Tag Archives: college

Apples and Oranges (poem)

As a TCK, I’ve been reflecting lately on how some of the very few people who understand your life are your siblings. It reminded me of this poem my brother wrote, I added to, and we performed at a religious life talent show in college.

As we get older, he and I keep growing together. I now call the red dirt home, and he’s pursuing a PhD at Duke in a stats-heavy field. If I brag on him too much, it’s only because I’m SO proud of him writing his own story and following his calling.


First day of the school year (2002)

[Both] Growing up we were apples and oranges.
[Justin] You were tall and skinny with a perky smile.
You had ideas and I followed along
My much rounder, brown haired head nearly exploded as I tried to understand the unfathomable
complexities of your Boxcar children playtime plots.
“Why would he drive his car off the cliff Hannah?”
“To get the insurance money!”
At three, I just nodded and drove my Barbie right off the cliff after yours.

[Hannah] I’d say, “Follow me,”
‘til I noticed you came up with better plots than the books I read.
I spoke in a British accent to everyone at school
but you
heard my real voice.

Growing up we were apples and oranges.
On our suburban Chicago playground, you struggled with God while I battled wizards and dragons.
I figured out that shots only lasted a second, you worried about them for hours.
You figured out that homework only takes a few hours, I waited until the last second.

I understood Swahili Sunday school
and translated for you.
You told jokes in American youth group
that I still understood.

“Stop following me”
I’d tell you and your friends
you understood
how to annoy me.

Growing up we were apples and oranges.
I made five friends in a day but you made one for a lifetime.
I joined chess and debate clubs while you did IGs in art and music.
You took our high school’s two hardest APs your first year there,
I decided I probably couldn’t handle swimming with my 9th grade workload.

I’d never dumb down for a boy,
but knowing you followed me in age,
I worried,
“what if you thought you had to follow my shadow?”


Whos from Whoville in Seussical (2010)

We lived in the same house but I remember it only as my playground:
Sticky walls for climbing, metal grates for swinging and slippery floors for sliding.
To you it was much more.
The way it tore you to leave that house you still call home, I might never understand.

You never quite got used to the movie theaters and skyscrapers in the city I credit for much of who I am
The way it tore me to lift off that red dirt I still call home, you might never understand.

When I departed for college
you were too busy with Aslan’s roar and the APs I took
too busy to talk.
I didn’t tell you follow me
in case I drove you off a cliff
Write your own plot,
you’re the kid with the imagination.

But when you followed me to college
when you wrote me back into your story
I greeted you with a hug
and a lecture on being PC,
“so you wouldn’t offend potential friends”
But really, I wanted you to understand me again.

When you joined three of my student orgs,
when you showed up in my room with a tea mug
and my Hebrew Bible class with an add-drop slip
I realized you were never afraid of the shadow.
It was always comparing apples and oranges.

Growing up we were apples and oranges,
But I forgot that the orange trees in our yard,
The ones rooted in game-nights on the farm and Sunday-night fellowships,
Watered by the hard Tanzania downpours clanging on our mabati roof,
And grafted into the branches of bustling Nairobi city culture.
Those orange trees had apple-green oranges,
About as bitter as our favorite granny smiths cut up next to a block of Gouda for Sunday movie night.
And now looking at ourselves against the backdrop of the peeling bright, Macalester orange,
I’m not so sure I can tell the difference either.


2012, circa the time of this poem

Providential detours

Ever since we were college roommates, Sarah had wanted to visit and see where I grew up, especially Mwanza, Tanzania. Five years later, she was in Nairobi and we had bus tickets for that night.

But earlier that week, we had gotten food poisoning on safari in the Maasai Mara. We realized our stomachs were not up for a 12-hour overnight bus ride. The food was coming out of the end that you can’t very well lean out of a window without, well, consequences.


Aside from the food, the safari and week in Kenya was a lovely time with my cousin and his wife!

I tried to get through to customer care to move our tickets, but each time I called, the call dropped instead of putting me on hold. (I later found out that the help line was down whenever the electric or internet cut out at headquarters.)

We both got on antibiotics and I booked new tickets for the following day online. I got a message saying the payment confirmation I had received did not count as a ticket. We tried to pass by the office, but downtown Nairobi was so crazy and crowded that Sarah was getting anxious. We couldn’t find any parking and we hadn’t finished packing, so we decided to arrive a little early to the station to pick up the tickets.

