential, a family for whom the “Humans of New York” quotation seems to have been a biography.  People whose past circumstances appear to have so starkly suppressed the individuals they could have been, even down to what their DNA intended them to look like.

The “Humans of New York” quotation had been floating around in my head for a month or two, but took on a completely new meaning when there were four faces attached to it.

My gut reaction was pity.  But then I thought, pity isn’t the right response either; pity is an emotion of the “haves” for the “have-nots” that allows the former to still “have.” A feeling that reinforces a hierarchy. 

Foremost and above all, these people deserve dignity.

I’ve not always been one who has had swelling pride for being an American, and haven’t been shy about this either.  (This, too, is a privilege).  But for these refugees, America represents freedom, potential, and dignity – an opportunity for growth where before it was suppressed.

I’m still trying to figure out how to respond to my privilege – to gratefully acknowledge all the Straight Flushes that I’ve been dealt in life, but to recognize that I don’t want or have to be part of a game where the winner takes it all.

But I do know there are a few things I can do: I can lament the real untapped potential of people like those described in the “Humans of New York” quotation – the unharnessed innovation and creation of millions; I can continue to seek out conversations that force me to give the lens with which I view the world a good spit and rub on the sleeve; and I can try my best to dignify everyone I meet.

[1] http://tinyurl.com/mhuqz36, August 7 2014.

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my year in numbers


 In the past 11 months, I…

Spent 319 days in Zambia,

7 in Tanzania and 2 in Botswana.


Listened to 11 in-flight safety presentations,

spent almost 5 days on trains

and crashed my bike 5 times.


Attended 3 weddings,

2 bridal showers

and 3 funerals.


Wrote 169 lesson plans,

participated in 7 workshops

and had 12 students become pregnant.


Taught – at one point or another – 6 different grade levels

and a max. of 59 students in a classroom at one time.


Snapped 502 pictures,

wrote 50 blog posts

and read 23 books.


Saw 3 snakes,

SCUBA-dove 3 times

and gawked at the beauty of Victoria on 3 occasions.


Learned 54 verbs in Chitonga,

ate an average of 3 lumps of nshima per day

and wore pants trousers on 19 days (skirts the other 300).


Ate less than 20 meals alone.

Fell sick just 3 times,

received 4 dating/marriage proposals

and knew zero people who died from AIDS.


Saw too many breathtaking sunsets and sunrises to count,

received what seemed liked limitless hospitality in countless homes

and had several of my worldviews challenged.


Accomplished few tangible tasks,

but learned and experienced a lot

and feel drawn to more work with MCC, anywhere, at some point in the future.


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back in the USA


Welp, I’m back in the USA!

We started off from Zambia late afternoon Saturday (local time), and arrived in Pennsylvania Monday evening (local time), merging routes with other participants in our program along the way.

The 45 or so other participants and I will be here at MCC’s headquarters until Saturday – hanging out, getting over jetlag, debriefing, etc.

I can’t really put my finger on how I’m feeling right now, about being back in the USA. Sort of neutral, I guess? Enjoying the food, the people, the conversations, and the relaxing environment a lot, with Zambia feeling sort of like a dream right now.  Looking forward to seeing family and more friends in a few days.

It’s been fun to be here in PA with people from my program, a good place and community to transition back to North America – to experience together those foods we craved for so long, like blueberries and blizzards and cold, raw vegetables; to wake up at weird hours in the night, walk out into the common room and find five other people, who had assignments in your same time zone, up and chatting; and to share experiences and organize our own stories and get ready for “hellos.”

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goodbyes & (one very special) hello


This last weekend was full of goodbyes – or rather farewells, ‘go wells’ and ‘stay wells.’


I said farewell, and study hard to my class last Friday…



…and later that night, after recording our songs so I can take them with me, the choir I sing with hosted a goodbye braai (BBQ) for me, beneath the stars and full moon.





I said goodbye to my favorite sites around Macha…





…and rode my bike all over, late into the evenings, to pay farewell visits to friends who’ve become like family.




