Tag Archives: beauty

Human (spoken word video)

Sexual harrassment threatens to make us beasts and objects, but we’re human. I share my journey of healing and forgiving. Performed live at Slam Africa.


A Sweet Season of Friendships

LJTA1516[1]Since my support systems crumbled a year ago, God has been rebuilding my community. A friend recently texted me: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:19). Focusing on gratitude today opened my eyes to God doing a new thing through a sweet season of friendships.

When my support systems fell apart, I worried I was too needy to be good company. I asked for help anyway. One friend let me show up on her couch for tea whenever I needed. Another listened just the way I like. My family picked up my frequent phone calls. I was reminded that real friends want to hold you when you’re weak and support you when you’re a mess. Caring for your needs isn’t a burden. The vulnerable risk of asking friends for help opens us up to the grace of love you don’t deserve.

Over the summer, I had the chance to visit the US and Tanzania. I reconnected with old college friends and mentors, relatives, my dad’s Tanzanian colleagues, and missionary families from childhood. My communities have always been transient, so home is people more than place. There’s something special about people who have watched you grow up, who know your family or your formative years. They ground you in who you are and where you come from.

Last year, I adapted to other people to try to preserve relationships, losing some of who I was in the process. Recently, I’ve been privileged to find people I can simply be myself with. Whether it’s celebrating in silly costumes with relatives, playing “Hannah Jeopardy” designed for my birthday by a college bestie and brother, or clicking with a fellow Third Culture Kid, I’ve felt the freedom of being known and loved as I am.

After a season of receiving lots of support, it’s been empowering to support others and focus beyond myself. As several friends have been grieving dashed hopes in their love lives, I’ve been able to relate and comfort them with some of the comfort I received. Sewing a present for a friend or acting like an honorary bridesmaid has also refreshed my joy in giving.

TPHG3366

In the wake of relationships ending, making new friends has been healing. Isn’t it encouraging when people like spending time with you? I’ve returned to places with sad associations and made new memories. A new friend whose personality initially triggered me has prompted me to process past hurts and make peace. I’ve randomly reconnected with acquaintances, hosted game nights, and gathered groups to explore a Nairobi bucket list. God has also blessed me with depth in existing relationships, making plans for sleepovers and road trips. It’s a hopeful season with new friends to meet, new places to see, and new adventures to be had.

I’ve gotten back in touch with some best friends from past seasons of my life lately – doing henna with a childhood friend, sipping “tea of amazingness” with an old housemate, or messaging a high school friend on facebook about her upcoming wedding. Though we haven’t kept in touch consistently, these moments affirm the connection we had. They say: “Our friendship still matters to me.”

For a couple years, I’ve been praying for mentors. God answered that prayer in this season. Connections I made earlier bore fruit as I reached out again or seemed to hit a groove. These godly people given me permission to rest, taught me how to teach theology, or said just what I needed to hear about ministry.

Friends have also given me hope for my future. As a single extrovert working remotely overseas, I need social support to stay sane. Laughing and talking all at the same time with the Kenyan ladies in my Bible Study made me think, “These are my sisters.” Last month my workplace officially hired a dear colleague. Side by side at our desks and at a conference, we have shared a new depth and companionship that makes me think, “I could stay here.”

Friendship is beautiful. Friends tell you you’re worth loving when all you have is weakness. They give you the honor of loving them when they wonder if they’re lovable. They want to spend time with you just as you are – even when years have passed. Friends hold up kind mirrors to who you are and celebrate together at what God has done in your lives. They ground you in where you’ve come from and give you hope for where you’re going.

Which friends can you be grateful for today?


Finding “The Proverbs 31 Woman”: Published in Priscilla Papers

retro-fifties-lady-art-collage-1461614455kud

Retro Fifties Lady Art Collage by Venita Oberholster CC0 Public Domain

Proverbs 31:10–31 was never intended to be a how-to manual for becoming the perfect woman.

In the context of Proverbs, this passage is the parting mnemonic incentivizing young men to pursue wisdom and marry wisely. The poem’s word choice and genre extol women not for their erotic appeal but for their heroic work ethic and contribution to their communities. When read along with the book of Ruth, the poem inspires people to fear God and marvel at how God uses even the lowest members of society for his glorious plan.

The message of Prov 31:10–31 neither trivializes women’s work nor shames women trying to “have it all.” It is much more. It invites us all—men and women—to seek wisdom, celebrate each other, and rejoice in God’s grace.

Click here to read my full article, published April 30, 2018 in Priscilla Papers: an academic journal of CBE International.


Shalom and Integrity

I want to be an integrated and whole person.