A few hours later, we piled into a taxi with our luggage, and found ourselves in a very busy part of downtown Nairobi at 8pm at a hole-in-the-wall office. I had hoped for a nice waiting room like the one I’d used with a comparable coach company last time. Downtown Nairobi is notoriously unsafe, especially after dark and as white girls. Just the previous week someone had slit my backpack and stolen my phone downtown in broad daylight. Our return trip was supposed to arrive back here at 2am. I was nervous, but I figured it was too late now.

I showed my payment confirmation and was informed that they had received my money, but they had gotten a new online system six days ago and some online and Mpesa payments were not showing up. So our seats had been sold to someone else! The next seats available were several days later, so I got back in the car and said, “Sarah, we’re not going to Mwanza tonight.”

Back home, we evaluated our options: a cheaper bus company and changing buses at the border or an expensive flight with an overnight layover in Dar es Salaam. We compromised and booked an online shuttle to Arusha and a flight from Arusha to Mwanza. At 8am the next morning, we were on the shuttle, and I was texting everyone I knew in Arusha for recommendations of where to stay.

When we arrived, I discovered that I couldn’t buy a local SIM card because the shops were closed on Sunday, and for the Eid holiday on Monday. I borrowed someone’s phone to call a college friend and got a taxi to meet her at a café. The café had wifi, so I could take Whatsapp calls. “What if we don’t have a place to stay?” I worried. I took a deep breath: “Trust God.”

A local missionary family told me that they were now mostly living in Kenya. However, they had arrived that day from out of town. Their house was an explosion of packing to travel again the next day with guests, but they offered us the one empty room in their guest house! I’d met a Muslim friend last year through a mutual friend, and she invited us to join her family that night for a goat barbeque to celebrate Eid!


In the thirty minutes between dropping our things off at the guest house and going out for Eid dinner, I asked another missionary family on the compound about lodging on the way back. She offered her phone number, but I said I didn’t have a SIM card. Then she offered me a spare SIM card! The Muslim family picked us up for dinner and stopped by a supermarket, where I was able to get phone credit.

We sat on the back porch of a family I had met only once a year earlier, feasting on nyama choma (goat). The family cracked jokes, translated for us, and invited us to sample delicacies like lychees and saffron ice cream. They all piled in the van to escort us home. Cruising through Arusha after dark as we blasted Hindi beats, I was brimming with joy and gratitude.


The next morning, our flight on Precision Air – notorious for its delays and cancellations – had no hiccups. Sarah’s only disappointment about our original itinerary had been not getting to see Kilimanjaro, and we had found out it was usually too cloudy to see from the ground anyway. But because we ended up having to fly, our plane seats gave her an incredible view!

We ended up with only 48 hours in Mwanza, but I managed to show Sarah all the people and places I’d hoped to. My Muslim childhood friends there were from a different part of Islam, so they were celebrating Eid the night we showed up! We enjoyed another family barbecue and meaningful conversations about Eid and elder care. They told us they’d travelled with the same bus company from Nairobi and their return tickets had been sold to someone else. They’d also been told there was a new system only six days old – two weeks ago!


Showing Sarah the house where I grew up.

The next day, Sarah got to see the Bible school where my parents taught, which was in session and a good friend was teaching. We met the pastor and his wife, as well as another dean who happened to be visiting. We toured my house – at the last minute we got permission from the current residents – and ate dinner with dear Tanzanian friends. I showed Sarah where my family sailed on Lake Victoria, and she bought local fabric to sew into a dress to wear for my wedding – in faith!


On the morning before our return flight, we squeezed in a tour of my school and bumped into a friend’s mom. “Are you ever in Arusha?” she said, “My daughter is there now.” I had assumed she was living in Dar, but I got her number. A few hours later, we were having lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen in ten years! She was still the same funny and sweet friend I’d remembered, and Sarah loved meeting her. I had one gift left in my luggage – a copy of my book. It turned out she’d followed my book release very closely and it happened to be her birthday. What a perfect gift!