As difficult as goodbyes are, I learned last week that there’s also something sweet and sacred about them too. There’s sadness in the uncertainty of whether you’ll ever meet again on Earth, yet that very possibility gives you the push, and the opportunity, to share just how much you appreciate each other – to love on others, and receive love, like you just don’t do on any given day.


And since I’m pretty sure the unofficial ‘love language’ that dominates in Zambia is feeding the ones you love, I did a lot of eating too. (and gained a few farewell pounds…)




But the sweetest part of all was getting to say one very special, long-awaited hello


My host mama had her baby – who surprised us all by being a boy, after the hospital had said she was expecting a girl.  A big, healthy baby boy. Kamukwesu kangu (my little brother), who I feel so blessed to have gotten to meet before I left.

And then I had to say farewell to my family too – one of the hardest farewells of all.



And now I find myself in a strange sort of limbo – almost finished with my goodbyes, slowly coming around to the idea of hellos, getting more excited for them.

Preparing to go home, yet feeling kind of like I just left home too.

Just two night left in Zambia, three days until I’m stateside again, and eight until I’m back with the family and friends I left a year ago.


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A few things I’ve learned so far (take three)…

(Click here for part one and part two.)

  • Magnets are fun at any age.
  • Cow eat clothes off of clothes lines.
  • Roasted maize might be the tastiest thing in the world.
  • A lot fewer foods than I thought actually need to be refrigerated.
  • The dish I feared the most after the all-important Google search “Zambian Food” before this adventure – kapenta – isn’t so bad.


  • Chickens know their homes.  Even if they aren’t fenced and wander far away during the day, as the sun sets they’ll come home.
  • Roosters actually crow at any hour of the day that they feel like – not just at dawn.
  • The scariest pair of eyes to see glowing in the night are those of a cow.
  • I’m slightly afraid of donkeys.
  • Goat is very delicious.


  • In a pinch, eye makeup remover can make great shoe polish.
  • Little kids the world over are fond of swallowing things they shouldn’t.
  • It’s a catapult, not a slingshot; a snap, not a photo; and mweempe not “sorry, not sorry.”
  •  “to want” and “to need” – which are very different actions in my head – are both translated into just one word in Chitonga.
  • One of the most effective ways to teach is to let the students teach each other.
  • University swag gets around.


  • Military time – what’s used here in Zambia – makes so much sense.
  • Zambia gets cold. (Like sleep-in-everything-warm-that-you-own cold.)
  • If you’re laid up in bed, it’s customary for friends and colleagues to visit you.
  • It’s nearly impossible to just “pop in and out” of anywhere here, being such a relationship-centered culture.
  • Peanuts look like this when they’re fresh from the ground.


  • People and their actions are icebergs; there’s a lot more going on underneath than meets the eye.
  • It’s hard to empower without doing some enabling too.
  • The term “American” technically could be claimed by someone from any one of the fifty-five countries in the “Americas.”
  • Perhaps we are a little too introspective in the West.
  • For the most part, if you give something time, it’ll work itself out.
  • “Peace” is so much more than just the absence of conflict or violence.
  • Trying to be present – to keep a foot in each of two worlds separated by an ocean, and to represent each to the other – can be difficult and tiring.
  • I have so much reverence for so many of the expatriates here, many of whom have or will be here for 10+ years.
  • Saying “goodbye” is not easy.
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The Countdown Begins…


10 days of school days left.

19 days until I leave Macha.

25 days until I leave Zambia.

31 days until I’m home.


The countdown actually began about six weeks ago, when I became acutely aware of how little time I have left here, when the days really started flying by.


Yes, I miss a lot of things from home.  I miss berries and cream cheese and homemade salads with grilled chicken.  I miss baked goods and shared microbrews and MacDonald’s french fries.  I miss pea coats and lattes with friends and unlimited Internet.  I miss the sound of trendy boots clicking on pavement and the feel of carpet squished between my toes. And – above all – I miss my family and friends from back home.