Hopfallen_lada_vid_Hörsne_Gotland_Sverige

By W. Carter (Own work). [CCo] via Wikimedia Commons

My life can feel fragmented: Tanzania, Kenya, the USA. Christian and secular environments. Extended family, family friends, peers. I could be a different person to everyone and probably get away with it. Online, everyone now has access to impression management simply by choosing who can see each facebook post. But I’ve found over and over that it’s a small world. I’ve seen hypocrisy hollow out foundations as effectively as termites. If I cut myself up into compartments I might not know who I am.

Like a building with structural integrity, an integrated person has a grounded sense of self to build a life on. If you have integrity, people trust you because you have consistently good character. To be the same person to all people, you need to integrate the various parts of your life. Shalom is Hebrew for wholeness and deep peace. I feel like becoming whole involves making peace from the pieces: the positive and the negative experiences, conflicting worldviews and different cultural environments.

But it’s impossible – and unwise – to be exactly the same to everyone. In some situations you should wear jeans, in others you should eat with your hands. The challenge is adapt to others’ expectations while retaining your essence. For instance, successful communication results in people understanding each other. So I adjust my vocabulary and accent to match the person I’m talking to. I avoid proper nouns that are unknown to my listener so that I don’t alienate them by exotic name dropping. But being a good chameleon can make it hard for people to see you. If people don’t read me in context, if I censor myself and translate my existence – will people understand who I am?

By Dan Pelleg (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Dan Pelleg (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Another meaning of shalom offers a potential solution. It is used as a Hebrew greeting and farewell. Amidst transition between so many worlds, saying hello and goodbye is a way of recognizing and welcoming each other. Just like one greeting prompts another, hospitality fosters more shalom. I invite people into one of my homes, introduce them to loved ones, let my guests taste my food and hear my music. When I feel welcomed, I add a Christian perspective to a sociology assignment and then bring the finished product to a family reunion. And in this small world, sometimes an old acquaintance speaks my mother tongue with all the proper nouns. Or a best friend and I stretch a string across the ocean and listen as good and bad rattles in our tin cans. Affirming the many parts of my life makes me feel whole.

When I make connections, I feel alive. I am a third culture kid, born into the in-between of a globalized world. It can be hard to hold two things together, especially in a polarized society. As my pastor once said, bridges get walked on. Social network theorists say that middlemen who connect two otherwise unrelated groups can benefit from bridging structural holes. I hope that integrating myself and my worlds brings peace to myself and others.

I’ve talked about integrating good and bad to make something beautiful in recent posts. Next, I’ll write about temptation’s threat to integrity and perhaps ways that my prayer for shalom has been answered so far. I’d like to hear from you too.

What are your perspectives on shalom and/or integrity?


Dumpster Diving Artist

Dirty White Trash (with Gulls), 1998 by Tim Noble and Sue Webster

Dirty White Trash (with Gulls), 1998
by Tim Noble and Sue Webster
6 months of the artists’ trash, 2 taxidermy seagulls

When I started this site a year ago, I had just read Daring Greatly by Brenee Brown. I intended to share vulnerability in healthy ways.

I stepped out blindly onto a path and soon found myself climbing a mountain.

This year I faced my feelings, including loneliness and homesickness. I faced shame about my work and my worth. I faced hurt from the past and anxiety about the future. And that’s only the list of what I shared on the internet!

I didn’t want to deal with pain. But God had thrown away the painkillers I’d always used to escape. I realized I needed to find healing for my hurts. When I brought them to God, I heard: “You are my daughter, in whom I am well pleased. You are understood. You are home.

So this year was harder than I expected, but I was also braver than I thought possible. It’s been an adventure, I suppose. As Nicole Nordeman sings, “sitting in the rubble, I can see the stars.”

In Mark Shaw’s Work, Play, Love he talks about how theologian Jonathan Edwards’ categorized beauty: Simple beauty was symmetry. Complex beauty was a harmony of opposites, where beauty absorbs and transforms ugliness. Moral beauty was love for persons. God was complex moral beauty. This year I have seen how God absorbs the sin and brokenness of the world and makes something deeply beautiful.

When I first began to grasp the concept of grace, I wrote a poem about God using the imperfections and brokenness of a lightbulb to create a stained glass masterpiece. I called God a dumpster diving artist.

The creator made us beautiful, but we hurt ourselves and each other, resulting in a broken mess that should’ve been thrown out. But God wasn’t ready to give up on us. God dove into the dumpster of this world with us and became a human. Jesus immersed himself in people’s sickness, poverty and hurt. He opened his arms to our pain – and kept them open wide in a torturous death.

But God – what infinite moral complex beauty! – turned death into life, defeat by torture into eternal victory. And that’s why in heaven, there will be no pain. In the presence of such a God, bones take on flesh, ashes become beauty (there’s a song about that too). This is not the art that we envision. But the Holy Spirit invites us to join in. We too can make a collage or quilt from scraps.

Creating art and writing to share here has helped me look at my life in a new light. I can see that this year’s trash has been recycled by a dumpster diving artist into a new creation. And I hope I’m joining the Creator in making some garbage art.