The missionaries were surprised when we showed up at the guest house, because they had been expecting us the following night. I must have been frazzled and confused the dates when I came through earlier! But the guest house had space so they graciously put us up anyway.

After Sarah and I arrived home, the missionary found out that the shuttle we’d taken was actually a scam posing as the shuttle we intended to book in order to steal their customers. It turns out the real shuttle didn’t have online bookings at all!

Just before this trip, I’d been reminded of how God leads us step by step and weaves together threads of our experiences in ways we only realize in hindsight. This experience reminded me that in God’s providence, our detours can be providential:


If we hadn’t gotten food poisoning, we would have taken the bus, and who knows what would have happened downtown at 2am in Nairobi. If our tickets hadn’t been double booked, we wouldn’t have gotten to see Mount Kilimanjaro or experience such incredible hospitality – including double Eid dinners and reunions with both college and high school friends! If it hadn’t been for the scammers, we wouldn’t have been able to book a shuttle online the night before at 9:30pm. I’m not sure I want to credit God with planning that, but he somehow used even the bad things for our good!

Usually I like to control and plan out my life, but on this trip I had to take it a step at a time and just trust God to get us to the next stop. God provided everything we needed – but not a moment too soon. Yet if everything had gone according to plan, we would have missed so many opportunities to say “WOW God” along the way, whether it was the gift of a SIM card, the hug that was ten years overdue, or the majesty of the mountain rising above the clouds. Maybe in the rest of my life, I need to take a deep breath and say “Trust God”.

Emotional Maturity When You’re Seeking Support


CCO Public Domain

Last fall, I had several panic attacks as I broke up with my boyfriend. My housemate suddenly moved out days later. Our church plant had a dramatic leadership crisis.

I prayed to see what God was teaching me. Flipping through my journal, something caught my eye. I’d prayed to grow in emotional maturity in 2017. What did I do that for?!

Being in these relationships taught me emotional awareness, communication, and empathy. When these relationships ended and I needed social support, God also faithfully used these difficulties to grow my emotional maturity.

Just as maturing into an adult involves taking responsibility for my physical well-being, emotional maturity means taking responsibility for my emotional needs. As a single extrovert who works remotely in a foreign country, I intentionally seek out social time to maintain emotional stability. When I moved to Kenya post-college, though I wished people would reach out, I learned to initiate since I’m organized and need company. I developed a baseline of regular social events on my calendar and a list of friends to call. Unlike with college friends or family, I had to schedule two weeks ahead so Friday night I wasn’t disappointed when everyone already had plans.

This time, I had to initiate my social support. I didn’t have panic attacks when I was around people, so I scheduled something social every day. Once, someone cancelled on me and my housemates weren’t home. I felt panic rising, but I picked up the phone. My friend didn’t answer. I called a second person, a third. Finally the fourth person came over. It wasn’t my friends’ fault they couldn’t be there for me when I needed. I had to persevere to get the support I needed. (I realize this can be too much to ask in some mental illness situations).

When I felt unloved during this difficult time, I questioned my worth to others. But I knew how self-pity could turn me inward to nurse my pain alone. I countered with truth and love. I stood up to my insecurities and reminded myself of all the other people who loved me. I realized their comments reflected more on other issues than who I was.

It also took courage to reach out for social support. My boyfriend and housemate were both suffering from burnout and personal issues, which made me feel my needs didn’t matter in comparison. So when those relationships ended, I worried my friends wouldn’t want to be burdened with my neediness. I felt vulnerable receiving rather than giving comfort and advice. I reminded myself that real friends don’t resent you for struggling, but care about you. I accepted being needy for now. I stepped out, trusting my friends would welcome me for tea and a hug.

Even when you reach out, people may not know how you like to be comforted. I had lost two close relationships. So, I could Skype my best friends and family, who knew just what to say but were in a different time zone. Or, I could reach out to friends next door who didn’t know me as deeply. I sometimes had to explain how I wanted them to comfort me. For instance, I tried going to a life coach, but later realized I needed counseling, and looked elsewhere for that support.

Needing someone to talk to also didn’t give me license to unload indiscriminately. I felt overwhelmed by my concerns about our church plant, but given the culture and my demographic, the pastor wouldn’t respond well to me. I didn’t trust myself to confront him in a godly way either. To avoid spreading gossip and dissent, I couldn’t talk to my church friends. Finally, I called pastor friends at other churches for advice, who persuaded me it would be biblically and culturally appropriate to talk to a church elder. I learned to process my feelings with the appropriate people.