But I’d be lying if I said I’m eager to come back.


I’ll miss nshima and roasted maize and finger-length bananas.  I’ll miss sunsets and shared chibwantu and being called “Madame!”  I’ll miss racing my bike along bumpy dirt paths and being able to wrap two meters of fabric around my waist and call it a skirt.  And though at times my task-oriented side has bumped elbows with it, I’ll miss the emphasis on being over doing, the inbuilt emphasis on relationships.


While I’m definitely eager to see my family and friends back home, I’m very much not eager to say goodbye to people here – my co-workers in MCC and at the school, my friends in the expatriate community, my fellow choir and Sunday school members, and my host family.  And the goodbyes have already started.


Funny how, in my first few months here, I was rushing towards the finish line as time passed like molasses.  Now, I’m digging my heels in the ground as time is dragging me forward.


But I guess that’s how all of life’s big transitions are, or at least how they’ve been for me: I’m uneasy as they approach – even if they’ve got promise of good things to come.  After they’ve come, I tumble around a bit in the shockwave, feeling flustered and nomadic and alone.  And then as time passes, I get comfortable and find peace and purpose.


So I know that’s what will happen again, when I come back home. I know that as my heart ached for my family and friends when I came to Zambia, it will ache for the family and friends I’ve left here when I’m back in the USA.  That I’ll try to make my own nshima, and wear chitenge skirts around the house anyways, and find myself wanting to start every sentence with, “When I was in Zambia…” driving everyone around me a little nuts. That I’ll slowly realize how much and in what ways I’ve changed this last year and figure out how this “new” me will inhabit my “old” life – and find peace and purpose again.

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a morning surprise

a morning surprise

Thanks for guarding my school books, buddy! I’ll take it from here.

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netball champs

It’s “ball games” season in Zambia.  Afternoons at my school are full of volleyball, football (not the American kind), and netball practices.  I’ve been co-coaching netball since January, and this school term (which begin early May) I’m now one of four coaches for netball, thanks to the addition of student teachers to our school’s faculty.


As it turns out, our relatively small school has a decent reputation for ball games in the district, particularly netball.


The last Saturday in May, we hosted a friendly ball games competition with a school about 10 km from ours.  We held four matches for each ball game – “under 13” and “under 17” matches for both genders, excluding netball which is girls only.  (There also didn’t end up being any girls football matches; although my school has both an “under 13” and an “under 17” girls football team, our competitors didn’t.)


We had netball, volleyball, and football games running simultaneously.  First up was our “under 13” netball team.  My job was time-keeper.  Our girls performed great and gave it their all, winning 18 – 11.


Next was the “under 17” team, which (don’t tell the girls) I enjoy watching the most, since many of them are my students.  They were like a well-oiled machine, working in synchrony.  And as with their younger counterparts, they came out on top: 25 – 12.  Our girls are the ones in the red skirts below:






Here’s a video I took of the “under 17” match:


Here are both teams together after the matches – the “under 13” team kneeling while the “under 17” team stands behind. There was lots of celebratory singing and dancing after the matches!  The other coaches and I were so proud of them.  I’m looking forward to more competitions in the next month!Image


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Happy Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day, Daddyo! I love you. Thank you for always being there with a “how can I help, darlin’?” whenever I’ve needed it. I will forever remember the time you drove 8 hours roundtrip in the middle of the night when I missed my train, just so I could be at Kendra’s baby shower.

You’ve nutured in my a drive to find my passions and then follow them, and have always been my no. 1 fan along the way. You’ve been so supportive of me in all of my ‘big’ decisions – like going to SPU or to coming to Zambia.

I truly feel like I can talk to you about just about anything, that you’ll listen, help me process, and – in love – offer your advice. And even if I don’t follow it, you love me so much that you let me go my own way. And sometimes my way ends up in a dead end, and I’m stuck in a pinch. But you’re always there to help however you can, recognizing the value of my learning my own lessons.

I love you so much, and am very much looking forward to giving you a big hug soon. just six weeks.

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