So far, maturing emotionally has been more painful and exhausting than I expected. Often God allows and uses difficult times to shape us into his image. Romans 5:3-4 says, “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” As I look back, I thank God for how my heart is growing up and hope in his continued goodness.

The Place God Calls You: Published in the Presbyterian Outlook


Family members warned me of Macalester’s secular reputation. It’s true that the religious community is small. But this has been the best imaginable environment for my spiritual growth. After all, a mustard seed is small too.

Applicants seek out colleges with a low student-to-faculty ratio, where professors invest in their students one-on-one. At my school, I benefited from the ratio of Christian student leaders to mentors. Toward the end of my first year, all the leaders of the Christian group were graduating or going abroad. So our group chose me to be president as a rising sophomore. My mentor encouraged me to attend leadership training for the month of July. To complete the leadership training, I had to craft a speech envisioning our group’s future. I panicked. Our tiny group didn’t even have a current email account, much less a vision statement.

Adding my homemade Macalester pennant to the leadership camp's collection

Adding my homemade Macalester pennant to the leadership camp’s collection

Then I researched the college’s Presbyterian roots. The context breathed life into the school’s four pillars: scholarship, service to society, internationalism and multiculturalism. I resurrected the founder’s vision instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. When I returned to campus, I told our Christian group how each of the four pillars had God as its foundation — seeking God’s truth, serving like Jesus, making disciples of all nations and displaying heaven’s diversity on earth.

I realized that if my mission was tied to Macalester’s, my voice on campus mattered — and not just in the Christian community. I found myself quoting the Macalester website: “Global citizenship begins with responsible and reflective local engagement.” So I began putting down roots here.

I became a resident assiScreen Shot 2014-10-15 at 2.24.11 PMstant. I spoke up at a community forum about how sexist and anti-religious sports cheers made me feel. I assessed academic advising with a faculty task force. I was even invited to present a poem to the entire first year class during orientation about finding home in spiritual community. Discovering my values in the college’s history empowered me to be a leader in its present.

But Macalester has not simply prepared me for on-campus leadership. Since day one, my involvement with Macalester’s Lilly Program on service and vocation has stretched me to engage with the Twin Cities. I gathered with other students to teach English to elderly Somali women, tutor third-graders in an after-school program and discuss vocation. My second year, I facilitated volunteering and reflection.

The chaplain who founded the Lilly Program drew from Presbyterian theologian Frederick Buechner: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” As a missionary kid, I’d heard of callings, but had spent little time reflecting on my own calling. This past summer, I lived in an intentional community called the Lilly House. All 10 of us residents explored our vocation through a summer internship and dinner discussions. I interned at a local church that sponsors seven different ethnic congregations, coordinating intercultural celebrations and social justice work. At the encouragement of another mentor, I also presented my experiences at a discernment retreat.

With the support of family, friends and mentors, I receive an award for living out Macalester's 4 pillars

With the support of family, friends and mentors, I receive an award for living out Macalester’s 4 pillars

Up to this point, my experiences had seemed disconnected. Then I started listing them in my journal. Residents in my dorm relied on me for support, as did several friends struggling with mental health. Our Christian group needed a leader again, so I had stepped in. I read Christian books and wrote a youth group curriculum in my free time. I met weekly with a rabbi to learn Hebrew and a Christian thinker to study theology. I apprenticed and then interned at my church. Our school lost two chaplains within a few months. Heartbroken students protested. Then, I received an email that our head chaplain was leaving for another position. Reflection helped me piece together these experiences, step back and see my call. I realized the world was hungering for spiritual leadership. As I had responded to these needs, I had unwittingly discovered my deep gladness.

A school of 2,000 may be an unlikely place to grow world changers. But we have alumni like Kofi Annan and Walter Mondale. Margaret Mead’s quote seems especially applicable to Macalester: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

The mustard seed found its roots. It grew bushy branches. It found its calling. So it called to burdened birds: come and rest.

Reprinted with permission of the Presbyterian Outlook (view on their website).